Benevolence: Congregational

Text: Acts 4:32-35

Benevolence is something that the New Testament describes being done by congregations and individuals. Benevolence is help that is provided to those who are in need because they cannot provide for themselves, not because they will not (cf. 2 Thessalonians 3:10). This lesson will focus on congregational benevolence.

Local Churches Are Authorized to Engage in Benevolence

  • We must have authority for all that we do (Colossians 3:17) – authority is established by direct statement, approved examples, and necessary inferences
  • Direct statements about churches engaging in benevolence (1 Corinthians 16:1-3)
  • Approved examples of churches engaging in benevolence (Acts 4:32-35; 11:29-30)

Different From Other Works of the Church

  • Three works of the church – evangelism (1 Thessalonians 1:8), edification (Ephesians 4:16), and benevolence
  • Evangelism is an ongoing work because there will always be a need for it – all have sinned (Romans 3:23); God wants all to repent (2 Peter 3:9); He calls to repentance through the gospel (2 Thessalonians 2:14)
  • Edification is an ongoing work because there will always be a need for it – Christians must be encouraged so they will not fall away (Hebrews 3:12-13); the local church needs to grow (Ephesians 4:12-16)
  • Benevolence, as least congregational benevolence, is not an ongoing work – done as needed; we “always have the poor with us” (Matthew 26:11), but congregational benevolence is done as needed because of the limits on who they can help

Recipients of Congregational Benevolence

  • Many believe that churches are like charities – a lot of non-religious people have this idea; many professed Christians, and even some brethren, believe that churches can help anyone
  • Only examples of congregational benevolence went to saints (Acts 2:44-45; 4:32-35; 11:29; Romans 15:26; 2 Corinthians 8:4; 9:12)
  • Also an implicit prohibition against using congregational funds to help non-saints (Acts 3:1-6)
  • Individuals are authorized to help non-saints, but not local churches

Benevolence Within the Congregation

  • Examples – church in Jerusalem (Acts 4:32-35; 6:1-3); helping widows indeed (1 Timothy 5:9-10)
  • This benevolence is to come from funds collected on the first day of the week (1 Corinthians 16:1-2)
  • Individuals can choose to give more than normal when a need arises (Acts 4:34-35) – but they are not required to do so (Acts 5:1-4)
  • Churches may appoint individuals to see to it that the needs are met (Acts 6:1-6)

Benevolence Outside of the Congregation

  • Examples – Antioch helping Judea (Acts 11:29-30); other churches helping Jerusalem (Romans 15:26; 1 Corinthians 16:1-3)
  • This benevolence also is to come from funds collected on the first day of the week (1 Corinthians 16:1-2)
  • Funds are sent to the elders over the churches where there is a need (Acts 11:29-30)
  • Churches are to appoint individuals to deliver the funds (Acts 11:29; 1 Corinthians 16:3) – must be careful that those entrusted with the funds are worthy of confidence (2 Corinthians 8:20-22)

Autonomy Must Be Maintained

  • Local churches are to be autonomous – self-governing; elders shepherd the flock among them (1 Peter 5:2)
  • Autonomy is seen in the examples of benevolence – funds from Antioch sent to elders in churches, not elders in one church to distribute to the other churches (Acts 11:29-30); Paul expected Corinth to appoint their own messengers (1 Corinthians 16:3-4)
  • No authority for one church to send to another church and the receiving church distribute the funds further – autonomy must be maintained

Conclusion

  • As a work of the church, benevolence is not quite the same as the ongoing works of evangelism and edification
  • But it is still important – we must carry it out as the Lord instructs us to in His word

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