How the saints took care of the elderly and the poor

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This article takes a look at a number of New Testament passages which show how the saints were told to care of their old people, and aid the poor.

Consider this passage:

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. (NKJV)

James noted that faith without [good] works is dead. We read:

James 2:14 What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? 17 Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. 18 But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. 19 You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble! 20 But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? (NKJV)

Those who carefully read all of that scripture-quote and its context, will notice that James was talking about good works, and not about “works of the Law”. In other words, he was talking about aiding the needy.

Relevant New Testament passages.

Here are some examples among many, of how the apostles instructed the saints in regard to doing good and sharing with others, aiding those who are in need. And also, not being greedy, not loving money.

1 Timothy 6:17 As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. 18 They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, 19 thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life. (ESV01)

(Regarding the last part of verse 19: Greek manuscripts differ. And so, some translations have, “so that they may lay hold on everlasting life”.)

Hebrews 13:16 Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God. (ESV01)

The passage which is quoted below, refers to a collection of aid for certain poor saints.

2 Corinthians 8:9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich. 10 And in this I give advice: It is to your advantage not only to be doing what you began and were desiring to do a year ago; 11 but now you also must complete the doing of it; that as there was a readiness to desire it, so there also may be a completion out of what you have. 12 For if there is first a willing mind, it is accepted according to what one has, and not according to what he does not have. 13 For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened; 14 but by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may supply their lack, that their abundance also may supply your lack—that there may be equality. 15 As it is written, “He who gathered much had nothing left over, and he who gathered little had no lack.” (NKJV)

Even the next chapter refers to that aid collection. (2 Corinthians 9:1–7, “God loves a cheerful giver”.) The article nma020.htm has some notes on that passage and matter.

Now, it is true that the epistles (letters) which were quoted above, were written to the saints (people of the first century). But certainly, even people of our day can learn things from those passages.

A note: Righteousness is intimately connected with good works, aiding those who are in need. The article nga080.htm has more on this.

Matthew 25:31–45.

A note: It may be that the words of Jesus which are recorded in Matthew 25:31–46, were actually a warning to a certain special group. But still, that passage is something that all and everyone should consider. Here are verses 34–40:

Matthew 25:34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ (ESV01)

So, those who had active concern for the welfare of others, such as people in need of help and comfort, would have a chance to enter the Kingdom of God.

Regarding those who did not help the poor:

Matthew 25:45 Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ (ESV01)

Let us keep in mind something Jesus said, regarding loving God and loving one’s fellow humans. We read:

Matthew 22:37 […] Have love for the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. 38 This is the first and greatest rule. 39 And a second like it is this, Have love for your neighbour as for yourself. (BBE)

Love towards one’s “neighbours” (one’s fellow human beings) includes action, good works.

A note: Good works is often best done on a personal level, person to person. There are many kinds of “charitable organisations”, but all too often, only a small part of the assets they collect, goes to persons who need aid. Also: Often, good works can consist of practical help and comfort and so on, instead of giving monetary aid.

Galatians 2:10 – Paul and other apostles and their view in regard to aiding the poor.

The below-quoted passage records how Paul and certain other apostles agreed that it is important to help the poor. We read:

Galatians 2:9 even James, and Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, having perceived the favor granted to me, gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we, indeed, should go to the Gentiles, and they to the circumcision; 10 requesting only, that we would remember the poor, which very thing I had also been diligent to do. (LO, highlighting added)

(Verse 9: Cephas = the apostle Simon Peter.)

Let us consider even Acts 20. That chapter records how the apostle Paul was addressing elders from Ephesus, see verses 17–18. The context shows that among other things, he was talking about charity (aiding the poor and needy), and that he had been on the giving side, and that he told those elders to copy his example in that regard. It was in that connection, that he reminded those elders that Jesus had said that it is more blessed to give than to receive. We read:

Acts 20:33 I have coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel. 34 Yes, you yourselves know that these hands have served for my necessities, [a] and for those who were with me. 35 I have shown you in everything, by laboring like this, that we need to support [b] the weak. [c] And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, It is more blessed to give than to receive. (VW06, note signs added)

a Verse 34, “these hands have served for my necessities” – Paul referred to manual work. Several New Testament passages show that as long as he was a free man and in health, he supported himself, and that he even provided aid to others. (He was a tentmaker; see Acts 18:1–3.)

b Verse 35, “we need to support” – the context makes it clear that it was “we”. This referred to Paul and the elders whom he was talking to (see verse 17). He reminded those elders of the example he had set, and he told them to copy it.

c Verse 35, “the weak” – the Greek text has tôn asthenountôn, “the infirm”. This obviously referred to people who because of age or bad health were not able to support or manage themselves.

