Limited Benevolence

"Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common." Acts 4:32

When a natural disaster strikes, here or abroad, the question usually comes up “Why doesn’t your church give money to org’s that do good works for others?” Or “Why doesn’t your church operate a food pantry or help people who walk in off the street?” It’s true as a congregation we do not offer benevolence from the churches treasury to just anybody who ask and we don’t give money from the church’s treasury to support benevolence organizations, whether it be the Red Cross, or a local community outreach organization. But why? Why do we practice limited benevolence from the churches treasury? Why do we only use the church’s treasury to only help a limited number of people? Since it’s a Bible question, we’ll give it a Bible answer.

The New Testament Is Our Authority – In order to properly answer our question we must first establish what our standard of authority is going to be. Is our standard going to be the ever shifting thoughts of man or is it going to be the unchanging wisdom of God’s word? It’s quite clear, we need to establish our authority of the unchanging wisdom of God’s word. And for us as believers in His church that’s the New Testament. So let’s look at church benevolence in the New Testament and learn how we as churches are supposed to help the needy around us today.

From the New Testament we learn two principles that guide us as a church in distributing benevolence. The first principle is Families Help First. And the second is The Church Helps Its Own. Let’s take each of these in order to learn how they govern a church in practicing limited benevolence.

Families Help First – The principle that Families Help First comes from Paul’s instruction to Timothy to practice limited benevolence at the church at Ephesus (1 Tim 1:3) by only helping widows who were truly in need.

In 1 Tim 5:3-16, Paul discusses benevolence toward widows. To alleviate the church from becoming “burdened” (1 Tim 5:16) with caring for many widows, Paul instructed Timothy to teach, Families Help First. That’s why in 1 Tim 5:4 he said, “But if any widow had children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show piety at home and to repay their parents; for this is good and acceptable before God.” What is good and acceptable before God? A family helping first is what is good and acceptable before God. This principle was so important to Paul that he restated it in 1 Tim 5:16 say, “If any believing man or woman has widows, let them relieve them and do not let the church be burdened, that it may relieve those who are really widows.”

When the church follows God’s word it will practice limited benevolence from it treasury by requiring families to help first. Now there are cases when a widow does not have family that can care for them (Paul calls them “those who are really widows” or “widows indeed”). In those cases the church would but the exception proves the rule that a church is to practice limited benevolence. The church wasn’t to care for every widow that didn’t have a family, only its own widows that didn’t have families.

The Church Helps Its Own – Whether the need for relief came from a famine (Act 11:27-30) or from poverty (Acts 2:44-47, 4:32-37, 6:1-7); whether it was a local need (as in Jerusalem) or one abroad (Antioch sending relief to Jerusalem), the church of the New Testament practiced limited benevolence by only helping its own.

As soon as the church in Jerusalem began there was a need for the group to help their own. Notice what is said in Acts 2:44-47:

“Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, (45) and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. (46) So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, (47) praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.”

Who is the subject of this passage? It is those who believed; those who made up the church there in Jerusalem. It was those who believed that had all things in common. It was those who believed that sold their possessions and goods. It was those who believed that divided them among all who had need. And who were those in need? Go back to Act 2:44, it was those who believed and were worshipping with the church as seen inAct 2:46-47. When the church at Jerusalem wanted to help needy people did they help all the needy people in Jerusalem? No, the church at Jerusalem practiced limited benevolence by only helping its own with the funds that the church had.

Again in Act 4:32-37 we have reference to the church at Jerusalem helping the needy by distributing benevolence, but again the focus is on the church practicing limited benevolence by only helping its own from the monies that were contributed to the church.

Later in Act 6:1-7 we read that the church at Jerusalem had a daily distribution of benevolence that was given to widows. Was it given to just any widows? No it wasn’t, look at the subject of this passage, it is the disciples; the passage begins and ends with the emphasis being on the disciples. So we see that the church at Jerusalem practiced limited benevolence by supporting its own widows.

Are we to suppose think that the only needy people or needy widows in Jerusalem where Christians? Of course not, there would have been many needy people in Jerusalem. Nevertheless, these examples show us that the New Testament church practiced limited benevolence by using money from the church treasury to only help its own.

But there were two times when the church at Jerusalem could not meet the needs of its own people. It was then that other churches, the church at Antioch (Act 11:27-30) and churches from Macedonia and Achaia (Rom 15:25-27; cf. 1 Cor 16:2-4; 2 Cor 8:1-9:15), sent relief to help the needy saints in Jerusalem. Notice who was the recipient of the benevolence sent from these generous churches:

“And in these days prophets came from Jerusalem to Antioch. (28) Then one of them, named Agabus, stood up and showed by the Spirit that there was going to be a great famine throughout all the world, which also happened in the days of Claudius Caesar. (29)Then the disciples, each according to his ability, determined to send relief to the brethren dwelling in Judea. (30) This they also did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul.” (Acts 11:27-30)

“But now I am going to Jerusalem to minister to the saints. (26) For it pleased those from Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor among the saints who are in Jerusalem. (27) It pleased them indeed, and they are their debtors. For if the Gentiles have been partakers of their spiritual things, their duty is also to minister to them in material things.” (Rom 15:25-27)

The church at Antioch and the churches of Macedonia and Achaia sent benevolence only to the saints in Judea and Jerusalem, or in other words, they sent benevolence to only their own. Are we supposed to think that it was only Christians who were suffering from the famine? Of course not, but since the New Testament church practiced limited benevolence in that they only sent help to other Christians, or in other terms, their own.

Let’s recap: Why do we practice limited benevolence as a church? We practice limited benevolence as a church because the church of the New Testament practiced limited benevolence. They practiced limited benevolence by insisting families help first, and by only helping their own, whether they were local or abroad. Since the church of the New Testament did this, we to should seek to follow their pattern today by practicing limited benevolence from the churches treasury in the same way they did.

