Consideration for Older Persons and Afflicted Ones
LONG ago Jehovah God instructed his people on the proper treatment of elderly persons and those in difficult circumstances. He commanded: “Before gray hair you should rise up, and you must show consideration for the person of an old man, and you must be in fear of your God. I am Jehovah.” “The one despising his own fellow man is sinning, but happy is he who is showing favor to the afflicted ones.” (Lev. 19:32; Prov. 14:21) Jehovah required that respect be shown to the deaf and blind. He also directed his people to give a tenth of all the produce every third year to the Levites, alien residents, fatherless boys and widows inside their gates.—Lev. 19:14; Deut. 14:28, 29.
EARLY CHRISTIANS WERE CONSIDERATE
Jesus and his apostles likewise taught Christians to show consideration for elderly persons and afflicted ones. Jesus told the hypocritical Pharisees: “God said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Let him that reviles father or mother end up in death.’ But you say, ‘Whoever says to his father or mother: “Whatever I have by which you might get benefit from me is a gift dedicated to God,” he must not honor his father at all.’ And so you have made the word of God invalid because of your tradition.” (Matt. 15:4-6) For disregarding Jehovah’s Word the Pharisees received an unfavorable judgment from God. As Jesus said, the kingdom of God was taken from them and given to those producing proper works.
One of these works is brotherly love demonstrated in practical ways. This was stressed by the apostle John, who wrote: “Whoever has this world’s means for supporting life and beholds his brother having need and yet shuts the door of his tender compassions upon him, in what way does the love of God remain in him? Little children, let us love, neither in word nor with the tongue, but in deed and truth.” (1 John 3:17, 18) The “means for supporting life” is not only money, but includes food, clothing and shelter. Christians must be willing to share these things with brothers in need.
The disciple James emphasized this when he tied material giving directly to our worship of God: “The form of worship that is clean and undefiled from the standpoint of our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their tribulation, and to keep oneself without spot from the world.” “Of what benefit is it, my brothers, if a certain one says he has faith but he does not have works? That faith cannot save him, can it? If a brother or a sister is in a naked state and lacking the food sufficient for the day, yet a certain one of you says to them: ‘Go in peace, keep warm and well fed,’ but you do not give them the necessities for their body, of what benefit is it? Thus, too, faith, if it does not have works, is dead in itself.”—Jas. 1:27; 2:14-17.
The early Christians proved their faith by their works. These works included showing consideration for older persons and afflicted ones. For example, among the Christians in Jerusalem were some destitute widows who had no relatives or other means of support. Under apostolic direction these impoverished Christians were supplied with their daily food by the congregation. While not given priority over the work of preaching and teaching God’s Word, this care for the destitute widows was considered a “necessary business.” Proper attention to it and the ministry brought Jehovah’s blessing, “and the number of the disciples kept multiplying in Jerusalem very much.”—Acts 6:1-7.
When Christians in a community fell into desperate need it was customary for other Christian congregations to send relief gifts. The congregations of Macedonia, though very poor themselves, kept asking for the privilege of sharing what little they had with their destitute brothers. (2 Cor. 8:1-9, 15) Sharing does not depend on having a lot. To enjoy the happiness of giving only requires a willingness to share whatever is on hand. This early Christians did gladly. In many respects their love and unity resembled that of a large family circle. In fact, Paul showed the family-like relationship of the congregation when he instructed Timothy on fulfilling his overseership at Ephesus: “Do not severely criticize an older man. To the contrary, entreat him as a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters with all chasteness.” This called for consideration and respect toward one another.—1 Tim. 5:1, 2.
In view of this closeness of the congregation, what was Timothy to do if an aged Christian widow in Ephesus became destitute and had no one to support her? Under inspiration Paul directed: “Honor widows that are actually widows. But if any widow has children or grandchildren, let these learn first to practice godly devotion in their own household and to keep paying a due compensation to their parents and grandparents, for this is acceptable in God’s sight. Certainly if anyone does not provide for those who are his own, and especially for those who are members of his household, he has disowned the faith and is worse than a person without faith. If any believing woman has widows [such as a widowed mother and grandmother], let her relieve them, and let the congregation not be under the burden. Then it can relieve those who are actually widows.”—1 Tim. 5:3, 4, 8, 16.
