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Benevolence and Evangelism

Two Biblical Patterns


Introduction.  (1 Tim. 3:14-15). In this text Paul teaches that the writings of the New Testament are intended to serve as a guide for conduct in the church.  In much of the world this idea is either rejected, or qualified.  That is, some will contend that there is no way that a 2000-year-old document can guide modern circumstances, while others will claim that is does, but they only apply its guidance to moral issues and general principles, and not to the organization and conduct of the church.  Those of us who worship at this place are in many respects unique (in comparison to the world).  We believe that Scripture condemns religious division (1 Cor. 1:10), and yet warns against following human traditions (Col. 2:8).  We believe that if those who love the Lord will establish all practices and teachings upon the authority of the word God, true, sound, biblical unity can to be attained. 

      Last week we studied a lesson on the concept of the “church” in the New Testament.  We considered the fact that the term church can refer to God’s assembly in three distinct senses: the church universally, the church locally, and the church actually assembled.  Tonight I would like for us to focus on something that concerns the collective work of the local church as it relates to two important and distinct areas: benevolence and evangelism.  We will see two distinct patterns which reflect both the wisdom of God and two areas in which we must follow God’s wisdom over man’s innovation.

I.  Benevolence in the New Testament Church.  Benevolence is a phrase which refers to doing good as it relates to the needs of others.  The dictionary defines it as a “disposition to do good” or an “act of kindness.”  It is clear that the early church was very involved in benevolence. 

A.       The early church in Jerusalem.  After Pentecost (Acts 2:44-45).  In response to those who stayed in Jerusalem (Acts 4:32-37).  We note in this individual selling of personal possessions and laying the proceeds “at the apostle’s feet.”

1.         This is not teaching communal property but generosity (Acts 5:4).

B.       Regular care for widows (Acts 6:1-6). 

1.         Qualifications for such regular support (1 Tim. 5:3-16).

C.       Relief from one church to the needy saints in another church (Acts 11:27-30).

1.         Paul’s efforts to bring relief (Rom. 16:26-27; 1 Cor. 16:1-4).

D.       Principles regarding collective benevolence.

1.         This is “for the saints” (1 Cor. 16:1).  While individuals are to help others as we have opportunity (Gal. 6:10), the church is not charged collectively with feeding, clothing, or relieving the needy of the world.  There is no example in Scripture of the contribution being used to help the needy of the world.

2.         There are some things with which the church is not to be “burdened” in order to do what it should (1 Tim. 5:16).  Note: The context is talking about Christian widows who are not qualified.  If the Holy Spirit restricts what Christians should and should not be supported then it shows us that the church should absolutely not be burdened with care for those outside the church.

3.         Regarding relief to saints in other places, the church is authorized to send relief to another church for the elders of that church to distribute (Acts 11:30).  We will see that this is different from the pattern we will see regarding evangelism.

II.  Evangelism in the New Testament Church.  To “evangelize” is to tell the “good news” of the message of the gospel.  The noun form of this word is the word translated “gospel.”  The verb form is usually translated “preach” or “preach good news” (or “preach the gospel”).  1 Timothy 3:15 teaches that the church is the “pillar and ground of the truth.”  There is no question that evangelism was an important work of the early church.

A.       The first Christians spread the word (Acts 6:7).  This did not always involve a preacher. 

1.         Sometimes, a preacher spread the word (Acts 8:1-5).

B.       Preachers earned their support in different ways.

1.         Paul on occasion supported himself (2 Thess. 3:7-9).

2.         Other times he accepted support from other churches (2 Cor. 11:7-9;

C.       The church is authorized to support preaching of the gospel (1 Cor. 9:4-14).

1.         One church may send support to a preacher working in another area (Phil. 4:15-16).

D.       Principles regarding collective evangelism.

1.         The efforts to teach may be directed towards unbelievers.  The goal is to convert the lost and to bring them into fellowship with God in Christ.  It is the message of truth which motivates this.  The early church did not use benevolence as a lure to teach the truth.

2.         One church may send to a preacher teaching in another church (Phil. 4:15-16), but there is no example of a church sending to another church in general (or to a separate organization).

3.         Around the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries brethren divided over something known as the “missionary society.”  A missionary society was a human organization established with a board, and human officers from different churches to coordinate the sending preachers to a certain area.  Those who became the denomination known as the Christian Church or Disciples of Christ of Christ, supported the use of the “Missionary Society.”  Those who sought to be simply “churches of Christ” rejected this as unauthorized and unscriptural.

4.         In the middle of the 20th century brethren who once stood firmly opposed to the missionary society accepted an alteration of the missionary society known as the “Sponsoring Church.”  Through this arrangement one church solicited money for a project or to coordinate preaching in an area, and then sent the preachers out to preach.  The only difference between this and the missionary society was the use of a church rather than a human organization.  Never the less, it is no more scriptural, and does not follow the pattern taught in Scripture.

Conclusion.  (2 Tim. 3:16-17).   It is tempting to ask, what difference does it make?  We could speculate about some practical differences.  The biblical pattern leaves it to each congregation to safeguard the teaching of truth.  Sponsoring church arrangements surrender this to one groups.  Limited benevolence guarantees that the focus of the churches work is on truth, not material needs.  But more than any of these things, the issue is, what has God authorized!  Do we really believe that Scripture gives us all we need?  Or, do we have to add to it with our ingenuity and innovation?  Let’s trust God that He knew how to reveal His work in His way.  

Kyle Pope 2010

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