FAQ: Should a married couple support their parents? Today many young couples begin their married life struggling to understand what responsibilities they now have toward their parents or close relatives.
Let’s start with what the Bible teaches. In Old Testament times, people understood “family” to mean something much different from our modern day family which consists of a dad, a mom, 2.5 kids, and probably a dog. This kind of “nuclear family” would have been foreign to the people in Old Testament times.
The family included all living generations, usually living on the same piece of land or property. And the inheritance would pass to the eldest male. He would receive a double portion compared to the inheritance of his siblings. Parents thought in terms of interdependence. Each son with his wife and children formed a family subunit, usually geographically connected to one family estate or compound.
When the patriarch died, the central responsibility shifted to his eldest son. This concept of family in the Old Testament is still practiced in some parts of the world today, most notably in Africa. The value of having many children in the Old Testament and some cultures today is obvious. First the infant-mortality rate and premature death rates were very high. Secondly, those with large estates needed more labor to work and defend their property.
They had no concept of social security, nursing homes, health insurance, or pensions. Instead they had children. Under Old Testament law, allowances were made for polygamy although it was never commended or condemned in the Old Testament. If the primary wife was unable to bear children, especially sons, the husband would often add more wives to the family to bear more children.
And when it came to warfare sons were to take this responsibility. This perspective of defense is the key to understanding the blessing of the “quiver” mentioned in Psalm 127, a chapter used by the Quiverful movement as God’s ideal for large families.
Yes, sons are a gift from the Lord the fruit of the womb is a reward. Sons born during one’s youth are like arrows in a warrior’s hand. How blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! They will not be put to shame when they confront enemies at the city gate. (Psalm 127: 3-5)
This is not meant to diminish the blessing or importance of a large family in our modern world today. All children regardless of sex are a blessing from the Lord, whether the Lord allows you to have many or just a few or even none. The abundant life does not consist of only having children.
When it came to childbearing, in His recorded teachings, Jesus never commanded biological reproduction. His emphasis was on the kingdom. The church’s main purpose is to live for God’s glory and in relationship with Him. Many righteous and devoted people in the Bible never had children. In fact Jesus says:
For there some eunuchs who were that way from birth, and some who were made eunuchs by others, and some who became eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who is able to accept this should accept it.”(Matthew 19:12)
The apostle Paul who was not married nor had children received the privilege of revealing the mystery of marriage. He believed that his singleness enabled him to focus totally on the one thing that he had been called to do.
He explains that an essential purpose in God joining husband and wife or bride and groom is to provide an earthly picture of the heavenly union of Christ and the church. (See Ephesians 5:22-23) Even before and after the children have grown, this union of husband and wife pictures the intimate relationship that Christ has with the believers.
Children Supporting their Parents
When we go back to our main question of children supporting their parents, we encounter one of the most common problems in families where traditional generational ties are very strong. For instance, most African parents expect the grown up children, even those who are married, to support them financially and worse still on an ongoing basis. After all, it is right for children to “repay” their parents for having taken care of them.
Let’s consider what the Bible says. In writing to the Corinthian church, the apostle Paul explained that, as before, he didn’t want to be a burden to them financially. Why? He said, for it is not your money that I want but you; for children are not duty bound to lay up store for their parents, but parents for their children. (See 2 Corinthians 12-14)
He was trying to make it clear that children don’t provide for their parents, rather parents provide for their children. In the right context Paul was explaining the spiritual principle that applies also to family relationships.
Parents have the responsibility to support their children in every area of their lives so that they can become all that God created them – to be productive, mature and independent adults who are able to fulfill their purpose. Likewise when children become independent adults; they should not be dependent on their parents. So it works both ways.
Does this mean that children should have no responsibility for their parent’s welfare? Not at all, as a matter of fact, if your parents are genuinely in need and you have the means to support them, that’s okay. But the decision to help should be a choice made by the couple and not imposed on them by the guilt of having to “repay” back their parents for the care they got from them. It’s worth considering another biblical example.
In Paul’s first letter to his young protégé Timothy, he said that the responsibility for caring for the helpless naturally falls first on their families. He says;
But if a widow has children or grandchildren, see to it that these are first made to understand that it is their religious duty [to defray their natural obligation to those] at home, and make return to their parents or grandparents [for all their care by contributing to their maintenance], for this is acceptable in the sight of God. (1Timothy 5:4)
It’s indeed acceptable and pleasing in the sight of God because if at all you can recall that when the Lord Jesus was hanging on the cross, He saw His mother and the disciple whom He loved standing near to His mother and He said to His mother, Dear woman, See, here is your son! Then He said to the disciple, see here is your mother! And from that hour, the disciple took her into his own keeping, own home. (John 19:25-27)
But again in 1 Timothy 5:5, Paul continues to provide practical counsel for supporting parents particularly those who are widowed or have no legitimate means of supporting themselves. He says:
Now [a woman] who is a real widow and is left entirely alone and desolate has fixed her hope on God and perseveres in supplications and prayers night and day. He goes on to stress that a widow who lives in pleasure and self-gratification [giving herself up to luxury and self-indulgence] is dead even while she [still] lives.
The church had a responsibility to care for widows who were not living in pleasure and self-gratification. Under strict guidelines, it was only those who were in real need because they persevered in supplications and prayers night and day. Paul said that the Church’s primary responsibility was to those widows who had no one–not children or grandchildren to take care of them.
Paul stresses that widows who had children or grandchildren in the church are expected to be taken care of by their families. In other words, children or grandchildren are responsible under God for caring for parents or grandparents who because of health, destitution, or other reasons cannot care for themselves.
The prophet Isaiah also helps us to understand that the kind of fasting that God wants is to share food with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house—when you see the naked, that you cover him, and that you hide not yourself from your relatives who need your help. (Isaiah 58:6-7)
What if your parents abused you or mistreated you in any way? You need to ask the Lord for the grace to completely forgive them. Joyce Meyer, a well-known Christian author and evangelist, was sexually abused by her father from the time she was a young child until she became of age. I heard her sharing her testimony that her father abused her almost 200 times. Yet in spite of all this horrible experience she had to forgive her father for his actions.
Joyce said that the Lord told her to move her father closer to her home and take care of him. It was a difficult act of obedience, but she complied and tried to show him her love. When her dad lay sick in the hospital, her told her: “Joyce, I am sorry you feel I hurt you. But I still don’t understand what was so bad about what I did.”
Joyce Meyer said she left the hospital feeling very sad, not knowing if he would live through the night and sure that he did not know the Lord. She bought clothes and food, and ensured all his basic needs were met.
Eventually, during one of her visits to her father, he told her: “I am sorry for what I did to you. I have wanted to say this to you for a long time, but I didn’t have the guts.” He apologized to Meyer and her husband, Dave, and asked them to forgive him. Meyer knelt beside her father and joined him in praying to receive Christ and he was later baptized after this process of reconciliation and forgiveness.
In a nutshell, parents who are healthy and possess the means of supporting themselves should not become a burden to their children. Children on the other hand, have the responsibility to provide for the welfare of parents who can longer provide for themselves. The church can therefore concentrate on caring for those widows who have no families, the elderly, disabled or sick.
Image Credit: Heavens Call