The Mission and Work of the Church – Benevolence

The mission and work of the church centers around the great mission that Christ proclaimed namely to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10). The church as the bride of Christ has the responsibility of support the Christ in this great work (Ephesians 5:23, 24). As we have studied through the work of the church in our bulletin articles over the past several weeks, we have looked at the concept of evangelism and edification. Evangelism is primarily focused upon those who are outside of the church-the alien sinner. Edification is primarily focused upon those who are within the church-both saved and apostate. The work of benevolence, however, transects both spheres of work. Often the work of benevolence reaches out to the alien and edifies those who are saved or apostate. Many times benevolence encourages those who are wayward to repent and come back and shows the alien the great love that the church has for mankind and the result is conversion. No doubt, this is part of the design of benevolence. However, we should not think of benevolence as merely a means to an end, but rather should think of it as an end in and of itself. Benevolence must be done from a pure motive in order to be effective. Benevolence should not necessarily include on our part the expectation of evangelism or edification (though it may be our ultimate desire we should not necessarily expect it out of the individual to whom we are doing good works) and this is the reason that often time it is discussed outside of the context of both evangelism and edification. James writes that pure religion is to support both the orphans and widows and to keep oneself unspotted from the world (James 1:27). The support of orphans and widows is a work of benevolence and it is set forth by James as pure religion’sufficient as a practice of the church in and of itself.

The word “benevolence” comes from the Latin word “benevolens” and means kind, well-meaning, benevolent. It is composed of two words “bene” which means “good” or “well” and “volo” which means “to will” or “to intend.” Thus the compound idea is to intend to do well. We find the same idea in the New Testament expressed in the thought, “good works.” The concept is a scriptural one and the church must be involved in the activity of benevolence or doing good works. In 1 Timothy 6:18 we read where the rich were commanded to be involved in good works, “That they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate.” This context is showing that the idea of “good works” involves the concept of benevolence. Having this in mind, we go on to look at Galatians 6:10, ‘so then, as we have opportunity, let us work that which is good toward all men, and especially toward them that are of the household of the faith? (ASV). More literally, the Greek says let us do good works toward all men. The churches of Galatia were to be involved in these good works and so should we.

Sadly, it seems that in many congregations benevolence does not get a large portion of the budget. Perhaps this is in part to the deplorable practice of many in our society to want to get by with as little effort as possible. Regardless, the church needs to find ways to practice this most important work. We find considerable stress and emphasis upon this work within the New Testament. In fact, the work of benevolence (whether congregational or individual) is mentioned more within the scriptures than any other activity that involves church finances. It was a priority for the early church to be involved in benevolence. In Acts 4:32-35 we read,

“And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and soul: and not one {of them} said that aught of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common. And with great power gave the apostles their witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all. For neither was there among them any that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, and laid them at the apostles’ feet: and distribution was made unto each, according as any one had need.”(ASV)

The key thing to think about in this passage was that there was a need and that the church provided for that need through the generous spirit of some. This was not merely a one-time event; the church made it a practice under the direction of apostolic authority to consistently take up a collection. No doubt there were many things to which the collection was going to be applied, but the first mention of this consistent practice and the primary application of the collection was church benevolence. This is the main purpose behind 1 Corinthians 16:1, 2 “Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I gave order to the churches of Galatia, so also do ye. Upon the first day of the week let each one of you lay by him in store, as he may prosper, that no collections be made when I come” (ASV). The idea of Paul’s coming in this context was in regard to the great collection that was first started as a result of the prophecy of Agabus in Acts 11:28-30. That the collection continued to be taken up for other purposes as well no doubt can be inferred correctly from the prescriptive way in which Paul issued this directive. It was to be done in the churches of Galatia as well as the church in Corinth and as we find out in 2 Corinthians 8:1ff that the churches of Macedonia were involved in this as well. Such an event provided a catalyst to both initiate and educate the church on the proper use and practice of giving.

The priority of benevolence in the early church can be seen in the various charges that are given from different apostles. Paul was instructed by the apostles and elders at Jerusalem to remember the poor (Galatians 2:10). Paul says that he was zealous to do this. Paul charged the eldership at Ephesus to be mindful of the poor as well. He said, “In all things I gave you an example, that so laboring ye ought to help the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that he himself said, It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35 ASV). The context indicates that the “weak” here are those who are poor. It also fits well with the instruction that Paul gave to the church at Ephesus regarding one of the proper uses of money as the result of work, “Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labor, working with his hands the thing that is good, that he may have whereof to give to him that hath need” (Ephesians 4:28 ASV). Indeed God is well pleased with those who do good and share (Hebrews 13:16).

