I’m a husband, a father, a church-minister. But i’m also still a son. My parents are both in their seventies and are enjoying an active retirement. But in preaching 1 Timothy 5 on Sunday evening I was reminded again that a time is approaching when I may be called upon to do far more than I do now to care for parents in old age.
What I think I had underestimated was this challenge from the apostle Paul that whether or not you are willing to look after your parents in their old age is a test of your sincerity of your faith.
I can’t remember anyone impressing this on me in a sermon before. I can’t think of the last time I ever taught on the subject. I wonder for how many Christians it is a completely new idea that how you treat your parents, long after you have left home, is a sign of the reality of your faith.
For Paul caring for parents and grandparents is practical theology. Our Christian faith begins at home.
And had I forgotten that Jesus himself left us that example to follow? Even as he was suffering in agony on the cross, for your sin and mine, John tells us of how Jesus was thinking of the needs of his own mother and that he spoke to ensure that his mother, a widow, would be provided for in her old age. John writes;
Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Dear woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on this disciple took her into his home.
In 1 Timothy 5:3-16 Paul gives four reasons why children need to provide for their parents.
If your mother is in need then v.4 ‘put your religion into practise’ by providing for her.
1) Looking after parents is a form of repayment.
Caring for your parents is repaying them what you owe according to Paul in v.4. The word for repaying means ‘to render what is due’. We all owe our parents an enormous amount for everything they did and continue to do for us. A report in the guardian suggested that the cost of raising a child through to 21 years of age has now risen to £210,000!
But we all know it’s not just the money it’s the time, energy, emotional commitment, constant vigilance, sleepless nights, wisdom and advice, discipline, etc.
And what’s more the word for repaying is a word written in the infinitive form which really means ‘to keep on giving back’.
So Christians should not have to need our parents to say to us ‘after all we’ve done for you’ for we know and are thankful to God for all they have done.
It is the responsibility of children to make sure that their parents receive the best possible care in old age.
That’s going to look different for each family. Some parents are going to be fit and healthy, independent maybe for all but a few months. Some will need a great deal more care, you might have to give up a job to care for them, you might have to build an extension or move house.
But it matters and not just because you owe them but because honouring your parents in this way is also pleasing to God, v.4
2) Looking after parents is part of true worship of God.
You glorify God by loving your family.
And we shouldn’t be surprised because the commandment of God says ‘honour your father and mother’ and Paul here reminds us that the command doesn’t stop when you leave the family home and it doesn’t stop even when you marry. The commandment is for life.
The 1960’s gave birth to a cultural revolution. It really marked the birth of the teenager and rebellion. Annie Gottlieb wrote of that time
We truly believed that the family had to be torn apart to free love and the first step was to tear ourselves free from our parents.
For the Christian we need to understand how easy it is to find ourselves conforming to that cultural expectation that we are independent spirits free from commitment and free from obligation to family.
The words of Augustine are sobering when he says;
If anyone fails to honour his parents, is there anyone he will spare?
When we care for our parents into their old age we show that we recognise them for who they are – gifts of God.
Have you made that link in your mind?
God says honour them. I’ve given them to you. And if you think they could have a done a better job then think what your life would have been like without any parents and see how tragic a circumstance that is.
The Christian is to honour Mum and Dad. So respect them, esteem them, value them, prize them, maybe you could actually speak to them once in a while, thank them, pray for them, tell them that you love them and then show that you mean it, care for them, give up your time for them, spend your money on them and if they don’t know Christ speak to them about Jesus and if they do know Christ speak to them about Jesus.
We need therefore to celebrate the lives of those who have given hours, days, weeks, years of their lives to caring for elderly relatives. We need to pray for them and thank God for their godly example. It is not a wasted life to give a life in love and devotion to the care of another.
Now for some the call to care for family brings particular challenges. Maybe you feel let down by your parents. Maybe you’re really angry with them. Maybe you’ve never known your Dad or he walked out on your mom. Maybe it would be the hardest thing God could call on you to do to care for a parent in old age.
For some of us that might be hard but we remember too how Jesus knew what it was to be rejected by his own family – Mark 3:31-35.
If we are reluctant to give of ourselves to our parents because we either feel guilt at the way we’ve treated parents or anger at the way they have treated us we need to allow the gospel to bring healing and reconciliation.
If we are to prepare ourselves to serve our parents in their old age it might mean we need to put it right NOW. Some of us can’t afford to leave it until the day when we need to care for them.
We need a generous heart towards them emotionally and spiritually now if we are to find a generous heart for the future.
Here’s the advice of one on this theme;
1) Develop a system for prayer for your family
2) Begin your prayers for your family with thanksgiving. Think of every reason you have to thank God for them.
3) You may need to include prayers of confession for wrong attitudes eg cold-hearted, indifferent, proud, arrogant, self-righteous, ungrateful, disrespectful, disobedient
We need to ask God to change our attitude to our parents that we might honour him in our care of them.
Why are Christians under a particular obligation to care for parents? Because the opposite of honour is dishonour.
3) Looking after parents is a gospel issue. To fail to do so is sin against God and to bring the gospel into disrepute v.8
Maybe as a Christian you’re tempted to think well I’m busy serving God. I haven’t got time to care for them.
The Pharisees at the time of Jesus were notorious for putting to one side care for their relatives in order to ‘serve God.’ In Matthew 15:4-9 rebukes them for breaking the commands of God in their refusal to care for family. He calls them hypocrites whose behaviour demonstrates how FAR they are from God.
Paul says when we do that we have v.8 ‘denied the faith’ and we are ‘worse than an unbeliever’ .
Here is the principle..We all owe our parents full respect and we are commanded by God to show it.
All too often, modern society wants us to shove the elderly out of sight. So if we live in a different town we think we can forget about them. But this gives the church a wonderful opportunity to say we are different. The very way in which we care for parents and grandparents ought to proclaim the love of God.
Here’s how one journalist reflected on the issues just a couple of days ago;
Pretending and prevaricating is no longer an option. To cling blindly to the notion that benign local authorities will gently take our parents off our hands and rehouse them in cheerful surrounds with lots of stimulating activities and without the smell of boiled cabbage is unrealistic, verging perilously close to irresponsible.
By clinging to this fantasy, we do everyone a grave disservice; especially ourselves,
There in a nutshell is the problem. So what is the solution? I don’t know; but I am certain we need to come up with one. And fast.
She has no solution to the need. Not least because caring for family is simply inconvenient and fights with our ambitions and desires. The Christian refuses to live this way.
4) If we fail to look after our parents we will bring a burden on the church v.16
When Christians fail to care for their parents, if those parents are themselves Christians, in abdicating our responsibility we place the burden of responsibility onto the church of which they are members.
It may be that living in a different town or city that the church is willing and able to provide support of one kind or another to our relatives. That is something we should give thanks to God for but something that we should recognise and not take for granted.
Do we know what a local church does for them? Are we in contact? Do we find ways to at the very least support them, to ensure that what we expect them to do is not unreasonable? Do we demonstrate our gratitude? Are there other more needy individuals who cannot receive the support they need because we are not playing our part?
Let us remember that the Bible takes responsibility for care of parents in their old age very seriously. Paul’s words here in 1 Timothy 5 along with Jesus’ words in Matthew 15 are deeply disturbing.
- So are we anticipating what we might need to do in the future to care for family?
- Are we talking it over with our spouse and children?
- Are we talking with our parents about their needs?
- Are we praying that we would honour God in how we relate to our relatives and parents?
- Do we see it as an integral part of our faith, worship and witness that we get this right?
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