Saints Only Benevolence

“Some brethren have argued that the church is authorized to help church members and their dependents out of the church treasury, but no others. They reason that many times do we read of the church aiding and assisting “saints,” “disciples,” “brethren” (see Acts 6:1-3; Acts 11:27-29; Romans 15:25; 1 Corinthians 16:1-2; 2 Corinthians 8:1-4; 2 Corinthians 9:1; 1 Timothy 5:3-16; James 2:15-16); however, it is claimed that never do we see an example of the church relieving the non-Christian.

First order of business, where is the consistency? G. K. Wallace remarked, “If it is true that no contribution was made out of the treasury in the New Testament times except to poor saints, it is also true that no contribution was made into the treasury except for poor saints (article – The Church Budget, Gospel Advocate, Jan. 11, 1962). Isn’t it strange that some have no difficulty using money for so many other things out of the treasury? Again, Wallace remarks, “So, if money was put in for the poor saints, certainly, it was taken out for the poor saints. If you want some money in the treasury for the janitor, put some in for the janitor. If you want some money in the treasury to buy fertilizer to put on the lawn, put it in the treasury for that purpose. It always seemed strange to me that brethren could put money into the treasury and take it out to buy a load of fertilizer to put on the lawn, but could not take it out to buy a loaf of bread for a starving baby” (ibid). Some seem to have no difficulty at all using money out of the church treasury for all kinds of things for which there is no Biblical example.

Let us remind ourselves just here that there is a great difference between saying no example and saying no authority. Roy Cogdill recognized this, writing, “Sometimes it is argued that this is the plan (1 Corinthians 16:1-2, B.H.) for raising money only for benevolence in the church. It remains, however, that divine wisdom led Paul to give this plan to Corinth for raising money, and good reasoning will convince one that if it will work in raising money for one righteous cause, it will work for another and for all” (The New Testament church page 105 -106).

Next, is it true that there is no example of the church aiding non-Christians? Read 2 Corinthians 9:13. It speaks of liberal distribution made unto “them” and unto “all.” The “them” clearly refers to the poor saints in Jerusalem. But, to whom does the “all” refer?

Those who hold to the “saints only” position believe that the “all” refers to all other saints in contrast with the saints in need in Jerusalem. Just as the Calvinist limits pantos (translated “every man”) in Hebrews 2:9, even so those who hold to the “saints only” position limit the pantas (translated “all men”) in 2 Corinthians 9:13.

I see no good reason to so limit the wording. (1) Watch the fact that the term “all” is not qualified in any way.  (2) Watch the fact that nothing in the immediate context so limit’s the word. (3) Consider how the unqualified “all” is commonly used elsewhere in scripture: (a) 1 Thessalonians 3:12, “And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all, even as we do toward you.” Does “all” mean just other Christians elsewhere? Or, does it mean just what it says – “all”? (b) 1 Thessalonians 5:15, “See that no one renders evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good both among yourselves, and for all.” Does “all” include the non-Christian here? (c) Galatians 6:10, “As we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.” Clearly, the “all” here is placed in contrast and distinction with “the household of faith.” The reference is to non-Christians. (d) 1 Timothy 4:10, “…we trust in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe. ” Notice that “all” is contrasted with those who believe. It seems to me for anyone to limit the “all” of 2 Corinthians 9:13 there better be a reason which demands such. I see no such demanding reason.

I do believe that our first responsibility is toward the household of faith. However, I see no good reason to deny that the “all” includes the non-Christian.

A parting shot – Matthew 5:46-48 reads, “For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.” Yes, I know that this is written concerning the individual. I understand the point is that we should be kind and loving toward all. However, if the church only shows benevolence towards her own, does such not put her in the same category as the tax collectors? Many denominations do more than this.

