Love and Boundaries
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 . . . has cared for the afflicted, and has devoted herself to every good work. 1 Timothy 5:9-10
I volunteer a small amount of my time at a Christian men’s sober living facility, where occasionally, someone will relapse, bringing drugs into the building. When this happens, it must be addressed and the offender must often be removed from the program. Drugs inside such a facility are deadly to the recovery of those who’re honestly trying to change their lives. It is, as I mentioned, a Christian program, founded on Biblical principles. When the one who relapses gets kicked out and is in danger of going back to jail, he will often play to this. But this is a Christian organization. You’re supposed to be loving and forgiving. You’re not really a Christian if you kick me out.
In today’s passage though, Paul indicated that there are rules that must go along with the church’s ministries. In the passage, he addressed the specific issue of how to treat widows in the church, providing guidelines on how to handle the situation. Widows were eligible for church assistance, but they had to meet certain criteria. The church was to care for them, but there were expectations that went along with the church’s assistance.
This offends me a little. I want the love of God to mean no rules. I want forgiveness to mean no more consequences. When I last relapsed and my life came apart, I was actually angry at God for letting it happen. I mistakenly thought that grace meant that I could do whatever I want today, and simply ask forgiveness tomorrow.
We can never earn God’s love. We are however, meant to change our behavior in response to it. For me, the best analogy of this is the parent/child relationship. I will always love my kids and they will always be my children. Depending on their behavior though, they can enjoy or miss out on the things with which I desire to bless them. I want to pay for their college. If they refuse to go to class and flunk out though, they will miss out on that blessing. They will always be my children, but I do have expectations of them.
This idea often offends us because we mistakenly think that true love means no rules. No rules though, is an absurd, chaotic fantasy. There is always love and forgiveness to be found in Christ. If, however, we desire to experience the new life for which God made us, then we must abandon our way, following his guidelines for our lives.