The Church’s Ministry of Benevolence to The Society

"Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven" (Matthew 5:16).

The church has a mandate to evangelise and to make disciples of all nations. The Lord Jesus makes that very clear in what is commonly known as the Great Commission:

"18 And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. 19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: 20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen." (Mt 28:18-20)

The church must evangelise and make disciples largely through the preaching and teaching of God’s Word. This is the primary focus of the church; and it is a focus that must not be compromised. A church that does not give paramount priority to this mandate has ceased to be a true church of Christ.


Does this mean, however, that the church exists only to preach the Gospel? I do not think so, for the purpose of the church is surely to worship God and to glorify Him in the eyes of men and angels. We must glorify God through the proclamation of the Gospel and doctrinal instruction, but we must also glorify God through works of benevolence. The Lord Jesus says: "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven" (Mt 5:16). The good works that He is talking about is surely not only the verbal preaching and teaching of God’s Word. Surely, it includes works of benevolence not just within the church, but also in the society that the church is established. And surely these good works are not only to be performed by believers individually as members of the church, but also by the church corporately as body of Christ.

The apostle Paul makes this very clear when he says in his letter to the Galatians:

"As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith" (Gal 6:10).

Writing to the Thessalonians, he emphasises the same responsibility of the church:

"And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men, even as we do toward you" (1 Th 3:12); and "See that none render evil for evil unto any man; but ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves, and to all men" (1 Th 5:15).

The Scripture, I believe, is very clear: We have a mandate to have a ministry of benevolence not only within the church, but also outside the church. We have a primary responsibility to preach the Gospel to the world, but we also have a responsibility of doing works of benevolence to the world, when we have the opportunity (cf. Gal 6:10). We must give priority to do good towards those who are within the church, or those who are of the household of faith, but we must not neglect our responsibility to the society.


What is the purpose of such a ministry of benevolence towards the society? It is to glorify God by emitting the ‘sweet savour of Christ’ in His Gospel and Kingdom to the world (cf. 2 Cor 2:15).

Consider how the apostle Paul speaks of the helps which he received from the Philippians as "an odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, wellpleasing to God" (Phil 4:18); and how the helps which the Corinthian church gave to the poor in Jerusalem is "abundant… by many thanksgiving unto God" (2 Cor 9:12). Likewise consider how the writer to the Hebrews exhorts us to praise God continually not only by "the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name" but also by doing good and sharing with the poor, "for with such sacrifices God is well pleased" (Heb 13:15-16).


But how is the ministry of benevolence to be carried out?

Well, it is not to be done merely as a means to an end such that we must conclude that we have failed if someone we showed kindness to, does not eventually profess faith in Christ. Remember how the Lord fed the multitude? Did He do so with the intention of drawing them to Himself? No, He fed them out of compassion for them (Mt 9:36; 15:32). And in fact, after He fed them and all the people wanted to make Him their king, He withdrew Himself into the mountain.

It is evident that the Lord showed benevolence towards the multitude without any forethought as to whether they are the elect or not. In fact, there is every indication that most of those who pursued after Him after they ate of the bread and fishes were not the elect (cf. Jn 6:26, 66).

As the disciples of Christ, let us learn likewise to show compassion without ‘ulterior motives.’ As Christ our Lord was rich towards us (cf. 2 Cor 8:9) and towards the needy so we must glorify His name by being rich towards others unconditionally.

Nevertheless, we must remember that our responsibility to do works of benevolence must not be divorced completely from our responsibility to evangelise. How can we do so, when our works of benevolence is for the purpose of glorifying God by emanating the sweet savour of Christ to the world? No, no; all works of benevolence by the church must be done in the name of Christ, and not merely as mere social work!

For this reason, the church cannot join hands with some secular organisations to do social outreach (cf. 2 Cor 6:14-16).

For this reason too, all works of benevolence by the church must be overtly and unashamedly Christian. Thus, if for example, we are giving financial assistance to someone who asks us, it must be given out of compassion, as well as a call to repentance and an invitation to seek the Lord Jesus Christ. Remember how the Lord called to repentance and faith those He healed. "Sin no more" (Jn 5:14), He told the man whom He healed by the pool of Bethesda. In following the Lord’s example, we must not make it a condition for the needy to receive assistance, but we must accompany any helps with a call to repentance and faith.


