The Pattern of Congregational Benevolence in the New Testament


A. We will do two things in this study:

1. Identify each scripture in the NT that deals with benevolence

2. Look for a pattern in actions of benevolence

I. Bible Texts On Benevolence:

A. Texts that deal with formal benevolence within a local congregation:

1. Acts 2:44-45

2. Acts 4:34-37

3. Acts 6:1-8

4. 1 Ti 5:9-16

B. Texts where one church helps another needy church(s)

1. Acts 11:27-30 Antioch to churches of Judea

2. Rom 15:25-28; 1 Cor 16:1,2; 2 Cor 8,9 Macedonia & Achaia to Jerusalem

C. Texts where individuals are to show benevolence: (just a few of the many)

1. Gal 6:10

2. Jas 1:27

3. Mt 25

4. Heb 13:2 entertain strangers

5. 1 Jn 4:17

6. Parable of the Good Samaritan.

II. The Pattern of collective benevolence

A. Rich church to poor church.

B. One church directly to another without intermediary organization like "missionary society" or "sponsoring church".

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C. For the saints, not for non-Christians, without exception, establishing a pattern that must be followed:

1. Acts 2:44; 4:32: needy 'believers"

2. Acts 6:1-10 dispute over "believing" widows

3. Acts 11 "relief for the brethren"

4. 1 Tim 5:9-10,16 "believing widows"

5. 1 Cor 16:1 collection "for the saints"

6. Rom 15:25 to minister "to the saints"

7. 2 Corinthians 9:13 supply the "need of the saints" in Judea and to all (other needy saints outside Judea)

8. 2 Cor 9:1 "ministry to the saints"

III. Treasury money forbidden to Non-Christians:

A. It is a violation of the Bible pattern to give money from the church treasury to non-Christians.

1. Christ commanded individual Christians to help non-Christians as per the parable of the Good Samaritan.

2. But some will argue that there is no distinction in individual and collective church works in regard to gifts of benevolence to non-Christians. One common passage they quote is James 1:27 as proof that the church is given the authority to run orphan homes and Widow homes etc. They argue that giving money from the treasury is for "all men" and not restricted to "saints only" (Members of a local church)

B. But we can actually prove treasury money is restricted to Christians with two passages: James 1:27 and 1 Tim 5:3-16.


  • James 1:27 This is pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father, to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.
  • 1 Tim 5:3-11 "Honor widows who are widows indeed; 4 but if any widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to practice piety in regard to their own family, and to make some return to their parents; for this is acceptable in the sight of God. 5 Now she who is a widow indeed, and who has been left alone has fixed her hope on God, and continues in entreaties and prayers night and day. 6 But she who gives herself to wanton pleasure is dead even while she lives. 7 Prescribe these things as well, so that they may be above reproach. 8 But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith, and is worse than an unbeliever. 9 Let a widow be put on the list only if she is not less than sixty years old, having been the wife of one man, 10 having a reputation for good works; and if she has brought up children, if she has shown hospitality to strangers, if she has washed the saints' feet, if she has assisted those in distress, and if she has devoted herself to every good work. 11 But refuse to put younger widows on the list"

C. An outline of 1 Tim 5 is as follows:

1. v3-8 speaks of widows who must not be supported by the church if a member of that church is the relative of the widow.

2. v9-11 speaks of the LIST. The list was church treasury support of widows. Notice that not only are all non-Christians specifically excluded, but two categories of Christian widows:


  • young Christian widows (under 60) with no relatives may not get church treasury money on the list
  • lukewarm Christian widows or widows who are not considered exemplary as per the qualifications

D. This means that if a 75 year old widow who is a Christian did not meet these qualifications, she is not allowed to get treasury money, but is forbidden. If a lukewarm Christian widow is prohibited, HOW MUCH MORE NON-CHRISTIAN widows!

E. Now we go back to James 1:27:

1. This verse is actually a proof text used by those who reject the Bible pattern of collective church treasury money for "saints only" and forbidden to be given to non-Christians.

2. Yet we know for certain that James 1:27 CANNOT include collective church benevolence to non-Christians because of 1 Tim 5!

3. This point is irrefutable! The reason liberal minded and institutional churches argue against the "saints only" position, is because they simply do not want to abide within what the Bible says, but want to be free, like the denominations around them, to practice an "anything goes" policy!

IV. Arguments and rebuttals

A. False argument #1: Doesn't Jas 1:27 speak of temporary and emergency situations where treasury money can be used to support unbelieving widows? This would make it harmonize with 1 Tim 5, where only believing widows are helped on a long term basis.

B. False argument #2: Isn't Jas 1:27 speaking of collective church action, therefore authorizing orphans and widows homes run by churches?

C. False argument #3: Acts of benevolence, funded from the church treasury, such as was rendered to those saints in Judea, also included benevolence to non-Christians. 2 Cor 9:12-13 states that the money was for "all men". All men obviously includes both Christians and non-Christians.

2 Cor 9:12-13: "For the ministry of this service is not only fully supplying the needs of the saints, but is also overflowing through many thanksgivings to God. 13 Because of the proof given by this ministry they will glorify God for your obedience to your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for the liberality of your contribution to them and to all [men]"

C. False argument #4: Gal 6:10 proves that church treasury money can be used to help non-Christians because it uses the plural "us" and "we" indicating collective not individual action: "So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith." There is an obvious distinction between helping Christians and non-Christians, proving money should be given from the treasury to non-Christians.

Gal 6:1 Brethren, even if a man [an individual not a church] is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, lest you too be tempted. 2 Bear one another's burdens, [an individual not a church] and thus fulfill the law of Christ. 3 For if anyone [an individual not a church] thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. 4 But let each one [an individual not a church] examine his own work, and then he will have reason for boasting in regard to himself alone [an individual not a church], and not in regard to another [an individual not a church]. 5 For each one [an individual not a church] shall bear his own load. 6 And let the one [an individual member not a church] who is taught the word share all good things with him [an individual preacher not a church] who teaches. 7 Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows [an individual not a church], this he will also reap. 8 For the one [an individual not a church] who sows to his own flesh shall from the flesh reap corruption, but the one [an individual not a church] who sows to the Spirit shall from the Spirit reap eternal life. 9 And let us [each individual not a church] not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we shall reap if we [each individual not a church] do not grow weary. 10 So then, while we [each individual not a church] have opportunity, let us [each individual not a church] do good to all men [Christians and non-Christians], and especially to those who are of the household of the faith [especially Christians].

IV. Conclusions One Must Accept

To rightly divide the Truth one must recognize that some Scripture is addressed. to individuals and other to churches. The context or text makes this clear. Those who believe in the support of orphan asylums disagree, claiming that it matters not, and use such passages as James 1:27 (addressed to individuals) to justify their institutions. Let us carry this to the logical conclusion:



Does not Authorize

"Visit the fatherless"

James 1:27

Does not Authorize Church orphanages

"Visit the widows"

James 1:27

Does not Authorize Church widowages

"Feed the hungry"


Does not Authorize Church restaurants

"Visit the sick"


Does not Authorize Church hospitals

"Visit the prisoner"


Does not Authorize Church jails

"Clothe the naked"


Does not Authorize Church clothing stores

"Entertain strangers"

Heb. 13:2

Does not Authorize Church hotels

 By Steve Rudd

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