Jesus the Benefactor

We don’t usually think of Jesus as a benefactor. Maybe we’ve missed something.

The word “benefactor” evokes the picture of a wealthy person who is generous with his money. A benefactor freely shares with others from his own abundant means. Think Bill and Melinda Gates.

Jesus as benefactorAlthough the word “benefactor” doesn’t appear in the Bible, some benefactors do. In Luke 7, Jewish elders in Capernaum ask Jesus to heal the servant of a centurion. “He is worthy to have you do this for him,” they claim, “for he loves our nation, and he is the one who built us our synagogue.”

Another military benefactor—a second centurion, in fact—figures in Acts 10. “At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of what was known as the Italian Cohort, a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God” Acts 10:1-2.

Here’s a third example. Luke speaks of “some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out,  and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s household manager, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for [Jesus and his disciples] out of their means” Luke 8:2-3.

In that reference, Jesus is the receiver, not the giver, of financial support. After all, he had no place to lay his head. He sent Peter fishing to come up with his tax payment. We don’t generally think of Jesus as a benefactor in his incarnation. Jesus wasn’t a big player in the economy of ancient Palestine. (Mind you, let’s don’t forget Who is the ultimate, cosmic benefactor, the One whose generosity transcends and supplies that of all others, the One who “was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich,” 2 Corinthians 8:9. Charles Spurgeon wrote, “He is a sun ever-shining; He is a manna always falling round the camp … the river of His bounty is ever flowing, and the well-spring of his love is constantly overflowing.” Morning and Evening, 274)

And yet at least one text uses benefactor language to describe Jesus of Nazareth. Standing in the home of (the above-named) Cornelius, Peter is preaching and says this: “Jesus … went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him”  Acts 10:37-38.

Jesus “went about doing good.” The Greek term, euergeton, means to do good, to bestow benefits. The term is used of a benefactor, often used as a title of honor for outstanding public leaders. The Louw-Nida Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament defines it as “to do that which is good and beneficial to someone.”[1]

Commenting on Acts 10:38, New Testament scholar and professor Darrell Bock says “The idea of doing good … is a powerful one in a Greek context, pointing to a benefactor, someone who does good for society. The term was applied to gods, heroes, kings, statesmen, philosophers (e.g. Socrates), inventors, and physicians. … Jesus’ good work of healing and ministry was that of one who served and benefited humanity.” (Acts, 39-398)

Often, we regard the work of a benefactor as secondary to preaching. We do this because we have bought into what DNA president Scott Allen called the sacred-secular divide. We tend to divide our world into two compartments. On the one hand are the “sacred” matters including attending church and reading the Bible. Everything outside the sacred activities of life is secular. We deem these of little import from the standpoint of eternity.

In the same way, we regard some vocations as sacred—pastoral and missionary work, especially. The rest are secular.

Including benefactor. We might think, “Of course there’s nothing wrong with being a benefactor as long as we don’t confuse it with what’s really important.” It would not be at all unusual to hear a remark like that in many evangelical circles. Put in the context of Acts 10:38 it sounds a little different, “Of course there’s nothing wrong with Jesus being a benefactor as long as he didn’t confuse it with what’s really important.”

-          Gary Brumbelow



[1] Louw-Nida Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains, 2nd Edition, Edited by J. P. Louw and E. A. Nida.  Copyright © 1988 by the United Bible Societies, New York, NY 10023. Used by permission.

  
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2 Responses to Jesus the Benefactor

  1. kay west says:

    Love this and will share with our supporters. Without such “benefactors” we as missionaries could not share Jesus’ love and truth.

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