Keeping An Eye On the Interests of the Elderly
“Keeping an eye, not in personal interest upon just your own matters, but also in personal interest upon those of the others.”—PHILIPPIANS 2:4.
1, 2. (a) How did the first-century governing body demonstrate an interest in the needs of the elderly? (b) What evidence is there that the preaching work was not neglected?
SHORTLY after Pentecost 33 C.E. “a murmuring arose [in the Christian congregation] on the part of the Greek-speaking Jews against the Hebrew-speaking Jews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution [of food to the needy].” No doubt a number of these widows were elderly and unable to fend for themselves. At any rate, the apostles themselves intervened, saying: “Search out for yourselves seven certified men from among you, full of spirit and wisdom, that we may appoint them over this necessary business.”—Acts 6:1-3.
2 Early Christians thus viewed caring for the needy as “necessary business.” Years later the disciple James wrote: “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.” (James 1:27) Did this mean, then, that the all-important preaching work was neglected? No, for the account in Acts says that after the relief work for widows was properly organized, “the word of God went on growing, and the number of the disciples kept multiplying in Jerusalem very much.”—Acts 6:7.
3. What encouragement is given at Philippians 2:4, and why is this particularly appropriate today?
3 Today we face “critical times hard to deal with.” (2 Timothy 3:1) Caring for the demands of family life and secular work may leave us little energy—or desire—to concern ourselves with the needs of the elderly. Appropriately, then, Philippians 2:4 urges us to be “keeping an eye, not in personal interest upon just [our] own matters, but also in personal interest upon those of the others.” How can this be done in a balanced, practical way?
Rendering Honor to Widows
4. (a) Why and how did the first-century congregation “honor” widows? (b) Were such provisions always necessary?
4 In 1 Timothy chapter 5, Paul shows how early Christians looked after elderly widows in the congregation. He urged Timothy: “Honor widows that are actually widows.” (1 Timothy 5 Verse 3) Elderly widows were singled out as particularly worthy of receiving honor in the form of regular financial support. Such ones were cut off from all visible means of support and could only ‘put their hope in God and persist in supplications and prayers night and day.’ (1 Timothy 5 Verse 5) How were their prayers for sustenance answered? Through the congregation. In an organized manner, deserving widows were provided with a modest livelihood. Of course, if a widow had financial means, or relatives capable of supporting her, such provisions were unnecessary.—1 Timothy 5 Verses 4, 16.
5. (a) How might some widows have ‘gone in for sensual gratification’? (b) Was the congregation obligated to support such ones?
5 “But the [widow] that goes in for sensual gratification,” cautioned Paul, “is [spiritually] dead though she is living.” (1 Timothy 5 Verse 6) Paul does not explain how some were, as the Kingdom Interlinear literally renders it, “behaving voluptuously.” Some may have been fighting a battle with their “sexual impulses.” (1 Timothy 5 Verse 11) However, according to Liddell & Scott’s Greek-English Lexicon, “behaving voluptuously” could also have involved ‘living softly or in excessive comfort or indulgence.’ Perhaps, then, some wanted the congregation to enrich them, to finance an extravagant, self-indulgent life of immoderation. Whatever the case, Paul indicates that such ones were disqualified from receiving congregation support.
6, 7, and footnote. (a) What was “the list”? (b) Why were those under age 60 disqualified from receiving support? (c) How did Paul assist young widows from receiving an adverse “judgment”?
6 Paul then said: “Let a widow be put on the list [of those receiving financial support] who has become not less than sixty years old.” In Paul’s day a woman over age 60 was evidently viewed as unable to support herself and unlikely to remarry.* “On the other hand,” Paul said, “turn down younger widows [for enrollment], for when their sexual impulses have come between them and the Christ, they want to marry, having a judgment because they have disregarded their first expression of faith.”—1 Timothy 5 Verses 9, 11, 12.
7 Had “the list” been open to younger widows, some might hastily have declared an intention to remain single. As time passed, though, they might have had difficulty controlling their “sexual impulses” and wanted to remarry, ‘having a judgment for disregarding their first expression of faith’ to remain single. (Compare Ecclesiastes 5:2-6.) Paul averted such problems, further declaring, “I desire the younger widows to marry, to bear children.”—1 Timothy 5 Verse 14.
8. (a) How did Paul’s guidelines protect the congregation? (b) Were needy younger widows or elderly men also cared for?
8 The apostle also limited enrollment to those with long records of fine Christian works. (1 Timothy 5 Verse 10) The congregation was thus not a “welfare state” for the lazy or the greedy. (2 Thessalonians 3:10, 11) But what of elderly men or younger widows? If such ones fell into need, the congregation would no doubt have cared for them on an individual basis.—Compare 1 John 3:17, 18.
9. (a) Why would arrangements for the care of the elderly today differ from those made in the first century? (b) What does Paul’s discussion of widows in 1 Timothy chapter 5 help us appreciate today?
