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Sunday, December 3, 2017 am                                        NT Church 2017 Index

 

The New Testament Church 2017
The work of the church (5) – Benevolence (2)

 

In our last lesson we examined how churches engaged in benevolence.   We looked at examples both of local benevolence, as well as examining how churches helped others when they struggled.  We noted 7 passages of scripture that deal with churches helping the needy.  We discussed the church in Jerusalem at the infancy of the kingdom (Acts 2, 4, 6:1-4), several churches in need in Judea (Acts 11), and later, troubles in Jerusalem and how brethren throughout the empire sent relief to these brethren; .and 1 Timothy 5:8-16 which deals with standards for relieving needy widows.

In our lesson today, we want to make some observations about that pattern. 

NOTE: Be reminded, we are not questioning the need to be benevolent and help others.  Nor are we saying that benevolent works are evil or do not need to be addressed.  In fact, my intent is to emphasize our need for compassion toward others, including those who are not Christians.  BUT, we ARE concerned about God’s pattern for what the church is and HOW it is to carry out its work, in every area of work.   That is our goal in this study.

 I.                     Concerning the pattern for benevolence

a.       It was always for brethren – “poor saints”.
And even then, there are limitations (when family efforts are exhausted, etc.), per 1 Timothy 5:3-16.  Paul lists “qualifications” demonstrating the proven character of those to be helped and supported by the church.

b.       It was always when all other efforts had been exhausted. 
-Within a congregation – see 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.
- In the case of the churches of Judea (Acts 11), there was famine.  And when we consider that these brethren had already been helping each other and exhausted their resources, it is clear they would need additional help.
- In the case of Jerusalem, several years later, again you would be dealing with devastating circumstances there. 

c.        It was always temporary and for a specific need.  Needs were not created and then funds sought. 
No church decided to sponsor an ongoing relief effort, or create an organization to address its need.   E.g. They didn’t build a hospital, or retirement home, to take care of the sick and needy, either present or anticipated.  Such organizations are always intended to be permanent!

d.       As with every other work, churches maintained their independence and autonomy.  They sent directly to the need, choosing their own messenger (1 Corinthians 16:2-4).
At no time, did a congregation surrender its funds to another congregation (except the receiving church with the need) and thereby surrender its autonomy in helping with the need.

e.       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.

 II.                   Other observations concerning benevolence

a.       In the Bible, the work of the church in this area is NOT about “general benevolence” to the world.  By “general benevolence” I mean, relieving the benevolent needs of society, as opposed to exclusive benevolence directed toward Christians only. 

                                                   i.      The church is not about meeting all the physical needs of humanity.   NOR is there authority for a church to use its funds to help those who are not Christians.  Jesus even noted: The poor you have with you always (Matthew 26:11)

                                                 ii.      As we have noted, the church is about supporting the truth (1 Tim. 3:15), by proclaiming the Gospel and by spiritually building up its saints. 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.

                                                iii.      Congregational (corporate) benevolence is about relieving physical burdens of the saints (2 Corinthians 9:12), that they are no longer able to relieve by themselves or by other means, so that they might be better equipped to grow spiritually.   Physical burdens are wearisome, both physically and mentally.  God has provided the means AND pattern to help one another with these things – both as individuals and as the church (when other means are exhausted).

                                                iv.      When we study the examples of benevolence we do find some things that happen:

1.       There is a sharing of physical and spiritual blessings (Romans 15:27).  It SHOWS our fellowship with those we are helping and an understanding of TRUE fellowship.

2.       It is a matter of equality – 2 Corinthians 8:12-15 – we are reminded that our lives are NOT about obtaining material gain, NOR about us being better than others.  We are willing to help one another materially leading toward spiritual equality.

3.       God is glorified (2 Corinthians 9:13)

4.       There are prayers and warmness toward one another (2 Corinthians 9:14)

5.       IN all these, we can see the spiritual strengthening that takes place!

b.       General benevolence is addressed by other means:

                                                   i.      The home – 1 Timothy 5:8. Taking care of its own is the priority.

