Sunday, July 20, 2014 am                Basics Index

The New Testament Church 7
The work of the church – Benevolence

 Today we continue our study of the work of the church.  Thus far we have discussed evangelism & edification.  As we have noted there is much misunderstanding and abuse of these works of the church both in action and organization.   We have noted that as you study the work of the church in the Bible you will discover that it is primarily spiritual in nature.  Evangelism is our goal and edification is building us up spiritually.  Today, we want to address another work of the church that is also misunderstood.  We want to address the work of the church in benevolence.

For many, benevolence has become a primary focus, but when you study the Bible you will find that benevolence is simply about relieving needs of brethren so that they can evangelize and edify.  In this lesson we are going to notice some example of benevolence in the New Testament church as well as the consistent pattern.

Simply stated, “benevolence” means helping those who are needy.   So according to scripture how is the church involved in benevolence? 

  I.                    Benevolence among first century churches

a.        The church can be involved in benevolence.  Let it be clear from the outset, it IS a work the church can and should engage in as the need presents itself.  Because we teach the need to respect God’s pattern, we are often accused of being opposed to church benevolence.  That is NOT true!   We shall see that clearly as we study the church of the first century. 
NOTE: This is an emotional issue as we are dealing with people who are genuinely in need.  If we have been blessed with prosperity we ought to care about the needy.   BUT, in establishing God’s pattern, we must maintain an objective attitude or else what God HAS instructed will become cloudy and unclear.  That is what we have sought to avoid all along. 

b.       Benevolence within a local church

                                                   i.      Brethren in Jerusalem – at the very outset of the establishment of the church, brethren started caring for one another. 
Acts 2:44-45 tells us that all who believed had “all things in common” and sold possessions and divided them so that all who had needs were cared for.
 Acts 4:32-37 describes “the multitude of those who believed”.  They were of one heart and one soul and had “all things in common.”  Many who had possessions sold them and shared with those who lacked.  Included in this number was Barnabas, who had a piece of land that he sold and gave to the apostles.

                                                  ii.      Acts 6 records 7 men appointed in Jerusalem to help needy Hellenist widows.

                                                iii.      1 Timothy 5:16, “If any believing man or woman has widows, let them relieve them, and do not let the church be burdened, that it may relieve those who are really widows.  In this text, we find there are circumstances where a congregation can take care of its needy.  However, it is worthy of note, that even in such circumstances there are limitations.  In. vs. 5 we find that their help was directed toward those who had honorably served God and who could not be cared for by others.  Actually this passage indicates that the church only steps in when all other means have been exhausted.   

c.        Relieving needy saints in other locations

                                                   i.      Brethren in Judea – Acts 11:27-30.  Prophets came to Antioch and prophesied that a famine would affect the whole world.  Brethren in Judea would need benevolence (Specific reasons are not given, but consider how 1) they had exhausted their resources helping each other at the beginning; 2) they were in Jerusalem which was largely hostile toward Christians thus their livelihoods were probably affected).  So the disciples, each according to his ability, determined to send relief. 
It was sent directly to the elders of varying congregations in Judea by the hands of Barnabas and Saul.  There is no scriptural evidence that it was sent to one church and then distributed to other congregations, or brethren in varying congregations.  (i.e a “sponsoring church”)

                                                  ii.      Jerusalem – years later, the brethren in Jerusalem are again in need.  One of the reasons for Paul’s 3rd preaching journey was to gather funds for the needy brethren there.  This is addressed in a number of passages.

1.       Romans 15:22-27 – Paul’s plans to come to Rome.  But first he is going to Jerusalem to “minister to the saints”.  Brethren in Macedonia and Achaia made a contribution for the poor AMONG the saints at Jerusalem. 

2.       1 Corinthians 16:1-4, Paul writing to Corinth instructs them (as he has done in other places – individual letters to various congregations).  On the first day of the week (when they are gathered), a contribution is taken.  They were to choose whomever they desired to bear their gift to Jerusalem. 

