This article is for widows and about widows. But it is also for everyone else, because everyone needs to know how to better fulfill a vitally important responsibility.
Almost 2,000 years ago a very old woman, a widow well past 100 years of age, became an encouraging example for all generations that would follow. Her name was Anna. Let's read about her in Luke 2:36-38: "Now there was one, Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, and had lived with a husband seven years from her virginity; and this woman was a widow of about eighty-four years, who did not depart from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day. And coming in that instant she gave thanks to the Lord, and spoke of Him to all those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem." Notice the emphasis: She "served God with fastings and prayers." At first, that might not seem like much — but it actually is one of the most important ways to serve God. Stop and think: Through the fasting and prayers of all God's people, God could well be moved to add to His Work hundreds or thousands of co-workers and tithe payers. The amount of money we each have may be small, but God can call those who can give more — or call so many that even small contributions, added together, total the millions of dollars needed to do God's Work today. Older people like Anna, whose families are grown, whose physical strength may have waned, whose incomes do not permit large financial contributions, are a vital part of God's Work today. The poor widow whose story is recorded in Mark 12:41-44 — the lady who gave the "widow's mite" — is another prime example of attitude and service. This widow had her heart so much in God's Work that she was willing to sacrifice and go without so she could be a part of it. When a widow, or anyone, gives of his or her need, it is pleasing to God and He will reward this kind of serving, humble attitude. Never underestimate the power and might of God. He is able to take the smallest offering and accomplish the greatest possible amount of work. As Pastor General Herbert W. Armstrong has written, when one dollar is contributed to God's Work, it reaches many hundreds of people when it is used to purchase radio and television time. So, although your offerings may be small, a tremendous amount is being accomplished through them.
Another fine example of a widow's service is found in Acts 9:36-40: "At Joppa there was a certain disciple named Tabitha, which is translated Dorcas. This woman was full of good works and charitable deeds which she did. But it happened in those days that she became sick and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in an upper room. And since Lydda was near Joppa, and the disciples had heard that Peter was there, they sent two men to him, imploring him not to delay in coming to them. Then Peter arose and went with them. When he had come, they brought him to the upper room. And all the widows stood by him weeping, showing the tunics and garments which Dorcas had made while she was with them. But Peter put them all out, and knelt down and prayed. And turning to the body he said, 'Tabitha, arise.' And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter she sat up." Here was a zealous widow who was so well-known and loved because of her service that God saw fit to resurrect her from the dead! This was a powerful witness and many believed because of it. Dorcas spent her time serving others. She saw to it that the needy were well clothed. Dorcas was not as old and infirm as Anna. She was still able to spend much of her time sewing clothing and caring for others. Because of her tremendous zeal and her attitude, her story is preserved in the Word of God. It is an example all widows today can follow!
Many widows can teach
Notice, in Titus 2:4-5, another important function a widow can serve: "That they [the older women] admonish the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, homemakers, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be blasphemed."
Widows can contribute much to God's Work through prayer and personal service. The Bible instructs older women to give the benefits of their skills to younger women by teaching.
You widows or older women have a responsibility to teach teenage girls as well as newly married young wives. This is not the kind of teaching that a minister would do from the pulpit. But this is the kind of personal instruction, encouragement, inspiration and example that a widow can give right in her own home or as she visits with younger women.
Service a two-way street
Service, of course, works two ways. As we have seen, widows can make a significant contribution to the Work and to individuals. But God also wants us to know there is a great deal to be done for the widows. Some of us have grandmothers or mothers who are widows. But even if we have no widows in our immediate families, there are dozens or scores of mothers and grandmothers "in Christ." The very heart and core of a Christian life is summed up in James 1:27: "Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world." Yes, each one of us has a particular responsibility toward the widows, just as the widows have their responsibility to serve. The whole reason for living a Christian life is to be of service! Acts 6:1-4 relates how the office of deacon in God's Church was actually inspired because of the need to serve widows.
Care within families
Those of us who have in our families elderly widows who are members of God's Church have much to be thankful for. Extra effort should be taken to insure proper care is given to the elderly. The apostle Paul said we should treat "the elder women as mothers" and "honor widows that are widows indeed" (I Tim. 5:2-3, Authorized Version). " Widows indeed" refers to widows who don't have any means of support. In many cases families are able to provide financial aid for members of their own families, thus allowing the Church more opportunity to take care of those who have no one to help. If you have a widow in your family, give special thanks for her and honor to her. Be certain she has financial resources to meet her needs. Check to see that her appliances are properly working, that her furnace is properly vented, that her air conditioner or fan will meet cooling needs during hot summer months. If she has a car, see that it is kept in proper repair. Even though it may not always be necessary to provide substantial monthly financial support, there are scores of "little" things that family members can do. A grandson can mow the lawn. A granddaughter can keep up the washing and ironing. Working together draws the family closer. Visiting is important.
The Church plan to help
God gives much instruction about support for the needy in both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. Special financial provision for the elderly, the widows, the injured, the fatherless and other needy persons was incorporated into the civil statutes of Old Testament Israel, in the tithing system. Let's read about it in Deuteronomy 14:28-29, A V: "At the end of three years thou shalt bring forth all the tithe of thine increase the same year, and shalt lay it up within thy gates: and the Levite, (because he hath no part nor inheritance with thee,) and the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow, which are within thy gates, shall come, and shall eat and be satisfied; that the Lord thy God may bless thee in all the work of thine hand which thou doest." This is what we today call the third tithe. The first tithe, or 10 percent of one's income or increase, is God's, which He uses for His Work. There is also what we call the second tithe. Second tithe enables families to observe God's annual festivals, including a marvelous trip each year to keep the Feast of Tabernacles. Here in Deuteronomy we see a special or third tithe, which is neither for the Work of the Church nor for the festivals, but for a special class of people — the needy, especially the widows and orphans.