But does that mean that we must keep giving help to an unconverted person who would neither help himself nor is in any way interested in the Gospel? I do not think so. Having been taken in or almost taken in by the ‘sob stories’ of semi-professional church beggars so many times both in Singapore and in London, I think we do have a responsibility to assess the genuineness of the person’s needs in the first place.

But in the second place, if we should decide to err on the side of generosity, then we should make a further assessment to see if we should continue to help the person. We must remember that the aim of our work of benevolence is both to do good to the person and to magnify Christ. If our assistance to a person were to aid him in his slothfulness and rebellion against Christ, then we must cease to provide further assistance, for doing so would not be to do good to him. Just as a member of the church who is living in open rebellion against Christ should be disciplined by the church in the hope of bringing about repentance, so the neighbour in need who remains in rebellion against Christ should have his assistance removed in the hope that he would repent. This is partly also the reason why the Lord taught his disciples to shake off the dust of their feet as a testimony against those who would not receive His message (Mt 10:14).


But now let us take note that the ministry of benevolence is not only about giving financial assistance to the needy.

There are many other ways. But before we speak about the ways, we must be clear in our minds that the church does not have a primary responsibility to support the poor in the world. If a church fails to preach the Gospel, it ceases to be a true church of Christ, but it is quite different if it fails to support the poor outside the covenant. Remember that the work of benevolence is qualified with the phrase "as we have therefore opportunity" (Gal 6:10). These opportunities are providentially handed to the church; or at least the church is led to them providentially. The church, in other words, does not need to go out of the way to begin a ministry of benevolence to those outside the church. However, if the Lord were to provide such opportunities, and it is within our means so to do, then we ought to seize the opportunity by faith.

Now, we must, of course, not take providential provision to mean that we should be entirely passive about starting a ministry of benevolence until something happens outside of us such as when someone request for some help. No, no; providential guidance does sometimes come by way of God’s provision so we are immediately able to do something which would well manifest the compassion of Christ to the world.

Therefore, the church which desires to begin a benevolent ministry for the glory of Christ, should think of what it can do with its present resources and gifts.

For example, if the church has the financial ability and also the expertise with dealing with old folks, then it may consider a ministry to the old folks. This could take the form of ad hoc medical checkups, or regular meetings, or even retirement homes. And likewise, the church may also have a ministry to the children in the neighbourhood. This could take the form of giving tuition or giving before-and-after-school care. These works are resource intensive, but if we are able to, should we not take the opportunity to do so? Such activities will not only reflect the compassion of Christ and therefore preach Him to the world without words (cf. 1 Pet 3:1); they will also be a means to call upon sinners to seek Him with His people.


What shall we do from here? I believe the Diaconate is most gifted to lead us in this regard. The ministry of benevolence and the ministry of mercy are, after all, synonymous; and one of the primary roles of the Diaconate is the extension of mercy (Acts 6:1-4). The Diaconate under the oversight of the Session should begin to work out some principles on how we may have a ministry of benevolence to those outside. They must do so in the context of the ability, resources and gifts of the church. They must also do so according to the providential guidance of God.

What should the rest of us do? Well, let us pray for them, and let us support them with our spiritual gifts, resources and time.


The apostle Paul encourages us: "And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not" (Gal 6:9). The good that the apostle Paul is urging us to do, we must remember, is the acts of benevolence both within and without the church (v. 10). This work is often hard work, for it is a work, which can render us weary. But it is a work, which, by the promise of God, will bear fruit if we persist in it without fainting. It will bear fruit in the glory of Christ; it will bear fruit in the conversion of God’s elect; and it will bear fruit in our happiness (Prov 14:21) and heavenly reward (Prov 19:17; 22:9).

May the Lord give us His help as we seek to shine forth for Him both individually and corporately as the body of Christ. Amen.

— JJ Lim