God’s Secret to Happiness

secret-to-happinessCan I share a secret with you? If the truth be told, I haven’t always been a happy person. There, I’ve said it. I’m glad to finally got that off my chest.

You see, there was a long stretch in my life where I was a truly unhappy person. To me happiness was an elusive dream. It was something that I longed for, searched for, and so desperately desired.

In my quest to find happiness I sought out relationships with people. I thought if I could find the right girl I would find happiness. I thought if I surrounded myself with a close group of friends I would discover what it meant to be happy. I did both and soon realized that people couldn’t make me happy.

When I realized that people couldn’t make me happy I decided that I would I find happiness by moving. I just knew that if I moved away from my unhappiness I was sure to find happiness somewhere else. So I moved to Florida where I thought I would be happy. But I soon felt that if I would move back to Tennessee I would be happier.

Finally after seeing that people and places were not going to make me happy I decided to turn to work and money, surely I could find happiness in those things. I’m here to tell you that happiness can’t be founded upon where you work or the type of job you do. And don’t get me started on money. You all have heard the old saying, “more money; more problems,” well it’s especially true when you’re looking for money to make you happy. Neither of these things made me happy and I was ready to give up. I was ready to resign myself to a life of unhappiness.

And then one day I read a bible verse that changed my life. In Luke 11:28 Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” To understand how this verse fits with the concept of happiness you need only to know that blessed is sometimes translated happy (Acts 26:2; Romans 14:22 NKJV). So Jesus is saying, “Happy are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” It was then that I finally realized that if I really wanted to be happy I couldn’t base my happiness on people, places or things… my happiness had to come from God’s word and my keeping of it. Then and only then could I be happy. I can’t express to you the joy and freedom that came to me that day. I was finally released from the drudgery of seeking after happiness because I knew it could be found in the keeping of God’s word. Does that mean that I’ve kept His word perfectly since then? Of course not. When I falter, and believe me, I falter, I ask for forgiveness, confess my weakness and go back to keeping God’s word.

The apostle Paul understood this concept. He was a man who endured more for the cause of Christ than any of us could imagine and yet he was able to, “I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content.” (Philippians 4:11) His contentment was not predicated by the people who was with him, the place that he might have been or the things that he had. Instead his contentment, his happiness, was based on God’s word and his keeping of it. Did Paul fail in keep God’s word? In Romans 7:7-25 he confessed to failing and failing often. Yet he keep on “pressing toward the goal.”

Sadly there are a lot of unhappy Christians in the world and for the vast majority of them it’s because they are trying to find happiness in people, places and things. Friend, you will never be happy in this life unless you are following God’s word. You will never know the heights of happiness so long as you look for people, places and things to make you happy. They will all change and fail you but God and His word will never change and He will never fail you. My prayer for you is that you will look to God for your happiness.

Don’t Envy Sinners

“Do not let your heart envy sinners, but be zealous for the fear of the LORD all the day; For surely there is a hereafter, and your hope will not be cut off.” Proverbs 23:17-18

The wise man is warning us to not let our hearts want what sinners have. Instead we are to be enthusiastic for the fear of the Lord all day long. The reason for this is that there is an afterlife and if we have been enthusiastic for the fear of the Lord we will not be cut off like the sinner who did not fear the Lord.

Envying or wanting what sinners have in this life is a great temptation for God’s people. Just like the children of Israel we too want to be like the “nations around us.” (1 Samuel 8) The great temptation is to envy the way the sinner lives in the here and now. The sinner gets to go wherever he wants; fishing on Sunday, nightclubs on Saturday, and immoral movies on Friday night. The sinner gets to dress anyway she wants to; with immodest dress, and expensive and costly clothing. The sinner doesn’t have to show self-control in their eating and drinking, emotions, or sexual relationships. The sinner gets to take their ease and “eat, drink and be merry” (Luke 12:19) because they live only for today and not for the hereafter.

But God has called for us as His children to be zealous for Him all the day (or all our days). Our lives are to be filled with pleasing God and seeking to follow His commandments. The reason for this is because there is an afterlife. There is coming a time when men, the sinner and the saved alike, will be judged according to their works (1 Peter 1:17). Surely if we follow God and His son Jesus Christ then our hope of being judged faithful will not be cut off (Romans 8:23-24).

Let’s not envy what sinners have in this life because if we do we will have their reward in the next life.

Related proverbs: Proverbs 24:1-2, 19-20; 28:14


Do the Honorable Thing

This week’s Wisdom Wednesday is: Do the Honorable Thing

Keeping away from strife is an honor for a man, But any fool will quarrel. Proverbs 20:3 NASB

A36W5JIn today’s proverb, Solomon reminds us that the honorable thing for a man to do is avoid strife and quarreling, not engage in it. Because any ordinary fool can start an argument. We would do well to learn this lesson because too often we think the honorable thing to do is start and argument with someone and in the process crush them with our overwhelming knowledge of the facts. When in reality we only crush them with our over-inflated egos. Whether it’s with your spouse, a family member, a co-worker, a church member, or a friend; remember it more honorable to not start an argument than it is to win an argument.

Using this proverb as a mirror do you see yourself as an honorable man or a fool? If you avoid strife and quarreling then you are an honorable man. But if you like to quarrel about anything and everything then Solomon says that you are a fool. 

Today’s take away thought: Learn to do the honorable thing… pick your battles carefully (yes there are somethings worth fighting for), learn patience in dealing with others, and be a peacemaker.

Related proverbs: Proverbs 14:29, 16:32, 17:14, 18:6, 19:11