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There is a difference between being a Christian in response to law and being the same in response to grace. The difference is often revealed in one’s contributions. Those who have become Christians on a legal basis in response to law-keeping often seek to give according to law. On the other hand, those who respond in their lives to the grace of God always give more.
In writing to Christians in Rome, the Holy Spirit, through the hand of Paul, reminded the Roman Christians, “You are not under law, but under grace” (Rm 6:14). If we consider this truth in reference to our contributions, a vast difference is seen between those who respond to legal giving according to law and those who give out of their gratitude for God’s grace.
For example, in order to extract contributions from the hands of those who live by law, preachers have often resorted to law in order to inspire guilt in the hearts of the “lawgivers.” The desired result is that at least a few coins are dropped into the collection plate. At the most, one will confine his or her giving to ten percent (the tithe). When such grudging givers do flip in a couple coins, or give as much as ten percent, they go on their way, having satisfied themselves that they have given according to law. And thus for another week they have the church leaders off their backs until another call for contributions is made again the following Sunday.
This law-obedient religious culture is more common than not. In order to inspire more contributions, therefore, what preachers often do is ignore the gospel of grace in order to bring the people under law. They take the people back under the tithing commandment of the Sinai law that was given exclusively to Israel as part of the Sinai law. In doing so, they have ignored grace for the sake of law, and thus have reversed what the Holy Spirit said to the Roman disciples. Instead of reminding the people that we are under grace and not under law, we often seek to inspire the contributors to give because of the tithing law of the Sinai law. In doing so, we forget motivating people to give in response to the grace of the cross. If we seek to inspire people to give, we must preach the gospel of grace, not law.
We must not forget that grace is far more powerful than law in reference to motivating people to live and give. To illustrate this fact, we would journey back to the Israelites when they were initially born as a nation at the foot of Mt. Sinai. It had been only three months since they were delivered as a culture of people from Egyptian captivity. But it was at Mt. Sinai that God signed a covenant with the people, and thus the nation of Israel was inaugurated into existence. Tithing was a part of the Sinai law that God gave as a condition for keeping the covenant. We must remember, however, that the people at the foot of Mt. Sinai did not initially give in obedience to the tithing law, for it was not yet given.
On the contrary, at the time when the people were truly grateful to God for His grace in delivering them out of Egyptian captivity, they were inspired to give. It was only by His grace that they stood free at Mt Sinai. They could not have delivered themselves. So when it came time to contribute, Moses did not quote a “tithing law” to them. He simply informed the people that there was a need to contribute to the construction of the tabernacle that God had commanded them to build. Grace took it from there.
It was grace that motivated the people to give, not law. The Israelites’ appreciation for their deliverance from captivity because of God’s grace was so powerful in their hearts that the builders of the tabernacle had a problem. They came to Moses and said “The people bring more than enough for the construction work [of the tabernacle] that the Lord commanded us to make” (Ex 36:5).
The Lord had commanded that the tabernacle and its furnishings be built. A specific task was to be completed, and contributions for the materials were subsequently needed. Then the people, because of their gratitude for being delivered from captivity by the grace of God, exceeded what God required. Now notice what the preacher Moses had to say to the people:
“Then Moses gave commandment and they cause it to be proclaimed throughout the camp, saying, “Let neither man nor woman make anymore work for the offering of the sanctuary” (Ex 36:6).
Now listen to this: “So the people were restrained from bringing more” (Ex 36:6). The people gave in order to fulfill a need, but they gave out of appreciation for God’s grace in delivering them from captivity. Their contribution was so bountiful that they needed to be restrained from giving. This is the power of grace over law in reference to contributions.
This same giving in appreciate for grace was clearly illustrated during Jesus’ ministry. It was revealed in the heart of a poor widow who had not yet experienced the grace of the sacrificial Son of God on the cross. Nevertheless, she spiritually grew past giving in fulfillment of law requirements. On a particular occasion, Jesus witnessed contributions that were being given into the temple treasury. He was standing and watching the people make their contributions. “He saw also a certain poor widow putting in two small copper coins” (Lk 21:2). As a testimony of her heart, He said of the poor widow, “She out of her poverty has put in all the livelihood that she had” (Lk 21:4). This contribution was certainly more than ten percent. It was one hundred percent. This is what grace will do to one’s heart in reference to giving. Sometimes we must have so little in order to appreciate how rich we are because of the grace of God.
Law will never move one to the point of giving one’s last two coins. When the traveling salesperson, Lydia, and the government employee, the jailor, responded to the gospel in the city of Philippi, the Holy Spirit gave a testimony as to how far grace will take one’s heart beyond law. Only a few days (At 16:12) after their obedience to the gospel, and when Paul went on to Thessalonica from Philippi, Paul later wrote of their mission giving: They sent “once and gain for my needs” (Ph 4:16).
The power of the grace of God at work in the hearts of the first Christians in Philippi did not stop with supporting only the mission efforts of Paul when he went on to Thessalonica. A few years later when there was a famine in Judea, the Philippians’ appreciation for the grace of God once again stirred them into action. Grace worked so powerfully in their hearts that they gave as those Israelites who responded overwhelmingly to give to the special need of building the tabernacle. Paul wrote the following to some forgetful, if not stingy Christians in Corinth who conveniently forgot to follow through with their promise to give to the saints in Judea: “Moreover, brethren [in Corinth], we make known to you the grace of God that has been given to the churches of Macedonia,” the province wherein the city of Philippi was located (2 Co 8:1).
As the poor widow who gave her last two coins, so also the Christians in Macedonia in whose hearts was also the spirit of grace. Paul continued, “In a great trial of affliction, the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty, abounded in the riches of their liberality” (2 Co 8:2).
There are some who ungratefully assume that they are too poor to contribute. They should make this excuse to the crucified Son of God who impoverished Himself of heaven in order to deliver us from the captivity of sin. Some in their knowledge of the sacrificial offering of the incarnate Son of God on the cross are still unwilling to give as the poor widow who had no knowledge of the extent to what the Son of God gave up for us.
Paul was not finished with the gratitude of the poor disciples of Macedonia. “For I testify that according to their ability [they gave], yes, and beyond their ability they gave of their own accord” (2 Co 8:3). We can only imagine what Paul felt when the poor Macedonian saints offered him their contributions to take to the suffering saints in Judea. We are sure he was somewhat reluctant to take their contributions.
The Macedonian Christians seem to have sensed that Paul was reluctant about taking their contributions for the famine victims of Judea. So they did something quite remarkable. Paul wrote of the incident that they were “begging us with much urgency that we would receive the gift and the fellowship of the ministering to the saints” (2 Co 8:4).
The saints in all of Macedonia knew that if they were to have fellowship with the worldwide body of Christ, they too had to give to the special need in Judea. And in their case, no one used his or her poverty as an excuse not to give to the general collection. They knew that they were individually poor. Nevertheless, they also knew that if they gave collectively, then the combined contributions of the universal church would be substantial. But everyone had to give individually. If they did not give individually, then they, as members of the body, would have had no fellowship with the universal body of Christ.
If we allow the grace of God to work in our hearts, then He will do through us “exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think according to the power [of the gospel of grace] that works in us” (Ep 3:20). Law will never get one to the limits to which grace will take us in reference to giving. A “tithing law” will get one grudgingly to ten percent. But grace will move one cheerfully to give his or her last two coins.
For those who walk in gratitude for the grace of God, the ten percent tithe is too restrictive. Unfortunately for some, because of the power of grace, they would rather stay under the law of the ten percent (tithe) and forget the grace of God that was revealed on the cross. It is more convenient to live under the restriction of the tithe (ten percent) than to be motivated beyond measure by grace.
When Paul wrote to the Philippians from prison, he reminded them of the example of the Son of God: “Let this mind be in you that was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God” (Ph 2:5,6). Subsequently, on His gospel journey to bring us into the loving arms of God, the Son of God “made Himself of no reputation” (Ph 2:7). He was made “in the likeness of men” in order to go to the cross for us in order that we go into the riches of eternal heaven (Ph 2:7,8). If the Son of God could do this for us, then certainly there is no limit to which we can go for Him. If we claim to be disciples of this God in the flesh who was nailed to an old rugged cross, then there is no excuse to withhold our resources from supporting His continued mission.
By the time Paul finished the revelation of Philippians 2 in reference to the awesome sacrifice of Jesus, he was surely overcome with emotion when he inscribed the following words: “But what things were gain to me [before I obey the gospel], those things I have counted loss for Christ” (Ph 3:7). The Holy Spirit allowed him to inscribe more emphatically: “I count them refuse [Gr. dung] so that I may gain Christ” (Ph 3:8).
We have too many among us who were baptized according to law, but did not respond to the gospel in appreciation for the grace of God that was revealed on the cross. Those who are disciples by law will often continue to walk according to law. Subsequently, they will often contribute as least as possible in order to comply only with law.
We believe that many Christians are still living according to law in this manner. They do so because they are reminded every Sunday by the preacher that they must tithe according to the Sinai law. But we must remind ourselves that Christians are no longer under the restrictions of the Sinai law (See Rm 7:1-7; Cl 2:14). Christians are under grace, not law. Therefore, when Christians live according to the gospel of grace, it is an entirely different way of life. Paul explained:
“For all things [in reference to the gospel] are for your sakes, so that the grace that is reaching many people may cause thanksgiving to abound to the glory of God” (2 Co 4:15).
If a Christian does not understand what Paul just said in this statement, then he or she is still living under law and not under grace. It is only when we live by the grace of God that we will be cheerful givers in giving beyond measure, just as the early Christians.
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The Godly Giver
Since money is an indication of our life, it is a part of our Christian living. We give our time to produce money, and thus, the money is a symbol of our time. When we contribute our money unselfishly, it is the same as giving our time unselfishly to a specific cause or individual. This was Paul’s point in Philippians 4:17 when he stated that the fruit of his labors went to the Philippians because they had supported him once and again when he preached in Thessalonica. They were blessed with the fruit because they did not personally reap from the contribution. Giving to the evangelist in his preaching somewhere in the world was what the Philippians were doing. They were not supporting a local preacher, or purchasing song books for themselves, or doing building repairs where they would personally benefit. Theirs was unselfish giving for something from which they would not receive personal benefit. We do not say this because it would be wrong to support something from which we receive personal benefit. It is simply a fact that in the New Testament the giving was directed to someone or some famine victims from which the givers did not receive any personally benefit. New Testament giving was always for someone else, not for self. It was as God gave unselfishly to us, we give unselfishly to others.