However, not only the apostles placed a high value on “good works,” but our Lord himself consistently challenged individuals in His lifetime to give to the poor. We read in Luke 14:12-15,

And he said to him also that had bidden him, When thou makest a dinner or a supper, call not thy friends, nor thy brethren, nor thy kinsmen, nor rich neighbors; lest haply they also bid thee again, and a recompense be made thee. But when thou makest a feast, bid the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind: and thou shalt be blessed; because they have not {wherewith} to recompense thee: for thou shalt be recompensed in the resurrection of the just. (ASV)

Jesus said to the rich young ruler, “If thou wouldest be perfect, go, sell that which thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me” (Matthew 19:21). Does this verse imply that we will be lost if we don’t sell everything we have and give it to the poor? No. The fact that the poor needed some things indicates that it is not a sin to own some things. The instructive value of this verse for us today can be taken in conjunction with Luke 14:12-15 namely that if we choose to bestow goods to the poor, we will no doubt have a greater heavenly reward. Nevertheless, the challenge is made by the Lord to this man here and the warning should be heeded by all of those who do have this world’s goods-giving to the poor contains more spiritual value than maintaining earthly possessions and let us not forget the command of Paul to Timothy in 1 Timothy 6:18. Moreover, that Jesus himself gave to the poor is indicated by John 13:29. Jesus and the twelve carried a treasury of money for various purposes. When Jesus mentioned to Judas to do what he had to do, some of the other apostles thought that this was in regard to giving to the poor. They were mistaken, but no doubt, they assumed this out of experiential knowledge of Jesus’ practices. He himself had no place to lay his head (Matthew 8:20), yet he found a way to give to the poor. He had to have this attitude in His life in order to have the attitude that He had in His death. Paul wrote regarding this in 2 Corinthians 8:9, “For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might become rich.” Our very spiritual livelihood depended upon a Savior who cared not for riches, glory, and power, but who cared rather for the spiritual wealth of every person who ever lived on the planet. We would do well to imitate His example in this regard.

Perhaps the most motivating verse in this regard is 1 John 3:17 which says, “But whoso hath the world’s goods, and beholdeth his brother in need, and shutteth up his compassion from him, how doth the love of God abide in him?” The very proof of our love for God and subsequently for our fellow man can be shown through giving to the poor and needy. What a frightening thought to know that one day we will stand before God in judgment with this verse written within His word. The greatest commandment is “to love the Lord thy God” (Matthew 22:37) and yet we cannot fulfill that great commandment without giving to the poor. When we look at the importance that the early church, the apostles, and Jesus placed upon giving to the poor and then consider the fact that our loving God depends upon it, how can we neglect it so in our work today? May each one of us resolve to work more diligently in our own personal lives as well as within our roles within the church to give to the poor.

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The Mission and Work of the Church – Edification

Last week we discussed the work of the church that deals with reaching out to those who have never been saved. This is the work of evangelism. However, the church has an equal responsibility to minister to the saved. There are those among the saved who may be tempted to leave the church and return to the world (2 Peter 2:20-22). There is also the need to engage each member in introspection so as to not let Satan have an advantage over us (2 Corinthians 2:11). The church also has a need to produce additional men who will be able to lead in the office of eldership and to preach the gospel as evangelists and teachers (2 Timothy 2:2). There is also a certain amount of special instruction that needs to be given to the young, both men and women (Titus 2:1-10). I am sure that there are more things that go on in the area of edification within the congregation and this is not intended to be an exhaustive list. Suffice it to say that this is sufficient information to conclude that a local congregation must have a program of edification.
Perhaps the most obvious program of edification within the local congregation is the support of a local preacher. A large part of the preacher’s responsibilities have to do with edifying the local congregation (Ephesians 4:12). If the preacher teaches Bible class and delivers regular addresses to the local congregation, he provides the bulk of spiritual instruction to the local church. This is not to say that the local preacher is the ONLY source of edification within the local congregation. The bible teaches that there are many sources (Ephesians 4:12). However, the local minister has heightened responsibilities in this regard as Paul wrote to Timothy (2 Timothy 4:1-5). It is incumbent upon the local preacher, therefore, to make sure his teaching is of sound doctrine (Titus 2:1).
The eldership has a role in edification as well. Their role is one of ensuring that the congregation is fed with the proper diet of spiritual matters (Acts 20:28). They are to oversee the local congregation and its activities (1 Peter 5:1-4). Again, the bulk of this edification is going to come from the decision regarding the local preacher and their working with him to ensure that the congregation has a proper diet of spiritual nourishment. Elders should also consider the work of teaching Bible classes and even preaching from the pulpit from time to time. One of their qualifications is that they be “apt to teach” (1 Timothy 3:2). Within this qualification we find the need both to be able to evangelize and to edify.
Deacons have specific roles in edification. There may be a deacon who has the responsibility of looking after the activities of the congregation. There may be another deacon who looks after education depending upon the size of the congregation. Whatever the assignment of the deacon is, there is the inherent responsibility of edification of the congregation within that assignment. We find that the first deacons (Acts 6:1-7) were largely involved in this role and as a result of the great work that they did, the church was edified and grew.
Perhaps the most often overlooked role of edification, however, comes from the individual members. Hebrews 3:13 says, “But exhort one another daily, while it is called Today; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.” Each individual member has the responsibility to encourage those who are around him or her. This can be done through many different ways. We can visit the sick or those in the nursing homes. We can prepare cards or flowers. We have monthly fellowships and potlucks in which we can participate. We can call one another on the phone and just make sure that everything is OK. When we sing hymns one to another we are edifying each other (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16). There is no shortage of work that can be done in this area and each individual member has the responsibility to work in this area of edification.
When all do their part in the work of edification within the local congregation, we get the beautiful picture of peace and harmony within the church (Ephesians 4:16). Edification has a purpose-the building up of the body of Christ. When the body is edified, then more souls will be saved. Edification affects evangelism in this regard-that when the members are strong, more of the lost will be brought to Christ. This in turn also has an edifying effect upon the faithful. Let us strive to do our part in edifying the local body of Christ.