About Bryan Hodge

I am a minister and missionary to numerous countries around the world.
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4 Responses to Saints Only Benevolence

  1. Bobby Whitson says:

    Mr. Hodge,

    I thoroughly enjoy your blog and you have many great incites, but I’d like for you to consider the following on the topic of benevolence as it pertains to the article you wrote here:

    The Greek word translated “everyone, or a”all” at the end of I Corinthians 9:13 is πασ
    Pronunciation: pas

    Strong’s Definition: 1) individually 1a) each, every, any, all, the whole, everyone, all things, everything 2) collectively 2a) some of all types ++++ …

    “the whole world has gone after him” Did all the world go after Christ? “then went all Judea, and were baptized of him in Jordan.” Was all Judea, or all Jerusalem, baptized in Jordan? “Ye are of God, little children”, and the whole world lieth in the wicked one”. Does the whole world there mean everybody? The words “world” and “all” are used in some seven or eight senses in Scripture, and it is very rarely the “all” means all persons, taken individually. The words are generally used to signify that Christ has redeemed some of all sorts — some Jews, some Gentiles, some rich, some poor, and has not restricted His redemption to either Jew or Gentile … (C.H. Spurgeon from a sermon on Particular Redemption)

    So it is possible that this word, pas, is used in this same sense at the end of I Corinthians 9:13. That in itself, does not prove anything because your argument can also be made, however, your argument also shows that copious amounts of evidence that does not include any reference to “all” or “pas” at all, but instead is very specific in all of the other references you gave: “They reason that many times do we read of the church aiding and assisting “saints,” “disciples,” “brethren” (see Acts 6:1-3; Acts 11:27-29; Romans 15:25; 1 Corinthians 16:1-2; 2 Corinthians 8:1-4; 2 Corinthians 9:1; 1 Timothy 5:3-16; James 2:15-16)” This seems to be the best evidence for the fact that benevolence is only meant to be given to the saints because over and again, the example shows to be true. The one reference in I Cor. 9:13 that MAY allow for something else isn’t even definitive given the evidence of the use of the word “pas” by Strong’s above.

    Other consideration is this: The local church was designed by God to teach and edify the saints. The local church has absolutely no impact on the world because the world does not believe the local church. The only thing that has the power to save is God and, by His design, individuals learn of Him by His revealed Word, the Bible, and His saints who live and teach His word to others. Is this endeavor supported by the local church? Yes, but is giving money, teaching school, opening daycares, supplying recreation centers, etc. saving someone’s soul? They may open doors, at best, but the only thing that saves souls is God through His plan of salvation and an individuals willingness to obey Him. We are merely planting His seeds and watering them per His guidance and example (I Cor. 3:6-7). If we attempt to plant or water in an unauthorized way, true growth will not occur just like planting and watering a grass seed two feet deep will kill it rather than make it grow. We as humans naturally try to make things better, faster, more efficient, but God’s plan is already perfect and the seed is simply scattered and the type of soil that receives the seed determines whether or not to let it grow. Putting soil in a daycare or rec center, or giving soil money or food doesn’t make the soil grow the seed. The soil has to be right in order to allow the seed to grow (Luke 8:4-15). How many churches see their attendance rise and fall from one week to the next depending upon when the church social is held? How many churches spend massive amounts of money on staging, lighting, and musical instruments in order to hold “contemporary” services for teens only to find that those same teens turn from the church because of no depth of spirit? How many churches have fed the masses for years only to find very few individuals ever obey the gospels? God never instructs His disciples to feed or entertain anyone in order to save them. Rather, he tells His disciples to be an example and teach His Word.(Phil 2:12-16, Matt. 5:13-16, Col. 1:27-28, Rom. 10:17) Even Jesus turned away followers who were seeking food for the body rather than knowledge of the truth (John 6:25-26). He also justified a greater need to glorify God in other ways that to spend money on the poor (Mark 14:3-9 and parallel accounts in Matthew 26:6-13 and John 12:1-8).

    Also, being part of the body in a local church is necessary (Heb. 10:25) to the point that it should be disastrous to an individual if they were to be disciplined and withdrawn from. In I Cor. 5:1-15, the sexually immoral man was to be withdrawn from so that “his spirit would be saved in the day of the Lord.” (Vs 5b). Romans 5 and I Cor. 12 show us how individual Christians make up the body. The body of the local church is designed to facilitate Christian’s needs here on earth. The physical needs of leadership (Elders I Tim.3, Titus 1), servants to care for believers (Deacons I Tim 3), help and special requirements for widows (I Tim 6), general benevolence for any believer (Acts 6:1-3; Acts 11:27-29; Romans 15:25; 1 Corinthians 16:1-2; 2 Corinthians 8:1-4; 2 Corinthians 9:1; 1 Timothy 5:3-16; James 2:15-16). we as individual Christians are required to work under God’s authority. If we’re not willing to work as part of God’s plan under oversight of elders in a local church, is our faith in God real? James 2:14-26 tells us that faith without works is dead. The local church has obviously been set up by God in order to facilitate the work and worship of Christians in a local area who have determined to be a part of the work and benefit from the work as prescribed by God. There is no need to provide physical means to anyone outside of the church with God’s treasury that was designed to benefit the saints in that local work. This is similar to the saints having all things in common in the early years of the church in Acts 2:42-47.