(The article nma020.htm has more on Acts 20:17–35.)

Taking care of the elderly is a central teaching throughout the Bible.

One of the Sinaitic Covenant’s ten “main points” was about “honouring” one’s parents. We read:

Exodus 20:12 “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God is giving you. (NKJV)

A closer study of Matthew 15:3–6 and Mark 7:10–13 and related passages shows that the concept of “honouring” one’s parents includes that one takes care of them when they because of age or other reasons can no longer support or manage themselves. Actually, that probably is the very core of the instruction regarding “honouring” the older generation.

Jesus on deceivers who caused people to neglect their ageing parents.

This is regarding such passages as Matthew 15:3–9 and Mark 7:6–13. They record that some Pharisees and scribes caused people to give their assets as “offerings” into the temple treasury, apparently to the degree that they no longer were able to take care of their ageing parents.

Matthew 15: […] 3 And he said to them, And why do you turn aside from God’s injunction, through your precepts? 4 For God said, saying, “honour your father and your mother”, and, “he who abuses his father or mother, let him die the death”. 5 But you say, “Whoever says to his father or mother ‘whatever assistance you might have received from me has been given as an offering’ 6 does not need to honour his father or mother.” Indeed, you have annulled God’s injunction, through your precepts. (BPT)

Jesus showed the horrible wrongness of the teaching of those who made people believe that if they gave their monies as an “offering” into the temple treasury (that is, into the hands of the Pharisee and Sadducee priests), then they supposedly were not obligated to take care of their elderly parents.

Luke 19:8–9 and Mark 10:21.

Luke 19 tells us about a rich man by the name Zacchaeus, who was a chief tax collector. Jesus saw him, and told him that he would come to meet him in his house.

Luke 19:8 Then Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold.” (NKJV)

Jesus then said, “today salvation has come to this house” (verse 9, NKJV).

Jesus to a certain man who had asked how he could receive everlasting life:

Mark 10:21 Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.” (NKJV)

Please note that Mark 10:21 does not mean that people of our day should sell their property or belongings. That verse records something Jesus said to that specific person, at that specific time and situation.

But of course, there is something to learn in that passage, even for people of our day, concerning care for people in need.

Acts 4 – how the saints shared their wealth with the poor and needy.

Here is one of the scriptures that tell us how the saints acted, in order to take care of people who were in need.

Acts 4:32 Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common. 33 And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all. 34 Nor was there anyone among them who lacked; for all who were possessors of lands or houses [d] sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, 35 and laid them at the apostles’ feet; and they distributed to each as anyone had need. [e] (NKJV, note signs added)

Then, Acts 6:1–5 records how the apostles asked the saints in Jerusalem to select a number of men, to take care of that aid distribution. Seven men, to be exact – it appears that that daily help distribution was quite a large activity.

The point here is that those people understood that we humans have a responsibility in regard to the welfare of others, not only one’s own family but even others. And, they acted according to that understanding.

A note: It can be said that in many ways, the saints formed “communities”. But, regarding things in our day: Believers should not join religious communities. There are many such things, but they are not beneficial for those who join them. Instead, they tend to be harmful and even dangerous. This is an evil world, with much confusion, deception, abuse and evil – very much so, also in religious circles.

d The above-quoted Acts 4:34 shows that many of the saints sold their lands or houses. Why did they do that – were they not planning for their own future, and that of their children? The answer is that in their very special case, that was not necessary. The article nga040.htm clarifies why it was so. For us, in our day, the situation is different. This means that for us, this with taking care of one’s [extended] family is a long-term undertaking which includes planning, savings, insurances, and more.

e Acts 4:35 – the translation “they distributed to as anyone had need” might give a casual bible-reader the impression that the saints lived on capital and did not work. But, it was not so. That verse refers to people who were in need and could not support themselves.

For instance the apostle Paul wrote that those who do not work, should not eat, either (2 Thessalonians 3:10–12), and he even told the saints that they were to cast out from their fellowship such persons who did not follow that instruction (2 Thessalonians 3:12–14). At the same time, multiple passages in his letters show how he laid great weight on the need to take care of those who cannot support or manage themselves because of age or bad health or so.

