INDIVIDUAL COMMITMENT TO FINANCIAL FELLOWSHIP
We must give credit to the brethren in Achaia for being zealous to make promises to support the famine victims of Judea. At least, by the time Paul came to the end of the 1 Corinthian letter, the Corinthians had been rebuked enough for them to take action for the poor saints of Judea. When Paul wrote 1 Corinthians 16:1-4, he stated that before he came, they must take up a contribution, for when he was there he did not want any contributions taken. They must take action, therefore, to make sure that the contribution for the famine victims for Judea be gathered before he arrived.
There was also a practical reason why Paul wanted the contribution taken before his arrival. The contribution was committed by all the saints in all the province of Achaia, the disciples in Corinth being one area of the house meetings throughout the province. Therefore, since the disciples in all Achaia promised to make a contribution, it had to be gathered from all the disciples of all the province. This would take some time, time which Paul evidently did not want to waste on this particular visit to Achaia, for He was on his way to Jerusalem.
A. Special needs:
Paul stated, “Now concerning the collection for the saints …” (1 Co 16:1). We must keep the “poor saints of Judea” in mind as we survey through the instructions that Paul gives to conclude his exhortation to the Achaia disciples in the 1 Corinthian letter. Because this contribution was for a particular situation, then we would conclude that this was a special contribution for a special purpose. In fact, it seems that all the contributions we read about in the New Testament were contributions for specific needs. Whether the need was for an evangelist that came short in his self-support, or for Christians who ran out of money when they visited Jerusalem for the Passover/Pentecost feast, the contributions were made to meet special needs. Such is the case with the contribution about which Paul speaks in the context of 1 Corinthians 16:1-4.
B. The Sunday collection:
“On the first day of the week …” was a statement of practicality, not a command to establish a time for all contributions. In order to make a common collection, the obvious time to do this was when there was a common time of meeting of those who would contribute. And since the disciples met in their homes on Sunday, then this would be the obvious time for a collection to be made. The practical reasons are obvious. This was a common time of meeting. It was a time when there would be witnesses concerning what was contributed. It would be a time when each member could be known for taking ownership of his or her responsibility to give to the poor saints of Judea. No one was to be exempt from the contribution. Everyone was obligated to help the suffering saints in Judea.
We could not make the first day of the week a legal time for all contributions of the disciples to be made. Such would not be logical or practical. We must keep in mind that this was an occasional need when a contribution was made. Paul’s instructions were made in the historical context of a special need. And because he instructed a time when the contribution was to be made, then we must assume that the Corinthians were not regularly having a contribution on the first day of the week before he wrote the instructions. They had not though He had ministered among them for over a year and a half (At 18:11,18).
Paul’s statements must be understood in the context of the special need, the famine in Judea. The first day of the week was certainly a practical time to have a special contribution, but we would not conclude that Paul was mandating a legal time when all contributions are to be made. If a need arose in the life of a Christian in reference to the need of someone on Monday, could the Christian say to the one in need that he must wait until Sunday in order to receive a contribution for his need? If a widow needed the rent paid on Tuesday, does this mean that she could receive funds for her house rent only on Sunday? If an orphan needed fed on Saturday night, would the orphan have to wait until Sunday? We must keep in mind that most of the world does not have church bank accounts in which to accumulate funds, and then serve needs throughout the week out of these funds. Most of the world Christians must go to their gardens and get some food to give immediately to immediate needs. Sometimes a little common sense will dispel a lot of nonsense in legalistic theology, and thus, give us a better understanding of the Scriptures.
C. Individual responsibility:
Paul continued, “… let each one of you …” (1 Co 16:2). A stingy and unloving Christian cannot hide among the faithful contributors. “Each one” means that every individual must assume his or her responsibility to join in the financial fellowship of the functioning organic body. If one would not contribute something to the special fund, then that person has excluded himself from the fellowship of the body. Making the contribution is the signal that the universal organic body is functioning. And if one does not get in on the functioning body, then he is a vestigial organ that is worthless in the function of the organic body. “Each one” means everyone.
1. Every disciple in all Achaia must contribute. We must not forget that the letters of 1 & 2 Corinthians were written to the same people. The letter of 1 Corinthians was directed to the “church of God” at Corinth (1 Co 1:2). However, when we read 2 Corinthians, others are also included. Corinth was a city, but Achaia was the province. So 2 Corinthians begins with the statement, “… to the church of God that is at Corinth, with all the saints who are in all Achaia” (2 Co 1:1; 9:2; 11:10). Interesting! So when Paul speaks of “each one,” he means all the Christians in all the province of Achaia. Paul was not speaking to a single assembly of Christians who met at the same place at the same time on Sunday morning. His instructions of 1 Corinthians 16:1-4 must be understood in the context that there were Christians meeting in homes throughout the province of Achaia. These were the Christians who had promised to make a contribution for the famine victims (See 2 Co 9:2). It was not just those in Corinth, but individual disciples who were meeting at different places and different times throughout the province of Achaia.