3.       2 Corinthians 8-9.  Paul begins by commending the brethren of Macedonia for their generosity (8:1-5).  In great poverty, they provided a gift for the brethren in Jerusalem.
Apparently, Corinth had committed a year earlier to send relief to Jerusalem.   Paul reminds them of this and gives the example of the brethren of Macedonia (8:10-12)
8:16-24 – as Paul sends this letter by hand of Titus, he notes that various churches had chosen one (probably Timothy).  He also notes that there were messengers (multiple) from various churches.   A close examination of this text shows each congregation acting independently (though more than one congregation was CONCURRENTLY engaged in the same work of benevolence).

2 Cor. 9:1-5 – he urges them again to fulfill their promises and be ready when he comes. 

4.       Putting these texts together you find the following pattern:

a.        Each church acted independently.  Paul wrote separate letters to different congregations.

b.       Each congregation raised its own funds by its own members (1 Cor. 16:1-2)

c.        Each congregation chose HOW (and who) to deliver the funds.  (1 Cor. 16:3-4, 2 Cor. 8:19-24)  NOTE: Several congregations chose the same messenger.  It would be like someone going to a country (or city) where there had been a disaster.  Since he was going there anyways, various congregations, who trust him, would entrust him as their messenger to carry their gift.

d.       There was NO “sponsoring church” or organization created to carry these funds.  It was simply a matter of getting the funds to where the need was.  Studying these texts you read NOWHERE of any church handling the funds of another congregation (except perhaps the church receiving the relief (if we grant the example of Acts 11:30)

e.       The money was sent DIRECTLY to the need – Jerusalem (Rom. 15:26-27).

 II.                  The pattern of benevolence

a.        In the Bible, the work of the church in this area is NOT about “general benevolence” to the world.  The church is not about meeting all the needs of humanity.  
As we have noted, the church is about supporting the truth (1 Tim. 3:15).  The more important need of souls is the gospel.  That is what the church is about.  Romans 14:17,
for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
Acts 6:2-4 makes this clear when the apostles distinguish between benevolent works and ministering the word of God.

b.       General benevolence is addressed by other means:
1) The home – 1 Tim. 5:8.  Taking care of its own is the priority.
2) Government can address these things – the purpose of government is supposed to be to protect its citizens.  We pay taxes to support their efforts.  We ought to support good works that they are engaged in.  Luke 20:25, Rom. 13:1-7, etc.
3) Individual Christians can and should be involved in such.  James 1:27, Galatians 6:10, Matthew 25:31-46, etc.

c.        Benevolence was never used as a means to introduce the gospel to the world.  The pattern of scripture is clear.  Whatever benevolence the church provided was for needy SAINTS only!
IF it takes benevolence to introduce the gospel, it will take more of the same to keep those who it reaches.  (cf. John 6:26-27)
Consider also Acts 3:1-9 where Peter healed a lame man.  He was asking for alms at the temple.  Peter said to him, “Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you.” (3:6)  Peter healed him that day.  NOTE:  There was already funds available in the city for the church (Acts 2:44-45) but it was NOT available to distribute to this needy man. 

d.       It was always for brethren – “poor saints”. And even then, there are limitations (when family efforts are exhausted, etc.)

e.       It was always when all other efforts had been exhausted.  1 Tim. 5:16, “If any believing man or woman has widows, let them relieve them, and do not let the church be burdened, that it may relieve those who are really widows.

f.         It was always temporary and for a specific need.  Needs were not created and then funds sought.

g.        As with every other work, churches maintained their independence and autonomy.  Sent directly to the need.

h.       No organizations were created or used (including sponsoring churches) to relieve needy saints.  No church sent its needy to another congregation to be cared for.

i.         There is a difference between the responsibilities of the church and individuals. 
We have addressed the responsibility of Individuals in the area of benevolence ( James 1:27, Gal. 6:10, etc.)  Sometimes, justification for general works of benevolence by the church are made by misapplying passages which contextually are addressed to individuals.   In our next lesson we are going to address the distinction between the local church and the individual. 

 These are some thoughts to consider as we think about the work of benevolence in the local church.  LET it be known that we are in no way questioning the good intentions or the need for acts of benevolence.  As Christians we ought to be known for our generosity and care for others.  And as the Lord’s church, we ought to demonstrate that we genuinely care about others, especially their souls.  But as with everything else we have discussed, where God’s pattern places limitations, we must respect that.  That includes this work as well.