1 Timothy 5 and the matter of taking care of elderly people.

1 Timothy chapter 5 contains instructions from Paul, in regard to how the saints were to treat their elderly people and take care of them. This starts in verse 1:

1 Timothy 5:1 Never use harsh words when you correct an older man, but talk to him as if he were your father. […] 2 [talk to] older women as if they were your mothers […] (GWV)

Then, the apostle moved on to the matter of providing the elderly their daily needs:

1 Timothy 5:3 Honor widows who have no families. (GWV)

Clarification: This with “honouring”, refers to the same matter as it does in Matthew 15:4 which is about taking care of the older generation. In both verses, the Greek text has the verb timaô. We find that same word in the Greek Septuagint version, in Exodus 20:12 and Deuteronomy 5:16 which refer to “honouring” one’s parents, which is to say, taking care of them when they no longer can support or manage themselves.

The above-quoted 1 Timothy 5:3 means that the saints were to all together take care of widows who had no close ones who could take care of them. Regarding those widows who had a family who could take care of them, there was a different instruction:

1 Timothy 5:4 The children or grandchildren of a widow must first learn to respect their own family by repaying their parents. This is pleasing in God’s sight. (GWV)


1 Timothy 5:16 If any woman is a believer and has relatives who are widows, she should help them. In this way the church is not burdened and can help widows who have no families. (GWV)

The apostle gave more instructions in regard to the matter of taking care of the elderly. We read:

1 Timothy 5:8 If anyone doesn’t take care of his own relatives, especially his immediate family, he has denied the Christian faith and is worse than an unbeliever. 9 Any widow who had only one husband and is at least 60 years old should be put on your list of widows. […] 11 Don’t include younger widows on your list. […] (GWV)

Verse 16 which also refers to taking care of the elderly, was quoted above. Then come verses 17–18. Even there, the apostle Paul continued to talk about taking care of the elderly. But, many bible-translators have made it seem that he suddenly changed the subject and said that elders, “presbyters”, should be paid. Below, there are some notes on those two verses.

The Greek text of 1 Timothy 5:17 talks about presbuteroi. The literal meaning of that word is “older people”. That word occurs also in the Greek text of verses 1 and 2 – in translation, “never use harsh words when you correct an older man but talk to him as if he were your father” and “[talk to] older women as if they were your mothers” (GWV). And again, that whole chapter is about how the saints were to treat the elderly and take care of them.

The saints were to care for all of their old people and also the poor, but it appears that when it comes to verses 17–18, the apostle was talking more in the terms of “old age pension”. It is probable that when he wrote “the labourer deserves his wages”, 1 Timothy 5:18, he meant that the saints were to provide a “pension” for the older generation who had worked all their life but were now getting too frail and tired to support themselves. [f] It is the same with his poetic Old Testament quote regarding the ox that was grinding. An ox which has done its rounds in a treadmill has a right to rest and eat – likewise, elderly people who have worked all their life are to be given a rest (a pension) when they get old and weary. At that time, the younger generation is to give them the “wages” for their long years of work. See also the above-quoted verse 4, Paul’s statement that the younger generation is to “respect their own family by repaying their parents” (GWV).

f Too frail and tired – the Greek text of verse 17 contains the phrase malista hoi kopiôntes. The last word in that phrase is the present active participle form of the verb kopiaô whose primary meaning is “to grow weary, tired, exhausted”. The meaning of the phrase malista hoi kopiôntes is “especially those who are getting tired”. Many bible-translators have made it seem that the apostle referred to “hard-working preachers”, but a closer analysis of the wider context shows that he was talking about old people who had worked all their lives but had then grown weary and tired and were no longer able to support themselves. Even here, just as it is all through that chapter, the apostle was talking about taking care of elderly people (presbuteroi, verse 17).

(When it comes to presbuteroi in the meaning “elders” – here, it can be good to know that the elders in the saints’ fellowships were not paid. Being an elder was not an employment. For more on this, look under the heading “Money” on the page key42.htm.)

See also the “recommended reading” section, below.

Please send or mention the address to this site to others. You can also link to these pages. The address to the table of contents page is

Recommended reading here at the Bible Pages, on related as well as other matters

An explanation of the short names for the bible-translations that are quoted or mentioned at this site. → nsa090.htm

Acts 20:35 – what the apostle Paul meant when he reminded the elders from Ephesus that it is more blessed to give than to receive. → nma020.htm

What does the word “righteous” really mean? What does the Bible say about righteousness? → nga080.htm

What happened to the saints? Why is there no record of their doings, after the middle of the first century? → nga040.htm

Religion must not be skin-deep only. Believers must take the matters of faith seriously. → nba110.htm

A challenge to all believers, regarding something important. → nwa060.htm

On Galatians 6:6 and its translation and meaning. Does it refer to sharing one’s goods with a preacher, as some translations make it seem, or to joining in in doing good, as the Greek text indicates? → nma040.htm

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