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Benevolence

Most churches receive many requests for financial assistance on a regular basis.  These requests include money for rent, money for utilities, money for food, and money for many other needs.  Usually, the people making the requests have heartbreaking stories of how they have come to have such needs without the means to supply them.  Almost always, they are people who are not members of the Lord’s church.

 

Answering these requests can be very difficult.  It is not that the answer is difficult to determine, but rather it is difficult to deliver the answer.  Regardless of how heartbreaking a person’s story may be, the church has no authority to function as a charity for the temporal needs of the world.  There are no commandments or examples in the Scriptures for the church to operate in this way.  Every commandment and example in the Scriptures regarding the benevolent work of the church reveal that the collective local church is authorized to assist only members of the Lord’s body.  Even then, every effort should be made not to burden the church (for example, consider the qualifications for a widow to receive assistance in 1Timothy 5:3-16).  Therefore, the answer to most of these requests is no.

 

The truth of the Scriptures regarding church benevolence is not according to the expectations of the world.  Many believe that the church is obligated to supply the needs of those who call upon it, regardless of their relationship to Christ.  Many of the denominations function to supply such needs, creating unauthorized extra-church organizations and institutions to do so.  Thus, false expectations of the Lord’s church have been created.  Therefore, when a church of Christ denies a request for assistance from an outsider, that denial may be unfairly considered as calloused and cold, in violation of the love of God.

 

In truth, individual Christians are obligated to assist needy persons, especially those who are members of the body of Christ (Gal. 6:10).  Jesus taught us to practice charity in love toward all men (Matt. 5:42; Luke 6:27-38).  James even wrote that “pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father” is “to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world” (Jas. 1:27).  Just as Christians strive to keep themselves holy, they must also work to assist the needy as part of their practice of religion.  Therefore, the work of charity toward outsiders falls upon individual Christians and not the collective church.

 

However, let us not overlook the obligation of the persons in need and their families.  God has prescribed honest industry as our means to profit (Eph. 4:28; 2Thess. 3:6-12).  Men have the responsibility to provide for their own families, which includes their wives, children, and aged parents (1Tim. 5:8).  It is unfair to expect other people or the church to provide that which should be provided by oneself or one’s family.

 

Nevertheless, there are legitimate situations that arise in which people have needs that cannot be supplied by themselves or their families.  Persons who have such needs but have no relationship with the Lord must beg others for assistance.  They can have no comfort or confidence that they will find someone to help.  They are at the mercy of strangers.  For many, this is the only time they have any interest in the Lord or His church, for they hope to receive some temporal help.

 

However, members of the Lord’s church may have full confidence that any such temporal needs will be well supplied.  The Lord has given us this great assurance: “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you” (Matt. 6:33).  Experience tells us that this is true.  As David wrote, “I have been young, and now I am old; Yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken, or his descendants begging bread” (Psalm 37:25).  Jesus said in essence that anyone who leaves anything behind for Him will receive much more in return (Mark 10:28-31).

 

Christians have this temporal comfort because they have made the spiritual things of God their first priority.  This is what the world fails to understand about the Lord’s church.  The church’s nature and work is spiritual rather than temporal.  Any temporal benefits that one receives because of His relationship with Christ are purely secondary.  Those who seek the spiritual benefits of Christ have no need to worry for temporal things.  They are like Mary who chose the “good part” (Luke 10:38-42).

 

Therefore, let us recognize the obligations and responsibilities of each individual and the church that are set forth in the word of God.  Let us understand the differences between them.  Then, let us strive to meet those obligations and responsibilities fully, that our Lord will be honored and glorified.  Regardless of the world’s expectations, if we do God’s work in His way, He will be pleased.

 

Stacey E. Durham




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