The Controversy of Disinterested Benevolence

Disinterested benevolence or disinterested kindness has long been a source of controversy in the Christian church. What does it mean?

Charles Finney defined it this way: The very idea of disinterested benevolence, and there is no other true benevolence, implies the abandonment of the spirit of self-seeking, or of selfishness. It is impossible to become benevolent, without ceasing to be selfish.”

I first heard this term from Ellen White’s writings in Testimonies to the Church Vol. 3. She describes it this way:

I saw that it is in the providence of God that widows and orphans, the blind, the deaf, the lame, and persons afflicted in a variety of ways have been placed in close Christian relationship to His church; it is to prove His people and develop their true character. Angels of God are watching to see how we treat these persons who need our sympathy, love, and disinterested benevolence. … If we have the true religion of the Bible, we shall feel that a debt of love, kindness, and interest is due to Christ in behalf of His brethren; … by having a deep interest and unselfish love for those who are our brethren and who are less fortunate than ourselves.—Testimonies for the Church 3:511 (bold supplied).

And below:

True sympathy between man and his fellow man is to be the sign distinguishing those who love and fear God from those who are unmindful of His law. How great the sympathy that Christ expressed in coming to this world to give His life a sacrifice for a dying world! His religion led to the doing of genuine medical missionary work. … “I will have mercy, and not sacrifice,” He said. This is the test that the great Author of truth used to distinguish between true religion and false.—Manuscript 117, 1903

To make the term more modern: good acts without personal interest.

So what does this mean for evangelism?

How often does our community service have ulterior motives? How often do we only do community service when we think it will gain us members? Is our benevolence truly disinterested or is it really a bait and switch? Are we willing to give money and time even if there are no results?

Most people take up opposition or find fault with this model because it seems like a waste of time and money. But is that really our concern? If someone needs food, medical care, or clothing, is it our place to judge their lives and see if they are worthy? How blessed we are that God does not do that to us! How merciful that God does not investigate our worthiness before making the rain fall, the crops grow, or before sending His Son!

Let’s take time today to thank God for His disinterested benevolence toward us and ask Him to place that in our hearts!