|Is it ever okay to not help someone? It’s hard to go away from a reading like today’s and not entertain such a question.
As a reminder, the church in Ephesus had issues. Namely, false teaching had spread and caused all kinds of problems. The apostle Paul’s first letter to the young preacher there, Timothy, addressed this. His letter included encouragement and instruction. All preachers could use encouragement and instruction from time to time. I imagine Timothy’s youth and limited experience warranted a lot of both.
One of the issues facing the congregation is how to care for real widows. Real widows were older women who had nothing. The church was to honor them by supporting them. Apparently, not-so-real widows among them wanted the same kind of honor. For the not-so-real widows, the money only helped them support their idle way of life. So, Paul offered specific instructions to Timothy on how to handle this problem.
How was Timothy to decide which widows merited the church’s help?
The first qualifier was age. A real widow was over sixty and had only had one husband. She also had to have been someone with a faithful reputation. As far as Paul was concerned, all younger widows need not apply. They’re probably too focused on getting remarried than they are on living for Christ. Instead of learning the virtues of faith, they are learning how to be gossips and busybodies. Paul’s solution for Timothy is to get those young widows married; don’t put them on the honored widow list.
Let’s consider what is happening in the passage. I’m not convinced this is a once-for-all instruction for every congregation to follow. I say that because I have to ask, Do all young widows fit Paul’s description? Of course not. Plus, am I supposed to marry off young women of the church?
Paul is addressing a particular congregation dealing with their own issues. Let’s be careful, then, with the parallels we make to our own circumstances.
One conversation we can have takes us back to our original question, Is it ever okay to not help someone?
If we’re asking Paul, the answer is obvious. In many ways, our environments have changed in a couple thousand years. So, blanket requirements from the Bible taken out of context might not be all that helpful to us. At the same time, people haven’t changed all that much. There are still those who don’t mind taking advantage of anyone’s generosity.
So, yes, there are some times it’s okay to not help someone.
My experience tells me to be careful. I know we deal with limited resources and we want to honor God and those who make those resources available. But deciding who is worthy to receive our help or not is a delicate matter.
When it’s obvious, it’s obvious. Most times, though, it’s not so clear. I know you probably think about this from time to time. How do you decide how and when you help someone?
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