Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.
“Orphan” is sometimes translated “fatherless,” and that is most accurate in most places. We can see in some places that fatherlessness is clearly intended:
and My wrath will become hot, and I will kill you with the sword; your wives shall be widows, and your children fatherless.
Obviously a man can’t leave a widow and orphans if “orphan” means without either parent.
“Some snatch the fatherless from the breast,
And take a pledge from the poor.
Obviously a completely parentless child can’t be nursing from his mother.
Throughout Scripture we see widows and orphans paired together and held up as the epitome of those who are particularly vulnerable and therefore in need of particular care and attention. But this is not so much because they lack means as that they lack men. In that time and culture of course that also meant they had very limited access to means, but in all times and cultures it means they are vulnerable and need protection.
Fatherlessness is rampant in our world—and not just for those whose fathers have died. Divorce, abandonment, abuse, and neglect have made orphans of many. And while both sons and daughters suffer from father hunger, as fatherless boys grow up to become men, they become protectors themselves, but as fatherless girls grow up, they will have the same vulnerability that widows have without male protection.
Jim Wilson says, “A woman was made by God to be loved, protected, provided for, and made secure.” All women will experience some degree of insecurity, and we must all ultimately seek to have that need fulfilled in Christ. But the Bible’s directive to the stronger is to have compassion on the weaker, so the church’s response to widows and the fatherless of any age should take the form of meaningful assistance.
Thumbing over to the next chapter of James we read in verses 15 and 16, “If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,’ but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?” A few years ago I wrote a little verse paraphrasing that passage:
Go in peace, be warm and be fed
Without any blankets, without any bread,
Without anyplace to lay down your head.
Be so well provisioned you’ll soon be quite dead.
The church must not dismiss single women’s need for protection as a merely spiritual matter, but recognize it as a practical need. We must not buy into the feminist lie that insists that “a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.” There are some ways in which the church shepherds, in particular, can play a protective role, especially in regard to courtship. And the church should help unmarried women fulfill their need for a husband just as the church would help a naked or destitute brother or sister find the things that are needful for the body and not just send them off with a wish.
And there are other practical, brotherly ways that men in the church can care for unmarried women—moving furniture, helping out with car issues, and things of that nature. These are all examples, of course. They are not prescriptions, but illustrations of a principle.
Another principle that needs to be mentioned here, ever so gently, is Don’t be stupid. This sort of brotherly help, if done carelessly, runs the risk of turning into something other than brotherly. After 9/11, many New York firemen came forward to help the widows of their comrades who had died at the Towers. And within a couple of years, a number of them had abandoned their own wives and children to marry the widows! You can see how it happened, can’t you? A lonely, grieving woman; a man whose own wife doesn’t understand the impact of the tragedy as well as this widow does; big, strong help that makes her feel cherished; vulnerable gratitude that makes him feel respected…and then disaster.
Again, don’t let fear of this sort of thing keep you from helping, but don’t let foolishness make you careless in the way you help.
 This is simplistic, of course, as fatherlessness is a tremendous hindrance to boys’ maturation, but that issue is outside my scope here.
 James I. Wilson, How to Be Free from Bitterness (Moscow, Idaho: Canon Press, 1995), p. 59
Other posts in this series (I’ll add links as I post them):
Part 6: He Sets the Lonely in Families