How does the third tithe work?
How is this tithe paid or collected? It is not an annual tithe as the first and second tithes are. Rather, it is a tithe collected two years out of every seven. When God led Israel to the promised land, He gave them not only the Ten Commandments by which they should live, but also an entire set of laws about health, family, farming, finance — every facet of life. As the Israelites were to be a basically agricultural society that would use the land to graze cattle, plant orchards and vineyards and produce food crops, God instructed them in the best care of the land. Israel was to plant and take produce from the land for a period of six years. But every seventh year was to be a Sabbath of rest for the land. The land was to lie fallow with a cover crop to replenish the nutrients taken out by six years of farming. This third tithe to help the needy was to come from the increase of the third and sixth years during each seven-year cycle. But how does that work today? In ancient Israel, the civil law set the same seven-year cycle for everyone. All kept a Sabbath of the land, and after seven such Sabbaths for the land (a period of 49 years), a jubilee year was proclaimed — the 50th year. In God's Church today, people have been converted at different times. And the Church is not a civil government having control of or title to the land. Mr. Armstrong has, therefore, established for all members today a consistent policy for the payment of third tithe. Here is how it should be done: Since the knowledge of tithing and the willingness to obey God's law should come together, the starting point for counting the seven-year cycles should be when the knowledge of this truth on tithing comes to one's attention. For some it is at the time of baptism, for others it is long before. The third tithe was customarily saved from Feast of Tabernacles to Feast of Tabernacles in the third and sixth years. Of course, in the Southern Hemisphere, where the agricultural seasons are reversed, it might be more convenient to count from the. Passover season. So when the knowledge comes or when a person is baptized, he or she should count from the nearest Feast of Tabernacles. The first and second years would pass and then, beginning from the Feast in year three, third tithe should be paid. And again in year six. The seventh year is a year of release, so from year six it would then be four years until the next third-tithe year. God's people are able to plan in advance to properly budget for these times. In so doing God's Church is always able to care for the truly needy, and we all share together in the keeping of God's law and the blessing of caring for the widows and needy.
Special service possible
Widows who are supported by the third tithe are many times able. to be of service to members. During the time of the apostle Paul there was a special enrollment of widows who were of great help to the Work of the Church in that age. Notice the qualifications for serving in this special enrollment: "Do not let a widow under sixty years old be taken into the number, and not unless she has been the wife of one man, well reported for good works: if she has brought up children, if she has lodged strangers, if she has washed the saints' feet, if she has relieved the afflicted, if she has diligently followed every good work" (I Tim. 5:9-10). Not every widow in the Church could serve in this special enrollment; she had to, first of all, be 60 years of age. All her children would have been grown and perhaps married or away from home. Also, an elderly widow would present no kind of inappropriate appearance as she traveled in a small group to serve the brethren of the Church. But notice the other qualifications! She had to be a dedicated and sincere woman. She couldn't show concern only for herself. She needed to enjoy having company and serving in the home. She had to have a sincere desire to diligently follow all God's laws. In the Church of God today, we do not have this special role of widows to travel with the ministry. Most of God's ministers are married and have their own families. Ministers' wives today travel with them to visit in the local churches. But this does not mean there is no need for special services widows can perform. A widow's service should not be restricted to the ministry alone. Widows who have these qualifications can be of great service in each local congregation. In fact, every widow ought to try to live up to the standards and requirements of the special early New Testament class of widows.
What about younger widows?
There are times when a younger woman with children will be widowed as a result of the untimely death of her mate. Naturally, for some period of time a young widow must go through an adjustment. She will probably have to return to the job market if she has not been employed outside the home. There are literally thousands of women who have had to do just that and have been successful in rearing their children and providing a proper living for them. However, there are times when a young widow realizes the need for children to have a father. And she may certainly have a desire to have a husband. It is not wrong for these young widows to want to marry. The apostle Paul said: "Therefore I desire that the younger widows marry, bear children, manage the house, give no opportunity to the adversary to speak reproachfully. For some have already turned aside after Satan" (verses 14-15). A young widow who is thoroughly converted will put her situation in God's hands. Far too often, a widow will simply "seek a husband." Sometimes she will pay no attention to the advice of God's ministers and consequently will find herself in a very unhappy second marriage. Every young widow should do all within her power to make provisions for herself and her children. If she is diligent and faithful to God's Word, God will supply all her needs. If she stays close to God by patient and constant prayer, and if it is God's will, God will supply the proper head of the family to be a husband and stepfather. The goal of a young widow should not be marriage — it should be to qualify herself for the Kingdom of God! Her goal is the same as for any Christian. In this physical life she must grow and overcome, which may mean simply, as much as she can, fulfilling the needs of her children.
An active and important part
God has a great deal to say in His Word about concern and care for widows, but He also gives instruction on special help the widows can offer in their families, in God's Church and to God's Work in fasting and prayer. Widows play an active and important part in the Church of God. There are several thousand widows in the Church today. A few are young and may want to remarry. A majority are older, past 60 years of age, but are still able to serve in a variety of ways. A few who are even older can continue to serve through fasting and prayer. The main point is that all widows are special to God! Members of God's Church should make every effort to serve and help the widows, whether by third tithe to help support them, by visiting to encourage them or by serving their physical needs. And if you are a widow, realize how important you are in God's plan. You may only be able to give your widow's mite, but you can cook and sew for others who have need or you can always serve God with your heartfelt prayers. When Christ returns, widows, too, will be transformed into powerful spirit beings, members of God's very Family, and will rule and reign with Christ in the government of God on earth.