“BENEVOLENT WORK” is an old phrase referring to what churches do to help people meet their basic needs. Benevolence takes many forms, but a story told by Jesus provides many churches the foundation for their efforts.
In brief, Jesus says his disciples will do six things – feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the unclothed, care for the sick and visit prisoners (Matthew 25:31-46).
Those six activities still are seen as the basics of benevolent or charitable ministry. They deal with people’s basic need for food, water, fellowship, clothes and shelter, medical care and hope. Ministry, however, need not be limited to these six areas because suffering people have other needs, such as help combating addiction, protection from threatened violence, housing in the event of an unplanned pregnancy, and others.
The importance of benevolence arises out of what is called Jesus’ “Great Commandments.” He said we are to love God with all of our being and to love our “neighbor” as ourselves (Mark 12:30-31; Matthew 22:38-39; and Luke 10:27). The Luke account is followed by the story of the good Samaritan, which indicates our neighbor is anyone in need, even if he or she is from another place and part of another ethnic group.
The Bible, however, has much more to say about the importance of Jesus followers practicing benevolence. Here are a few key biblical passages (all CSB):
JAMES 1:27Pure and undefiled religion before God the Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
PROVERBS 28:27The one who gives to the poor will not be in need, but one who turns his eyes away will receive many curses.
ACTS 20:35In every way I’ve shown you that it is necessary to help the weak by laboring like this and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, because he said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
GALATIANS 6:10Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us work for the good of all, especially for those who belong to the household of faith.
JAMES 2:15-17If a brother or sister is without clothes and lacks daily food and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, stay warm, and be well fed,” but you don’t give them what the body needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith, if it doesn’t have works, is dead by itself.
We are not to make the error of Cain when he asked, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Cain did not grasp his responsibility to care for his brother. That failure in the Bible’s opening chapters is repudiated in the remainder of the book and is especially shown in the self-giving sacrifice of Jesus.
We are indeed our brother’s keeper and our sister’s. And this responsibility extends to our neighbors, who are all of those in need.