Friday, February 10, 2006

1 Timothy 5 and the Welfare State

This morning, I was reading 1 Timothy 5:3-16, and thought there were interesting applications for a Christian view of the Welfare State. I am not saying the government should follow these principles, only that they are interesting ones to consider.

I fully recognise that the passage is speaking about the specific situation of the Christians (probably in Ephesus) looking after widows within their congregation. However, I think it's interesting to note the following prinicples:

1. Family First

Paul suggests that the first place people should look for support is their own families, and indeed that families have a duty to support relatives who are in need.

Honour widows who are truly widows. But if a widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show godliness to their own household and to make some return to their parents, for this is pleasing in the sight of God.
1 Timothy 5:3-4, ESV

But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.
1 Timothy 5:8, ESV

If any believing woman has relatives who are widows, let her care for them. Let the church not be burdened, so that it may care for those who are really widows.
1 Timothy 5:16, ESV

I think this suggests that even unbelieving families have a duty to care for one another (v8), and therefore the expectation would be that it is not the place of the state to provide for those who have families who are able to care for them. Perhaps the state could assist the families to care for them, but should not encourage independence from families. Yes, there are difficulies here where the families are abusive (including failing in their duty of care), but I think that crosses into the realm of criminal law rather than social security policy.

2. The Deserving First

Following Christ is of course all about God's grace shown to us and transforming us. We cannot earn God's favour. To provide some balance, Paul says that the church should concentrate on helping deserving widows.

She who is truly a widow, left all alone, has set her hope on God and continues in supplications and prayers night and day, but she who is self-indulgent is dead even while she lives. Command these things as well, so that they may be without reproach.
1 Timothy 5:5-7, ESV

Let a widow be enrolled if she is not less than sixty years of age, having been the wife of one husband, and having a reputation for good works: if she has brought up children, has shown hospitality, has washed the feet of the saints, has cared for the afflicted, and has devoted herself to every good work.
1 Timothy 5:9-10, ESV

Were the government to apply this, it would suggest that social security should be linked to the kind of life the person was living or had lived, as judged by the government's criteria. Were they using their time well? - e.g. helping in charity shops, caring for people, foster care, ...

3. The Danger of Idleness

Paul warns agains the danger of the recipients of support becoming idle, a phenomenon which is sadly seen all too often today. He suggests therefore that people likely to become idle should not be supported by the Church.

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 Timothy 5:13, ESV

Were the state to decide to do this today, things might change quite dramatically in some areas!

4. Encourage Self-Sufficiency

One of the problems Timothy was facing was the problem of younger widows wanting support, when they could have remarried and been supported that way. Note that women then rarely seem to have earnt enough to become self-sufficient. Paul deals with this quite clearly.

So I would have younger widows marry, bear children, manage their households, and give the adversary no occasion for slander.
1 Timothy 5:14, ESV

If people can support themselves, including by marriage, they should.

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