    However, on an INDIVIDUAL basis, we can do any good work we see fit as evidenced by James 1:27. Pure and undefiled religion before God the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their misfortune and to keep oneself unstained by the world. Individually, we are supposed to show kindness, generosity, hospitality, humility, and righteousness in order to open the door for opportunity to spread the Gospel by being Godly examples and taking care of the needy. In doing so, we teach them to work with the body of saints in whatever way their talents may allow so that while they are weak, they may learn to become strong and do the same for others someday. Instead of being needy, converts can start providing for the needy and instead of learning the basics of salvation, they begin to teach others to be saved (Eph. 4:28, I Cor. 3:1-3, Hebrews 5:11-14). You cannot require this of an unbeliever, so the offering of the Lord’s money in benevolence to an unbeliever has no accountability and doing God’s will is all about our accountability to Him.

    Thank you for your insight because it has caused me to study the subject more thoroughly. I hope my unlearned ramblings have made some sort of sense on this matter and can be used to help us and others study this issue as well. Keep up the good work! God bless you and yours as you live in His guidance.

    • Bryan Hodge says:

      Hello brother,

      I hope all is well with you. I regret that it has taken me so long to reply. Several distractions have prevented a quicker response. Here is a brief reply…

      I agree completely that “all” may at times not literally mean all. It may be used to mean the greater part. Example -Mark 1:6 does not mean that John literally baptized all. We know this because of other passages such as Mark 11:30-ff. The word all may also be qualified at times. Example – We are to give to everyman who ask Luke 6:30, and do good to all as we have opportunity Galatians 6:10. Yet, such is not unqualified cf. 2 Thessalonians 3:10.

      However, in the case of 2 Corinthians 9:13 I see nothing to necessarily qualify the passage. The “all” (pas) seems as unqualified as in John 3:16; Matthew 5:32; 1 Thessalonians 3:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:15. All should be understood without qualifications, unless the context or other passages demand otherwise.

      You list the various passages which I did. It seem you are saying that these passages would qualify 2 Corinthians 9:13. Lets consider them. 1). James 2 is referring, it seems to an individual and not the church. This is not dealing with whom the church can help. 2). Acts 6 and 1 Timothy 5 is speaking of regular, on going support of widows. This type of support is clearly qualified in the scriptures cf. 1 Timothy 5. Not all widows are to be included. 3). Acts 11 the brethren in Antioch did send famine relief to the brethren in Judea. This by itself might would seem to support your position. However, this is not the only passage on the subject. 4). Romans 15; 1 Corinthians 16; 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 all have reference to brethren from Rome,Macedonia and Achaia sending relief to the poor among those among the saints in Jerusalem. 2 Corinthians 9 says these brethren shared with “them and all.” We have no record of these brethren sending help to other saints elsewhere. We should be very cautious before limiting the term “all,” and binding this on anyone. Such is my concern.

      If brethren wish to do benevolence individually to the non-Christian instead of out of the church’s treasury, I have no problem with such, so long as we truly are letting our lights shine in such a way that God is glorified. However, we must be careful not to bind what God has not bound on others.

      Let me give you a couple of things to ponder. 1). I can read in many passages that we are to love our brethren (1 Thessalonians 4:9-10; 1 Peter 1:22;2:17; 3:8; 1 John 2:10-11; 3:10; 3:14-17; 4:7,11,12,20-21: John 13:34-35 etc.). However, 1 Thessalonians 3:12 reads ” The Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another and to all..” Should I understand “all” to mean other brethren than those in Thessalonica? You could reply that the answer is “no, because we are told to love even our enemies” (Matthew 5:43-48). However, could not one try to make the case that the enemies in view are brethren (note some manuscripts read friends in v. 47). You response could be to go back to the O.T. to show that Israelites were to love even strangers (Leviticus 19:34; Deuteronomy 10:18-19). However, I would argue that such is unnecessary. “All” should not be taken as less than universal unless such is demanded by the scriptures themselves.

