What does your church teach regarding the subject of Widows and Orphans? If we were all being honest, most of us rarely give the matter a second thought. Or a second sermon. If your ministry, company, or even your civic group is struggling, or you’re lacking contentment in your own spiritual life, here’s a tip that’s guaranteed to send any lackluster routine into hyperspace. Interested?
Here it is: Start reaching out to widows and orphans within your scope of influence.
Recently, TV’s 700 Club interviewed Heidi Baker of Iris Ministries which is experiencing phenomenal revival among many African tribes. To paraphrase Heidi, “If you want to see revival, start ministering to the widows and orphans.”
Even America, the most powerful, wealthiest nation on Earth, lags embarrassingly behind smaller countries where providing for its children is concerned. While we rank first among nations for military spending and the number of our millionaires, we rank a dismal 14th in our efforts to help our orphans. Jesus said, “…what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God caminando con dios.”
Here are some sad statistics about the State of the Children in the land of the free and home of the brave, submitted by the Children’s Defense Fund: Each day, four children are killed by abuse or neglect, five commit suicide, eight are killed by firearms, 76 die before their first birthday, 182 are arrested for violent crimes and 366 for drug abuse, 1,186 are born to teenage mothers, 1,707 are born without health insurance, 2,171 are born into poverty, 2,341 are born to mothers without a high school diploma, 2,455 are abused or neglected, 2,539 high school students drop out and 4,440 children under age 18 are arrested.
Those statistics would make Abraham Lincoln, our nation’s 16th President, roll over in his grave. It was he who said, in his Second Inaugural Address, March 4, 1865: “With malice toward none, with charity for all…to care for him who shall have borne the battle, AND FOR HIS WIDOW AND ORPHAN…”
Today, we find ourselves in a new kind of war. Though wecall it a “war against terrorism,” fact is, it’s still a war and that means people are dying. As of this writing, July 8, 2005, America has experienced a total of 1,752 casualties in Iraq; 210 in Afghanistan, 56 of those in 2005. Are we, the people, taking advantage of the opportunity to reach out to the women left without husbands and children left fatherless? Or do we leave that to the government or say “Somebody should do something”?
WHAT DOES SCRIPTURE INSTRUCT US TO DO?
There is a verse in Scripture that describes the only kind of true religion, the kind that Jesus taught and exemplified – one which had nothing to do with obligatory Church attendance or obedience to manmade rules and regulations. This verse, describing the only kind of religion that makes sense, can be found in James 1:27: “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.”
As you may have noticed, Jesus was not a very religious person, always butting heads with the most religious people of His day, healing on the Sabbath, hanging out with prostitutes and tax collectors and so on. The religious part of any faith is no less than a mere return to bondage – adherence to rules and regulations that shackle humankind – intended to be the most free creatures in the universe. That kind of religion – legalism, self-imposed rules and self-denial – is the kind that nobody needs or desires. Religion is, after all, man’s hapless attempt to reach God. We simply can’t reach that high. So, God became one of us.
I wish everyone had a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. He’s real, you know. Jesus proclaimed that He came to set us free. “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty,” (2 Corinthians 3:17). Relationship is what Christianity is all about – reconciliation between God and man and man with each other (2 Corinthians 5:17-19).
Look at Colossians 2:23 where religion is spoken of in this way: “These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.”
An Old Testament verse, Deuteronomy 10:18, reads: “… He executes justice forthe fatherless and the widow….” There have always been widows and orphans. The Scriptures repeatedly uses widows and orphans as the litmus test of need. Apparently, from Heaven’s perspective, there is no one more needy than the woman who has lost her husband or the child who has lost mommy and/or daddy. God’s heart is turned toward them.
Ours should be as well.
Religion that is acceptable to God is religion that has Christ’s hands and feet, the Body of Christ. Now, it may involve more than this, but it never involves less. Regarding James 1:27, the NIV translates the “visiting” of widows and orphans as episkeptesthai, meaning: “to look after.” The King James translates it as, “to visit.” The Good News Bible translates it as, “to take care.” All these translations are pretty much spot on. It’s more than merely visiting and it’s more than taking care of. Literally, it’s about visiting in order to help. It’s about taking the initiative to GO to those who need assistance.
EXAMPLES FROM THE EARLY CHURCH
The Early church actively addressed legitimate social concerns (Acts 6:1; 9:39; 1 Tim. 5:3). This was in keeping with Old Testament instructions about caring for the needy (Deut. 14;28,19; 16:11; 26:12). The example set by the Early church has been imitated for nearly 2,000 years. For example, William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, described his ministry in this way: “We will wash (our sacrifices) in the tears of widows and orphans and lay it on the altar of humanity.”