Here Paul applies the principle that children must honor their parents, showing that it includes providing material support when that becomes necessary. Parents and grandparents who have labored many years to rear families and who later become incapable of self-support are entitled to material consideration. Of course, supporting a needy parent may consume time and resources that might be used elsewhere in God’s service, but Christians are not to imitate the Pharisees by saying: “Whatever I have by which you might get benefit from me is a gift dedicated to God.”
Caring for an aged parent within the Christian home is better than shunting that father or mother elsewhere to spend the remaining years of life with worldlings who can offer no spiritual encouragement and comfort. Jesus knew the advantage of having his apparently widowed mother cared for in a Christian home. From his torture stake “Jesus, seeing his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing by, said to his mother: ‘Woman, see! your son!’ Next he said to the disciple: ‘See! Your mother!’ And from that hour on the disciple took her to his own home.” It was much better that Mary be shown consideration by John, a Christian, than by her then unbelieving children. Though an apostle, John did not ask to be excused from rendering this honor because of other pressing obligations.—John 19:26, 27.
But how would overseer Timothy handle the case of an elderly Christian widow who had no children or grandchildren to relieve her poverty? Paul writes: “Now the woman who is actually a widow and left destitute has put her hope in God and persists in supplications and prayers night and day. But the one that goes in for sensual gratification is dead though she is living. So keep on giving these commands, that they may be irreprehensible. Let a widow be put on the list who has become not less than sixty years old, a wife of one husband, having a witness borne to her for fine works, if she reared children, if she entertained strangers, if she washed the feet of holy ones, if she relieved those in tribulation, if she diligently followed every good work.” (1 Tim. 5:5-7, 9, 10) The prayers of such destitute widows would be answered through the Christian congregation. Wisely, however, Paul laid down certain requirements that had to be met before one could receive regular aid from the congregation. The early Christians did not attempt to win converts by enticing them with food, the way Christendom’s missionaries often win “bread Christians.” To be put on the congregation’s relief list, a widow had to have a reputation for fine works.
SHOWING CONSIDERATION TODAY
In view of what the Bible has to say in this matter, every true Christian will give it sober thought. Showing consideration for older persons and afflicted ones is still an important and necessary feature of true worship. As Paul predicted, many today are disobedient, unthankful and disloyal, with “no natural affection.” (2 Tim. 3:2, 3) We must not fall into that disapproved state. No Christian will railroad an aged parent or grandparent to an institution simply to avoid the inconvenience of caring for that parent at home. Jehovah God says: “Listen to your father who caused your birth, and do not despise your mother just because she has grown old.” “He that is maltreating a father and that chases a mother away is a son acting shamefully and disgracefully.” (Prov. 23:22; 19:26) There may be factors of safety or illness that might make it imperative to place an elderly person in a nursing home or suitable institution, but Christians will not be anxious to take such action. The best place for an aged parent to maintain his Christian integrity is in the Christian household if such accommodation can be arranged. Destitute and afflicted parents are entitled to this honor.
In many lands aged parents retain family headship until death. Children and grandchildren often remain in the one household. In other lands it is customary for married children to establish their own separate home. In some countries the government may pass laws providing social security for elderly persons. Old-age benefits, pensions and savings may make it possible for aged parents or grandparents to maintain their own separate household. However, if these provisions are inadequate and an aged parent comes into need, Christian offspring will not hesitate to honor that parent or grandparent with material support, in harmony with Paul’s counsel at 1 Timothy 5:4, 8, 16.
This does not mean that parents should squander their resources in the belief that at any time they choose they can demand material support from their children. Paul also said that “the children ought not to lay up for their parents, but the parents for their children.” (2 Cor. 12:14) In the normal course of events many parents acquire their own home, property and sources of income that may sustain them in their old age. So long as this is true, aged parents need not place a burden on their children. However, if the parents’ means of support fail or need supplementing, Christian offspring will gladly come to the rescue. Sometimes assistance may be required along the lines of helping with duties that older persons can no longer perform. Love will show consideration.
