30 years ago, I helped to start a ministry to older, low-income widows living in urban and inner city neighborhoods around Chattanooga, TN. with home repair needs as well as facilitating an ongoing widow’s prayer ministry. This ministry was founded on James 1:27
“Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, (in order) to keep oneself unspotted from the world.” (DBY)
In those early years, though,
there seemed to be some confusion coming from many of the church leaders I approached about supporting this fledgling ministry as to who, according to scripture, we should consider to be a “widow indeed” and as such legitimately qualify her for our services.
The criteria for those qualifications that I was most frequently advised to rely upon were those found in I Timothy 5:9-10,
“No widow may be put on the list of widows unless she is over sixty, has been faithful to her husband, and is well known for her good deeds, such as bringing up children, showing hospitality, washing the feet of the Lord’s people, helping those in trouble and devoting herself to all kinds of good deeds.” (NIV)
And although I did not believe, at the time, that the intent of the author of these passages was to provide the standard for what both defined a widow or qualified a widow to be helped, I had no scriptural basis for that belief. Thankfully, one day while listening to our local Moody radio station I heard John MacArthur teaching a Bible study on these same passages in I Timothy 5 about what scripturally defines a widow as well as what qualifies her for help. MacArthur, in this series, “Caring for Widows,” points out that
“the Greek word for widow in the New Testament is chēra, which means “bereft.” That it is, quite literally, the condition of a woman being ‘bereft’ of a husband, at any age, that scripturally qualifies her for being helped, and not the circumstance that caused this condition, i.e. divorce, abandonment, death, imprisonment, etc.”