Question: “What does the Bible say about caregiving?”
In the world of professional health care, caregiving involves the detection, deterrence, or treatment of any type of illness by a doctor, nurse, or other health care worker. However, a caregiver can also be anyone who provides assistance and support to a family member or friend who has physical, psychological, or developmental needs. Caregiving is practiced by parents who rear their young children, friends who care for a disabled neighbor, and adult children who bring their elderly parents to live with them. As such, caregiving is absolutely biblical. Though the Bible never uses the word caregiving to describe selfless acts of love and mercy toward family members and friends, there is no doubt the Bible supports the giving of care.
Mercy, compassion, and selfless love are all behaviors that are strongly praised in the Bible. In fact, during Jesus’ ministry on earth, He told the religious leaders of the day, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice” (Matthew 9:13; 12:7; cf. Hosea 6:6). He was pointing out that the Pharisees were concerned more with following the letter of the Law than they were with living out its spirit and meaning. Mercy is a prime factor in caregiving—seeing the need of another and providing for that need.
God’s command to honor one’s parents includes the obligation to care for their needs when the time comes. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees, who had a system to bypass this obligation and thereby allow adult children to avoid caregiving: “Why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’ and ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is ‘devoted to God,’ they are not to ‘honor their father or mother’ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites!” (Matthew 15:3–7). The Pharisees were lining their own pockets with money that should have gone to providing care to the elderly, and Jesus’ words against this practice were harsh.
Compassion is a characteristic of God. Like a father to his children, God shows compassion to those who fear Him (Psalm 103:13). Over and over again in the Bible, God shows compassion on the fatherless, the widow, and the sojourner—people who were helpless and friendless and would have needed to depend on the caregivers of their day—and commands that they be provided for and protected (Exodus 22:22; Deuteronomy 10:18; 14:29; 24:17; 24:19; 24:20; Psalm 82:3; 10:18; Job 29:12). God associates ignoring the needs of the helpless with extreme wickedness and promises judgment on those who refuse to help (Psalm 94:6; Jeremiah 5:28; Ezekiel 22:7; Malachi 3:5). God calls Himself the “father of the fatherless and protector of widows” (Psalm 68:5; cf. 146:9).
Caregiving requires the ability to love selflessly, not expecting anything in return. Jesus taught that, when the rich give banquets, they should not give to their friends and rich neighbors who can pay them back but instead to the needy and poor who cannot repay (Luke 14:12). He also said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Caregiving requires this kind of love. Mercy, compassion, and selfless love are not easy—in fact, humanly speaking, they are impossible to do with a completely righteous attitude (Romans 3:10–11). But God is faithful to provide strength, joy, and cheer if we ask Him (Matthew 7:8; Luke 11:9–12; Galatians 5:22; 2 Corinthians 9:7). With His strength caregiving (and any other incredible feat of love) is more than possible (Mark 9:23; 10:27).