THOSE WHO DEVOUR WIDOWS' HOUSES

Tertius

he Bible is replete with examples of the plight of widows. God has always been concerned about these defenseless women. It is difficult for us in a modern society to understand the social situation in which widows found themselves in ancient times. There was no social security, no health insurance, no guaranteed jobs, no affirmative action, no advocacy groups, and no protected bank accounts. Women, in general, were NOT considered to be equal to men. Females were viewed as baby-making machines, and when their reproductive function was over and their child-rearing duties were completed, they were essentially expendable. Such was the condition of widows.

GOD LOVES WIDOWS

Nevertheless, God loves all disadvantaged people. For example, when King Ahab's sins brought divine consequences down upon the land, God, through Elijah, still provided for a lone widow and her boy continually (1 Kings 17:1-24). In fact, God used her as the instrument to sustain His prophet during a three-and-one-half year famine. The jar of flour never diminished, and the jug of oil never ran dry.

In Luke 7:11-17, when our Lord decided to resurrect the young man who was being carried out to be buried near the little village of Nain, Jesus sensed what the mother's predicament would be. The text says: "He felt very sorry for her" (SEB). This was her ONLY son and she had no husband to support her. With no one to help take care of her, she would undoubtedly have a very difficult time of it.

Widows are some of the greatest servants of God. Consider the dedication of Anna. When Jesus was an infant, his parents brought him to the temple in Jerusalem. Luke recounts: "Anna, a prophetess, was there at the temple. She was from the family of Phanuel in the Asher tribe. Anna was very old. She had been married for seven years. She had been a widow for 84 years. Anna was always at the temple; she never left. She worshiped God day and night by fasting and praying. Anna was standing there at that same moment, thanking God. She began to talk about Jesus to everyone who was waiting for God to bring salvation to Jerusalem." (Luke 2:36-38, SEB).

Probably the most famous one was the poor, anonymous widow of Mark 12:41-44 (cf. Luke 21:1-4). Jesus noticed her seemingly insignificant gift of two leptas to God (worth less than one penny). Then Jesus declared, "1 am telling you the truth: This poor widow has put more in the box than all those rich people put there. The rich have plenty; they only gave what they didn't need, but this woman gave everything she had. She needed that money to live on." (SEB) What an example!

The apostle Peter raised Dorcas (Tabitha) from death in Acts 9:36-43. She was a widow, and she had influenced many other widows who were grief-stricken by her passing. In a way, she "preached the gospel" by her deeds. The other women showed Peter the shirts and robes which Dorcas had made while she was still alive. They loved her. How happy they were when she was restored to life. What a tribute to this godly woman.

GOD PROTECTS WIDOWS

God commanded the first Christians to take care of these destitute women (James 1:27). The alleged neglect of Greek-speaking widows was the root of the confusion recorded in Acts 6:1-6. Later, in 1 Tim. 5:1-16, Paul gives very specific instructions about providing for the needs of those faithful 60+ year-old women who were TRULY widows, i.e. who had no relatives to help them.

There is a constant, recurring theme throughout the Bible - Don't Take Advantage of a Widow! This motif is found in the Law of Moses (Ex. 22:22; Deut. 24:17; 27:19), in the Wisdom Literature (Job 22:9, 24:3,21; Psa. 94:6), in the prophets (Isa. 1:17,23; 10:2; Jer. 7:6; 22:3; Ezek. 22:7; Zech. 7:10; Mal. 3:5), and in the New Testament (Luke 18:1-8). Widows and other people without property needed surplus food (Deut. 14:28,29; 24:19-21; 26:12,13), God defends their cause (Deut. 10:18; Psa. 68:5; Prov. 15:25; Jer. 49:11 ), and sustains them (Psa. 146:9).

In Luke 20:45-47 the story is told: "While all of the people were listening to Jesus, he said to his followers, 'Watch out for the teachers of the law. They want to walk around wearing clothes which make them look important. They like the greetings of respect which people give them in the marketplaces. They always want the most important seats in the synagogues and the best seats at the dinners, but they cheat widows and steal their homes. Then they make themselves look good by saying long prayers. Because of all this, God will punish these men so much more'." (cf. Mark 12:37b-40; Matt. 23:14 is not found in the best Greek mss.)

GOD WILL PUNISH

What does this have to do with you in the pew? Look again. Under the guise of religion some "church leaders" are doing the same things today. For example, there is a direct parallel in a very large Church of Christ in Forth Worth, Texas. According to the November 1990 issue of the Christian Chronicle, Aletha Beard of Mineola, Texas writes:

"I am a 73-year-old widow. I read about Richland Hills' debt. I have my life's savings of $15,000.00 in bonds there and haven't received a Penny of Interest since May 1989. I only draw Social Security. I was using my interest to help keep my insurance and repairs up on my home. I have written them and called, and they just aren't interested in my situation. I will have to try to Sell My Home, as I can't keep it up. How can they help the poor and all that they are doing, while owing people like me? Is it right to keep me poor to help someone else? I have lost lots of sleep over this. At my age I need the money now, not when I'm dead and gone. I haven't been able to give to our mission fund here in the church due to their NOT paying me. They could at least send some of the interest they owe!"

