In Matthew 25, Jesus mentions several important groups that are particularly vulnerable in the world: "the least of these my brethren," including strangers, sick people, prisoners, "the naked," as well as widows and orphans (25:31-46). Jesus specifically says, “I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me … Truly I say to you … to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, you did it to Me” (25:35-40).

In this light, we as Christians have a responsibility to reach out to widows, orphans, and others in need. But how far do our responsibilities extend? Is it incumbent on all individuals in a community or just on those who have been expressly commanded by God through their specific spiritual giftings to help others (Romans 12:6-8; 1 Corinthians 12:4-7; Ephesians 4:7-13)?

The Christian's role as salt and light in the world (Matthew 5:13-14) means each of us should do all we can to show loving kindness to everyone in need, including widows and orphans. However, the actual practicalities of carrying out this responsibility may vary depending on the individual's position, resources, and ability to serve.

In this article we will consider different perspectives to try to answer the question of individual responsibility when it comes to helping widows and orphans.

The Family Duty Toward Relatives

In various instances throughout the Bible, God emphasizes the responsibility of family members toward each other, especially toward older parents and children who have lost their parents (Exodus 20:12, Deuteronomy 5:16). If a widow is within the family circle, especially if she is a mother or grandmother of believers, her children or grandchildren should demonstrate appropriate care for her wellbeing within the bounds of their relationship (1 Timothy 5:4). However, her own offspring are not always available or able to support her in ways she requires, thus leaving room for the broader Christian community to fulfill this essential function (1 Timothy 5:16).

The Community's Role

The book of James talks about community responsibility: “If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and be filled’” – but doesn’t help with physical necessities – “but you do nnot give them what is needed,” James then pronounces judgment on that person: “what use is that?” (James 2:15-16). This passage implies the responsibility of believers in community to share provisions with those who have none.

In many countries across the world, there is often an established church welfare system in place to assist needy members of their fellowship as well as the communities around them, including widows and orphans. Church leaders typically ensure that suitable provisions are made by individuals within their congregation who are gifted or have a heart to serve people in these vulnerable categories.

The Church Institution

In the Old Testament, the Levites had the responsibility of looking after Israel's widows and fatherless children (Deuteronomy 10:8; 16:11). However, as the New Testament Church emerged, elders took on primary responsibility for ministry within local church communities (Acts 11:29-30; 1 Timothy 5:17). While every member of the church has a role to play (1 Corinthians 12), these elders are specifically tasked to make sure care is provided for those without earthly protection – widows included (1 Timothy 5:3-16).

In some cases, the church itself may house certain widows and orphans as an integral part of its service and provision (1 Timothy 5:3-16). Under this model, widows and children may be able to live alongside church families while receiving physical, emotional, and even spiritual support.

Each Individual’s Calling

Certain individuals may be particularly gifted by God for roles focused on caring for widows, orphans, and other vulnerable people. Romans 12:6-8 lists teaching, exhortation, giving, leading, showing mercy, and serving as various gifts of God for his people, with "showing mercy" highlighted among other significant rkles within communities. Those whom God has gifted with this heart for mercy may feel especially driven to serve those who find themselves in tragic situations such as the loss of a spouse or parent.

Others may sense God's leading specifically towards widows or orphans in their life's journey, sensing a call towards service with these groups. This does not necessarily imply they have been given a 'gift of mercy' specifically but simply that they respond to God's calling in their life to minister to widows or orphans.

In some cases this sense of calling may lead people to adopt widows or orphans as their personal responsibility, offering them more direct care either alone or as part of a fostering network in their church community. Such dedicated individuals can fulfill a crucial role in advocating for and assisting some of society's most vulnerable members.

Volunteerism and Other Acts of Kindness

Christians need not only wait for God to call them into a specific role – they can also identify needs in their own communities and devise ways to meet them. If a person feels drawn to the plight of widows and orphans without necessarily feeling they possess a 'gift of mercy' or receiving a call towards this particular group, there is still opportunity to help. They can participate in charitable projects, organize fundraising events, become foster parents if they are eligible, mentor parentless children, visit nursing homes where lonely widows may reside, or advocate for policy adjustments that provide better support for widows and orphans at a societal level.


Whether individuals in a Christian community feel especially gifted or called by God towards serving widows, orphans, and other vulnerable people, or simply want to do their part in light of Matthew 25, they have various options at their disposal. The family unit bears some responsibility towards their own elderly relatives if they are widows, while the broader community, including church institutions, also play a crucial role in supporting these individuals. Furthermore, each Christian with a compassionate heart can proactively identify needs and potential ways to address them in partnership with others in their fellowship.

It is ultimately up to each believer to discern their place in meeting the needs of widows and orphans but everyone should be mindful of this expectation as we all share in the responsibilities of spreading Christ-like compassion in the world.

Further Reading:

Graham Yount is a freelance writer with experience in academic research as well as journalistic writing and editing. He grew up in Kenya where he developed a love for languages and cultures before moving to the US to complete his undergraduate degree with a double major in English Literature and Philosophy at Asbury University. He subsequently moved to the UK to pursue graduate studies in Early Modern British Literature at the University of York. He is currently a member of River Hills Church in KY where he serves in various capacities as an adult Sunday school teacher and co-leader of the Church Men's fellowship group.