9 Such arrangements were likely quite adequate for the needs of first-century congregations. But as The Expositor’s Bible Commentary observes: “Today, with insurance income, social security, and job opportunities, the situation is very different.” As a result of a changed social and economic picture, rarely is it necessary for congregations today to maintain lists of elderly beneficiaries. Nevertheless, Paul’s words to Timothy help us appreciate: (1) The problems of the elderly are of concern to the entire congregation—particularly the elders. (2) The care of the elderly should be properly organized. (3) Such care is limited to those truly in need.
As Elders, Keeping An Eye On Their Interests
10. How can elders today take the lead in showing an interest in older ones?
10 How do overseers today take the lead in showing an interest in older ones? From time to time they can feature the needs of the elderly on the agenda of their meetings. When specific help is needed, they can arrange for it to be given. They may not personally render the care, inasmuch as there are often many willing ones—including youths—in the congregation who can help out. However, they can closely supervise such care, perhaps by assigning a brother to coordinate the care given to an individual.
11. How can elders acquaint themselves with the needs of the elderly?
11 Solomon counseled: “You ought to know positively the appearance of your flock.” (Proverbs 27:23) Overseers can thus personally visit the elderly so as to determine how best to “share . . . according to their needs.” (Romans 12:13) A traveling overseer put it this way: “Some elderly ones are very independent, and just asking them what needs to be done is no good. It is best to discern what needs to be done and get on with the job!” In Japan some overseers found that an 80-year-old sister needed much attention. They report: “We now see to it that someone has contact with her twice a day, morning and night, by visit or by telephone.”—Compare Matthew 25:36.
12. (a) How can elders see to it that elderly ones get the benefit of congregation meetings? (b) What good use can be made of tapes produced by the Society?
12 Overseers are also concerned that elderly ones get the benefit of congregation meetings. (Hebrews 10:24, 25) Do some need transportation? Are some simply unable to “listen and get the sense of” meetings because of hearing impairments? (Matthew 15:10) Perhaps it would be practical to install headphones for them. Similarly, a number of congregations now have meetings carried over the telephone lines so that infirm ones can listen in at home. Others record the meetings on tapes for those too sick to attend—in some cases purchasing the tape recorders for them. And speaking of tapes, an elder in Germany observed: “I have visited several elderly ones who just sat in front of the television and looked at programs that could hardly be described as being spiritually upbuilding.” Why not encourage them to listen instead to tapes produced by the Society, such as those containing Kingdom melodies and Bible reading?
13. How can older ones be helped to stay active as Kingdom proclaimers?
13 Some senior members of the congregation have become irregular or inactive as preachers. Age, though, does not necessarily prevent one from proclaiming the “good news of the kingdom.” (Matthew 24:14) Some might respond to a simple invitation to work with you in the field service. Perhaps you can rekindle their love for preaching by sharing field-service experiences with them. If walking up stairs is a problem, arrange for them to work apartments with elevators or residential areas without steps. Some publishers can also have elderly ones accompany them on Bible studies—or hold the study in the elderly one’s home.
14 and box. (a) What can the elders do if an elderly brother or sister falls into dire financial straits? (b) How have some congregations met the needs of elderly publishers?
14 ‘Money is a protection.’ (Ecclesiastes 7:12) Yet many an aged brother or sister is in dire financial straits and has no relatives willing to help out. Individuals in the congregation, though, are usually happy to assist when made aware of the need. (James 2:15-17) The elders can also look into what government or social services, insurance policies, pensions, and so forth, are available. In some lands, however, such services are hard to come by, and there may be no alternative but to follow the pattern at 1 Timothy chapter 5 and arrange for the congregation as a whole to provide relief. (See Organized to Accomplish Our Ministry, pages 122-3.)
Publishers in Nigeria regularly assisted an 82-year-old regular pioneer and his wife with material gifts. After the government scheduled for demolition the building they lived in, the congregation invited them to move into a room attached to the Kingdom Hall until other accommodations could be arranged.
In Brazil a congregation hired a nurse to care for an elderly couple. At the same time, a sister was assigned to keep the house clean, prepare their food, and care for other physical needs. Each month the congregation sets aside funds for their use.
15. (a) Are there limitations on the help the congregation can provide? (b) How might the counsel at Luke 11:34 be appropriate for certain ones who become overly demanding?
15 As in the first century, such provisions are for worthy ones who truly need them. Overseers are not obliged to meet extravagant requests or cater to unreasonable demands for attention. Elderly ones, too, must keep a ‘simple eye.’—Luke 11:34.
As Individuals, Keeping An Eye On Their Interests
16, 17. (a) Why is it important for others besides elders to take an interest in the elderly? (b) How can busy publishers ‘buy out time’ for the elderly?
16 Some time ago an elderly sister was admitted to a hospital. The diagnosis was malnutrition. “If more in the congregation had taken a personal interest in her,” wrote an elder, “perhaps this would not have happened.” Yes, elders are not the only ones who must take an interest in the elderly. Paul said: “We are members belonging to one another.”—Ephesians 4:25.
