Galatians 6:10 gives a concise statement that prioritizes our personal giving as believers and guides the church’s stewardship of its resources. This verse states, “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Gal 6:10 ESV).
In examining this verse, let’s first build some context. In Galatians 6:6, Paul commands believers to “share all good things with the one who teaches,” by which he means a church remunerating its pastor for his labor in study and teaching (cf. Rom 15:27; 1 Cor 9:11). This command is but one expression of how a believer can sow to the Spirit and thereby reap eternal life (Gal 6:7–8). To clarify, sowing to the Spirit does not earn someone eternal life, but the absence of sowing to the Spirit indicates the absence of the Spirit Himself in the individual and thus the absence of eternal life. Whether it be the remuneration of one’s pastor or any other Spirit-led activity, the believer should not grow weary in such well-doing but persevere, knowing his reward in heaven will one day come (Gal 6:9).
Getting back to where we started, Paul concludes with an admonition to “do good to everyone” and prioritizes one’s good-doing as “especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Gal 6:10). In context, the remuneration of pastors is the nearest example of doing good among the household of faith, but Paul’s principle of sowing and reaping has broader applications than this one act of goodness. Doing good could include any Spirit-led act of goodness that one carries out towards another, believer or not.
What is unpopular to many today is that individual Christians and churches should prioritize their good deeds “to those who are of the household of faith” over “everyone” in general, that is, society at large which includes unbelievers, those outside of the church (Gal 6:10). But this prioritization is just what “especially” in Gal 6:10 means.
I sympathize on the surface with those who practice other than I do as an individual and how I lead my church. I live in a city that is riddled with poverty, crime, drugs, and domestic abuse. Our country has issues involving racism, sex trafficking, and political corruption. The list could go on. Who doesn’t feel the pull to pour out one’s individual and church’s resources into these problems and thus show our love to our neighbor?
What I am not saying is that an individual or church cannot in some way do good to those who are unbelievers, whether in an informal or formal manner. What I am saying is that the NT both here and elsewhere presents the church as having its own needs to address, which takes first consideration when making a choice to meet the needs of either believers or unbelievers. Here are some examples along these lines:
- When meeting the financial needs of others, the early church had many who sold houses and land so that “there was not a needy person among them” (Acts 4:34), “them” being “the full number of those who believed” (Acts 4:32) and not society at large.
- When famine struck “over all the world” (Acts 11:27), “relief” from the believers in Antioch was sent “to the brothers living in Judea” and not the entire region (Acts 11:29).
- While James commands us to keep our religion from being worthless and meeting the needs of orphans and widows (James 1:26–27), the application seems to be among believers as Paul elsewhere clearly prioritizes widows who are believers (1 Tim 5:5–6) who cannot eventually provide for themselves (1 Tim 5:14). And even then, if the individuals of the church can tend to these needs (especially family; 1 Tim 5:16a), these individuals should take on such a ministry so that the church’s resources can be unburdened and reserved for other ministry (1 Tim 5:16b). Likewise, in Acts 6:1–6, while the church struggled to feed its widows, the widows in consideration were only those among the flock.
- In relieving poverty in Jerusalem, Paul coordinated giving from the churches of Macedonia and Achaia to go to “the poor among the saints” and not the surrounding society in which they lived (Rom 15:26–27; cf. 2 Cor 8–9).
- When speaking of providing for others the basic needs of life such as clothing or food, both James and John command help and use the language not of society in general but “brother,” “brothers,” and “sister” (James 2:15–16; 1 John 3:16–18).
Again, none of this is to say that there are not exceptions in which a church may make disciples by providing for the needs of unbelievers along the way. I think of how my own church taught Mexican immigrants to read in the 1920’s, used the Bible to do so, and how this ministry eventually led to the planting of a Mexican church. But when it comes to doing good to everyone, as we can see from the examples above, Galatians 6:10 puts the burden on the individual Christian to help meet the tangible needs of his unbelieving neighbors and not the church as a church. Moreover, when faced with the dilemma of providing for the needs of greater society or those within his church, the Christian should follow the examples above and give first priority to the household of faith, beginning with his local church. And if a Christian is truly one who desires to show the love of Christ to all, he will heed the command to “do good to everyone” and attempt to show this love to his unbelieving neighbor as well.