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The Mission and Work of the Church – Introduction

God, in His wisdom, saw fit from eternity to establish the church. Ephesians 3:10 and 11 reads, “To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God, According to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” This organization of men and women (which God through Christ established) is not merely a social association or fraternity. It is much more than simply that. The church is God’s continuing plan for man’s salvation. It is the place of the saved on earth. It is the hand through which God propagates his message upon the earth today. This means that the church has a peculiar work to do. God has charged the church with this work and only the church with this work. We, as the church, have a responsibility to ensure that this work gets done.

What exactly, however, has God charged the church to do? That is a question, the answer to which we find in the scriptures. The church has a single mission–to save souls. This was the mission of her Lord (Luke 19:10) and this is the mission with which the church is charged today (1 Tim.1:15, 16). How the church goes about that mission is threefold. There is within the church the need to exhort and to strengthen the brethren (Hebrews3:13). This is one aspect of the work of the church. We call this edification. There is also the need to preach the gospel to the lost (Acts 16:10). We call this as evangelism. Finally, the church has a special work that covers ministering to both those within and without the church. This work is the work of taking care of those who are in need (Gal.6:10). We call this benevolence. Every other aspect of the work of the church of which we can think will easily fall under these three categories.

Jesus said in Matthew 16:18, “I will build my church.” In Acts 2 we first see the message of the kingdom of God and the terms of entrance into the church. In Acts 2:47 we read, “?And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.” The church was involved from the beginning in the work of evangelism. It was the Lord’s great commission to the apostles which lead to the beginning of the church on Pentecost and it was the continued efforts of the church in preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ that lead to her growth and vitalization in the world.

Not only did the early church practice evangelism, but mutual edification. Great persecution came upon the early church in its infant years that threatened the life of the early church, but through edification of one another, the church survived and prospered. One such opportunity occurred after Peter and John had healed a lame man at the beautiful gate. Luke writes concerning their arrival back among the church in Acts 3:24 “And being let go, they went to their own company, and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said unto them.” Verse 29 of that chapter says that they prayed, “And now, Lord, behold their threatenings: and grant unto thy servants, that with all boldness they may speak thy word.” Such great encouragement among the church guaranteed their ongoing success.

The early church also had a passion for caring for the poor. We read early on of the great needs which were met by some very generous folk who sold their possessions and lands and laid them at the feet of the apostles in Acts 4:32-37. The church at Antioch also purposed to relieve the poor among the church in Jerusalem by taking a collection from the gentile Christians (Acts 11:29, 30; Romans 15:26). Paul exhorted the elders at Ephesus to remember the poor (Acts 20:35) and Paul acknowledged that this was something he was always mindful to do (Galatians 2:10). These things he taught everywhere in every church that he established (1 Corinthians 4:17).

Are we ensuring that we are carrying out this threefold work of the church today? The mission that the church has depends upon our faithful execution of this pattern. There is no other organization that has the same mission as that of the church–to save souls. Let us resolve to do so in the authorized ways that God has set before us in the scriptures. By evangelizing, edifying, and practicing benevolence the church can carry on this great work today.

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