In his first letter to Timothy, Paul mentions caring for the afflicted as one of the works associated with a good reputation (1 Timothy 5:10). Paul also instructs believing women to care for their own widowed relatives so that the church may care for the widows without relatives (1 Timothy 5:16, italics added). The Greek word eparkeo is used in all three instances to denote the act of caring.
Eparkeo means “to avail or be strong enough to ward off or drive away a thing for another's advantage, to defend.” It can also mean “to give aid from one's own resources, or to give assistance, to relieve” (Strong, 2003, p. 1884).
This beautiful definition describes nursing care at its best! A nurse must have enough strength or resources to apply to the need of the afflicted. This strength may come from a thorough knowledge of the disease process that enables a nurse to reassure the ill that they can recover or it may take the form of understanding the emotional stages of grief that a person diagnosed with a terminal illness may experience. A person newly diagnosed with diabetes or cancer or COVID-19 can display various emotions: disbelief; fear of the unknown; overwhelming sorrow; anger about lack of control. A nurse who intervenes in a timely way can give information and emotional support to ward off a person's anxiety. When a patient's personal arsenal of coping strategies seems inadequate, a nurse can suggest new ways to respond that help to defend against despair.
Often, care takes the form of human presence. Nurses can offer a sense of safety and stability while people suffering from severe mental illness wait for medication to take effect. Driving away the hopelessness for the depressed until they can grasp onto hope is an aspect of caring that we offer, not only as nurses, but as spouses, family members, and friends. This kind of help comes into play whenever we advocate for the weak or the downtrodden. When we speak on behalf of patients too ill, too scared, or too bewildered to overcome barriers on their own, we demonstrate biblical care. When nurses arrange for transportation, schedule follow-up appointments, or simply help refill a prescription, they are caring for people in a way that relieves their distress.
This is good, important work. But it’s also exhausting. As you and I use our resources to relieve suffering, let's remember we must have enough strength to help. Our own strength will sometimes fail, but we have a source of strength that can never be exhausted. I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth. (Psalm 121:1-2, ESV)
Strong J. (2003). Eparkeo. In New Strong's exhaustive concordance of the Bible. Thomas Nelson.
Jan Wilson, MSN, RN, FNP is a nearly retired family nurse practitioner in Massachusetts. She invests her time studying the Bible and sharing her love for God’s Word with women.
This post is excerpted from Jan’s What’s Vital? column in the July/September 2020 issue of the Journal of Christian Nursing. The column appears in each issue and includes discussion questions for personal or small group use.