This is the fourth post in my series on Christians and giving from the perspective of Scripture. (See the introduction post here.) I’ve already stated that giving directly to those in need is the most prevalent method of giving by Christians in the New Testament (either by example or instruction). There are also a few examples of Christians giving indirectly to people who are in need.
Similarly, there are a few examples and exhortations in Scripture of Christians giving to those who are traveling from place to place. These traveling (or itinerant) believers may be apostles, or prophets, or evangelists, or perhaps gifted for some other type of service. The common fact for this type of giving is that the recipients are traveling away from home, and they do not intend to stay in one place.
Of course, Paul is the quintessential example of the itinerant servant in Scripture. It is not surprising, then, that there are many example of him receiving help from other believers. This passage from Philippians is a famous example:
I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13I can do all things through him who strengthens me. Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble. (Philippians 4:10-14 ESV)
Receiving support from others seems to be a right of itinerant believers. Paul discusses this right in 1 Corinthians 9. This is also the passage where Paul says that he refuses to exercise that right among the people where he is currently working. (Paul accepts money from believers in other locations, but there are no examples of instances in which he accepted support from believers in the location where he is currently serving.) This passage also indicates that there are others (besides Paul and Barnabas) who are traveling from place to place. (See 1 Corinthians 9:4-6.)
Similarly, there are exhortations and instructions in other letters in which believers are encouraged to support other Christians who are traveling through their area. Another famous itinerant support passage is found in 3 John:
Beloved, it is a faithful thing you do in all your efforts for these brothers, strangers as they are, who testified to your love before the church. You will do well to send them on their journey in a manner worthy of God. For they have gone out for the sake of the name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles. 8Therefore we ought to support people like these, that we may be fellow workers for the truth. (3 John 5-8 ESV)
In fact, John later tells Gaius (the recipient of the letter) that he should not follow Diotrephes’ example, partly because Diotrephes refuses to help Christians who are traveling through their area and even attempts to stop others from helping itinerant servants.
Furthermore, the many instructions about practicing hospitality are primarily focused on helping traveling strangers. (For example, see Romans 12:13 and Hebrews 13:2.) There is even a special verb for “sending with hospitality” that is used in several passages. (For example, see Acts 15:3, 2 Corinthians 1:16, and Titus 3:13.)
Again, the important aspects of this kind of giving is that it was offered to people who were traveling from place to place. It seems that as long as the servants were traveling, believers would help them. When they settled down, there is less evidence that the support continued, at least at the same level.
What would you add to this discussion of Christians giving to those itinerant servants who are traveling from place to place?
Giving and the Church in Scripture Series:
2) Christians giving directly to others because of need
3) Christians giving indirectly to others because of need
4) Christians giving to other Christians who are traveling from place to place
5) Christians giving to other Christians in response to some service