There are other financial responsibilities where contributors can share their time, and thus reap fruit from their sacrifices. These opportunities to produce fruit identify the nature of our discipleship, which is to say, they are opportunities to manifest our love. They are also manifestations of the nature of the church of our Lord.
A. Enrolled widows:
James identified “pure religion” with the statement, “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this, to take care of the orphans and widows in their affliction …” (Js 1:27). Taking care of orphans is simply being a part of the human race. There need be no commandments in reference to this ministry. James’ statement of James 1:27, therefore, is simply a declarative statement, not an imperative. But when it comes to taking care of widows, the Holy Spirit knew that the disciples needed some special instructions in order that their love not be abused by those women who might become Christians just to get on the payroll of the church.
In the early days of the existence of the church, one of the first points of identity of the church was a common distribution to widows. What is interesting to note is that we have this event recorded in the New Testament, not in reference to making this ministry a mandate, but simply as something that Christians did. In the case of Acts 6:1-7 there were some problems with the distribution. But we must keep in mind that as preaching the gospel to the lost was normal for a disciple, so was caring for widows.
But as this behavior of the church progressed throughout the first century, there was some abuse of the sharing love of the disciples in this matter. By the time Paul wrote the first letter to Timothy, the Holy Spirit had to lay down some qualifications for the church’s support of widows. When we study through these qualifications for a widow to be supported, it is interesting to note that the church does not have the responsibility of supporting all widows.
Paul wrote, “Honor widows who are truly widows” (1 Tm 5:3). The word “honor” here means to support financially, or to provide for all their needs. By using the word “truly,” Paul was instructing that the church must support only those widows who are defined to be true widows according to the instructions that he was about to give. The word “truly” excludes some widows who are not qualified to be supported according to the limitations that he gives. The church is not obligated to support every Christian widow. The following would be the defining qualifications that would warrant a widow to be supported by the church:
- A childless widow: “But if any widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to practice piety at home and to repay their parents, for this is good and acceptable before God” (1 Tm 5:4). But if a Christian widow does not have children or grandchildren, then she must be considered by the church to receive church support.
- Spiritually minded: “Now she who is truly a widow and desolate trusts in God and continues in supplications and prayers night and day” (1 Tm 5:5). The widow who is not continuing in supplications and prayers has no right to be supported by the church. If she is “desolate,” and she has no other means of support, then she is eligible for the support of the church. Being “desolate” would be subjective, and thus, the church must make a decision if a widow is truly desolate. If she is living in a mansion that was left to her by her husband, then she probably is not desolate. The church should ask her to sell the mansion, bring down her standard of living, and then she would be considered to be enrolled as a widow to be supported by the church. An older woman is not truly a desolate widow if she has a retirement plan or pension that will service her needs. A Christian widow must always remember what Paul added, “But she who lives in pleasure is dead while she lives” (1 Tm 5:6). The church is under no obligation to support a widow who is spiritually dead and unfaithful to the Lord.
- Children first: “But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his own household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tm 5:8). The word “household” in the first century context meant more than immediate children. A household included the immediate children, husband and wife, but also servants and relatives. What Paul was instructing in the above statement was that relatives first have the responsibility of taking care of the widows within the household. This would mean that a Christian family who had employed a Christian servant, has the responsibility of taking care of the widow of a Christian servant. If the head of a household does not take care of the widows of his household, then he is worse than the unbelievers who feel no obligation of taking care of widows. The heads of families cannot obligate the church to do that which is their responsibility. Therefore, if a head of a household is negligent in carrying out this responsibility, then it is the responsibility of the church to approach such a person, for he has denied the faith.
- The limitation of sixty: “Let no one be enrolled as a widow who is under sixty years old, having been the wife of one man” (1 Tm 5:9). No widow under sixty can apply for support from the church. If she is sixty and older, then she must have been the wife of one man, and thus not a polygamist. If she was a polygamist, then she was not living a faithful Christian life. It could be argued that she may have been a polygamist before she became a Christian, but remained with one man after her baptism. Thus the phrase, “having been the wife of one man” could apply only to the time she was a faithful Christian. We would assume that this would be the proper interpretation simply because some young woman may have lived a rebellious life in her younger years as an unbeliever, having more than one husband. Such a person may have been as the woman caught in adultery, to whom Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go. From now on sin no more” (Jn 8:11). If this woman went and sinned no more by having only one husband and living a faithful Christian life, then we would conclude that she would be enrolled as a widow when her husband died because she was faithful at the time of her husband’s death.
- A reputation for good works: Paul now lists a series of things that the church must follow in order to register a widow to receive support from the church. The prospective enrolled widow must have …
… a reputation for good works; if she has brought up children, if she has shown hospitality to strangers, if she has washed the saints’ feet, if she has relieved the afflicted, if she has diligently followed every good work (1 Tm 5:10).
From what Paul states here as qualifications for support from the church, we would assume that a problem prevailed where Timothy was located. The problem was probably in the area of widows of the community lining up for support from the only people in town who took care of widows. Since it was the obligation of the church to support widows, the word got out to everyone in the community that the local church puts widows on a pension plan. In all these qualifications, one point is very clear: If a widow has not been a faithful Christian for some time, then she has no right to be supported by the church. In other words, those widows who would seek to be members of the church in order to be supported by the church have no hope of support. The church is under no obligation to take care of any widow who has not become known for being a faithful servant to the saints.
6. No young widows need to apply: “But refuse the younger widows …” (1 Tm 5:11). If a widow is under the age of sixty, then she is not to be supported by the church. Because of the temptations that face young widows, Paul said, “I desire that the younger widows marry, bear children, manage the house …” (1 Tm 5:14). Paul’s qualification of one being a “young widow” would be a woman who still had the ability to bear children. This would be a young Christian woman who was relatively young, and thus had the opportunity to marry and bear children.
Paul’s final instructions concerning the care of widows is significant. “If any believing man or woman has widows, let them assist them, and do not let the church be burdened, so that it may relieve those who are truly widows” (1 Tm 5:16). A Christian man has the responsibility of taking care of his widowed mother. A younger single Christian woman also has the responsibility of taking care of her widowed mother. If those of the household do not support the widows of the household, then the church would possibly have to neglect those who were truly widows. This is the organic body of Christ functioning properly in order to make sure that every faithful widow is cared for in the fellowship of love.
B. Supported elders:
In reference to the support of elders, Paul wrote, “Let the elders who direct well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching” (1 Tm 5:17). This statement needs little explanation. “Double honor” refers to double pay. When Paul said in a previous verse of this chapter, “honor widows …,” he meant the same thing as he means here. Reference is to support, not giving respect, though the young are taught to respect their elders. We say this because some have tried to excuse themselves from supporting elders by interpreting Paul’s use of the word “honor” in this text to mean giving great respect. Such would be an inconsistent interpretation, and in being inconsistent, one might neglect his responsibility of supporting worthy elders.
Paul’s instructions to support elders is based on the Old Testament principle, “You will not muzzle the ox that treads out the grain,” and “The laborer is worthy of his wages” (1 Tm 5:18). Paul explains two worthy works of those elders (shepherds) who should be supported by the church. These are those elders who choose to work in the area of preaching the gospel to the lost and those who seek to teach the saved. However, he uses the word “especially” to refer to the specific ministries of some elders. In general, the elder is to be supported, but specifically, those who labor in preaching and teaching must be supported if they do not have any other livelihood.
The elder must be supported with “double” wages. If one truly understands the nature of a godly elder, then he will have no difficulty understanding what is meant in this statement. Godly elders are with the people. And when the people are in need, the elder reaches into his own pockets. A godly elder will never consume upon his own lusts, and thus will always die a poor man. The church has the responsibility of ministering to the poor through the elders who are with the sheep, ministering aid when aid is needed. Worldly minded and greedy people have no understanding of what is meant in the double pay of elders. And thus, the church should under no circumstances allow the twisted minds of greedy people to discourage the church from obeying the mandate of the Holy Spirit in reference to the double pay of elders. When elders are ministering in growing the church through the preaching of the gospel, and edifying the converts through teaching the word of God, then they must be encouraged to continue their work through double pay lest they give themselves into poverty.
C. Concerning orphans:
Outside the statement of James 1:27, there are no instructions in the New Testament concerning the care of orphans. As previously recognized, there is a great deal of information concerning the support of widows. In the past chapters, we have studied at length the support of evangelists who go forth to preach the gospel. There is also a great deal of information in the New Testament concerning the contribution of funds to those brethren who are suffering from a natural disaster. We have the instructions of the previous point in reference to the support of elders. But there is nothing about the support of orphans. Nevertheless, James stated that pure religion is identified by people who take care of orphans.
Since there are no instructions concerning orphans, then we can make only one conclusion. Taking care of orphans is simply a natural thing to do as a citizen of the human race. There need be no instructions, no commandments. To turn away from an orphan is to deny the very principle of humanity.
But one might reconsider the context of James 1:27. In this chapter, we have reviewed the church’s responsibility of taking care of widows. However, the church does not have the responsibility of taking care of all widows. Only those widows who have been faithful Christians are to be listed for support. We would not come to this conclusion in reference to orphans, for orphans would have no life history of service that would qualify them for church support as the widows. We could conclude, therefore, that when James spoke of orphans, he spoke of any orphan. It is simply the responsibility of Christians to do the best they can in taking care of orphans. No qualification is needed on the part of the orphan in order to be supported. Taking care of orphans is a way by which we can determine if we are still citizens of the human race.
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Giving With Purpose
If we could learn anything from the negligent Achaians, specifically those in Corinth, it would be to put our money where our mouth is. They at first had good intentions to do what was right in reference to contributing to the famine victims of Judea. However, their performance certainly lacked. It lacked so much that it took the Holy Spirit, through the inspired mind of the apostle Paul, to correct their financial dysfunction. In His instructions to correct their procrastination, the Holy Spirit gave some points that we must seriously consider in order that we too not fall victim to the same procrastination.
Among all the instructions that were given in the letters of 1 & 2 Corinthians, there are some points that will help us to get on with getting the job done in reference to our contributions. If any of these points are ignored, our contributions and collections for any ministry of the body of Christ will certainly be an indication of our lack of concern for God’s work through the body, or at least our procrastination in doing what we have promised to do.
