The Fatherless and the Widows
Fred E. Dennis
"Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world" (James 1:27) Here we have an inspired definition of pure religion. Here we have stated the individual responsibility of every member of the church. This work must be done by each of us. The term "visit" carries with it the idea of ministering to their necessities. We must look after the needs of the fatherless and the widows when afflicted. We have something to do. We must discharge our individual responsibilities. We must keep ourselves unspotted from the world.
It might help us to read this verse from a few different translations. "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world" (RSV). "The religion which is pure and stainless in the sight of God and Father is to visit orphans and widows in their time of trouble, and to keep one's own self unspotted from the world" (Weymouth). "A religious observance that is pure and stainless in the sight of God the Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their trouble, and keep oneself unstained by the world" (Goodspeed).
I have been in the church for fifty-five years, and have been preaching the gospel for forty-five of those fifty-five, and it does not occur to me that I have ever run across a member of the church that does not believe in taking care of orphans and widows when they are in trouble. And furthermore, I have never run across a congregation that had more orphans and widows in their midst than they could take care of if each member of the church will function as God expects Christians to do. If an emergency were to arise when it would be impossible for the local church to take care of its widows and orphans, I am sure that other churches would help until the emergency was over. Furthermore I know of but few congregations but what could take care of many more orphans and widows than exist in their immediate membership. I mean by this that we could reach out to those outside of the church to the extent of our abilities and take care of some orphans and widows other than widows who might be in the church and orphans whose parents may have been members of the church. And furthermore we could do this great work without any extra organization or institution other than the local church with its elders, deacons, and members.
I think we all are agreed there is no substitute for a genuine Christian home. The best place to rear children is in the home. If there be orphans in the neighborhood of the church, what better thing could be done with them than for the members of the church to open their homes to these orphans? Of course, if these orphans have relatives who are Christians they should feel a special responsibility towards them. And I believe if they are Christians they will feel this personal responsibility. There might be some poor family that would give an orphan a good home but they are hard pressed financially. The local congregation could help with this financial burden under the direct supervision of the elders and deacons. Let us not forget that looking after the spiritual needs of these children must considered. It would be well for us to remember that the great work of the church is preaching the gospel. The church is not in the welfare business, nor in the recreation business, nor in the school business, nor in the entertainment business. The Lord has never commanded the church to take care of all widows and orphans.
God expects Widows to take care of themselves while they can. When they cannot do this, God expects the children and grandchildren to do it, and the church is not to be charged with this. "But if any widow have children or nephews (grandchildren), let them learn first to shew piety at home, and to requite their parents" (I Tim. 5:4). "Let not a widow be taken into the number under threescore years old, having been the wife of one man, well reported of for good works; if she have brought up children, if she have lodged strangers, if she have washed the saints' feet, if she have relieved the afflicted, if she have diligently followed every good work" (I Tim. 5:9, 10). Members of the church have a responsibility towards their orphans and widows, and this responsibility cannot be passed on to others in any way.
Many homes want to adopt children. The elders should know these homes and they should know every desirable home that would take children and give them the training they should have. When the need arises, then the home would be ready. If a widow has no children or grandchildren and cannot help herself, then the church must step in and do that work. Our homes should be available. If the financial load is too heavy, the church can help to carry that load.
Brethren, I am trying to say that we have all the necessary "institutions" right in our midst for doing what the Lord wants done. We do not need to build something else with a financial outlay of multiplied thousands of dollars that should be spent in preaching the gospel. It is the duty of the church to preach the gospel. It is the duty of the members to take care of the widows and orphans. They need homes if they have no homes of their own. We already have the homes. Why not use what we have without building something the Lord said nothing about?
If it were to become common among us that each local church took care of every one of its widows and orphans, and even went beyond its membership, this would be a great way to interest folks in the gospel and in the saving of their souls.
We should all read carefully what Jesus says in Matt. 25:31-46. This will teach us what the Lord thinks of those who take care of folks who cannot take care of themselves, and it will also teach us what is going to happen to us when we will not do this work.
Right in the chapter (Acts 2) that tells about the beginning of the church, we have an example of the local brethren taking care of a need that arose among them. "And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need." A little later right in this same city (Jerusalem) some brethren said that certain widows were being neglected. What did the apostles do? They called the church together, and told them to look out seven men from among
themselves whom they would appoint over the matter. It was a local condition and was met locally. There was no hustling around to build an "institution." God's institution had already been built; all it needed to do was to function, and these inspired apostles thought their great work was to give themselves "continually to prayer and to ministry of the word." You know that is a pretty good thing for preachers to do. It seems that these inspired apostles thought it was not "reason for them to leave the word of God and serve tables." Maybe the Lord's plan is just so simple that some of us are overlooking it because of its very simplicity.
Turn and read about Dorcas in Acts 9:36-41. She (individually) was "full of good works and alms deeds which she did." After she was dead, the widows just stood by Peter, weeping and showing the coats and garments which Dorcas had made while she was with them. And today I hear of some society called a "Dorcas Society." Poor Dorcas! She did not know that she ought to start some kind of society through which to do her good works. She thought she could function as a disciple. Well, the Lord thought the same thing.
"And in these days came prophets from --Jerusalem unto Antioch. And there stood up one of them named Agabus, and signified by the spirit that there should be a great dearth throughout all the world: which came to pass in the days of Claudius Caesar. Then the disciples, every man according to his ability, determined to send relief unto the brethren which dwelt in Judaea: which also they did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul" (Acts 11:27-30). Here we see an emergency arise among the brethren in a certain locality. We see how that other brethren helped. They sent the help to the elders. You see no extra organization was needed. God's church was enough. Simple isn't it?
But this article is long enough. I believe interested readers will turn and read the eighth chapter of Second Corinthians. Brethren, let us be careful. Let us study carefully and have no divisions among us on caring for widows and orphans. We all believe and know that there are some that must be cared for. Let us study carefully to see how inspired men handled these situations when they arose in the primitive church. We all know we will be safe when we handle them in the same way.
I want to add another paragraph. Some will say what about the widows and orphans in a community where there is no church. That brings us right back to the main work of the church, viz., preaching the gospel to every creature. Preachers should go or be sent into every nook and corner of the earth to preach the word of God. This will bring the church into existence, and, of course, the church will then function as a church. Let us get it straight in our minds that the preachers are sent to build up the church. They are to establish churches. They are not sent to establish schools, homes, etc. It is not reason that they should leave the word of God and serve tables, or schools, or homes, etc. (Acts 6:3). They must give themselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word.
Truth Magazine VIII: 7, pp. 1-3 April 1964