Supported by individual churches of Christ

In short-term missions teaching the gospel is often done simultaneously with benevolence. An example of one mission work in Ukraine is where a Bible Camp is used to reach out to adults and children during the morning, service projects are done in the afternoon and serving orphans is done in the evening. Examples of benevolence in missions include: feeding the poor, caring for the sick, visiting those in prison, medical and dental ministries, providing clothes, and shelter or agricultural efforts. A common phrase to hear in many parts of the United States is, “People do not care how much you know until they know how much you care.” This may help explain why benevolent acts often accompany evangelistic efforts.

What does benevolence mean? Benevolence literally means “the affection one owes.”[1] The word benevolence is found in the King James Version of the Bible (1 Cor 7:3). But the embodiment of benevolence is found in many places. Dr. Elam wrote that “the benevolence of the church in the New Testament reached out to those who could not recompense.”[2] Dr. Elam goes on to explain benevolence is found in Paul instructing Christians to give freely as Christ had done.

            Does the lack of benevolence on the part of a Christian put their eternal soul in jeopardy? Jesus said in Matthew 25:31-46 if people do not provide food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, clothes to the naked, and visit the sick and those in prison (to the least of His brethren), they have not done so to Him. The controversy pertains to applicability of benevolence from these verses centers on Matthew 25:40 and the use of phrase “the least of these my brethren.” There is much dispute concerning this verse. However, there are two truly plausible groups of people to which Jesus’ words could apply: everyone in humanity or just Christians. In commenting on these verses Dr. Hagner, makes the case that these verses apply only to benevolence towards Christians:

The use of ‘my brothers,’ makes it almost certain that the statement refers not to human beings in general but rather to brothers and sisters of the Christian community. Elsewhere in the Gospel it is consistently the disciples whom Jesus calls ‘my brothers’ (12:48-49; 28:10; see too 23:8; outside Matt., see John 20:17; Rom. 8:29; Heb. 2:11-12).[3]

While it is clear if a Christian does not provide for the benevolence of his brethren then they are in danger of receiving everlasting punishment (Matt. 25:46). Even if this verse is only applied to Christians (which is argued by numerous scholars), is that the only people Jesus wishes the church today to serve? Would Jesus see someone in need and walk by on the other side of the road because that person was not an obedient follower of Christ? Or would the Lord be more neighborly than that (Luke 10:25-37)? Dr. Elam explained it this way “this is the reason service is mandatory, not optional. Becoming a Christian is voluntary but when one becomes a Christian, service is mandatory. Where there is no service, faith is lacking.”[4]

In Galatians 2 Paul tells of the account of his meeting with James, Peter, and John. He says, “James, Peter and John, those reputed to be pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the Jews. All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do” (Gal. 2: 9-10). In his meeting with Christ’s “heavyweight fighters” for the gospel, James, Peter, and John agreed that Paul and Barnabas should preach to the Gentiles and they would go to the Jews. James, Peter, and John only asked Paul to do one thing; namely, to “remember the poor.” The importance placed on benevolence is seen as such an important matter that these Christian pillars asked Paul and Barnabas to only do this one thing when they took the gospel to the Gentiles, which Paul says he was eager to do.

As mentioned earlier some claim that Christians should only participate in benevolent acts toward other Christians.[5] Often Matthew 25:40 and Galatians 6:9-10 are used to make this argument, “And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Gal. 6:9-10). Undoubtedly Paul urges Christians to do good to those who are fellow believers. But this verse also states that Christians should “do good to all,” which includes the entire human race not just those in the church. Jesus was clear that His disciples must do good to those sinners who hate them. Furthermore Jesus told His disciples it is not good enough to only do good to those who love them (Matt. 5:44; Luke 6:33). God compels Christians to reach out to sinners by demonstrating love towards them through benevolence.

What happens when benevolent acts are accomplished? In Acts 6 a problem arose over widows being neglected and thus going hungry. The elders and apostles appointed seven men to take care of this benevolent work. This allowed the elders and apostles to give themselves to prayer and the ministry of the word. This resulted in the word of God spreading and great numbers of new converts including priests were obedient to Christianity. Simple acts of benevolence contributed to “great numbers” of souls being saved and the gospel being preached in large areas.

Acts 6 was the first example in the New Testament where deacons were appointed to take care of benevolent works. The word deacon does not exist in this text but the Greek word diakonia appears twice and is translated “distribution” (Acts 6:1) and “ministry” (Acts 6:4). The seven were appointed to do the work (or ministry) and distribution (or the work of deacons). While this does not exclude the responsibilities of all Christians to take part in benevolence, it does give primary responsibility to deacons to serve the poor, destitute, and those in need.

According to Matthew 6 it is vital that a Christian take part in benevolence with the right attitude. Matthew 6:1-4 is quite clear about what a person should do in charitable giving. He should not do these deeds to be seen by others. There is a reward from God when benevolence is done in secret. When it is done in the open God takes away that reward because they receive praise from others. Like prayer (Matt. 6:5-6), God desires benevolence be done in secret so as not to puff oneself up. In fact, if a person gave everything he owns to the poor but without the proper attitude and actions (love), it will not benefit the giver. Paul says, “And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing” (1 Cor. 13:3). When one gives, he must do so without ulterior motives (Acts 5:1l). Ananias and Sapphira lied about their benevolent acts which resulted in their deaths (Acts 5).Therefore benevolence must be done in secret way, without boasting and with love (not greed).

The Bible provides examples of congregations taking part in benevolence whether it is supporting an individual or multiple people in a different church. Churches supported Paul in his need (Phil. 4:14, 16). Additionally Paul took a gift from the Corinthian church to the poor in Jerusalem (1 Cor. 16:3). The Macedonia and Achaia churches also sent aid to the church in Jerusalem. Paul states, “But now I am going to Jerusalem to minister to the 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. 15:25-26). It is clear congregations have the example given in Scripture to implement benevolent acts to both individuals and other congregations.

While preaching the gospel should be at the forefront of a missionary’s mind they also need to show Christ by their love for one another. Missionaries are called to love the people of the place they are going to serve by being willing to serve them as Jesus served the people around Him while on this earth.


[1] Merrill Tenney, The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible. Volume 1. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1976), 518.

[2] Elam, The Mission Cry of the New Millennium, 61.

[3] Donals Hagner, Word Biblical Commentary: Matthew 14-28 (Grand Rapids, MI: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1995), 744.

[4] Elam, The Mission Cry of the New Millennium, 106.

[5] See W. Curtis Porter, Porter-Deaver Debate: Congregational Benevolence (Bowling Green, KY: Guardian of Truth, 2007).

powered by social2s
Go to top