|Volume 22 Number 9 September 2020||
Louis Rushmore, Editor
Must congregational benevolence be limited to saints or Christians only? Is that what 2 Corinthians 9:13 and Galatians 6:10 teach? Does New Testament Scripture chronicle largely Gentile first century Christians from northern Mediterranean countries sending benevolent money to a particular group of Christians in Palestine, who were encouraged to share some of the benevolent funds with other Christians outside of their congregation? Are churches of Christ neither authorized nor permitted to expend benevolent money or the things money can buy for non-Christians?
The motivation for which the apostle Paul was collecting benevolent funds was for saints or Christians in Judaea who were the victims (along with everyone else) of a widespread famine. “And in these days prophets came from Jerusalem to Antioch [Syria]. 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” (Acts 11:27-28 NKJV). Several similar references dot the New Testament. “Distributing to the needs of the saints” (Romans 12:13). “Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given orders to the churches of Galatia [Turkey today], so you must do also: On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come” (1 Corinthians 16:1-2). “Imploring us with much urgency that we would receive the gift and the fellowship of the ministering to the saints” (2 Corinthians 8:4). “Now concerning the ministering to the saints, it is superfluous for me to write to you… For the administration of this service not only supplies the needs of the saints, but also is abounding through many thanksgivings to God” (2 Corinthians 9:1, 12).
Generally, benevolent funds were being collected for Christians in Judaea and more specifically delivered to the elders of the Jerusalem church. “Then the disciples, each according to his ability, determined to send relief to the brethren dwelling in Judea. This they also did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul” (Acts 11:29-30). “But now I am going to Jerusalem to minister to the saints. For it pleased those from Macedonia and Achaia [Greece today] to make a certain contribution for the poor among the saints who are in Jerusalem” (Romans 15:25-26). These were occasions of financial benevolent aid from congregation (many congregations) to a congregation (the Jerusalem church). Incidentally, in order for Christians outside of Jerusalem in the Roman province of Judaea to be beneficiaries of the benevolent funds, the elders and the church in Jerusalem had to pass along some of the funds provided to them by churches of Christ in Syria, Greece and Turkey. All of that was financial cooperation between churches, as well as the Jerusalem congregation serving as an intermediate conduit between the giving churches and the Christians outside of Jerusalem in Judaea who received some of that money.
Before governor Felix, the apostle Paul spoke in more general terms about the benevolent funds that he had collected from many congregations. “Now after many years I came to bring alms and offerings to my nation” (Acts 24:17). Though the impetus for the collections pertained to needy saints, the apostle on that occasion addressed the use of the money without specification or limitation to saints or Christians only. Such generality corresponds to 2 Corinthians 9:13 and Galatians 6:10 regarding the use of those funds for Christians first and thereafter as possible to non-Christians, too. Those two passages read nearly alike, except that Galatians 6:10 more strongly emphasizes the possibility of benevolence toward non-Christians as they are contrasted with Christians. “While, through the proof of this ministry, they glorify God for the obedience of your confession to the gospel of Christ, and for your liberal sharing with them and all men” (2 Corinthians 9:13). “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10). Notice the contrast between “all” and “especially… the household of faith” (Christians or saints). There are two categories, one of which are Christians and apparently the others are not Christians.
Sometimes brethren have mused regarding the “all men” of the KJV that somehow the word “men” added by its translators skews the understanding of Galatians 6:10. Really? The “all” of the verse neither refers to inanimate objects like rocks or even animals. Other translations likewise provide the sense as to what the “all” in the verse applies. “As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith” (KJV). “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (ESV). “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (NIV). The contrast between Christians and others — non-Christians remains.
The two following excerpts from commentaries, one written by a member of the Lord’s church and the other penned by a Presbyterian, fairly represent Galatians 6:10.
As the occasions to do good come before the believer, he should be ready to take advantage of them. In the parable of the good Samaritan, Jesus teaches that he who is in need, with whom we come in contact, is our neighbor. In perfect harmony with this Paul gives this instruction — give counsel, sympathy, help of whatever kind is needed. Jesus went about doing good; as his servants we must follow his example. (Lipscomb)
And it is to be done to all people. Not to our family only; not to our party; not to our neighbors; not to those of our own color; not to those who live in the same land with us, but to all mankind. If we can reach and benefit a man who lives on the other side of the globe, whom we have never seen, and shall never see in this world or in the world to come, still we are to do him good. Such is Christianity. And in this, as in all other respects, it differs from the narrow and selfish spirit of clanship which prevails all over the world. (Barnes)
“But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?” (1 John 3:17 NKJV).
Once brethren who are reluctant to extend benevolent aid to non-Christians acknowledge that Galatians 6:10 and 2 Corinthians 9:13 apply first and primarily to Christians but secondarily include non-Christians, they often make a distinction between individual Christians versus the local congregation. Individual Christians are welcome to use their wallets to help non-Christians, too, but the church treasury is off limits to help non-Christians. Galatians 6:10, then, is said to apply exclusively to individual Christians — helping Christians first, thereafter if they can, helping non-Christians also. Not so fast! Galatians 6:6, in the same breath so to speak as verse 10, pertains to the financial support of the preacher. Is that, too, exclusively the responsibility of individual Christians and off limits to the church treasury? What preacher today would not be fearful to rely for the support of his family and himself on the gifts placed in his hands by those he greeted each Sunday as they exited the meetinghouse? Would individual church members readily take for themselves the sole responsibility each week for the financial support of the preacher?
Whatever is true regarding finances in verse 6 is the same in verse 10. Whatever is true regarding finances in verse 10 is true for verse 6 also. Although individual Christians may give money to the preacher, it is normal and proper for the preacher family to rely upon the church treasury for their livelihood (1 Corinthians 9:1-14). “Do you not know that those who minister the holy things eat of the things of the temple, and those who serve at the altar partake of the offerings of the altar? Even so the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:13-14). The same appears in Scripture regarding a full-time elder (1 Timothy 5:17-18).
We conclude that church to church support is biblically authorized because it occurred in the first century with apostolic approval. Further, money given to a church by another church could be shared with additional congregations and Christians. We conclude that benevolent funds and things money can buy ought to be directed first to Christians or saints, but secondarily, they may be extended to non-Christians, too.
Barnes, Albert. Barnes' Notes. Electronic Database. Seattle: Biblesoft, 2006.
Lipscomb, David. A Commentary on The New Testament Epistles: Second Corinthians and Galatians. Edited with additional notes by J.W. Shepherd. CD-ROM. Nashville: Gospel Advocate, 2005.