Today Christian overseers must be alert to the plight of older persons and afflicted ones in the congregation. Members of the congregation must likewise be awake to show kindness to those deserving Christians who are destitute, aged, widowed, blind, crippled, bedridden or perhaps confined in an institution some miles away. If you are an overseer, ask yourself: Do I keep the congregation advised as to who is sick or afflicted? Because of my regularly making such announcements has the congregation formed the good habit of telling me who is in difficulty? Have I encouraged Christians “who are rich in the present system of things . . . to work at good, to be rich in fine works, to be liberal, ready to share”? (1 Tim. 6:17, 18) Remember, Jehovah rejected “the shepherds of Israel” because, as he said: “The sickened ones you have not strengthened, and the ailing one you have not healed, and the broken one you have not bandaged, and the dispersed one you have not brought back, and the lost one you have not sought to find.” (Ezek. 34:4) Caring for God’s flock may involve material assistance as well as spiritual aid. In cases of poverty the congregation committee can determine what measures should be taken by the congregation, keeping in mind Paul’s counsel at 1 Timothy 5:3-16.
Of course, when emergencies arise, no Christian need wait upon formal congregational action before assisting a brother in need. Sharing with others is your personal privilege and an expression of your Christian love. Not that sharing your material things is the only way to show consideration. You can practice it by visiting the sick, elderly and afflicted. Ask yourself: Is there someone ill in my congregation who needs assistance with the shopping, housecleaning or laundering? Am I alert to offer elderly persons and afflicted ones transportation to and from congregation meetings and assemblies? Do I invite aged Christians to join my car group for public witnessing even though they cannot witness for more than one hour? Is there someone blind or with failing eyesight in my congregation to whom I could read? Can I arrange to do some of my personal Bible study aloud in his or her presence? When was the last time I visited that bedridden one or that afflicted Christian who used to get out to the congregation meetings?
The results of showing tender affection for these older persons and afflicted ones prove that such consideration has Jehovah’s blessing. One woman rises early each Sunday and drives some distance out of her way to pick up an elderly widow for a day of witnessing, meetings and material sustenance. In another congregation, when illness recently struck a middle-aged woman who lives alone with her elderly mother, members of the congregation swarmed to the sister’s bedside like worker bees, taking over the housecleaning, shopping and other duties. Exclaimed the grateful convalescent: “I didn’t know so many of my brothers loved me! I will never be able to do enough for Jehovah!” Consider the case of a Christian widow and her two daughters. Shortly after this family moved, the mother died. Who would look after the orphans? The overseer in their new congregation appreciated that these teen-agers needed the benefit of a Christian home and arranged to make them part of his household. In yet another instance, when an elderly faithful woman fell into dire circumstances, a family of newly dedicated Witnesses took the afflicted one into their home, where she has been lovingly cared for over a long period of time. These examples prove that James’ words are still being applied: “The form of worship that is clean and undefiled from the standpoint of our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their tribulation.”—Jas. 1:27.
When you show consideration to one of the least of Jesus’ brothers, he counts it as done to himself. Such consideration will be found among the Lord’s “other sheep” who are in line for the blessing of endless life in God’s new world. (Matt. 25:31-46) Even now blessings come to considerate ones, who find the proverb true: “Happy is he who is showing favor to the afflicted ones.” Besides enjoying the superior happiness of giving, you will find that a visit with an older person or afflicted Christian often provides a mutual exchange of encouragement. By observing the integrity of the one in difficulty the visitor gains a valuable lesson in endurance. Elderly Christians are often rich in interesting experiences and eyewitness accounts of outstanding events in the modern history of Jehovah’s congregation. Consideration shown to afflicted ones causes them to remember you in their prayers to Jehovah. These are some of the blessings that are yours when you show kindness to those faithful ones who may be ‘poor respecting the world but rich in faith.’—Jas. 2:5.
In these critical times Jehovah is examining our hearts to see if we have enough love of God and neighbor to qualify for life in his paradise new world. Under this searching inspection may each one of us be able to repeat the statement of faithful Job: “I would rescue the afflicted one crying for help, and the fatherless boy and anyone that had no helper. The blessing of the one about to perish—upon me it would come, and the heart of the widow I would make glad. Eyes I became to the blind one; and feet to the lame one I was. I was a real father to the poor ones.”—Job 29:12, 13, 15, 16.