A. Purpose our contribution:
Paul instructed, “Let each one give according as he purposes in his heart …” (2 Co 9:7). Contributing to the work of God is not something that is done nonchalantly. It is determined before the act of giving actually takes place. The Greek word for “purposes” is proaireomai. This is the only place in the New Testament where this word is used. It seems that the Holy Spirit looked throughout the Greek dictionary in order to choose a specific word to enjoin upon Christians a life-style of intended sacrificial giving. The word means “to prefer,” “to choose,” or “to purpose with considerable intent.” The passage could be translated, “Let every one give as he has determined before hand.”
The use of the Greek word indicates that one should make a heart-determined plan to make his contributions. When one is purposing in his heart, he is forming his life around his contributions. The contributions, therefore, are the indication of one who has the Lord’s work at heart. When one has given his heart to the Lord, then his offerings are intentional, directed and planned. There is no sporadic action on his part. On the contrary, with great consideration, he sets aside that which he intends to give. There is no “spur of the moment” contribution with the one who has purposed in his heart.
Because we are to plan beforehand what we intend to give, then purposing our contributions is a sign of faithful discipleship. Making plans as to how we will return to God that which is His is simply the behavioral pattern of a faithful disciple. If one is not giving anything, then certainly his discipleshp of Jesus would be questioned. But in the context of Paul’s instructions concerning planned giving, we might question whether one truly has the heart of a disciple if he is not planning his giving. Disciples plan to give, for they understand that giving is a part of being a disciple of the One who gave us all. As the Father planned to give His Son before the creation of the world, so Christians must plan their giving before the collection is taken by the church.
B. Promise the purposed giving.
Paul introduced his instructions on making a purposed contribution with the words, “Therefore, I thought it necessary to exhort the brethren so that they go before to you and make up beforehand your previously promised generous contribution …” (2 Co 9:5). What he was saying to the Corinthians was that they needed to fulfill what they had promised in reference to a special contribution for the famine victims of Judea. For a variety of reasons, they had fudged on their promise. And since he was on his way to them with some of the brethren from Macedonia, Paul was writing in order that they not be embarrassed about making promises and not keeping them (See 2 Co 9:3,4).
The Greek word for “previously promised” in 2 Corinthians 9:5 is prokatangello. The word means “to announce beforehand.” A year before, the disciples of Achaia made a promise to give to the collection that was being made for the famine victims in Judea (2 Co 9:2). They had made a public declaration that they too would give to the need, which promise Paul had announced to other disciples in order to spur them on to likewise contribute. In Paul’s instructions concerning what they had promised, there are a great number of lessons to be learned concerning contributions. Read carefully what he instructed them in 2 Corinthians 8:10,11:
And in this I give advice: For this is advantageous for you who were the first a year ago not only to do, but also to desire to do this thing [contribution]. But now finish doing it so that as there was a readiness to desire it, so there may be also a completion out of what you have.
Desire without completion means nothing. Talk without the financial walk of what one has promised manifests a lack of integrity. We must commend the Achaians for their desire. But desire means nothing if there is no performance. At least the Achaian disciples were better than the person who makes no commitment at all to give, or the one who says he just cannot afford to make a promise.
The disciple who has given his heart to the Lord, has also given his promise to do the business of the Lord. Before one becomes a disciple, therefore, he must seriously consider how he will purpose in his heart that which he is going to give to the Lord, as well as, make a promise that he will complete his planned giving. Jesus reminds all of us,
For which one of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it? Otherwise, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all who see it begin to mock him. (Lk 14:28,29).
C. Perform the promise:
The Achaians had the desire. They evidently made a promise of giving a substantial amount, for Paul used their promised contribution as an example for the Macedonians (See 2 Co 9:1,2). But now they had to perform, as Paul wrote, “But now finish doing it …” (2 Co 8:11). The Greek word that Paul used here is from the root word epiteleo which means “to bring to completion.” What Paul was now asking of the Achaians was that they execute that which they had previously purposed and promised a year before.
The contribution about which Paul was writing was a special contribution for a special need. We have discovered that people will often do well in making such contributions. In all their dysfunction as members of the body of Christ, the disciples in Achaia at least responded to the special needs of those who were suffering from a famine in Judea. We cannot fault their desire to help, though their performance somewhat lacked. Nevertheless, they did make the contribution. They purposed in their hearts to get the job done, and with some encouragement from the Holy Spirit through Paul, the deed was done. If disciples make such promises today, but procrastinate, then the leaders need to be teaching the exhortations of 1 & 2 Corinthians.
We feel it is also significant to mention that when the Achaians made their promise to give the special contribution for the special need of famine victims, they were probably less than five years old in the faith. We mention this because we know of disciples who are decades old in the faith, and yet, they have never been challenged to make a special contribution to a need outside their local area. They have never given to mission efforts outside their local area. They have never given to any disaster relief needs outside their local area. Their contributions have usually been for those things they could personally enjoy. Consequently, the selfish motive for their contributions has led them to never being blessed for their contributions. Giving to our “building fund” has its selfish ulterior motives. Giving to increase our comforts in worship is not sacrificial giving.
The Achaians had no New Testaments in their possession to read these instructions as we have today. We might fault them concerning their delay in performing the deed of unselfish contributions, but we cannot fault them on their response to the instructions of the Holy Spirit to contribute to needs outside their local area, and thus to something that they would not personally enjoy. Now we have no excuse if we have failed to purpose in our hearts to give. We have no excuse because we can simply pick up a New Testament and read the instructions that moved the Corinthians to get the job done. The godly giver seeks to live after the One to whom he has given his life. He reads with interest every instruction concerning that must be done to follow the God who owns everything. There is thus only joy in the heart of the one who seeks to be as Jesus who gave all for us.
When discussing the sin of covetousness, we must review the life of one who lived in total contrast to a covetousness life-style. Gaius was an unselfish disciple who understood the purpose of discipleship, and thus, through the apostle John’s letter, the Holy Spirit gave him an overwhelming testimony that he was walking in the truth by his well-doing sacrifices to partner with evangelists in the preaching of the gospel to the world.
Romans 10:14 explains the mandate of Gaius’ obedience. This statement of Paul explains the organic function of the body in reference to the financial partnership that members have with those who go forth to preach the gospel. It explains the well-doing of Gaius.
How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how will they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher?
The sending forth and support of preachers is a function of the body of Christ to take the gospel into all the world. This is what the body does. When this function is either ignored by the members of the body, as in the case of the Corinthians, or disrupted by dominating leadership, as in the case of Diotrephes, then the body is financially dysfunctional. In the context of John’s letter to Gaius, if this responsibility is ignored by any individual Christian, then that Christian is dysfunctional in reference to his or her responsibilies to send forth preachers to preach the gospel to the lost. Such was the case with the disciples in the area where Gaius lived. The problem was so grave that Gaius may have been in doubt concerning his financial responsibilities to support preachers. For some reason, he wrote to John concerning one who was disrupting the organic function of the body in reference to what Paul stated in Romans 10:14,15.
John subsequently wrote a comforting letter to Gaius in order to reassure him that what he was doing in supporting evangelists was walking in the truth. “For I rejoiced greatly when brethren came and testified of the truth that is in you, just as you walk in truth” (3 Jn 3). In this context, Gaius’ walking in truth was his financial support of the preaching of the gospel. From what John said of Gaius, therefore, we would conclude that one is not walking in the truth unless he is doing that which Gaius was doing in supporting preachers to go forth to preach the gospel.
Supporting traveling evangelists was a faithful work and walk in the truth. “Beloved, you do faithfully whatever you do for the brethren and especially for strangers” (3 Jn 5). Those who had been helped by Gaius on their journeys reported his faithful work to other disciples wherever they went. The extent of Gaius’ hospitality of those who came by his way is revealed in the fact that some were not formerly known by Gaius. They were strangers to him. But the fact that they were preaching the gospel was reason enough to warrant his support. John commended Gaius, “… who have borne witness of your love before the church” (3 Jn 6).
Gaius’ support of the traveling evangelists was a manifestation of his love, and thus, in John’s statement of 3 John 6, one definition of Christian love is identified to be one’s support of those who go forth to preach the gospel. Gaius’ godliness was revealed in his giving. “You will do well to support them [the preachers] on their journey in a manner worthy of God” (3 Jn 6). In order to be worthy of God, individual Christians as Gaius, should support those who are going forth to preach the gospel. The other side of the situation is also true. If one does not support the preaching of the gospel through the support of preachers who go forth, then he is not worthy of God. He does not know God, for God is love, and love manifests itself in the support of those who go forth to preach the gospel for God’s love of the world through Jesus (Jn 3:16).
The word “support” in 3 John 6 comes from the Greek word propempo. It means to set one forward on his journey with whatever it takes to get the evangelist on to his next location. The word assumes, therefore, that the evangelist is not staying at home. He is gone! He has gone into all the world to preach the gospel. The context of John’s discussion of 3 John is not the passage to be used for those who want to stay at home, and yet be supported according to John’s instructions. There are other passages that teach the church’s responsibility to support their teachers (See Gl 6:6).
In the evangelistic function of the early church, there were evangelists going throughout the world preaching the gospel. Paul, for example, sought to go on to Spain after he visited the disciples in Rome. When he wrote to the disciples in Rome, he hoped to be supported by them in his travel on to Spain. “… whenever I make my journey into Spain, I hope to see you in my journey and to be supported on my way there by you …” (Rm 15:24).
In 3 John, John explained the reason behind Paul’s statement in Romans 10:14. It is the responsibility of every disciple to do what Gaius was doing in supporting those who would go forth to preach the gospel. In 3 John 7,8, John gives three reasons why each individual member of the body should do this.
- The evangelists went forth to preach Christ. If we would claim to be “of Christ” (Christian), then it is our obligation to support those who preach the One in whom we believe.
- The evangelists did not take contributions from the unbelievers. We should support evangelists in order that they and their families can live, and not bring shame upon the gospel message by living in need of material sustenance (1 Co 9:14).
- We must be fellow workers for the truth that the evangelists preach. We join in with those evangelists who go forth by supporting them on their journeys. We partake of the fruit of their labors when we partner with them through our giving of support (Ph 4:17).
The preceding evangelistic function of the body was disrupted by one man in the vicinity of Gaius. The case here is similar to that in Corinth. There was a group in Corinth who were puffed up and arrogant, and subsequently hindered the Corinthians from supporting Paul, whom they accused of all sorts of nonsense. The same happened with Gaius when Diotrephes, who was puffed up, disrupted the financial function of the body by slandering the evangelists and John with malicious words. One of the evils in which some involve themselves in order not to support a certain preacher is to make slanderous statements to others of the church about the preacher.
The financial disruption caused by Diotrephes was enshrined in one simple statement made by John: “Diotrephes, who loves to be first among them, does not receive us” (3 Jn 9). Diotrephes did not receive and send forth even John, the apostle of love. In his actions to dominate a group, or area of house groups, he disrupted the function of the organic body that was explained by Paul in Romans 10:14,15. Gaius could not send forth the beautiful feet of those who preached the gospel because Diotrephes wanted to dominate the church, and thus, present himself to be first among the disciples.
John’s letter to Gaius was meant to encourage Gaius during this unfortunate time of financial disruption of his evangelistic outreach through the support of evangelists. “Beloved, do not follow what is evil, but what is good. He who does good is from God. He who does evil has not seen God” (3 Jn 11). That which Diotrephes was doing was evil. If Gaius submitted to what Diotrephes was trying to impose on the church, then he would also be doing evil and not walking in truth. The Holy Spirit takes a very dim view of anyone who would disrupt the financial support of those who go forth to preach the gospel.
When any member of the body of Christ disrupts the outreach of the body, then that member is a cancerous evil. His behavior will lead to the death of the body in any particular region where the body is not allowed to preach the gospel. If the other members of the body allow a dominant member to disrupt the evangelistic outreach of the body, then they have fallen victim to the cancerous evil of the autocratic leader. We enable evil when we say nothing about these matters, nor refuse to confront the evil of those who would dominate our desire to send forth those who preach.
When the leaders of a group of disciples do not allow a traveling evangelist to speak to the members of the body about the function of the body in evangelism, then they have fallen victim to the cancerous evil of Diotrephetic leadership. When a preacher blocks the coming of a traveling evangelist to speak to the members of the body, then he has become a cancerous evil to the evangelistic function of the body of Christ. When churches as a whole are not receiving and sending forth those who preach the gospel, then they are indeed dead with a cancerous evil. When John wrote to Gaius about Diotrephes’ hindering of the evangelistic financial function of the body, He wanted all of us to know that such is evil, and should be avoided.
We must not ignore or consider lightly the Holy-Spirit inspired words of John in reference to the behavior of Diotrephes in his efforts to block the evangelistic function of the body. Diotrephes was hindering the function of the body to preach the gospel by not receiving and sending forth those who grow the body into all the world. His actions were contrary to the existence of the church, and thus, his actions were evil. It is for this reason that every disciple, as Gaius, must be assured that receiving and sending evangelists is the function of every member of the body of Christ. Paul concluded his letter to the dysfunctional Corinthians in this matter: “Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test your own selves. Do you not know your own selves, that Jesus Christ is in you, unless indeed you are disqualified?” (2 Co 13:5). An old Persian proverb is, “What I kept I lost. What I spent I had. What I gave I have.” Someone wrote, “If you want to be rich, give; if you want to be poor, grasp, if you want abundance, scatter, if you want to be needy, hoard.”
(Be sure and research this subject in the …
Biblical Research Library, Book 22, Chapter 11
The Sin Of Covetousness
Balaam met death because he was tempted with covetousness. He sold his gift for money, and thus paid the ultimate price. Covetousness is the desire of those whose minds are focused on the things of this world. When Paul wrote, “Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth,” he had the sin of covetousness in mind (Cl 3:2). Every time the collection plate comes by, many people have a brief struggle with the sin of covetousness. The emotion that encourages one to hold back in his contributions is the feeling of having to give up that which one can consume on his own lusts.
A. Definition of Covetousness:
The Greek word of covetousness is pleonexia. It is a word that has a wide variety of equivalents in the English language. It can mean greediness, avarice, a desire to take more than one’s share, or a desire to take possession of that which belongs to another. Those who do not give according to how they have prospered are certainly covetous disciples. They hold back on giving according to their prosperity because they realize that they are relinquishing the right to consume upon themselves that which they release to the church.
Throughout the Bible there are is a variety of subpoints that fall under the definition of covetousness.
1. Covetousness is a desire to possess more than one has. This was the problem of the rich man about whom Jesus referred in the parable of Luke 12:13-21. Jesus introduced His illustration of the covetousness of the rich man by saying, “Take heed and beware of all covetousness, for a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things that he possesses” (Lk 12:15). The fact that Jesus cautioned the disciples about the sin of covetousness should be a warning to everyone that this sin can creep into our lives, bringing with it a desire to possess the things of this world. In the preceding statement, Jesus helped us to examine ourselves. We are covetous if we think that life is to be focused on possessions. Jesus’ explanation of covetousness is the love of possessions.
2. Covetousness is a desire to acquire material things in an evil manner. It is the desire to acquire through unfair, dishonest or unscrupulous means the material things of this world. Because of the temptations that come with covetousness, Paul reminded the Thessalonian Christians, “For neither at any time did we use flattering words, as you know, nor a cloak of covetousness …” (1 Th 2:5). Since his focus in life was not to possess the things of this world, his relationship with the Thessalonians did not have the ulterior motive of taking possession of their things. But this could not be said of some of the shepherds of Israel when the nation was in a state of backsliding from the Lord. God said of them, “For with their mouth they show much love, but their heart goes after their covetousness” (See Ez 33:30-32).
3. Covetousness is the love of money. This was the sin of the religious leaders of Israel during the time of Jesus. the Holy Spirit stated that the Pharisees were “lovers of money” (Lk 16:14). In the context of his statements in 2 Timothy 3, Paul seems to indicate that covetous religious leaders would arise within the body of Christ. “Know this also, that in the last days perilous times will come. For men will be lovers of themselves, covetous …” (2 Tm 3:1,2). We can understand why Paul was so cautious about this sin. Because of the covetous world in which he preached, he worked with his own hands to support his needs, even paying for everything that he ate. Such behavior seems to indicate that he wanted to shun all appearances of covetousness (2 Th 3:8). He reminded the elders of Ephesus that when he was among them that he “coveted no man’s silver or gold or clothes” (At 20:33). Peter also knew that covetous brethren would take advantage of the church. When in a state of apostasy, Peter warned, “And through covetousness they will with deceptive works exploit you” (2 Pt 2:3).
B. The curse of covetousness:
Paul wrote, “For the love of money is the root of all evils, by which some coveting after have strayed from the faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows” (1 Tm 6:10). No greater truth could have been said concerning what seems to be our natural desire to acquire and possess. This urge can be so strong that it can lead one to great dishonesty and the destruction of one’s integrity. It is not the money in and of itself that is evil. It is the love of the money that corrupts the very soul of a man. It is for this reason that the Bible is filled with exhortations to guard oneself from the sin of covetousness:
- “You will not covet your neighbor’s house. You will not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s” (Ex 20:17).
- “Incline my heart to Your testimonies and not to covetousness” (Ps 119:36).
- “He who is greedy for gain troubles his own house …” (Pv 15:27).
- “Woe to those who join house to house, who lay field to field until there is no place, so that they may be placed alone in the midst of the land” (Is 5:8).
- “Woe to him who increases that which is not his …” (Hk 2:6).
- “But now I have written to you not to associate with anyone who is called a brother if he is a fornicator, or covetous …” (1 Co 5:11).
- “But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints” (Ep 5:3).
C. The consequences of covetousness:
The insidious nature of covetousness is that the one who is covetous often has no idea that he is such. To consume upon one’s own desires has simply become the culture of his life and the life of his neighbors around him. Such people often judge themselves as nice people, for they are not drunkards or thieves. They are simply trying to maintain a life-style similar to their neighbors. They often present themselves as good community leaders, and often present before the church a cloak of piety and spirituality. They are faithful in being with the disciples for prayer and Bible study. But when the collection is made, they reveal their covetous culture. This is the one about whom John wrote. “In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: Whoever does not practice righteousness is not from God, nor the one who does not love his brother” (1 Jn 3:10). And how does one know he loves his brother. John further explained, “We know that we have passed from death to life because we love the brethren” (1 Jn 3:14). But how does one know that he has passed from death to life, and thus, loves his brother? John explains, “But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?” (1 Jn 3:17).
Now we understand why Paul was so hard on the Corinthians in reference to their fufilling of their promise to help their brothers in famine in Judea. But in reference to his personal needs, he reminded them, “And when I was present with you and in need, I was not a burden to anyone …” (2 Co 11:9). Paul simply suffered alone, but later in this and other statements, shammed the Corinthians for their lack of love toward him because they did not help him in his need. Their lack of care for him when he was in physical need revealed a flaw in their understanding of the concept taught in Galatians 6:6. They were thus not yet perfected in righteousness.
When we are covetous, we will not feel the need of those in need, and thus respond with a heart of love. In the context of the preceding words of John about those who would not manifest their love of the brethren by making sure that physical needs are covered, John concluded, “Whoever hates his brother is a murder. And you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him” (1 Jn 3:15).
Sins of the flesh as drunkenness are clearly evident to all. But the sin of covetousness can reside undetected in the heart of one for years without being clearly manifested. As the rich consume upon their lust, and give only a token when the collection plate is passed, they can hide behind the cloak of a secret contribution. When the poor widow gave all her livelihood, it was known to all. But when the rich gave, their comparatively large contribution was actually a cloak that disguised their covetousness.
Liberal giving is the very core of Christianity. It is the revelation of the heart of the one who truly knows God, and thus seeks to be godly. One has simply deceived himself if he thinks that token contributions can identify him with the God who loved the world so much that He gave His only begotten Son for our sins.
It is the curse of legalism that allows the covetous person to hide behind his token contributions (Lk 21:1-4). The legalist deceives himself into thinking that since he gave something, then he has fulfilled the law of giving. But he has conveniently created a religion after this own covetous desires. He has failed to see that we are not under a law of tithing percentages, but under a new commandment of love that moves us to give as we have been given to by the God who owns all things. Unfortunately, the legalist will go down in condemnation crying out that he gave, but never realizing that he did not give himself wholly over to the Lord. His tokens will take him into total destruction from the presence of the One who so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.
D. Character of the covetous:
The covetous person is actually denying the one true and living God. He does so because he substitutes another god for God. In the city of Ephesus, Paul was confronted by the adherents of an idolatrous religion (See At 19). Theirs was a religion of idols, and idolatry is creating a god after one’s own image and own desires. Therefore, when Paul later wrote to the Ephesian Christians, he identified the nature of the covetous person. He wrote that the covetous man “is an idolater” (Ep 5:5). The covetous man is an idolater because covetousness “is idolatry” (Cl 3:5). Covetousness is worship of the creation over the Creator. It is elevating the created things of this world above the One who created the world. Jesus explained,
“No man can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth” (Mt 6:24).
David said of those who made idols, “Those who make them are like unto them [idols], as is everyone who trusts in them” (Ps 115:8). The one who idolizes the things of this world are like the things of this world. They are worldly.
A servant is of no value to his master if he serves another master, while pretending to be totally dedicated to his master. When one becomes the servant of wealth, then he cannot be totally committed to God. Not only does the covetous man trouble his own house, he troubles the house of God (See Pv 15:27; 1 Tm 3:15). In the case of Achan, covetousness caused the death of his entire family (Ja 7:21). He saw; he coveted; he took; he died. The idolatrous man can never give his entire devotion to God. “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Mt 6:21).
It seems that the heart of Demas was on the things of this world which he loved. Paul urged Timothy, “Be diligent to come to me soon, for Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world …” (2 Tm 4:10). As Demas, and Gehazi, many good men have fallen to the idolatrous nature of covetousness (See 2 Kg 5:22-25).
The sin of covetousness became so grave in Israel that the princes of Israel were known for their bribes by which they exploited the people, even to the point of shedding innocent blood to receive them (Ez 22:12). We must never underestimate the sin of covetousness. We must never fail to identify such as sin. And considering all that is stated in the word of God about the sin, we would do well to be on guard in our lives that we do not deceive ourselves that this sin cannot turn us away from God. Covetousness leads to the destruction of the spiritual life we have in Christ. Because it is a relentless curse to the soul of the Christian, it eventually turns one into a hard-hearted person who is void of empathy for the needs of his fellow man.
Through our obedience to the gospel, we have “escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust” (2 Pt 1:4). It is our struggle to stay away from lusts that lead to spiritual death. Those disciples who would persist in their way of covetousness seriously challenge themselves through personal studies of the eternal sacrifice that Jesus made for us (See 1 Co 5:9-11). Those who with smooth and fair speech prey upon the disciples for gain, must also be challenged (2 Th 3:6). God is serious about the sin of covetousness because such is a character that is totally contrary to the godly nature of Christianity.
“For this you know, that no fornicator, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no man deceive you with empty works, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience” (Ep 5:5,6).
The covetous person needs to remember the words of Jesus that were spoken in reference to the rich man who was concerned only about laying up riches on earth for himself: “So is he who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God” (Lk 12:21). Remember, covetousness comes to light when the collection plate is passed. One member boasted, “If I had US$1,000 I would give half to the church.” His fellow brother sitting beside him said, “What if you had two pigs?” The man responded, “That’s not fair. You know I have two pigs.”
E. Repentance from covetousness:
We must remember what the Holy Spirit said of the religious Pharisees. “They were lovers of money” (Lk 16:14). And when religious people who are lovers of money are denied their money by the preaching of the gospel, trouble is unleashed on the preachers of the gospel.
1. Simon the sorcerer loved, but lost his money. When Philip went to Samaria, he encountered one who was not unlike some preachers today. Simon was a preacher who was well known throughout the city of Samaria. For a long time he had “practiced magic and astonished the people of Samaria, claiming that he was someone great” (At 8:9). As we said, he was not unlike some preachers today who like to stand before the people with great pomp. And in order to guarantee his right to stand before the people, he worked his “miracles,” which were only magical tricks. And we assume that he was known for the two things that Solomon said would identify the leech: (1) Give! (2) Give! (Pv 30:15).
Simon certainly gained a great deal of money from his “miracle services.” He had the respect of the people he fooled. Luke recorded, “They all, from the least to the greatest, gave heed to him, saying, ‘This man is the great power of God’” (At 8:10). The people gave heed to the “miracle working” preacher “because he had for a long time astonished them with his magical arts” (At 8:11). But then there came to town a preacher of truth. Philip showed up with the message of the gospel. “But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women” (At 8:12). The religious profiteering of the “miracle” working preacher was shut down.
But when religious profiteers are shut down, they do not go down peacefully. Simon lost his source of income. Nevertheless, the text says that “Simon himself also believed … and was baptized” (At 8:13). But when he saw the miracles that were done by the apostles, he possibly saw another “angle” by which he could get back into the religious money-making business. So “when Simon saw that through the laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Spirit was given, he offered them money” (At 8:18). Simon saw where he presumed he could cash in on the religious business of miracle working (At 8:19). But notice what Peter said to the covetous preacher Simon, “Your money perish with you, because you thought that the gift of God could be purchased with money” (At 8:20). The reason Simon sought to financially invest in the “laying-on-of-hands” business was because of what Peter pronounced was in his heart. “Your heart is not right in the sight of God” (At 8:21). Peter identified the problem when he said to Simon, “You are full of bitterness and in the bondage of iniquity” (At 8:23). Bitterness originates out of a heart of one who craves something so much, that when he loses it, he is bitter. Simon lost his position as a “miracle worker” among the people, and thus, he lost his source of great financial wealth. Though he was baptized, he was still in the “bondage of iniquity.” When covetous preachers lose their source of income when their iniquity is discovered, their heart of iniquity will move them to lash out with all sorts of nonsense.
2. Demetrius loved and lost his religious money-making business. In the city of Ephesus, another religious profiteer was endangered by the preaching of the gospel. The occasion was the conversion of people away from idolatry to Christianity. The mass conversion was so great that those who were into the idol-making business became somewhat disturbed. “Then about that time there arose a great disturbance concerning the Way” (At 19:23). The problem was that “a certain man named Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver shrines for Artemis, was bringing no little profit to the craftsmen” (At 19:24). So Demetrius called the craftsmen together and said, “Sirs, you know that by this craft we have our wealth” (At 19:25). The problem was that a preacher of the gospel came to town and said “that gods made with hands are not gods” (At 19:26). And so the market for idol gods took a hit, and the wealth of the idol makers had a bad day on the stock market. Consequently, Demetrius sought to stir up opposition against Paul by appealing to their belief in the idol god Artemis [Diana], that she was in trouble of being “dethroned from her magnificence” if this is continued (At 19:27). So what happens when the wealth of religiously covetous people is endangered? There is mass confusion and opposition against those who preach the truth (See At 19:28-41). One must never underestimate the culture of religious covetousness.
The repentant journey out of covetousness is painful. Sometimes it is so painful that one becomes, as Simon, bitter. To some, as Demetrius, wealth is far more important than truth, and thus, people as Demetrius are willing to stir up a riot against those who endanger their religious profiteering. But for those who seek to serve God, these are those who are willing to endure the pain in order to gain the crown. Those who are wealthy, and who bring their standard of living down for the needs of others, will certainly be blessed with great riches in eternal glory. We must keep in mind that money cannot give itself away. It takes a sincere and godly heart to do that.
It was stated of the sons of Eli that “they did not know the Lord” (1 Sm 2:12). The fact that they did not know the Lord was revealed in what they did to the people of the Lord. The sons of Eli were taking advantage of the people concerning that which was required by the Lord in reference to sacrifices. The people were to come to the Lord with their sacrifices, but the sons of Eli wanted more than what the law required for the support of the priests. They were greedy, and thus, they took advantage of what the people were obligated to do (See 1 Sm 2:12-17). The Holy Spirit thus recorded of them, “Therefore, the sin of the young men was very great before the Lord, for men abhorred the offering of the Lord” (1 Sm 2:17). That which the people should willing do, that is, give their sacrifices, they despised because the two priests, the sons of Eli, were taking advantage of their offerings. When preachers take advantage of that which the people of God are obligated to do to serve the Lord, then the preachers are doing an evil thing. They “do not know the Lord.”
Those whose purpose it is to preach for money are usually, according to Solomon, identified by two things. “The leech has two daughters, crying, ‘Give! Give!’” (Pv 30:15). We can know those who are constantly after the contribution with their hands out. They cry from pulpits across the land, “Give! Give!” They continually, as the sons of Eli, stand before the people and cry out for the offerings that the people are obligated to give. The people, therefore, “abor the offering to the Lord.”
The supporters are not always the problem when it comes to the function of money in order to propagate the gospel. We live in a world of Balaamite preachers who take advantage of the innocence of the sheep of God. They abuse the obligation of the church to give their offerings. These profiteers often drive in fine new vehicles before the poor, promising that “God will bless you, too if you will give to the Lord [actually, ‘give to me’].” Their mansions on earth reveal that their minds are on the things of this world.
When Paul was in Corinth, he did not take support from the Corinthians. He was planning to visit them again after he wrote the second letter. But even on this visit he said he would not take their money (2 Co 11:9). It seems that the Corinthians in general had a tendency to accuse people of teaching for money because there were so many profiteers in the Corinthians society. If this were not a problem in the Corinthian society, then Paul would have willingly accepted their support on his visit after writing the second letter. But Paul did not want to be accused of being a Balaamite preacher, as so many are today in the world of Christendom. We would advise that preachers gain some wisdom from Paul on this matter. Since it is often the case that immature brethren are too quick to accuse preachers of preaching for money, then preachers should be cautioned in reference to the money of the offerings of the brethren. Preachers must never forget that the One they preach had only one robe and no owned place to lay His head at night (See Mt 8:20).
Unfortunately, there are too many preachers in the religious world who are like Balaam. Balaam was minding his own business, doing the work of God. He was known for his work throughout Pethor. But Balak, king of Moab, had another agenda for Balaam. He had money and a list of sermons he wanted preached to a people he feared. He was afraid of the blessed people of God, the Israelites, who were coming his way (Nm 22:3,12). He thus sought for a preacher to hire to carry out his agenda against Israel.
Balak had the support, the sermons to be preached, and the audience to whom he wanted them delivered (Nm 22:5,6). So with cash in hand, he went looking for a preacher he could tempt with purse and position in order to carry out his mission. He knew that there were preachers out there who would sacrifice their freedom and principles for the sake of a salary. Paul knew that there were a host of these hirelings in Corinth who were masquerading themselves as messengers of light (1 Co 11:12-15).
Balak knew how to approach religious hirelings. He went looking for a dynamic and successful religious leader. He said of Balaam, “I know that he whom you bless is blessed, and he whom you curse is cursed” (Nm 22:6). His method of tempting Balaam to preach his agenda was to send an important delegation of elders to the preacher. With the delegation, he sent the greatest temptation to acquire a hireling preacher. He sent “the diviner’s fee,” a handsome salary (Nm 22:6). So with an impressive delegation from a foreign land, and the temptation of great support, Balaam was tempted to accept the agenda of someone other than God, and to preach what the supporters demanded.
At first Balaam held out against the temptation of salary and fame by refusing to compromise his principles. He would not allow his faith and freedom to be bought with foreign support from those of a foreign country who had their own agenda. He even consulted God concerning the request of the delegation of elders. And he initially followed God’s command not to go with the delegation of elders, or to accept their support (Nm 22:8-12). He was following God’s ultimatum. It was not to be changed under any circumstances.
But Balak was relentlessly persistent. He thus sent a greater number of influential people who were more noble and numerous than the first delegation. These were political people who would appeal to the political ambitions of Balaam (Nm 22:15-17). With the temptation of the high salary he initially received from the first delegation, this time Balaam was tempted by the foreigners with a great position and any request he might have from the nation of the foreigners (Nm 22:17).
Balaam again held out. He refused to go with the political delegation that was sent from the foreigners (Nm 22:18).
But Balaam weakened. He again asked the political delegation to spend the night. God knew Balaam’s heart, and thus, he accommodated his carnal desires for gain. He thus allowed Balaam to be ensnared in his own greed for gain and fame (Nm 22:19,20). “So Balaam rose in the morning … and went with the princes of Moab.” The mold was then cast for the hireling preacher to sell his gift to another for the sake of support. Balaam wrote his own legacy that the Holy Spirit recorded in Jude 11, when Jude wrote of some who run “greedily in the error of Balaam for profit” (Jd 11). Balaam established a “way” of behavior that would always be identified with his name and would describe those who compromise their principles for the sake of a salary as Balaamite preachers. Peter defined this behavior: “… the way of Balaam the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness” (2 Pt 2:15). The angel to the church of Pergamos condemned those who “hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality” (Rv 2:14).
How could a preacher who was minding his own business establish forever a legacy of greed and selfish ambition? Simple. We must never underestimate the temptation that comes with a delegation of elders from a foreign country who come with a great “diviner’s fee” in order to hire those who would preach their agenda of sermons. It takes men of great spiritual integrity and dignity not to sell themselves to such great temptations. When preachers live in great poverty, it is not difficult to understand why some would be tempted to sell their gift for a salary. We must always remember the life of Paul in Corinth: “And when I was present with you and in need, I was not a burden to anyone …” (2 Co 11:9). Paul did not sell out his gift even when he was in poverty. He did not because he had crucified to himself the carnal things of this world (Gl 2:20). When preachers sell out their gift by preaching whatever the supporters demand, then they have not crucified themselves with Christ. They are Balaamite preachers who will, with smooth and fair speech, tickle the ears of those who sign their pay checks. When we read the following concerning the ministry of Timothy, we conclude that Timothy preached what was necessary, for he did not sell out his gift to supporters:
Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound teaching. But to suit their itching ears, they will surround themselves with teachers who will agree with their own desires. And they will turn away their ears from the truth and will be turned to fables (2 Tm 4:2-4).
STOPPING CHURCH THIEVES
When dealing with the financial relationship of the taught with the teacher, it is often not a comfortable subject to discuss because the taught are often so negligent in this Christian responsibility. Nevertheless, because we as disciples seek to live after the mandates of God, we must seriously study these matters. Therefore, we must examine ourselves in order to determine if we are wayward walking in reference to our responsibilities of taking ownership of our spiritual growth.
The subject of this chapter is a continued discussion from previous studies on this matter of which Paul wrote in the 1 Corinthian letter. Paul repeated some of his principles in the second letter that were revealed a year before when he addressed what seemed to be a problem among the Achaian disciples. It is important for us, therefore, to repeat with Paul some of the important principles where the same disciples seemed to lack in reference to stewardship responsibilities. These principles are important to study simply because the duty enjoined upon disciples that is discussed by Paul in the context of the 2 Corinthian letter is often ignored by many who are, as the Corinthians, still spiritually immature.
A few examples might illustrate the problem that often prevails. For example, we received an email from a preacher who was complaining. He said he had been preaching for over thirty years. He had visited a Bible Resource Center and spent some time with the director of the Center. Upon his departure, he asked for a free study Bible, to which the director responded, “There is nothing free. You must pay for them.” The preacher went away frustrated, as we suppose the rich young ruler did when Jesus said that he should sell everything he had and come and follow Him. “But he was sad at this saying and went away grieving …” (Mk 10:22), as did the preacher. But the director of the Center was right. He would not be a “church thief” for the sake of one who should take ownership of this own spiritual responsibilities in paying for a Bible he would use in his ministry.
A Bible printing group once sent over US$1,000 worth of books to a group of church leaders in a particular city. The books were faithfully delivered on the basis that the recipients promised to pay later. But the payment never came. The recipients thus made the senders church thieves in that they expected something free for their own use. Such cases reminded one of Psalm 37:21. “The wicked borrows and does not repay.”
We had a seminar where the Teacher’s Bible was made available, but no contributions were made, either to the teachers of the seminar or the materials. One student in the seminar drove away in his US$60,000 Hummer with a “free” Teacher’s Bible and other materials. We were made church thieves because other poorer brethren paid for the printing of the materials for the seminar, as well as all the teachers who paid their own expenses to travel to and teach the seminar.
But then there are those beautiful stories of faithful brethren who take ownership of their spiritual growth. We labored in teaching for ten hours a day for three days in Lilongwe, Malawi. After the seminar, the delegation of over one hundred preachers who attended the seminar selected a humble fellow laborer of their group to bring, in his raged clothes and worn shoes, a contribution to buy petrol to get us on to the next seminar. These brethren were mature functional partners in the body of Christ. We went away without being made church thieves, but praising these brethren for their spiritual greatness in Christ. Sometimes, the most poor are the ones who are the most willing to assume their responsibility to fellowship in the ministry of the word to the world. We are reminded of the poor brethren in Macedonia who, in their deep poverty, went beyond their ability to sacrifice for others (See 2 Co 8:1-4).
We are now ready to delve into the financial dysfunction of the Corinthians that Paul explains in 2 Corinthians 11:7-10. In this context, Paul sought nothing less than to shame the Corinthians for making him a church thief. He began his shaming of them with an embarrassing question for them to answer:
Have I committed an offense in humbling myself [by making tents] so that you might be exalted [by your opportunity to receive the gospel I preached], because I have preached to you the gospel of God without charge? (2 Co 11:7).
Paul worked with Aquila and Priscilla as tentmakers when he preached the gospel in Corinth. After many Corinthians had obeyed the gospel, he taught them for a year and a half before going on to Ephesus (See At 18:1-3,11). He humbled himself through physical work in order that the Corinthians hear and obey the gospel. And because he worked, they could not accuse him of preaching for money. Paul was no Balaamite. However, after they obeyed the gospel, and thus were brethren in Christ, their financial relationship with him had to change, but it did not.
So as he stated in 2 Corinthians 11:7, did Paul commit an offense? If the Corinthians answered the question correctly, then he did? His offense was that he did not receive wages from them after they became Christians. Within only a few days after their conversion, the Philippians were sending support once and again to Paul, Timothy and Silas when they preached in Thessalonica (Ph 4:16). After only a few weeks in the faith, the Thessalonian disciples were doing the same. But the Corinthians were still not supporting Paul during the year and a half that he taught the disciples throughout Achaia. Neither did they support him when he, Aquila and Priscilla, went on to Ephesus. The Corinthians made the trio church thieves by their need to receive contributions from the saints in Macedonia. In allowing this financial struggle to happen in the life of Paul, the Corinthians manifested their dysfunctional behavior in reference to the support of their father in the faith.
The Corinthians made Paul a church thief while he ministered to them the word of God. Paul supported himself and took wages from others in order to minister the word of God to the Corinthians without their support. “I robbed other churches,” He shamed the Corinthians, “taking wages from them, in order to serve you” (2 Co 11:8). They made Paul a church thief by not partnering with him in his ministry of teaching them.
Paul’s physical situation in Corinth was not good. He was truly in need of food. He, Aquila and Priscilla were simply not making enough money from their tentmaking business. His situation eventually reached the ears of the sharing and loving Christians in all Macedonia. And these Christians took action. They poured out their hearts to partner with Paul in all his physical needs. Paul shamed the Corinthian Christians by saying, “And when I was present with you and in need, I was not a burden to anyone, for what I lacked the brethren who came from Macedonia supplied” (2 Co 11:9; see Ep 4:16).
Because of the slanderous actions of some in Corinth who accused Paul of enriching himself, though they enriched themselves by the support of the Corinthian church, Paul rebuked them further: “And in all things I have kept myself from being burdensome to you, and so I will keep myself” (2 Co 11:9). After shaming them for their lack of consideration for a servant of God, Paul said that now he would not take their support if they offered it. He would not because of the messengers of Satan who were masquerading themselves among them to supposedly be messengers of righteousness (2 Co 11:12-15).
In all his preaching in the province of Achaia, of which one city was Corinth, Paul could boast that he preached the gospel without receiving money from the unbelievers to whom he preached the gospel. But he went beyond this. He did not receive wages from the unbelievers who became believers through their obedience to the gospel. None of the masqueraders could say this. Such is not unlike some preachers today who masquerade as ministers of righteousness, when really they are Balaamites selling their gift for money. If a preacher would prove his sincerity before the people, it might be a time to do what one Malawian businessman said to a group of local preachers who were complaining about not being supported. He said to them, “Get a job!”
So Paul had a job. But this was not the problem with those in Corinth. The problem was that Corinthians had not yet fully understood that when one becomes a Christian, he has assumed the responsibility of supporting the preaching of the gospel to unbelievers, and also supporting the teachers who teach the believers. This is God’s manner to preach the gospel and edify the saints.
What the context of 2 Corinthians 11 teaches is that when one becomes a disciple, he is under the obligation of Galatians 6:6. He must take ownership of his own spiritual growth by supporting those who teach spiritual things. Some brethren still have not understood their responsibility that is explained in 1 Corinthians 9:11. “If we [Bible teachers] sowed to you spiritual things, is it a great thing if we reap your material things? If a group of disciples allow a Bible teacher to stand before them week after week without supporting the teacher, then they need to pray over Galatians 6:6 and 1 Corinthians 9:11. They are violating a principle by which God meant for the teachers of His word to be supported.
EMULATING THE NATURE OF GOD
We must never forget that the nature of the church of Christ is identified by love, and love needs no commandment, for the commandment is love (Jn 13:34,35). Therefore, in order to introduce his instructions in the context of 2 Corinthians 8:10-15, Paul stated to the Achaian brethren, “I do not speak by commandment” in the matters concerning their completing their promise to give to the famine victims in Judea (2 Co 8:8). This principle in reference to contributions is vital in order to understand the nature of the body of Christ. Love simply needs no commandment to act. Love is the action.
God is love, and those who would be godly after His nature will be identified by their love for one another (See 1 Jn 4:7-11). God needed no commandment to initiate redemption on our behalf. In like manner, we need no commandment to act on behalf of our brothers. This is exactly what John wrote: “By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 Jn 3:16). John wanted this point clearly understood. So he continued, “But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?” (1 Jn 3:17). This is the foundation upon which the whole universal body of Christ functions. Love makes the body organic. And this is the reason why Paul did not need “to speak by commandment” in these matters.
Giving that is forced by commandment is not giving out of love. Giving out of commandment is not joyful giving. This is the major mistake of those who seek to bring over the percentages of giving of the Old Testament law (tithing) into the loving behavior of the body of Christ. When we start pressuring people to give according to a law of percentages, we have robbed them of the opportunity to give out of a heart of love. Until one learns to give out of a heart of love, he has not yet learned the joy of giving. Neither has he discovered the true nature of love of the body of our Lord Jesus. If he is still focusing on percentages, and not principles, then his giving will always be grudging giving according to some self-imposed law.
We should repeat here a note to those who still believe that giving is some type of selfish investment plan, that is, giving in order that God give us more material things. These folks seek from God a return on their investment. But godly givers do not think this way. God loved us unconditionally through His grace. In order to emulate God in our lives, we too must give unconditionally. We are not expecting a return on the investment of our love for our brother. The love that identifies the body of Christ is unconditional. It is not selfish. Jesus pointed this out when He said to His disciples,
When you prepare a dinner or a supper, do not call your friends or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you are repaid. But when you prepare a feast, call the poor, crippled, lame and blind. And you will be blessed because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just (Lk 14:12-14).
Disciples do not seek material repayment in this life. Their “repayment” will only be when they are raised to walk on “streets of gold.” Godly giving is not in hope of carnal rewards in this life.
A. Held together by love.
“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God. And everyone who loves is born from God and knows God” (1 Jn 4:7). “Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another” (1 Jn 4:11). By this, Jesus said, “all men know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another (Jn 13:35). Therefore, in giving to the needs of other disciples who are suffering from a natural disaster, a body of loving people have no need for a commandment to give. Giving to others is simply the nature of a loving body. The body organically functions because it is a body of lovers.
We now understand why the Philippians gave “once and again” unto the evangelists Paul, Timothy and Silas (Ph 4:16). This is the secret as to why the Macedonians gave out of their deep poverty (2 Co 8:1-4). They simply could not help themselves. The disciples of all Macedonia were functional in their love for the whole body of Christ because this was who they were, a body of loving people. Therefore, the Achaians’ follow-through on their promise to give to the famine victims in Judea would manifest to others what Paul wrote, “… the sincerity of your love” (2 Co 8:8). In other words, if the Achaians did not come through on their promise to give to the famine victims, then they would manifest that they were not a part of the loving body of Christ. It would be revealed that they could not walk their talk.
In the context of 2 Corinthians 8, Paul explained the sacrificial grace of Jesus that manifested the unconditional love of God on the cross. Jesus was rich in heaven as the creator of all things (Cl 1:16). But because He is identified as love, Jesus’ grace (gift) to man was manifested in an action of love by giving up His riches for the salvation of man (See Ph 2:5-11). God is a giver. Jesus was the unmerited gift given out of love (Jn 3:16). If we would be disciples of a loving God who gave a loving gift (Jesus), then the mind of Jesus must be our mind. “Let this mind be in you that was also in Christ Jesus …” (Ph 2:5). This is true discipleship.
Jesus’ giving was an act of unconditional love for our sakes, and our giving must also be an act of unconditional love for the sake of others. He became poor for us, and thus we must become poor for others. This was the grace that the Macedonians had learned that was the sign of true discipleship. In their deep poverty, they “abounded in the riches of their liberality …” (2 Co 8:2). Therefore, when one seeks to be baptized into this body of loving disciples, he must be warned. The standard of living of the prospective disciple will come down upon obedience to the gospel, as it did with the Macedonians.
Disciples sometimes do too much talking about doing something, but do too little about walking their talk. Talk without performance brings our integrity into question. This was what Paul was trying to prevent by writing these things to the Achaian disciples who had talked a year before that they would give. But talk without contribution would bring their sincerity into question. John recognized this among some disciples. He instructed, “Let us not love in word … but in deed …” (1 Jn 3:18). One must walk his contribution talk. So in order that the Achaians not embarrass themselves by not walking their talk about giving a year before, 2 Corinthians was written. Paul wrote these words that they fulfill the promise they made (2 Co 8:10). “But now finish doing it [the promised giving] so that as there was a readiness to desire it, so there may be also a completion out of what you have” (2 Co 8:11).
In 2 Corinthians 8:12 Paul said that we must not promise beyond what we have. The Macedonians knew this. This explains why they went “beyond their ability” to make a contribution to the famine victims. All God expected was that they give out of their ability. But the Macedonians had discovered the joy of discipleship. “If you know these things,” Jesus had said to the disciples after He washed their feet, “happy are you if you do them” (Jn 13:17). The secret that the Macedonians had learned is that happiness is generated out of loving sacrifice for others. This should not be a secret among the disciples of a loving God. It is, however, a secret among those of an unloving world.
The Macedonian disciples could not help but go beyond their ability because of their love for those who were of the body of Christ. The standard of living for loving people always comes down when they become Christians. All those things we consumed on our own lusts as unbelievers are sacrificed for others when we become believers. We can discover, therefore, the extent of our own discipleship by our performance in giving to others. It is for this reason that true discipleship is revealed by the passing of the collection plate.
B. Held together by mutual sharing.
In the context of 2 Corinthians 8, Paul moves into explaining the universal function of the body of Christ in reference to our fellowship in giving. “For I do not mean that others be relieved and you burdened” (2 Co 8:13). This one statement defines the organic financial function of the universal body of Christ in reference to contributions to special needs. Every disciple throughout the world has the same responsibility in the matter of contributing to the needs of the whole body. When there is a physical dysfunction in the lives of the members in one part of the world, then those who can supply those needs must go into action. Every member who has supplies must seek out of love to supply those members who need supplies. Paul explained to the Ephesians how it works:
… from whom [Christ] the whole body being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working of each part, causes growth of the body to the edifying of itself in love (Ep 4:16).
In 2 Corinthian 8 Paul was saying that it was now time for the Gentile Achaians to return the favor to the Jewish Christians in Judea. The Achaians now had an abundance of physical things that they could supply the Judean Jews who were suffering from famine. Now the Achaian Christians needed to remember that they were saved in a covenant relationship with God because the Judean Jewish Christians originally had an abundance of spiritual things (the gospel) that was formerly sent out and shared with the Achaians through the preaching of the gospel (See 1 Co 15:1-4). When Christians share worldwide the abundance of either their physical or spiritual things, then the body is held together by what every part supplies (See Ep 4:11-16).
There can be equality among the parts of the body only when there is fellowship in supplying both the spiritual or physical needs of the body. If a group of people determine to stand independent from the whole body by their refusal to share when parts of the body are in need, then they can only compare themselves with themselves as they work within the cocoon of their own fellowship, which thing some in Achaia were trying to do (See 2 Co 10:12). An unwillingness to fellowship in supplying the needs of the body manifests a sectarian spirit that is carried out by denominating a group of disciples from the whole body.
If Christians seek to remain in partnership with the one organic body of Christ, then they must financially partner with one another. This is the concept that moved the Macedonians to beg Paul to take their physical supply for the Judean saints (2 Co 8:4). If we would seek to remain in this worldwide fellowship, and thus be in an equality (partnership) with all the parts of the universal body, then we must seek every opportunity to share in giving to the financial function of the body of Christ.
If we continually see ourselves in need of something, and thus expect others to give to us, then we will never take ownership of our fellowship with the universal body of Christ. It is for this reason that those who view themselves continually as unfortunates who should be supplied by the whole are those who can never feel that they are in partnership with the members of the one body of Christ throughout the world. If churches continually have their hands held out to others for financial help, then they cannot financially join in fellowship with the worldwide body of Christ. It is through giving to evangelists to preach the gospel to the lost, and to disaster needs of the body, that the first century church was bound and held together in the unity of the faith. Their unity was not only a matter of believing and obeying the one gospel, but also in their cooperation with one another as individuals who had been brought into a common loving fellowship in Christ.
C. Held together through partnership.
The partnership passage of the New Testament church is 2 Corinthians 8:13,14:
For I do not mean that others be relieved and you burdened; but by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may be a supply for their need, that their abundance also may be a supply for your need, that there may be equality.
No better words could have been written to explain the partnership (fellowship) that all Christians of all the world have with one another in Christ. This one passage at least teaches the following:
Christians cannot live estranged lives from one another.
- Christians are their brother’s keeper.
- No Christian is to be burdened while others neglect their responsibility to fulfill the needs of others.
- When one has a supply of that which another is in need because of a natural disaster, then there must be supplying on the part of the one who has the supplies.
- No part of the body is to be neglected in having the opportunity to share his or her supply with those who are in need.
- The body must heal itself through the sharing of what every member can supply during times of natural disaster.
- The whole body must work as one body in order to supply the parts of the body that are suffering from disaster.
- No one part of the body is to be burdened in fulfilling a need while other parts of the body sit idle and do nothing.
- Except for those who are suffering from a disaster, no one part of the body is exempt in the matter of supplying the needs of the suffering.
One would ask to what extent must our partnership go in sharing in times of calamity? Paul answered, “As it is written, ‘He who gathered much had nothing left over and he who gather little had no lack’” (2 Co 8:15). The one who has abundance from his labors gives the leftovers for those in need. And because some shared their leftovers, he who gathered little from the harvest could still feed his family from the leftovers of the one who gathered much (See Ex 16:18). What Paul is saying is that if one does have leftovers, he needs to be looking around for someone with whom he can share his abundance. He needs to seek some opportunity where he can share the abundance of his harvest. Before we became Christians, we consumed our abundance upon our own lusts of the flesh. But when we became disciples of the sacrificial Servant of the cross, we allowed ourselves to be consumed by the needs of others.