2. “Each one” means equality. When Paul discussed the contribution in 2 Corinthians 8, he made a statement that each individual was not to be burdened while others hid from their responsibilities of giving to the need. “For I do not mean that others be relieved and you burdened; but by an equality …” (2 Co 8:13,14). Equality means everyone. If someone tries to skip out of the contribution, then he has burdened someone else. Every disciple must take ownership of his or her responsibility to give. No one person is to be left out, and no one person can hide out. The Philippians understood this point very well, for they begged Paul to take their contribution in order that they work in fellowship with the universal body of Christ (2 Co 8:4). We would conclude, therefore, that if any disciple did not give something to special needs, then that disciple is not fellowshipping the universal body of Christ.
D. Bountiful giving:
Paul instructed that each member of the body in Achaia give “as he may prosper” (1 Co 16:2). This statement certainly informs us that there is a difference between the tithing system of ten percent under the Old Testament law and what the Christian is to give. Those preachers who beat the sheep for ten percent have certainly violated the principle of Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 16:2. They overlook the word “may” by enforcing ten percent. However, in this statement, the Holy Spirit put no percentage on what a Christian must give. And considering the circumstances and purpose for this very contribution, there could be no percentage mandated. Christians do not give according to percentages, but according to principles. The contribution was for famine victims in Judea. These famine victims could certainly not give ten percent. They prospered nothing in famine, and thus, they had to be Christians to whom Christians were obligated to give. And because they did not prosper, the contribution was being made by those in other regions of the world where parts of the organic body had supplies. Ephesians 4:16 is about the principle that the whole body functions to take care of the whole body.
… from whom [Christ] the whole [universal] body being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies [throughout the world], according to the effective working of each part, causes growth of the body to the edifying of itself in love.
“As he may prosper” regulates the amount one gives. The more one receives, the more one gives. If one does not increase his giving with the increase of his income, then he would not be contributing liberally. Our challenge is to understand how much should one give in order to be considered a liberal giver. In the statement, “as he may prosper,” there is no percentage indicated. We certainly cannot use Old Testament laws on tithing in order to determine what percentage must be given in order to be considered a liberal giver under the New Testament covenant.
In 2 Corinthians 9:6 Paul made the statement, “He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly. And he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.” This statement does not help much in determining how much one should give in order to feel that he is a liberal giver. It does, however, infer willingness to sow much in order to increase one’s harvest. The metaphor certainly encourages one to sow as much seed as possible in order to have a great harvest. But how much seed one must sow is not specified. All that we can conclude from Paul’s metaphor is that one should sow as much as possible. If he expects a great harvest, then he must guarantee such by sowing much.
“As one may prosper” and “sows bountifully” lead us to Paul’s statement, “Let each one give according as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Co 9:7). The cheerful giver purposes, or plans his giving. His giving is not spontaneous. As the farmer plans for a great harvest, he purposely sows a great amount of seed. As one has prospered, he plans to give more. From what Paul said in the above statement, we can determine whether we are cheerful givers. One is cheerful in his giving when he comes to the appointed time of contribution with a plan as to how much he will give. If he has not planned, then at the appointed time to make the contribution, he grudgingly reaches in his pocket to see what is there to give. We can identify cheerful givers, therefore, by their planning to give out of that which they have prospered. The planning giver has sowed much in order to have the ability to give much.
In the phrase “God loves a cheerful giver,” the Greek word for “cheerful” is hilarious. We derive the English word “hilarious” from this world. God loves a “hilarious” giver. When one gives out of hilarity, then he knows there is no grief, no duress or constraint, about his giving. He has simply learned that “it is more blessed to given than to receive” (At 20:35).
So what would be the basis on which one could determine how much he should give? The answer to this question should be answered upon the foundation of the following statement:
But now He [Christ] has obtained a more excellent ministry, by as much as He is also the mediator of a better covenant that was established on better promises (Hb 8:6).
Christians have a more excellent minister for their sins than the Levitical priest of the Old Testament. Christians have a better covenant with God than Israel’s covenant with God. Christians have a better promise of eternal life than the Jews of the Old Testament. Would it not be reasonable to conclude that Christians should give “better” than what was required of the Jews of the Old Testament?
