Many churches throughout the world use a Bible reading schedule called a "lectionary." It's just a fancy word meaning "selected readings." Posts like this reflect on the readings for an upcoming Sunday or other Church holiday, as found in the three-year lectionary.
Galatians 6:10 says “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (ESV). Several years ago I was struck by just how controversial this verse is. On the surface, it doesn’t seem it would raise many hackles. Do good to everyone, right? Who would oppose that. It has an out clause. As we have opportunity. That’s also relatively uncontroversial. If it’s not possible to do good for someone who would benefit from it, maybe we can try to find a way, but sometimes it is simply not possible. That’s sad, but true. Where’s the big controversy?
We can find a challenge in two areas here. First, we need to recognize the sometimes conflicting definitions of good. Second, we ask what it implies that we especially aim our good works toward “the household of faith.”
God in the Bible has made some specific types of good very clear, often by giving negative examples and negative commands. He generally says what is bad in fairly specific terms, and makes more general statements about what is good. For instance, we are to love one another. That’s a rather general statement. Some of the specific ways we love one another are spelled out in negatives. We don’t lie, steal, murder, commit adultery, and all the rest. The negatives have some positive implications as well. In our not lying, we are truthful and try to view other people’s actions in a generally charitable way, as if they are likely being truthful as well. We not only don’t steal things, but we use things and time for positive benefits, also helping others to benefit from their things and time, if possible. Some of God’s commands about morality and lifestyle may go against some of our impulses. But if we call ourselves Christians we affirm that God’s commands are good for us and for our society.
What does it mean when we direct our good works primarily to the household of faith? Here we don’t necessarily exclude those who don’t believe exactly as we do, but our primary emphasis is on care for those who are part of the Christian community. In times of calamity we care for all we can just the same. Hurricanes, floods, forest fires, earthquakes, all the people in an area are enduring hardship. We help them all. However, there’s nothing wrong with the Christian organization making it clear that the scholarship program they have is intended for students who share their beliefs and values. There’s nothing wrong with the local congregation gathering food and clothing specifically for someone in their congregation who is enduring hardship. They are caring for their family first, then can care for other people’s families. We notice this is “especially” for the household of faith, not “exclusively.”
Is this a difficult and controversial verse? Perhaps. But it does ultimately make a lot of sense and is entirely consistent with the idea of God raising up a special community of faith which will thrive together.
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