It looks like the early Christians in the first century may have started what is known to us today as the first pension fund to provide retirement benefits for elderly widows who met special criteria.
Two very interesting verses from Apostle Paul's 1st letter to Timothy help us to make such a conclusion. "No widow may be put on the list of widows unless she is over sixty, has been faithful to her husband," Paul instructs Timothy in (1 Tim. 5:9). And little later in vs. 11 he continues: "As for younger widows, do not put them on such a list." What is this list?
The entire chapter is dedicated to widows, elders and slaves. They all lived in a very patriarchal society in which elderly widows would have been very unprotected and vulnerable if they didn't have any family support. This is why Apostle Paul asks Timothy to "give proper recognition to those widows who are really in need." 1 Tim. 5:3.
From vs. 9 we learn that the Christian community to which Timothy belonged had a list of elderly widows whom they gave proper recognition and support. There was a criteria to be in this list. They had to be minimum 60 years old, widows, faithful to their husbands (some old translations, such as the Armenian translation of the New Testament here says they had to be widows of one husband only) and well known for their good works, such as being dedicated to their families, bringing up good children, showing good hospitality to the Lord's people and helping those in trouble.
For these types of widows there was a special list and those widows who didn't meet these criteria weren't included in this list.
Today's pension funds provide retirement support for people advanced in age and those who are vulnerable due to illness or age. The elderly widows at the time of the Apostle Paul were one of the most vulnerable people in the male dominated society. It was difficult for them to find jobs and have a decent living standards because of the social structure, their age and lack of family support. Thus, what apparently the church communities did, was to prepare a list of these elderly women and provide what apostle Paul says "proper recognition" to them.
Paul's letter to Timothy doesn't specifically mention a monthly financial contribution to the elderly widows who meet the criteria. Yet, it is pretty safe to conclude that these elderly widows who were on the list received a special attention from their Christian communities. I don't think it was only a moral contribution. You can't provide a moral support to an elderly woman who is hungry and without job if you don't give her bread and some means of living. Otherwise, why would they keep a list?
Thus, I think Apostle Paul and Timothy, faithful to the love-message of Christ, set the first example of providing substantial support, a kind of a pension fund to elderly widows, inspiring future generations and government.
The history of pension funds and retirement systems goes back to the 17th century when Duke Ernest the Pious of Gotha in Germany, founded a widows' fund for clergy in 1645 and another for teachers in 1662. At the time they were called widows' funds. Then, throughout the 18th century different pension funding programs were set up in various European countries to support church pastors' widows. Some paid them monthly, others yearly.
We shouldn't be surprised to see these type of attention and care toward the vulnerable in the first century. This type of love did really exist and we should bring it back today into our lives. In the first century when Christians and Christianity was being persecuted throughout the Roman Empire, the number of followers of Jesus Christ was growing despite all odds. Christians were being persecuted, many dying in coliseums being fed by lions, others were mocked and still others killed and looked down. But the numbers were growing. How did this happen?
There is a record of a Roman soldier, who writes a letter to his family mentioning a Christian community in the city where he served. One particular and very telling sentence stands out. He write that he has never seen anywhere such a love and care toward each other and toward outsiders that the Christians in his community displayed.
There was so much love and care among the first century Christians that it (the love) was drawing people closer and more and more people were becoming Christians despite the dangers. They knew that Christians were being killed and fed by lions, yet, they would become Christians. This is still another proof of the Divine origin of Christian faith.
What does this mean for us today
Many countries in the world, if not the most, have already successfully implemented some types of pension funds and retirement plans. We pay taxes and the government takes care of the rest. But we see that the gap between the average young and strong and the elderly and health-wise week is growing deeper and deeper. We are becoming indifferent toward one another in general. Every time we pray the "Our Father" we are supposed be reminded that we all are equal children of God and He has the same expectations from us as we do from our children. But how often do we remember about it and keep that in mind?
Dear reader. we have only one life on this earth and therefore one big chance to do good every day. Honor your father and mother as the commandant says. Honor the elderly people around you. Make a visit of a local nursing home and share some of your time, talents and smile with elderly people. Volunteer for them. Continue the tradition that the Apostles start in the 1st century inspired by Divine power of love. And remember, it is by giving (time, talent, love and attention) that we live a happy and rewarding life, not by receiving.