But if a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God. (verse 4)
Once again I’m reminded of the ordinariness of spiritual life. I return to Paul’s ongoing image for discipleship: “Walk.” Such activity is completely down to earth, feet on the ground, one step after another, moving forward. It’s not about heroics. Instead, it’s exceedingly ordinary.
That’s what we find here. “Religion” that “is pleasing to God”involves the ordinariness of caring for one’s own family. Oh, there will indeed be those times when we need to step out into foreign territory, risking the familiar in obedience to Christ. But in the meantime, we have the ongoing calling of loving our Lord by loving our family. We serve the Lord as we serve them.
The passage speaks of the church’s responsibility to care for “those widows who are really in need” (verse 3). This is part of the care the whole Christian community extends. It is a practical response to Jesus’ command to “love one another as I have loved you” (John 13:35). But it doesn’t end with the gathered community. Indeed it’s actually meant to begin elsewhere. Paul says the Lord’s calling falls first on individual believers themselves to care for the widows within their own family circle.
It’s a very human calling, but also a very spiritual one. It’s in the natural order of things that the care which parents and grandparents have extended to offspring, should be “repaid” to them, by their offspring, in their elder years. But it is also “pleasing to God.” It’s an expression of the life of Christ at work within us.
Such care for family doesn’t only get played out in the context of widows. It’s part of ongoing ordinary spirituality at every age and stage.
My Dad died three years ago, having lived to the age of 94. I learned so many things from him during a whole life-time – indeed, he was a constant in my life, for the whole of it. But it’s amazing how much has been clarified and amplified in his death. As family members shared their remembrances, so many themes were played out – his humour and playfulness, his self-discipline and determination, his mentoring of many, his ongoing devotion to the Lord, his service to God’s people.
But one theme that came out so clearly was Dad’s intentionality.Intentionally, he chose to spend time regularly with each of his kids and their families, either in person, via phone or online. There were individual lunches with close conversation. There were dinners out and at-home visits, sometimes as couples, sometimes as families, sometimes a grandkid or two at a time. There were family Birthdays and Christmas dinners with the whole gang of us packed around the table. There were summer afternoons in their backyard. There were visits in our own homes, even when it required Dad and Mom to travel the distance in their senior years. In their 70s, Dad and Mom took us adult-kids and spouses, couple by couple, on trips together, just simply wanting to spend time in shared experience and ongoing conversation. And when he knew he was dying, Dad took time to have significant conversations with each of us, telling us of his love, affirming he knew where he was going, and leaving us words of wisdom and counsel.
I know Dad did it all because he loved us. It was an expression of that love. But I’m realizing now, in a fresh way, at heart, he did it out of love for his Lord. Intentionality was part of spirituality for my father. He was living out his Lord’s calling. He did it because “this is pleasing to God.”
His legacy speaks to me, along with this scripture. Whether with widows, or sons and daughters, or grandkids, or parents, caring well for family is a profound act of spirituality. It’s a well-pleasing way of loving God.
O Lord, thank you that your love calls me to love you, to love neighbour and to love my family. Help me to do it well. In Jesus’ name.
Reflect: What family member should you contact today, simply to express your love?