In looking at James 1:27 as it might apply to the life issues facing us today, it is interesting that the two groups James charges us with looking after are single women (widows) and parentless children (orphans). The church is not called to choose between the two – as we have, let’s say, in the abortion issue – but to love them both. Truly, the most God-honoring solution to that particular issue is a solution in which both the mother and child are ministered to, not pitted as pawns against each other in a battle of rights.
If a child becomes an orphan, James asks The Church to take care of it. If a woman loses her husband, James asks The Church to take care of her. The practical implication for the abortion issue is clear; if both mother and father abandon their child, even an unborn child, it is The Church’s responsibility to present an alternative and to speak up for that child. Proverbs 31:8 admonishes us to “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.” If a man abandons a pregnant woman, the church – NOT the Government – must step in and take responsibility there, too.
AN EXAMPLE FROM SCRIPTURE
Dorcas was a very kind person who was always mindful of the widows and the poor. Great example, she was. In Bible times, when a woman’s husband died, she had no way to make a living. This condition exists even today all over the planet. The law in those times stated that if a widow’s husband had owned land, it went to the oldest son, not the dead man’s wife. If the oldest son failed to take care of his mother, she had nowhere to turn for help. If there was no son, she still lost her property and could only get it back if a relative of her husband married her. Remember the story of Ruth and Boaz? That’s what that was about.
God had instructed the Jews to care for the poor. They could not harvest the edges of their fields, but had to leave the grain for the poor people to “glean” or pick up. Neither could the owner go over the field a second time to pick up grain that had fallen. It was to be left for the poor.
Every third year the tithe was to be reserved as a festival tithe where they brought out all the tithe, and their produce where the Levite, the stranger, the orphan, the widow, the poor who were in their town, could come and eat and be content (Deuteronomy 14:28-29; 26:12-15).
In the New Testament, there was organized giving within local assemblies to care for believing widows and orphans who had no other family to rely on (Acts 6:1-4; 1 Tim. 5:1-16). As we see in the book of James, those who care for the poor receive God’s approval, and those who do not are displeasing to him.
True, there is NO New Covenant example (after Christ’s Resurrection) of the early Church “tithing.” In Acts 4:32-37, there were many wealthy Christians who sold portions of their assets and put the money at the Apostles’ feet. Was it for the apostles, in order to make them rich? No, it was for the Christian community. The apostles distributed what they received. The only time we find a New Testament example of God’s judgment having to do with money is in Acts 5:1-11. Ananias and Sapphira were condemned for lying, because they held back part of the proceeds from the sale of the land that they had promised along with everyone else. Despite what some preachers may say, this judgment had absolutely nothing to do with “tithing,” as much as it had to do with keeping their word. Message: Let your yes mean yes, and your no mean no.
REVIVAL BASED UPON OBEDIENCE
As Heidi Baker said, I believe that, if the Body of Christ were to set their sights on aiding the widows and the orphans, it would command a blessing from Heaven that we could not contain.
It’s true. To obtain a blessing we must remain blessable. Frankly, I believe that stands true regarding civic groups, businesses and individuals as well. Why else would it be that so many nations – other than the USA, that is – are experiencing exponential Christian growth amidst famine, war, disease and pestilence? I contend that it’s because so much money and aid are being directed to assist the refugees, consisting in great part, of widows and orphans.
Let’s read Acts 6: 1-7. It says: “And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration… brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word…and they chose… And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith.”
Did you notice? As soon as The Church focused upon the widows, their numbers increased. So simple! You see, the bottom line is this: it’s not OUR money. We are merely stewards of it and, if we perform our duties well, it commands a blessing from God. Simply put, it’s called reaping and sowing.
“He who is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward him for what he has done,” Proverbs 19:17.
I expect most who are reading this right now have a religion of sorts. Hopefully, many have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. I wish that was so for all people everywhere. But, for those who have religion only – even if it’s the ‘religion’ of Christianity (rather than a RELATIONSHIP with God through Jesus Christ) – please ask yourself this question: how pure, and undefiled is it? Does it measure up to James’ description of pure and undefiled religion? Dedicated church attendance means very little in comparison.
Though there are some who claim that James 1:27 refers only to those within The Church (specifically THEIR church), there are multitudes who will never join ANY Christian group because these groups neglected to show the hands and feet of Christ to the widows and orphans right there in the community.
Jesus, once again, has the final word on this subject. In Matthew 25:40, He says, “…whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”
Love one another.
Michael’s mission is to bring Discipleship and Encouragement to the Body of Christ. Since 1999, he has broadcast over 300 hundred inspirational articles and a dozen booklets on subjects that will interest the thinking Christian, all designed to accelerate the process of spiritual development in God’s people.