Through the New Testament in a Year

Today's Reading – 1 Timothy 5:1-25 – The power of love

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The demographic balance of Western society is changing. Families are having fewer children and the elderly are living longer, sometimes with debilitating illness such as dementia or crippling arthritis. Coupled with this it is common for children to move away from the areas where they grew up with the result that elderly parents, widows and widowers, often live far from their children and grandchildren. All of this has led to a crisis of care. More and more are requiring the help of care assistants or to be looked after in care homes. The demands for and expense of such care are placing significant burdens upon society.

One of the tragic consequences of this situation has been reduced standards of care for the elderly and increasing instances of abuse as ill-paid and ill-trained care workers have to cope with increasing numbers of clients. Against such a background, Christians should stand out as examples of care.

There must have been similar situations in the first century Mediterranean world. Paul urges Timothy to encourage Christians to care for their families. The family is to reflect the love of God as members across the generations love one another as God has loved us in Christ – giving ourselves to the care and blessing of one another.  Children are to be brought up in the love and knowledge of God and the elderly are to be cared for and provided for (1 Timothy 5:7). Caring for elderly parents and grandparents is one of the ways in which we express our thanks for their care of us in former years. Paul goes so far as to say, “Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (5:8).

And the church is to act as an extension of this model. Churches are to live as families of God’s people, modelling the love and compassion of God. They also are to be places where children are taught of God and the elderly receive the care and respect they need. There will always be those who have no one near at hand to care for them. They are to be places where the lonely find a home and the stranger a welcome. Nor does this expression of care extend only to those who already belong to the household of faith. Christ loved us and sought us when we were still far off. We are to show the same love to ‘outsiders’.

In his book, The Rise of Christianity, Rodney Stark argues that it was the care and compassion that Christians showed towards others that transformed “the obscure, marginal Jesus movement [to become] the dominant religious force in the Western World in a few centuries.” Their care for others presented a powerful testimony in a society where life was cheap and the weak and vulnerable were often despised and left to fend for themselves.

This is surely an area in which Christian witness should prove powerful and effective in our own day: the witness of Christians caring well for their own families; the witness of Christians caring for neighbours in need; the witness of the churches providing care for the elderly and vulnerable. It is not that we should do such things to relieve society from the need for such care, but rather, that we should provide a model for a caring society.

Lord God, we thank you for your great love for us in Christ. Help us to love one another in the same way and to show the world the power of your love through patient care for the vulnerable and needy.

Peter Misselbrook