Benevolence: Individual and Congregational

BENEVOLENCE can be defined as “the disposition to do good, an act of kindness, or a generous gift”. In the context of the N.T. the term is used to describe an OBLIGATION that Christ imposed upon His servants in helping others. The actual term BENEVOLENCE is used only once in Scripture in I Cor 7:3, where it refers to husbands and wives fulfilling their duties to each other in the sexual relationship. However there are several passages that give commands and examples of BENEVOLENCE, with Jesus Himself being involved in many of them.

In the past, there have been numerous sermons, classes, and bulletin articles establishing the fact that we MUST have AUTHORITY from God for all that we do in the spiritual realm. This is true for both individual Christians and for congregations. It has also been noted that what God gave the individual the AUTHORITY and RESPONSIBILITY to do and what He gave congregations the AUTHORITY and RESPONSIBILITY to do are two DIFFERENT things. We want to take a look at both RESPONSIBILITIES and some practical applications for each one in BENEVOLENCE.

Church Responsibility in Benevolence

N.T. Scripture not only demonstrates the need for churches to help those who are in need, but it makes it clear that only one class of people should receive that help – NEEDY SAINTS. “For it pleased those from Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the POOR among the SAINTS who are in Jerusalem”. (Rom 15:26). As far as further AUTHORITATIVE PROOFS are concerned; First the church is COMMANDED to assist needy saints. “Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given orders to the churches of Galatia, so you must do also; On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come. And when I come, whomever you approve by your letters I will send to bear your gift to Jerusalem”. (I Cor 16:1-3). From this passage we learn that the Corinthians realized they were commanded to help those needy Christians in Jerusalem and with Paul’s instructions they made plans to do so. The apostle also told them to select men who would actually take the funds to Jerusalem, providing financial accountability and responsibility.

Next, churches are provided APPROVED APOSTOLIC EXAMPLES for helping NEEDY SAINTS. The church in Jerusalem early on had a need to provide benevolence. “Now all who believed were together and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them AMONG ALL, as anyone had NEED”. (Acts 2:44-45). As the church in that city grew so did the physical needs of some of the members now living in Jerusalem. In Acts chapter 6, seven men were appointed to oversee the distribution of food to NEEDY widows. Finally as authoritative proof, NECESSARY INFERENCES or UNAVOIDABLE CONCLUSIONS can be drawn from Scripture in providing financial help for NEEDY SAINTS. “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”. (I Tim 5:16). The term really widows can also be translated as “ really destitute widows” (Montgomery) “widows who are really dependent” (Goodspeed).

From the examples in Acts we can draw a few lessons on BENEVOLENCE. In the First Century, a great worldwide famine occurred leaving many hungry. Many groups of Christians sent financial relief to help the hungry, but it was always sent to NEEDY SAINTS. In Acts chapter 4, the freewill offerings of the brethren were given to the apostles creating a common treasury for this newly established church in Jerusalem. Distributions were made from this common treasury. We follow that same N.T. pattern at Wilsonville in our congregational BENEVOLENCE.

Individual Responsibility in Benevolence

Each individual Christian has responsibilities in caring for the needs of others separate and apart from the responsibilities of the church. While we are certainly commanded to contribute to the common treasury of the local church on the first day of the week, Christ has given us other obligations to fulfill in benevolence. Scriptures list the needs of certain Christians and we are told who should take care of those needs. Family members are to be taken care of by that family. “But if any widow has children or grandchildren , let them FIRST learn to show PIETY at home and to REPAY their parents, for this is good and acceptable before God…But if anyone does not PROVIDE for his OWN, and especially for those of his HOUSEHOLD, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever”. (I Tim 5:4, 8). Widows also must have their needs supplied by family. “If any believing man or woman has widows, let them relieve them..”. (I Tim 5:16).

As God’s people, we certainly have individual obligations to unbelievers. The parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10 is a wonderful example. A certain man was traveling by foot when robbers beat him, stripped him of his clothes, and left him half dead. “But a certain Samaritan came by where he was, and when he saw him he had COMPASSION. So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said to him; TAKE CARE OF HIM, and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you”. (Lk 10:33-36). We see several lessons for us when it comes to taking care of the needs of others. One, our actions should be motivated by care and compassion and Two, we need to discern what the real needs are in each situation. The good man in this parable put forth much time and effort, and spent his own MONEY to give aid to the needy person.

Perhaps the most complete verse on BENEVOLENCE in the Bible is Gal 6:10 where Paul writes: “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us DO GOOD TO ALL, ESPECIALLY those who are of the household of faith”.

Our individual obligations to care for the needs of all men carry some responsibilities and require some judgments. For example, since II Thess 3:10 commands “If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat”, we cannot have a part in encouraging those who fail to follow this command. Although we should be willing to assist others, we must be careful in giving to those involved in sinful activities such as alcohol or drug addiction. However, there are ways we can help them and point them in a spiritual direction. Also, there are numerous opportunities to help others in need and it is our duty to help fulfill those needs if possible. Let none of us be negligent in our responsibilities to our fellow man. Remember. We imitate Christ when we help anyone out of love and compassion.

Have you lifted a stone from your brother’s way, as he struggled along life’s road? Have you lovingly touched some frail toil worn hand, shared with someone his heave load?

Oh, the things we may do you and I; Oh, the love we can give if we try.