“But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.” (1 Tim 5:8)
In a previous post I tried to explain God’s rules regarding wealth. In summary, we are supposed to use all our resources beyond what is required to meet our immediate, basic needs and give the excess to others who are unable to meet their basic, immediate needs. Accumulation of wealth is forbidden. Three scriptures get to the heart of the matter, “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth” (Jesus in Matthew 6:19), “Wo unto the rich, who are rich as to the things of the world. For because they are rich they despise the poor.” (2N 9:30), and “Be familiar with all and free with your substance that they may be rich like unto you.” (Jacob 2:17)
There are two distinct groups referenced in Paul’s letter; one’s “own” and “those of his own house”. Who are your “own” that don’t live in your house? I think he’s referring to what we call extended family. In the larger context of God’s rules of wealth, what Paul appears to be saying here is that if you aren’t willing to use your excess wealth to help your extended family, and particularly if your own children (i.e. those of your own house) have needs and you ignore them when you have means to help, you deny the faith and are worse than an infidel. That interpretation is consistent with His laws regarding the accumulation of wealth (see above). Our traditional interpretation, though, which tells the head of household he’s a total loser (worse than an infidel) if he can’t make enough for his family to get by on, is not. There are many faithful, willing parents in the world today that would truly rejoice to be able to provide for their families, but cannot due to disability or injury. To think that Paul summarily condemns such is totally inconsistent with the rest of the Gospel. But in our traditional interpretation we’re forced to accept that inconsistency. Let’s think about it: today, a typical parent will spend about 20 years with a child in the home (or under their direct financial responsibility), and about 40 years with the child on his/her own as the child lives independently and (typically) builds his or her own family with a spouse. It’s reasonable to assume that Paul’s directive would apply throughout one’s life, while his/her children are both dependent and independent on a parent’s ability/responsibility to provide/assist financially, and not just while one’s children are minors. If we had to favor one of the two sides (i.e. was Paul targeting those with dependent or independent children), as children are independent about twice as long as they are dependent, we’d have to assume that Paul was talking more about helping them once they’re on their own.
It’s very sad to see a member of the Church live extravagantly while his siblings struggle to make ends meet. And if we’re willing to ignore our own flesh and blood it is assumed we’ll feel no compunction to address the needs of others who are less proximately connected genetically. We justify such behavior by doing exactly what King Benjamin warned us about; blaming their unfortunate situation on their poor choice. Sadly, we will be judged as we have judged, and then we will understand that our unfortunate situation in hell will be the direct result of our poor, covetous choices.