Exodus 22:21–27, 1 Timothy 5:3–16, 2 Thessalonians 3:6–15
“God only helps those who help themselves.” This is one of those statements that should be considered a swear phrase in the church. This statement has been misused and people have been abused with it.
Truly, if we put this to the extreme test we can definitely prove this false. No baby changes or feeds themselves. No child learns reading, writing, math (and so on) in a vacuum. With very rare exception (so rare as it shouldn’t even be counted), no one comes to saving faith in Jesus Christ without another.
In Exodus, the concept of widows, orphans, and aliens is really those who have no family connections/relations to aid them. We have to remember, most of the “safety nets” that the US and other countries have in place are because the family safety net is mostly destroyed. In ancient Israel, without family, you were truly on your own. While the Scriptures had directions to create a space for widows, orphans, and aliens to live on the scraps, that was never the heart’s desire. When we are in right relationship with God and others, we should be thriving, not surviving.
This concept is supported in Paul’s letter to Timothy. It is the family’s responsibility to provide for all members of the family, even the ones they don’t like. What is interesting is the number of requirements to be fulfilled for a widow to be on the list: 60+, one husband, good “works” (i.e., lived well with positive contributions, no matter how small, to the larger community), and the implied not idle (contrasting to the younger widows).
It is the idleness that probably led to the quote on the outset. We have all experienced those who have chosen not to work. You might even know people who have been “trained” to not work. That is a sign of brokenness. God wired us to work. That’s even why we have the Sabbath, for far too many “work”, even when they are relaxing.
Yet, there is a particular tendency that often comes with idleness that Paul is really against; this is meddling. Meddling, in this context, is more of being a busybody, or digging into or sharing others’ lives in ways that do not build up another. There are those who just cannot help themselves not be involved in others’ lives.
The other piece of the opening quote are those we are called to help. There is a call on us to help those who cannot help themselves. What “cannot” entails is where the nuance takes place. There are those that will not, must not, can not, and don’t know how or where to start. There is one other category of this, it’s those who do not understand. Some of these are those that take advantage of the hearts of others. However, we cannot judge all by some.
- Have you ever used the opening quote? Why? What was your intent?
- Have you ever heard the opening quote used against those who are trying hard, or against yourself? How did that make you feel? What the usage of the quote justified? What do you think the users intent was?
- We often have litmus tests for those we help. Paul did. What are yours? Why those?