17 Doubtless some of you are already burdened with personal responsibilities. But ‘keep an eye, not in personal interest upon just your own matters.’ (Philippians 2:4) With proper personal organization, you can often ‘buy out time.’ (Ephesians 5:16) For example, could you visit an elderly one after field service? Weekdays are particularly lonely periods for some. Teenagers, too, can get involved in visiting the elderly and doing chores for them. Prayed one sister who was helped by a youth: “Thank you Jehovah for young Brother John. What a fine person he is.”
18. (a) Why may conversation with an elderly one be difficult at times? (b) How can one make a visit or a conversation with an older person mutually upbuilding?
18 At meetings, do you simply give older ones a cursory greeting? Granted, it may not be easy conversing with someone who is hard of hearing or has difficulty expressing himself. And since failing health takes its toll, not all elderly ones have cheery dispositions. Nevertheless, “better is one who is patient.” (Ecclesiastes 7:8) With a little effort, a real “interchange of encouragement” can ensue. (Romans 1:12) Try relating a field-service experience. Share a point you read in The Watchtower or Awake! Or better yet, listen. (Compare Job 32:7.) Older ones have much to share if you let them. Admitted one elder: “Visiting that elderly brother did me a lot of good.”
19. (a) Our concern for the elderly extends to whom? (b) What are some ways in which we can prove helpful to families caring for older parents?
19 Should not your concern for the elderly also extend to the families caring for them? One couple looking after aging parents reported: “Rather than encouraging us, some in the congregation have become quite critical. One sister said: ‘If you keep missing meetings, you’ll get spiritually sick!’ But she wasn’t willing to do anything to help us get to more meetings.” Equally discouraging are vague promises such as, If you ever need help, let me know. These often amount to little more than saying, “Keep warm and well fed.” (James 2:16) How much better it is to let your concern translate into action! Reports one couple: “The friends have been wonderful and supportive! Some will take care of Mom for a couple of days at a time so that we can have an occasional break. Others take her on Bible studies. And it really encourages us when others inquire as to her welfare.”
20, 21. What can older ones do to assist those rendering them care?
20 By and large our older ones are well cared for. However, what can elderly Witnesses themselves do so that such work is done with joy and not with sighing? (Compare Hebrews 13:17.) Cooperate with the arrangements elders make for your care. Express thanks and appreciation for whatever deeds of kindness are performed, and avoid being overly demanding or overly critical. And though the aches and pains of old age are quite real, try to manifest a cheerful, positive attitude.—Proverbs 15:13.
21 ‘The brothers are wonderful. I do not know what I would do without them,’ many older ones have been heard to say. Nevertheless, the prime responsibility of caring for the elderly rests upon their children. What does this involve, and how can this challenge best be met?
Leviticus 27:1-7 refers to the redemption of individuals ‘offered’ (by means of a vow) to the temple as laborers. The redemption price varied according to age. At age 60 this price fell precipitously, evidently because a person that old was felt to be unable to work as hard as a younger one. The Encyclopædia Judaica further says: “According to the Talmud, old age . . . begins at 60.”
Do You Remember?
□ What provisions were made in the first century for elderly widows?
□ How can overseers organize the care of older ones in the congregation?
□ How can individuals in the congregation display an interest in elderly brothers and sisters?
□ What can older ones do to assist those rendering them care?
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Helping the Elderly—What Some Are Doing
A congregation in Brazil found a convenient way of caring for the physical needs of a brother who lives near their Kingdom Hall: The book study group assigned to clean the hall also cleans his home.
Another congregation there found a simple way to keep an infirm brother active in the Theocratic Ministry School. When his turn to give a talk comes up, a brother is assigned to take two or three publishers with him to visit the brother. A brief meeting is opened with prayer, and the brother delivers his assignment. Necessary counsel is given. What an encouragement this visit proves to be!
Traveling overseers have set a fine example in taking the lead. In one congregation an elderly brother who was confined to a wheelchair became quite irritable and as a result was seldom visited. A traveling overseer, however, arranged to give the brother a private viewing of his slide talk. The elderly brother was moved to tears by what he saw. Says the overseer: “I felt greatly rewarded to see how a little attention and love could bring such results.”
Some elders in Nigeria made a shepherding call on an aged brother and discovered that he was seriously ill. He was immediately taken to the hospital. The aged brother was found to need extensive medical treatment, but he was unable to pay for it. When the congregation was informed of his need, the publishers came up with enough money to care for his expenses. Two elders took turns driving him back and forth to the hospital, although this required their taking time off from work. They had the joy, though, of seeing the brother recover from his illness and auxiliary pioneer until his death some four years later.
In the Philippines an elderly sister had no family. The congregation made arrangements for her care during three years of illness. They provided her with a small place to live, brought her meals each day, and cared for her hygiene.
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All can have a share in honoring our older ones in the congregation