Published: 27 March 2023

People The Church Must Refuse To Help

Refuse To Help

It goes against modern Western sensibilities to say that there are some people the church must refuse to help. People often view the church as an aid organization that anyone and everyone should be able to turn to when they are down on their luck. Nevertheless, the New Testament says otherwise. There are some people the church has no biblical authority to help.

11 But refuse to enroll younger widows, for when their passions draw them away from Christ, they desire to marry 12 and so incur condemnation for having abandoned their former faith. (1 Tim. 5:11–12 ESV)

In the passage where Paul gave instructions to the Ephesian church to care for widows who had no one to help them, he also said the church must refuse to help other widows! This certainly goes against the grain of modern thinking. Even many Christians tend to think of the church as a glorified Red Cross. Regardless, it is not scriptural to help those who have the means to help themselves.

Refuse to help younger widows

What did Paul have against the younger widows? Was he a hard hearted old man who had no compassion? Paul had nothing against younger widows and he was not hard hearted. To the contrary, his tough love approach was in their best interest. How so?

Like the US welfare system, providing for those who are not truly in need and could care for themselves fosters a lazy and unrestrained lifestyle.

“Support from the church enables the younger Ephesian widows to live totally self-centered lives, given over to the pursuit of selfish pleasure, and they have grown wanton against Christ.”1

Enabling people to live a lifestyle which is detrimental to themselves and those around them is not compassionate. “Helping” people to live in such a way is not loving, but hateful.

“Dead even while she lives”

Paul said that the younger widows, enabled to live a lazy lifestyle while being propped up by the church, are dead. In what sense were they dead?

11 But refuse to enroll younger widows, for when their passions draw them away from Christ, they desire to marry 12 and so incur condemnation for having abandoned their former faith. 13 Besides that, they learn to be idlers, going about from house to house, and not only idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not.  (1 Tim. 5:11–13 ESV)

Paul described them as “dead” because it would appear they had turned their backs on Jesus. This is reminiscent of the prodigal son:

my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found (Luke 15:24 ESV)

Or like the church at Sardis:

I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. (Rev. 3:1 ESV)

Contrast this kind of widow with the true widow. One seeks God by prayer constantly while the other indulges her selfish desires. Church support allowed the younger widows to have idle time allowing them to engage in sinful behavior. One only needs to observe the behavior of those (of both genders) on public assistance in the USA to know the truthfulness of this.

Did Paul equate remarrying with leaving the faith?

Paul said a curious thing in 1 Timothy 5:11-12 about remarrying and abandoning their faith. Is Paul saying that if a younger widow who was being helped by the church remarried, she had left the faith? Paul is not opposed to remarrying as his instructions in v. 14 encourage the younger widows to do so. Therefore, his remarks in vv. 11-12 do not indicate that Paul equated remarrying with abandoning the faith. There was something about their remarriage that was wrong. Note that the text says they incur condemnation because they left the faith, not because they remarried.

We don’t know specifics, but perhaps the younger widows attracted a new mate in a sinful manner. The text says their passions got the better of them so perhaps their physical impulses induced them to abandon Christ in order to marry a man who was not a Christian. Perhaps this is why Paul said that remarrying is only to be “in the Lord” (1 Cor 7:39) which I take to mean only marrying a Christian.

“The real problem is that the younger widows have given themselves over to a self-centered, self-indulgent lifestyle and have followed after Satan (v 15).”2

“[T]he situation appears to have been that some younger widows who had been enrolled were abusing the system. With the church caring for their physical needs, they had time to indulge themselves and live totally self-centered lives. Instead of maintaining their devotion to God, they were being captivated by their sensual desires and as a result wanted to remarry. Their lifestyles were so extreme that harsh language such as ‘judgment’ and ‘going after Satan’ was warranted.”3

Refuse to help those who will not work

Another category of people who the church must refuse to help is those who can work, but won’t.

10 For even when we were with you, we commanded you this: If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat. 11 For we hear that there are some who walk among you in a disorderly manner, not working at all, but are busybodies. 12 Now those who are such we command and exhort through our Lord Jesus Christ that they work in quietness and eat their own bread. (2 Th. 3:10–12 NKJV)

When Paul wrote to the church at Thessalonica, he ordered them to refuse help to those who would not work for the same reasons the church must refuse to help younger widows. It made them lazy, busybodies. Paul’s advice to cure the widow’s problems in Ephesus was to “marry, bear children, manage their households, and give the adversary no occasion for slander” (1 Tim. 5:14 ESV). 

Likewise, the cure in Thessalonica was that they should “work in quietness and eat their own bread.” The common thread is that the cure for lazy, idle people is to cut off their aid and force them to be self-sufficient. Many would say this is a cruel and unloving response. Those who would say this are looking at the situation as the world looks at it, they are not looking at the problem through a scriptural lens. Helping those who are capable of supporting themselves, in the long run, is self-defeating. It causes them to be totally reliant on others. It is a means of enslavement and is not the loving thing to do at all.

Refuse to help those who undermine the truth

9 Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. 10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, 11 for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works. (2 John 1:9–11 ESV)

The church must refuse to help those who are deceivers (2 John 1:7). False teachers who undermine or teach contrary to sound doctrine are not candidates of church support. To help such people is to participate in their wicked works. John says we should not show hospitality to them or even wish them well. We cannot be quick to support just anyone who claims to be a preacher of the gospel, a missionary, etc. Not everyone is who they appear to be and must be vetted.

Refusing to help is commanded

As difficult as it may seem it is not only correct to refuse to help some people, it is commanded! Not everyone is worthy of the church’s support. Those who the church selects to help on a permanent basis must meet the scriptural criteria.

This is not to say that the church cannot make temporary arrangements to help unfortunate people get back on their feet. If the church is able to help a brother or sister in Christ get back on their feet, that is commendable. The objective, however, is to get them on their feet again and be self-sufficient so that they in turn will one day be able to help others.

References

  1. Mounce, William D. Word Biblical Commentary, Pastoral Epistles, Vol 46, Nelson, 2000, 590.
  2. Ibid., 599.
  3. Ibid., 600.