Charity and Triage

1 Timothy 5:3-16 (NLT)


By Chuck Griffin

Some of Paul’s writings can seem difficult to process or even irrelevant because they are so tightly bound to cultural circumstances that seem far behind us. In today’s example, a reader might want to explore what it meant to be a widow in the early church as it existed in Ephesus, and what particular challenges the church faced at that time.

A trustworthy commentary or study Bible can help a reader uncover some of these important details of history, and such a learning process is always useful. That’s not where I am going today, though. Instead, I want to see if this seemingly anachronistic passage might hold some general principles that remain valuable now.

Let’s begin with a common point every church through time shares: Some churches may seem rich and some may seem poor, but all churches ultimately have finite resources. This means some care must be taken in how resources are distributed among people in need.

If we are to be good stewards, a form of charitable triage is required. In medicine, triage is a process where the wounded or ill are ranked for treatment so as to maximize the number of survivors. I see a kind of triage happening in this passage.

Of lowest priority would be those who demonstrate or express a need, but who also clearly have the ability to resolve their problems on their own. When encountering these situations, a church’s efforts should focus largely on education, showing people the path to independence.

In 2 Thessalonians 3:10, Paul gave this very direct comment regarding idleness: Even while we were with you, we gave you this command: “Those unwilling to work will not get to eat.”

In situations where people cannot resolve their problems on their own, church leaders still need to carefully analyze the family dynamics, exploring whether some sort of healing needs to happen in  the relationships there. The continuing importance of the family unit within the church comes through clearly in what Paul wrote to Timothy.

Where there is family, church support of people in need would again have to be somewhat conditional. As a pastor, I have seen families try to pass along responsibility for an impoverished or ill relative to the church, wanting to be free of the stress caused by the family member.

The family as a whole could very well need financial and spiritual assistance in supporting the relative. But the family still should take a demonstrably active role in the process, particularly if that family claims to abide by Christian values.

Of highest priority would be those who are truly alone and unable to help themselves. With careful stewardship of resources, a church should be able to offer these people God’s love in powerful and comforting ways.

In all of these situations, grace and gentleness should prevail, of course, with the goal of bringing everyone closer to God constantly in mind.

Dear Lord, may your Holy Spirit help us navigate the often difficult circumstances surrounding charitable work, and may your kingdom be glorified in all we do. Amen.

We Are Family

Matthew 12:46-50

While [Jesus] was still speaking to the crowds, his mother and his brothers were standing outside, wanting to speak to him. Someone told him, “Look, your mother and your brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.” But to the one who had told him this, Jesus replied, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” And pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”


The fifth of the Ten Commandments is, “Honor your father and mother.” When we remember how important family is in Jewish culture, Jesus’ above statement becomes more startling.

Family was important to Jesus, of course. He was an obedient child; likewise, as he was dying on the cross, bearing the burden of the sins of the world, one of his concerns was who would care for his mother.

As important as family is, however, there is a greater concern. Even family cannot interfere in our relationship with God. Walking with God, understanding God and following God’s will are the most challenging and critical activities in our lives.

It can be tough when God’s will for us is out of alignment with what the family wants. I will always remember a little girl in the Czech Republic who learned in Vacation Bible School the story of Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection. She lived in a nation with a shockingly high percentage of committed atheists, a vestige of communist rule.

Having learned how to tell the story on her own, she said, “I will tell my family. But it will make my grandmother very angry.” The interpreter and I teared up simultaneously.

Jesus knew such conflict would arise when he said, “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three.” (Luke 12:51-52.)

If you and your family are aligned in the pursuit of God’s will through Jesus Christ, know what a tremendous blessing you have. And if you are not so blessed, know that your global family prays for you, and that through your witness, your biological family has hope.

Lord, give special strength and new gifts of the Spirit to those who go about the particularly difficult task of telling non-believing family members the Good News. Amen.