Though this word is never specifically used in the Bible, it has become what most associate with Christianity or even religion in general. Most believe that if you adhere to a Christ-based religious belief system that you are obligated to go around doing good deeds or acts of benevolence. While there is some truth to that, there are also some misunderstandings.
When we see the church begin in Acts chapter two, we also see the beginning of the benevolent works of the church. “All those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need” (Acts 2:44-45). We see this again in chapter four (4:34-35). There was a need, and those of like faith stepped in to help.
Later, there arose a great famine, and the church would have to step in again to help its own. “Agabus stood up and began to indicate by the Spirit that there would certainly be a great famine all over the world… And in the proportion that any of the disciples had means, each of them determined to send a contribution for the relief of the brethren living in Judea” (Acts 11:28-29). We see this mentioned in other books of the New Testament (Rom. 15:26-27; 1 Cor. 16:1-3; 2 Cor. 8:1-5). They gathered and provided a collection from their own funds to help those saints in Judea. They gave as they were prospered, and some gave even in deep poverty. But all gave, giving themselves first out of love for each other (1 Cor. 13:3). What we see primarily happening is the church providing for its own. We do not see the church opening food banks for the community or worldwide outreach in benevolent works.
Does that mean that we have no responsibility to the world in the area of benevolence? Does that mean that I should have no second thoughts about helping someone I see in need that is not a member of the Lord’s church? Consider this, “So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith” (Gal. 6:10). There is some responsibility to help those that we can. Jesus taught the lawyer not who his neighbor was but that he must show himself to be neighborly by displaying a heart of compassion (Luke 10:30-35).
Are we called to feed the world or our community? No. Our only global obligation is to spread the gospel. Can that be done using benevolence? In some cases, yes. Remember that compassion, tempered with wisdom, given the opportunity and the means is the right recipe for good to be done. There is much that can be said about this, but the idea that a major role of the church is benevolence to the community is false.