And in these days prophets came from Jerusalem to Antioch. Then one of them, named Agabus, stood up and showed by the Spirit that there was going to be a great famine throughout all the world, which also happened in the days of Claudius Caesar. Then the disciples, each according to his ability, determined to send relief to the brethren dwelling in Judea. This they also did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul. (Acts 11:27-30)
Relief To The Brethren
The pattern of the New Testament church is a clear demonstration of the divine will of God. When the Lord came to Noah and instructed him to build an ark, a divine pattern was given that must be followed. The Law of Moses was strict in its laws concerning the pattern of the Tabernacle enforced by the command to build it according to the divine pattern. In the early church, a pattern was given by the Holy Spirit that early disciples followed to establish the eternal plan of God in establishing the work of the church. Luke shows this pattern how the brethren extended their hearts of benevolence in caring for their fellow disciples in the region of Judea. What is important to understand about this work of benevolence is the targeted efforts of the church in Antioch (and other places) focused upon one group of people.
During the days of Claudius Caesar, a great famine engulfed the world. There were people impacted by this famine reaching far and near the region of Judea. In Judea, there were thousands of people impacted by this severe famine. Many hungry people, needy people and folks were in desperate need to find food. It is certain the Roman government was trying to stem the tide of this catastrophe but there was only so much they could accomplish. What the church of Antioch (and others) did was to send relief to some people in the region of Judea so they could have something to eat. It is imperative to see exactly how the Holy Spirit worded the relief effort: “send relief to the brethren dwelling in Judea.” The actions of the benevolent brethren in sending relief to the famine stricken area of Judea were to assist the Christians in the area. There were more non-Christians in need of relief than Christians but the only thing the Antioch church could do was to care for the needs of their fellow brethren. Did the brethren in Antioch not care about those other people in need? The Holy Spirit established a pattern of authority regarding the work of the church as being restricted to the brethren alone.
The early church was limited in what it could do in its work of benevolence. No example is given where the church became an organization of community relief. There were many brethren who could take it upon themselves to help anyone in any fashion but the authority of the church was limited in what the collective group of saints could do. As long as it was in keeping with the word of the Lord, an individual can expend their resources to be involved in many parts of society. The local congregation is restricted in the authority they have in becoming a community benevolent organization as much as it is not authorized to be involved in political, economic and social issues of the day. There is one purpose of the church and that is limited by the command of the Lord demonstrated by the New Testament scriptures. Using the treasury of the church to send relief to saints is in keeping with the New Testament authority. Allowing these funds to be used for non-Christians is against the work of Christ.
Many religious organizations today have become social bastions of community efforts that have no authority in scripture. Men have taken the simple design of the church and created a benevolent institution that Jesus never intended to be the work of His church. Every part of the church in the New Testament was established upon three principles of authority: command, example and necessary inference. Modern pundits have cast aside these tenets of authority as antiquated and useless. Weak arguments have been supported by misuse of passages trying to circumvent the authority of God’s word to support human institutions of error. When the dust settles and arguments are finished, the three tenets of authority remain intact and the arguments of men fail. The benevolence of the church is restricted because that is the pattern found in the word of God. Jesus did not contradict His Father in establishing the pattern of His church. If the early church understood the teaching of Jesus to send relief to everyone in Judea (brethren and non-brethren) then they would have done so. Luke clearly shows the early Christians understood the sermons of Jesus and teachings of the Holy Spirit that relief was to go to the brethren in Judea. And that is what Luke wrote. Then the disciples, each according to his ability, determined to send relief to the brethren dwelling in Judea. This they also did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul.