"...help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.'" Acts 20:35
Out of context, this verse brings to mind giving money to the materially needy. But set in the context of Acts 20, it’s clear that this verse isn’t about making cheerful charitable donations. The New Testament talks elsewhere about being financially generous, but that’s not the point of this passage.
Who then are the weak? And what is it we’re supposed to give them?
Paul’s words leading up to verse 35 say, “In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak…” In what way did Paul work and what all things was he referring to? Verses 17-34 tell us. He lived among the Ephesian Christians, serving the Lord with humility and tears and trials; he taught openly of repentance and faith to Jews and Greeks; and he “did not shrink from declaring to [them] the whole counsel of God.” He warned them about false teachers and urged them to keep a close watch on themselves and the church members in their care. He commended them to God. All the while, he worked as a tentmaker to fund his ministry so that the extent of his gospel proclamation wouldn’t depend on the size of an offering.
We get clues about who the weak are, and are not, in Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians. In (5:14) he says, “And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.” The weak aren’t the idle who need admonishment. Rather, as in Acts 20:35, they are those who are young in the faith and the spiritually immature.
What sort of help are we to generously give them? In all things, Paul says, “I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak…” Using himself as an example, he is calling the Ephesian Christians—and every generation of Christians that follow—to work hard at spreading the gospel and making disciples who are mature in Christ.
We all have been weak at times. And all in need of discipleship. In Romans 5, Paul describes the weak as ungodly sinners. “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. …God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6, 8). Before Christ saved us, we all were weak. Every human enters the world in need of rescue from God’s wrath against our sin. Thanks be to God that Jesus did not come “to be served but to serve” (Matt 20:25-28). In dying, He proved himself the most generous giver of the help we most needed.
Jesus calls those He saves to follow His example by giving themselves away for the benefit of others (Mark 10:43-45). That’s exactly what Paul did for the early church. Despite all Paul suffered, and it was a lot, he knew it was a blessed way to live.
John Piper says about this verse,
The world believes and feels deeply—we all do in our fleshly nature—it is pleasant to be served—really pleasant. But it’s not blessed. It’s not joyful. It’s not deeply sweet. It’s not awesomely satisfying. It’s not wonderfully gratifying. …The only way your soul is designed to be happy is to be receiving from the Lord and giving to others (An Unpopular Path to Happiness).
We are not left to our own resources to give spiritual help to others, nor are we called to be strong in ourselves. Jesus knows our weakness (Matthew 26:41). He remembers that we are dust (Psalm 103:14). He promised to send His Spirit to help us (John 16:7-11). He is glorified when, in weakness, we look to Him for strength. As we help one another, we can say with Paul,
But [Jesus] said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)
Who has God placed in your family or church family that needs help to grow in godliness?
Consider how God might use you to exhort them to “flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart” (2 Timothy 2:22).
Where do you see weakness in your own spiritual walk? Ask God to send mature believers to help you, and seek them out in your church family.
Candice Watters is the Fighter Verses editor. She is married to Steve Watters, Truth78's director of marketing and resource development. Together they wrote Start Your Family: Inspiration for Having Babies. The Watterses are members, with their four children, of Clifton Baptist Church in Louisville, KY.