Sunday, November 26, 2017 am                                    NT Church 2017 Index


The New Testament Church 2017
The work of the church (4) – Benevolence

     In the midst of our study on the NT church this year, we are currently examining what the work of the church is.  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 benevolence as a local congregation.

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 do their part in evangelism and edification with less hindrance.  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 and help relieve 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.       There are 8 texts that give us the pattern for benevolence as the Lord’s church (congregation):

                                                   i.      Acts 2:44-45

                                                 ii.      Acts 4:32-37

                                                iii.      Acts 6:1-4

                                                iv.      Acts 11:27-30

                                                  v.      Romans 15:25-26

                                                vi.      1 Corinthians 16:1-4

                                              vii.      2 Corinthians 8-9 (esp. 8:1-4, 9:6-13)

                                             viii.      1 Timothy 5:3-16

c.        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.   

d.       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 Corinthians 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.  Paul was willing to carry their gift (in their name) along with others who were going. 
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. 
But their gift was earmarked DIRECTLY for the need to which it was sent.  Paul and others did not become some intermediary entity. He just facilitated the delivery of the 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 (a onetime aid).  Studying these texts, you read NOWHERE of any church handling the funds of another congregation (except the church receiving the relief, cf. Acts 11:30).

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

Continued next week