(Lecture 11 is coming in five days.)
FINANCIAL FELLOWSHIP OF THE ORGANIC BODY
In his first letter to the Achaians (1 Corinthians), Paul dealt with the dysfunction of the Achaian brethren in reference to their support of evangelists who were going forth to preach the gospel. In the second letter it seems that their dysfunction in reference to supporting these evangelists poured over into their failure to fulfill a promise to function as a part of the universal body of Christ where parts of the body were in need because of famine. They had made a promise to fellowship in the famine contribution for Judea, but they were negligent in fulfilling what they had promised. We are not told why they were negligent, only that the second letter was written in order that the contribution be made before Paul arrived in Achaia with some brethren from Macedonia.
The Achaians were financially dysfunctional in reference to the universal body’s responsibility to take care of itself in physical needs throughout the world. Though Paul thoroughly thrashed the Achaian disciples in 1 Corinthians 9 concerning their lack of support of preachers of the gospel, in the second letter he turned to the dysfunctional attitudes of some of the Achaian members toward the famine contribution. He felt that if they had promised to financially function in fellowship with the global body, then they needed to perform what they promised.
In the context of 2 Corinthians 8:10-15 Paul moves into the function of the universal body of Christ and the members’ care for one another. The background of his statements in this chapter was a famine that affected the members of the body in Judea. When the Judean members began to suffer from a famine, the whole worldwide body went into action to manifest the global oneness and equality of the body in supplying what was needed where the body was hurting. The members of the body manifested their oneness of the body by making a special effort to send relief funds to needy parts of the body in Judea. This universal response of the body of Christ manifests that those who are truly of the body will join in with any effort where there is a physical need of the whole body. This is the spirit of Ephesians 4:16. Those groups of disciples who cannot think outside their own assemblies or villages have cocooned themselves in their own isolation and withdrawn their fellowship from the body of Christ. They have become a functional denomination within themselves.
Paul’s exhortation of the Achaian members on this matter certainly proves one very important point concerning the organic function of the one church of Christ throughout the world. If any individual member, or group of members of the body, want to remain in fellowship with the one universal body, then they must financially join with the whole body as the body seeks to care for itself.
A. Fellowshipping the one body:
When Paul wrote the 2 Corinthian letter, he was in Macedonia and on his way to Achaia, in which province was the city of Corinth. He had boasted to the Macedonian disciples that the church in Achaia had a year before promised that they would give relief funds to the Judean disciples (2 Co 8:10). This commitment to share in the matter of fellowshipping through giving encouraged the Macedonians to also give, for they did not want to be left out of the fellowship of the one universal body. So they too went into action to make a contribution, so much so, that Paul boasted of their sacrificial giving:
Moreover, brethren [in Achaia], we make known to you the grace of God that has been given to the churches of Macedonia, that in a great trial of affliction, the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty, abounded in the riches of their liberality. For I testify that according to their ability, yes, and beyond their ability they gave of their own accord …” (2 Co 8:1-3).
The Macedonian disciples not only gave, they went beyond what would be expected of them. They “went beyond their ability.” These were not wealthy disciples. Paul explained to the Achaian members that the Macedonians gave out of “great affliction” and “deep poverty.” Because of their deep poverty, Paul must have been very apprehensive about taking their money for the famine victims. Their willingness to give in their poverty moved them to impoverish themselves even more. And when Paul saw their destitute economic situation, he was quite hesitant to receive their gift. But he wrote of their earnest desire to remain in fellowship with the one body of Christ. Paul wrote that the Macedonian disciples kept on “begging us with much urgency that we would receive the gift …” (2 Co 8:4).
The Macedonians understood the nature of the fellowship of the universal organic body of Christ. They knew that they had to partner with all disciples in this outreach to help the famine victims. They realized that in order to remain in fellowship with the one universal body, they had to partner with everyone in the matter of giving.
In their poverty, the Macedonians were not beggars to receive something for themselves, for being such would be a disorderly walk as members of the body. If they were beggars off the body for themselves, then they would disfellowship themselves from the fellowship of the saints (See 2 Th 3:6). They were “beggars,” but they were begging Paul and his company to receive their contribution, which was their “fellowship of the ministering to the saints” (2 Co 8:4). The Macedonian disciples knew that if they did not join in on this brotherhood contribution, then they would not be in fellowship with the universal body of Christ. The context of 2 Corinthians 8:1-4, therefore, is the biblical definition of partnership. Partnership in Christ means that all the members of the body of Christ must financially share in the matter of giving and receiving both spiritual and material blessings. This is a function of the body of Christ that is inherently natural for those who have obeyed the gospel of grace. Those who would seek to be a part of this body, therefore, must manifest their membership through godly giving. There is no other way for a disciple to manifest that he or she understands the nature of the grace of God that was poured out at the cross.
The sin of sectarianism (the desire to be set apart from the whole) is that individual assemblies of disciples exclude themselves from the whole. Churches sometimes become so autonomous and independent from the whole, that they have little concern for any “poor saints of Judea.” They have no desire to cooperate with the whole in order to fulfill the needs of the whole in any one part of the world. One of the clear evidences of a sectarian spirit is the unwillingness of any member, or group of members, to fellowship financially with the whole. This was a problem with some of the disciples in Achaia who were manifesting their own sectarian spirit to denominate themselves from one another over personalities (See 1 Co 1:10-13).
Church leaders often sin by discouraging the church they seek to lead from financially partnering with the needs of the worldwide church. From the behavior of the Macedonian disciples that Paul explained in 2 Corinthians 8:1-4, at least one point is glaringly clear. If any group of disciples (a church) does not financially share with Christians in other areas of the world when there is a natural disaster in which parts of the body are suffering, then they are not fellowshipping the universal body. They have denominated themselves from the whole. They are a denomination because of their lack of concern and action to fellowship with the whole in accomplishing the function of the body of Christ. This is what the Macedonian disciples realized, and for this reason they begged Paul to take their contribution for the poor saints of Judea. In the disciples’ actions of contributing to the needs of the saints, therefore, they should make every effort through their contributions to manifest their solidarity with the global body. If any group of Christians do not globally function financially with the whole, then they are manifesting a sectarian spirit and a desire to function apart from the one body. In doing such, they establish themselves as a denomination.
We must keep in mind that the universal sharing of the body is only in reference to making sure that Christians be relieved during times of natural disasters where there is a physical need. The natural disaster contributions continue until the urgency of the disaster has passed. The same is true of the spiritual nourishment of baptized believers. The Macedonian disciples sent aid to make sure that the gospel was preached in Achaia. But when the Achaians obeyed the gospel, then it was time for them to take ownership of their own spiritual nourishment by supporting their own teachers. The Achaians made Paul a “church thief” only after they became Christians. He did not, and would not expect support from them while they were unbelievers. But when they obeyed the gospel, then they were to do as the Philippians to send once and again unto the needs of those who go forth to preach the gospel (Ph 4:16). Churches that continue to have their teachers paid by “the Macedonians” (foreigners) are making their teachers “church thieves.” They are as the Corinthians who have not taken ownership of their own spiritual edification, as Paul instructed in Galatians 6:6. Though they may not be able to pay all that is necessary for one to work in a full-time capacity, they should be paying something to their teachers. If they are not paying their teachers completely, then they cannot expect their teachers to work solely with them. Paul’s instructions establish the principle that when one is working with those who are Christians in a local area, then those local Christians must be supporting their teachers. If the local members are not doing this, then they are spiritually, and thus, financially dysfunctional as members of the body of Christ.
B. Common contribution manifests common function:
Because the preceding point is so vital to the unity of the one body of Christ, Paul explained in detail in the contexts of 2 Corinthians 8 the nature of the fellowship (partnership) we have in Christ in reference to our contributions.
In our study through his instructions, it is imperative to note that Paul is not viewing the one universal body to be composed of many autonomous groups of disciples who are functioning in cooperation with one another. On the contrary, he is viewing the individual members collectively as one body. He is speaking of individuals whose desires are reflected through the “assemblies” of the individual members. Their assemblies did not denominate them from one another. It is important to notice this lest any individual member would seek to neglect his or her personal responsibility of giving by hiding in the crowd of some autonomous assembly (church). When the collection is taken, therefore, if one individual part of the body does not give, while the brother sitting beside him does give, the stingy individual cannot find partnership with the whole body through the contribution of his brother. The contribution of the entire assembly does not negate the responsibility of each individual member to give his or her share. Collection plate contributions are not an excuse for neglecting one’s personal responsibility to give to any need.
It is imperative to understand Paul’s instructions as the one universal body functioning as individual members, regardless of where they sit on Sunday, cooperate with one another to fulfill special needs. In the entire context of his discussions on this matter, he is arguing against groups of disciples declaring their autonomy from one another, and then, relieving themselves of their global responsibility to function as a part of the one body of Christ. The individual saints of Macedonia understood this, but the Achaians may have still harbored some of their sectarian behavior that Paul addressed in the 1 Corinthian letter (See 1 Co 1:12,13). But if there is any behavior of the body of Christ that brings every member together as one in the universal body of Christ, it is when every member gives together for a common cause. If church leaders would seek to unite those who follow, then they would do well to educate and organize common causes that everyone agrees should be supported for the preaching of the gospel to the world.
This principle of unity is so important that Christians must look for opportunities where they can manifest their solidarity by financially coming together to support a common cause. Though a natural disaster may be an occasional opportunity to manifest our common unity and partnership in the universal body, we should seek for other opportunities to manifest our oneness in Christ. Throughout the New Testament, this common opportunity that is ongoing is the support of evangelists as they go forth to preach the gospel. This is where Gaius, as an individual member of the one global body, was doing well (3 Jn). When individual Christians join together to support evangelists who are moving about the world preaching the gospel, they are manifesting the fact that they are functioning members of the one universal church.
The dysfunction of many of the Achaian disciples that Paul addressed in 1 Corinthians 9 was that they were not fulfilling their promise to support the collective need of the famine victims, and in particular, the fellowship of supporting evangelists as Paul and Barnabas as they went about as evangelists preaching the gospel. Ironically, they were willing to support Paul’s critics who were locally working among them (1 Co 9:12), but they were not supporting those evangelists, as Paul and Barnabas, who were moving among both believers and unbelievers in their work as evangelists.
(October 10: Lecture 10: EMULATING THE NATURE OF GOD)