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What does it mean to care for widows and orphans?

Unsplash/Annie Spratt
Unsplash/Annie Spratt

“God is a father to the fatherless and protector of widows.” These powerful words are not the clever sayings of orphanage founders or nursing home slogans filled with elderly widows. Rather, they come from the Psalms (Ps. 68:5), as David praises God for His great and glorious character. The desire to care for the poor and most vulnerable, specifically orphans and widows, runs deep in the character of God. And yet, so many Christians in the modern day seem to have forgotten this central passion of God’s heart and biblical theme throughout Scripture. Jesus modeled a special care for the weak and vulnerable throughout His ministry, but this divine task is most succinctly captured by the Apostle James, who writes to Christians and exhorts, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:27).

The context of this passage comes directly after James has exhorted his readers to “be doers of the word, and not hearers only” (James 1:22–25). The care of widows and orphans needs to press upon the conscience of every follower of Jesus. But the command is not simply to be hearers, but doers in this noble act. How can followers of Jesus do the care of widows and orphans today? Here are four ways that we as individual Christians and local churches can engage and make a difference:

1. Visit

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Never underestimate the power of presence. A visit to an orphanage or the home of a lonely widow in your church is a powerful ministry in which any Christian can engage. A greater commitment to this work can be embraced by repeated visits to a certain widow’s home who is a member of your church, or by partnering with a missionary that serves in needy orphanages around the world. Presence is powerful, and anyone can do it.

2. Include

A natural burden for orphans and widows is loneliness and a lack of belonging. Therefore, a wonderful way to care for them is to include them in your family. This can be as simple as inviting them to participate in your family birthday parties and holiday celebrations. But as God would lead, there can be a permanent inclusion through formal adoption of orphans and the informal, organic adoption of a widow into your family.

3. Honor

Widows and orphans commonly lack the family structure that provides opportunities to be honored in ways that many of us take for granted. The best opportunity to honor an orphan is to celebrate his or her birthday, while a widow commonly feels most loved when remembering her wedding anniversary with her husband (though how each individual widow needs support on this day may vary). This would require you to know these dear ones personally, as well as those important calendar dates.

4. Listen

We all need someone in our lives to simply sit in an unhurried manner and listen. Widows and orphans are no different. In fact, because they often lack a sense of belonging, taking the time to sit with them, listen to them, attentively hear them, see them, and love them in this way is certain to encourage those who battle loneliness.

Charles Spurgeon was most known as a mighty preacher and church leader in 19th century England. What fewer people know about is his unwavering commitment to the care of the poor, widows, and orphans throughout his ministry. Upon witnessing Spurgeon’s sweet, tender interaction with a dying boy in the orphanage that he himself founded and frequently visited, American activist John Gough recorded his recollection of Spurgeon, saying:

“I had seen Mr. Spurgeon holding by his power 65 hundred persons in a breathless interest; I knew him as a great man universally esteemed and beloved; but as he sat by the bedside of a dying pauper child, whom his beneficence had rescued, he was to me a greater and grander man than when swaying the mighty multitude at his will.”1

Widows and orphans matter to God and thus should matter to us. They are central to the heart of God and, likewise, should be to ours. May Gough’s words about Spurgeon also be said of every follower of Jesus who seeks to reflect God’s character and heart, and ultimately prove to be Jesus’ disciple.

1. Alex DiPrima, Spurgeon and the Poor (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Reformation Heritage Books, 2023), xviii.

This article was first published in Tabletalk, the Bible study magazine of Ligonier Ministries. Find out more at or subscribe today at

Rev. Brian Croft is founder and executive director of Practical Shepherding and senior fellow for the Mathena Center for Church Revitalization. He is author of many books, including The Pastor’s Ministry.

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