Summary: Should the congregation have an "Order of Widows" to serve within the assembly?

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“Let a widow be enrolled if she is not less than sixty years of age, having been the wife of one husband, and having a reputation for good works: if she has brought up children, has shown hospitality, has washed the feet of the saints, has cared for the afflicted, and has devoted herself to every good work. But refuse to enroll younger widows, for when their passions draw them away from Christ, they desire to marry and so incur condemnation for having abandoned their former faith. Besides that, they learn to be idlers, going about from house to house, and not only idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not. So I would have younger widows marry, bear children, manage their households, and give the adversary no occasion for slander. For some have already strayed after Satan. If any believing woman has relatives who are widows, let her care for them. Let the church not be burdened, so that it may care for those who are truly widows.” [1]

Counted among the members of most of the churches of our Lord lies an untapped source of power. This power of which I speak is resident in each church, though it is ignored in most. This power is present in our own congregation; and if utilised at all, it is underutilised. Should that power be unleashed, it would have an impact far out of proportion to the source. The power of which I am speaking is the power of godly women—widowed and with a desire to focus on God’s glory.

The issue which Paul addresses is poorly understood, especially in the modern context. In part, this is the result of a transition over time from an order of widows to an order of virgins, especially among many liturgical churches. The order of widows that is presented in outline form in our text was at one time referred to as “the altar of God,” [2] a term that appears to have first been used by Polycarp, the disciple of the Apostle John. The term, when applied to the widows, was an indication of the high respect accorded these godly women. [3] The rationale behind this particular designation was that the widows received support from the churches, just as funds were brought to the altar, and because they blessed the people through prayer and fasting on behalf of the congregations. It is a statement of the high regard of the labour of prayer and fasting on behalf of the congregation, a regard that is muted among too many of our churches in this day.

The order of widows was responsible among the churches in which they ministered to pray and to minister to sick women. These were not deaconesses; they were assuredly widows. It was expected that these widows would conduct these ministries primarily from their homes, not wasting time running from house to house, spreading gossip or stirring up quarrels. They were to be models of godliness and decorum.

There appears to be a story to tell here—one that is almost forgotten in the mist of time. Give me your attention as I endeavour to unravel some of the historical context in order to open some exciting possibilities for our own congregation.

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