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Many brethren feel that benevolence should be used as a method of teaching, therefore churches should give benevolent assistance to non-believers. What does the Bible say about that?
Luke tells us “Then the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables” (Acts 6:2). If serving tables was a method of teaching, why would the apostles not want to do all they possibly could in that work? The fact is that the benevolence in this context was for disciples who had been neglected in the daily distribution (v. 1). The money “laid at the apostles’ feet” was used to relieve those among the disciples who were in need, not to make disciples.
Paul told the Thessalonians that some “among you” were walking disorderly, by being lazy. He said “For even when we were with you, we commanded you this; If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat...Now those who are such we command and exhort through our Lord Jesus Christ that they work in quietness and eat their own bread” (2 Thess. 3:10,12). If feeding is teaching, and we are not to feed a lazy man, does that mean that we should not use opportunities to teach him?
After Jesus fed the multitude, he said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled” (Jn. 6:26). If benevolence was a method of teaching, why did Jesus scold them for seeking loaves? Furthermore, Jesus said the gospel is to be preached to all men—rich and poor (Mk. 16:15). Does that mean we should provide food for everyone, regardless of whether they are rich or poor?
Individuals are authorized to help anyone who has need (Gal.6:10), but churches were never authorized to give benevolent assistance to any except needy saints, and every example of congregational relief was for disciples who were needy.
God provided for every worthy object of benevolence. Family has the first responsibility (1 Tim. 5:8). If the individual cares for his widow, “the church is not burdened” with that work (1 Tim. 5:16). There is a clear distinction between the individual and the local church in this passage. If the family cannot help, then other individuals practice pure and undefiled religion by helping as they have ability and opportunity (Jas. 1:27; 1 Jn. 3:17,18; Gal. 6:10-14).
Individuals practice good works, such as: bringing up children, lodging strangers, washing the saints’ feet and relieving the afflicted (1 Tim. 5:10), but Paul made a clear distinction between individual and congregational action (1 Tim. 5:16). That does not mean the church cannot do good works—it just means that the church does what it is authorized to do. Individuals use food, recreation, entertainment and their jobs as opportunities to teach the gospel, but churches are not authorized to provide social meals, recreation, entertainment or jobs to draw people. When this Biblical distinction is not recognized, churches get involved in all kinds of unscriptural activities.
Acknowledgement: the basic thoughts in this article were taken from an article by Dick Blackford in Truth Magazine.
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A Voice From The Past
N.B. Hardeman said: “Now, may I ask, what is the purpose of the church of the Lord? Suppose I discuss the negative side first. I may say some things with which you do not agree, but I bid you hear me regardless. I do not consider it a part of the work of the church to try to run the government. I am taught in the Bible to be subject unto the powers that be, just so far as I think they do not conflict with some law of God. Again, I say to you, with caution and thought, that it is not the work of the church to furnish entertainment for the members. And yet many churches have drifted into such an effort. They enlarge their basements, put in all kinds of gymnastic apparatus, and make every sort of an appeal to the young people of the congregation. I have never read anything in the Bible that indicated to me that such was a part of the work of the church. I am wholly ignorant of any Scripture that even points in that direction. Furthermore, it is not the work of the church to try to adjust labor troubles, or to supervise our social conditions. It was never intended that the church should run politics, stop wars, supervise public morals, or to be any kind of a collecting agency to pile up a large sum of money. The church should not go into the banking business” (Hardeman’s Tabernacle Sermons, Vol. 5, p. 50; 1942).
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