My heart goes out to you, O sister in Christ. I just don't understand how these men could be so heartless! They have THEIR agenda to carry out. They think that PROGRAMS are more important than PEOPLE. I am sorry that you are being forced out of your own home by these impostors who control YOUR money. I am sorry that you have lost precious sleep. These Elders are about as close as they can be to the Pharisees whom Jesus confronted. It isn't right, what they have done to you, but, rest assured, God WILL deal with them!

In the same article, Louise S. Beazle of Forth Worth writes:

"My problem is that they [referring to the Elders of the Richland Hills Church of Christ] are using bondholders' money to finance a large portion of their ministries. I know one bondholder who is diabetic and needs treatment for cancer, but can't afford it, because Richland Hills has NOT paid her!"

I for one do NOT feel sorry for these free-wheeling, self-styled "businessmen" in sheep's clothing. I feel sorry for their victims! These men have the gall to build a $13 million facility and then claim that THEY are the victims! It wasn't THEIR fault (so they say) that the real estate market in Fort Worth has collapsed. Let me set the record straight: The REAL victims are those unsuspecting, little people - the Christian bondholders - who have FALLEN VICTIM to the grandiose "plans" of the Richland Hills Church of Christ! These poor people (most of them NOT members of that congregation) trusted the so-called Elders with their life-savings, who then turned around and foolishly sunk it into "a bigger barn" (Luke 12:18) - Mega Church. Bigger must be better, especially in Texas? However, the Elders would not even keep up with the modest interest payments. Instead, the church's Board of Directors wants a grace period of three more years! Shame on them. Jesus said, "I tell you, if a person can be trusted with small things, he may also be trusted with big things. If a person is dishonest in little things, then he will be dishonest in big things, too. If you cannot be trusted with worldly money, no one will trust you with true wealth. And, if you cannot be trusted with the things which belong to someone else, then no one will give you things for yourself." (Luke 16:10-12, SEB).

The Christian Chronicle article continues with these stinging words from Alex Humphrey Jr. of Oklahoma City:

"This writer had a personal conversation with one of the Richland Hills elders in June 1990. He stated that the church was putting its sinking fund payments into an interest-bearing account. He stated that when Amarillo got its business straightened out, the church would pay its debts. Amarillo now has its business straightened out (with the help of the judicial system), but this writer has not received a payment in more than 18 months. In all honesty, that interest-bearing money belongs to the bondholders!"

Dr. Normal L. Parks from Tennessee blasted the Elders with this letter:

"The honest and heartfelt course for the Richland Hills church is to fire its huge staff and use its weekly income to pay its honest debts, and after its debts are paid, to resume its elaborate programs. I know of no other Christian course. I do not know of any rational reason why I at nearly 87 should be denied the income from my lifetime savings."

The Richland Hills Church of Christ and their bank have been recently pressured into trying to make a proposal to the bondholders in which the church would make smaller but regular payments to the bondholders. No agreement was reached. A federal judge will now have to decide the question. No matter what happens, the Elders should STILL be held completely accountable for what they did to those folks. Nothing excuses their previous actions. They should resign! If they could have gotten away with doing nothing about it, likely they would have "let it ride." These Elders were NOT concerned about fairness. This is just ONE MORE EXAMPLE of their flagrant abuse of their tax-exempt status and how they use it to exploit innocent, sincere people. Don't you be misled! Churches like the Richland Hills Church of Christ are big business, and they don't intend to have the supply line to their church coffers interrupted by a few "MINOR" moral compunctions!

I ask you, is this what Jesus had in mind for his people? No! Jesus said, "You know that the rulers of the world lord it over their people. Important men use their authority over them, but YOU must not think that way." (Matt. 20:25,26). Peter wrote: "So, I beg the elders among you to shepherd God's flock among you. Watch over them as God wants you to, not because you have to. Don't be in it for the money, but be eager. DON'T ACT LIKE LORDS OVER THE PEOPLE. Instead, be examples for the flock." (1 Pet. 5:1-3).

Are you part of a man-made institution (Matt. 15:13) or are you a living stone in God's spiritual house (1 Pet. 2:5)? There is a big difference. Don't pour your money into such ostentation any longer. God is NOT impressed with cathedrals. "We are the sanctuary of the living God! It is as God said:

I will live in them and move among them.
I will be their God.
They will be My people.
'So, come away from them!
Be separate!' says the Lord." (2 Cor. 6:16,17 SEB)