                                                 ii.      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.

                                                iii.      Individual Christians can and should be involved in such.   This cannot be emphasized greatly enough. 
James 1:27, pure and undefiled religion involves relieving the needy. (Visit is more than the casual greeting)
Galatians 6:10, as we have opportunity, we do good to all, but ESPECIALLY our brethren.  It is worthy of note that much of this context is addressing spiritual “good” that needs to be done, though it could include the physical as well. 
NOTE: Contextually
Matthew 25:31-46, when we stand before our God in judgment, He will look at what we did as Christians. In fact, be reminded that judgment IS an individual thing (Romans 14:10-12, 2 Corinthians 5:10, Revelation 20:11-15, Hebrews 9:27, etc.) 
1 John 3:17-18 – whoever has this world’s goods and sees a brother in need and shuts up his heart to him, how does God’s love abide in him?  Love in deed and in truth.
1 Timothy 6:17-18 – the rich are commanded to be humble and to do good, being rich in good works, ready to give, and willing to share, etc…
JUST following the example of Jesus who “went about doing good.” (Acts 10:38)
Included in this could be contributing to (or if you have the means, creating) charitable organizations that specialize in helping the needy in given areas (and times), or giving of your time to such worthwhile endeavors (i.e. volunteering).

c.        Benevolence was never used as a means to introduce the gospel to the world. 

                                                   i.      There are many who believe that we can use social activities and benevolence (good will) to reach the lost.  They think that by doing some charitable work, it will open doors to hearing the gospel.

                                                 ii.      There may be occasions where benevolent acts causes one to further investigate the truth, but does the end justify the means?   That is a dangerous path because it is subjective and without ANY authority whatsoever.  Consider: Can we lie for what we think is a good cause?
IF God’s grace abounds where there is sin, can we sin more? (see Romans 6:1ff)
We KNOW we cannot base our faith on emotions or “I think”. 

                                                iii.      The pattern of scripture is clear.  Whatever benevolence the church provided was for needy SAINTS only!  We CANNOT set aside God’s pattern because we PERCEIVE something to be a good work. 

                                                iv.      IF it takes benevolence to introduce the gospel, it will take more of the same to keep those who it reaches.   Consider John 6:26-27, where Jesus rebuked them for following Him for the food.  And more often than not, that is what those receiving physical aid think about.

                                                  v.      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.       There is a difference between the responsibilities of the church and individuals. 

                                                   i.      We have addressed this distinction earlier this year.  We have also addressed the responsibility of Individuals in the area of benevolence in this lesson.  Be reminded of several verses that make this distinction:

1.       1 Timothy 5:16 – do not let the church be burdened

2.       Matthew 18:15 – go to a brother, only after he refuses to repent do you “tell it to the church” (17)

3.       Acts 5:2-4 – concerning Ananias and Sapphira, their money was theirs until they gave it to the apostles. 

4.       1 Corinthians 11:22, 34 – do you not have houses to eat in.  Paul distinguished between a typical meal and the Lord’s Supper when they came together. 

                                                 ii.      Sometimes, justification for general works of benevolence by the church are made by misapplying passages which contextually are addressed to individuals.   Such as Galatians 1:10, James 1:27 and 2 Corinthians 9:13 where Paul speaks of the liberal sharing of the brethren in need “and all men.”  Some contend this verse is saying, “All men” means we can give benevolently to anyone (with caution or wisdom). 

1.       But again, contextually, Paul is dealing with a gift to saints.  These brethren pray (vs. 14 which unbelievers cannot do), it supplied the needs of the saint (vs. 12), “they glorify God for the obedience of your confession to the gospel of Christ.” (vs. 13).  These are all associated with the saints.

2.       Secondly, the original only says, “all” (men is not in the text).  WHO these “all” were needs to be determined BY the text.  Paul could be commending their willingness to help brethren in other places as well.

 

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.   Are we willing to do that?