Jesus continually ministers at the right hand of God on our behalf. In order for Him to have ascended on high to be our eternal mediator, He had to be given to us as God’s only incarnate and begotten Son (Jn 3:16). And to be this minister on our behalf, He made Himself poor for our benefit (2 Co 8:9). If one who supposes to be a disciple of Jesus, but is not moved to give beyond measure as the Philippians, then certainly he has not understood the nature of what was done for him by the Father and Son on the cross.
We have a better covenant relationship with God than the nation of Israel. The covenant that God had with Israel was with that nation alone. His covenant that He has with His people now is worldwide. It is a spiritual Israel of God whose borders are far beyond Palestine. The greatness of the covenant is that one can come into a covenant relationship with God anywhere in the world. This means that those in a covenant relationship with God in Macedonia and Achaia had a responsibility toward those who were in a covenant relationship with God in Judea. The global nature of the organic body of Christ means that each member of the body has a responsibility toward every member of the body anywhere in the world.
Israel had the promise of the coming Messiah. But Christians have the promise that because the Messiah came, they can look forward to His coming again and eternal life. With such a better promise, every disciple must determine that he will not be in eternal heaven with a feeling of guilt. That guilt will be that after a billion, trillion, mega-trillion years in eternal heaven, and if we could remember, we would be so ashamed of how little we gave in our contributions to get other people where we would be. Now we know why the Macedonians did what Paul said of them concerning their contributions. “… that 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). We would conclude that contributions that are truly sacrificially given out of a joyful spirit, are truly honored by God.
E. Special giving:
As previously stated, the contexts of 1 Corinthians 16 was a contribution for a special occasion. What Paul mentions in the context of verse 2 teaches several lessons, some of which were generated in the context of the Corinthian disciples’ problem concerning the support of teachers. Paul stated, “… that there be no collections when I come.” When Paul and others came to receive the famine contribution about which he spoke in this context, he certainly stayed in Corinth long past arriving on Monday and departing on Saturday of just one week. We must notice this simply because 1 Corinthians 16:2 is not a mandate for a regular contribution on every Sunday. If Paul stayed in town past just one Sunday, then they were not to take up any contribution. We assumed he stayed past one Sunday, and thus, on that Sunday some time they did not take up any contributions.
Sunday is a convenient time to take up contributions, but doing so is not a commandment outside taking up a contribution for a special need. The one who receives his paycheck at the end of the month and gives all that he has purposed to give the first Sunday of the next month, should not feel guilty about not putting something in the collection for the rest of the Sundays of the month. The point is that there is no legal requirement for Christians to make a contribution every Sunday of the year. 1 Corinthians 16 just does not teach this.
When Paul was in Corinth through at least one Sunday on this visit, the Corinthian church did not take up any contributions. They did not on the basis of exactly what he instructed in 1 Corinthians 16:2. The reason he did not want them to take up any contributions was because he did not want to be accused of preaching for hire. His rebuke of their dysfunctional support of false teachers among them, without supporting him, would have been nullified if it were perceived that he came to receive contributions from them for his personal support. And in order to make sure that no one assumed that he was going to reach his hand in the contribution bag, he wrote, “And when I come, whomever you may approve by letters, these will I send to carry your gift to Jerusalem” (1 Co 16:3). Paul wanted witnesses of the fact that he did not take any money from their contributions. He would later explain in his second letter to them, “And in all things I have kept myself from being [financially] burdensome to you, and so I will keep myself” (2 Co 11:9).
The Lord’s business must be supported by the Lord’s people. We assume that the Lord’s people, as faithful Israel, understood that all that they had belongs to the Lord. They therefore return to the Lord that which has been entrusted to them as good stewards. This does not mean that the unbeliever cannot contribute to the Lord’s business. Though the unbeliever may not understand the responsibility of the Lord’s people returning to God that over which they have been made stewards, they are in actuality returning to the Lord that which is His. We would certainly teach the willing unbeliever a wrong lesson if we refused his contribution. However, we cannot obligate the unbeliever in order that he assume our responsibility to support the Lord’s business. He has no obligation to do so. Christians are obligated, not unbelievers. Christians are responsible, not unbelievers.
The Christian’s life is based on the principle of Matthew 6:33. “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” It is not that the disciple of Christ considers his own needs first, and then gives to God the leftovers. If God is to be first in his life, then what one gives to God must be determined first, and then we live off the leftovers. In doing this, we honor God through our substances (Pv 3:9,10). The liberal giver does not adjust his giving by his standard of living, but his standard of living by his giving. It is not his function as a part of the organic body to maintain a certain standard of living, and then give leftovers. On the contrary, he purposes what he will give, and then, he adjusts his standard of living by what is left.
(The next lecture will be in 5 days.)