My grandmother was not a widow. She lived happily with my grandfather in their own house, the house my mother lived in from the time she was five years old, a duplex they owned and received rent for. Even if she had been a widow, she would not have met Paul’s criteria for a “widow indeed,” the widows who were to be financially supported by the local church.
But the context of the command, 1 Timothy 5:3-8, led me to make a strategic decision to move my little family into their upstairs duplex apartment. First, the full biblical context.
3 Honor widows who are widows indeed;
4 but if any widow has children or grandchildren, they must first learn to practice piety in regard to their own family and to make some return to their parents; for this is acceptable in the sight of God.
5 Now she who is a widow indeed and who has been left alone, has fixed her hope on God and continues in entreaties and prayers night and day.
6 But she who gives herself to wanton pleasure is dead even while she lives.
7 Prescribe these things as well, so that they may be above reproach.
8 But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. (1 (1 Timothy 5:3-8 NASB; 1995 update)
As with many believers, my parents did not share my faith. Lecturing them, or preaching, seemed somehow to be disrespectful, yet that’s often what any discussion turned into, that or an argument. Even though I was an adult with a family of my own, a wife and two sons, I was still a son. The command to honor your father and your mother must still apply, though the authority relationship must change once “a man has left his father and mother, and has been joined to his wife, and they have become one flesh.” I had created a new family that had priority demand on my loyalties. But, still, how can a man best win his parents to his new faith, alien to everyone even in his extended family? By honoring them!
Verse 4, where Paul begins typically to provide extended support for his command says, “but if any widow has children or grandchildren , they must first learn to practice piety in regard to their own family and to make some return to their parents; for this is acceptable in the sight of God.” Aha! A person can honor his parents by taking care of his grandparents, and this is particularly pleasing to the Lord. (My parents did not live in the same state, so it was easier to take this indirect route. My grandparents lived in the same city we did.)
When my grandparents’ tenant died, I chose to rent their upstairs apartment and move my family in with them. It seemed ideal. I had visited them close to every week to help them with issues around their house; however, there were times when the demands of my job simply didn’t allow me to get around as often as I’d liked. It outraged me to see how many scam artists there were out there ready to take advantage of the vulnerable elderly. Even when they were not victims of scams they would sometimes pay a legitimate electrician to do something as simple as change a light bulb. So just being around more frequently to help with these simple little tasks would be a help. My main personal goal with respect to this aspect of my life was to keep my grandfather, who was twelve years older than my grandmother, already in his early nineties, from having to go to a nursing home. It became a passion for me.
We lived with my grandparents for seven years. My growing boys were beginning to make too much noise for the downstairs apartment, and I was beginning to feel cramped by such a small space. My grandparents were small people who simply did not lounge the way I did/do. My experiment had mixed results. My grandfather died on his own bed in his own home at 103. The first person my grandmother called when she found her husband dead was my dear wife. I have had several different opportunities to explain my faith-based reasons to live with my grandparents to my still-living mother. I have seen a new softness to her when listening to me, my faith in the midst of chronic illness has helped.
But on the other hand, my grandmother clearly did not like me; our personalities simply clashed. We did not argue or anything like that. Our relationship was superficially friendly but she never gave me credit for much of what I did around their house. She did, however, love my wife. I believe some of my family members thought I was saving money by living with family, perhaps even taking advantage. However, my grandparents had never raised the rent on their previous tenant for a full year. When we moved in, I made it a condition of our living there that we would pay the market rate for our apartment and raise our own rent a minimum of 5% each year we lived there, or more if the market rate grew faster. The result I regret the most was the terrible mixed messages my sons received from their family. For example, when they were upstairs with us they were taught that there was no Santa Claus and that the purpose of the holiday was exclusively to celebrate the birth of Jesus. But downstairs it was all “Jingle Bells,” pageantry, gifts, and Santa Claus. Easter, which is the Christian holiday I love most, was worse. We always had bunny-shaped cake and extended searches for jelly beans. My grandmother grew up with fundamentalism surrounding her in small-town Kansas, though I don’t believe it ever penetrated her family. I represented the very thing she hated. Unbelievers cannot distinguish between a freedom-loving evangelicalism and a legalistic fundamentalism when we both affirm the infallible authority of the Bible.
I may have written more than I should have; I would like to have kept the details of my financial relationship with my grandparents secret, “do not let your right hand know what your left hand is doing.” But I would like to encourage my younger friends to seriously consider how best to honor their parents and grandparents. Just think of that last verse, if one does not provide for his own “he has denied the faith, and is worse than an unbeliever.” Remember, the context refers to your obligations to parents and grandparents, not your wife and children. Your obligation to them is far greater. I want to encourage you to think creatively about honoring your parent. Be radical! Take risks! But do it with your eyes open. You may end up with mixed results.