      I do agree with you that we should not be using cheap substitutes by which to attract people. It is the Gospel which is God’s power to save (Romans 1:16). Let us be about the business of proclaiming this saving message.

      May we each work out our own salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12). If we are in personal doubt on any issue the most cautions course should be taken (Romans 14).

      Best wishes, your brother – Bryan

      • Scott R. says:

        Bryan, you’ve taken it upon yourself to create a rule of interpretation: “All should be understood without qualifications, unless the context or other passages demand otherwise.” Actually, to assume it is not limited to all saints is just as great an assumption as assuming that it is. The passages cited by both you and Bobby demonstrate this. As Bobby showed, simply piling up passages where the same word is used in the same way you want it to be used proves nothing. If a word can have multiple senses, the meaning must be determined by the immediate context and harmony with other Scriptures. Since the immediate context does not help, we must look at other examples and instructions. The few “examples” you’ve provided which allegedly demonstrate the saints’ collection helping needy non-saints are ambiguous. The assumption that “them and all” refers to saints there and saints abroad is just as valid as the assumption that it refers to saints and non-saints. Therefore, the burden is on you to provide at least one example in which the recipients were undeniably non-saints – one passage in which the term “all” MUST be interpreted as non-saints.

        Wallace’s argument is a straw man. The “Saints Only Benevolence” folks, as you call us, do not contend that the money can only be used for benevolence. It should be used for all the responsibilities of the church. You added that “Some seem to have no difficulty at all using money out of the church treasury for all kinds of things for which there is no Biblical example.” The church is given three simple responsibilities: teach, care for saints, and worship. Implying that we don’t have authority to use it for the third does not justify creating a fourth work to use it for. If your accusation is sincere, you’re actually more restrictive than we are.

        Concerning 2nd Corinthians 9, you said, “We have no record of these brethren sending help to other saints elsewhere.” Thus, your conclusion is that the “all” must mean non-saints. So where is your example is that they sent help to non-saints? If your argument is this: since we don’t have an example of them sending it to other saints, the “all” must not refer to other saints, then doesn’t the same logic exclude non-saints, since we don’t have an example of them sending help to non-saints either? You must be consistent in your reasoning.

        In conclusion, unless a clearly defined instruction or example can be produced which authorizes collection money to be used for non-saints, then you cannot argue that passages with ambiguous terms necessarily include non-saints. Every passage you use to support collection-funded benevolence for non-saints could just as easily be referring to saints in other places. Every example that is clear demonstrates that it did refer to saints. There is a principle, in the Old (Psa. 37:25) and New (Matt. 6:25-33), that God provides for his people. God does this through individuals and the church.

        I hope that you will change your position to align with what the Scriptures say. We must simply live within the boundaries of God’s authority and trust that he will be pleased with it.

      • Bryan Hodge says:

        Hello brother,

        Sorry for the delayed reply. I have been busy with a campaign.

        I do not think that I have created a rule of interpretation. This is basic hermeneutics.

        My point in 2 Corinthians 9 is not that “all” MUST mean non-Christians. My point is that it is unqualified. And that since it is unqualified it MAY include non-Christians. I believe that it is unwise to demand that it does not include non-Christians. I do not have a problem with a local congregation binding this on themselves. I have no problem with those who choose to do such benevolence on an individual basis. However, to bind this position on others, I cannot do.

        Brother Wallace’s remarks are not intended by me to PROVE my position. It has to do with the “smell test.” It does not smell right, at least to me, to believe that the church treasure can buy feed for the preacher’s lawn, but not for a hungry family.

        Brother Wallace’s point is not that those who hold your position believe that the church treasury can be used only for benevolence. His point is that you, and those who hold your position, use the collection for many things for which you have no example in scripture of money being raised for(e.g. that there is no example of taking up a collection for cleaning the building, or feeding the preacher’s plants with fertilizer). Authority is not found in example only.

        Your position may be the safest course. However, I could not bind this on others, since “all,” is unqualified. I sincerely appreciate your thoughts and will give it further consideration.

        Your brother, Bryan Hodge

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