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disciples who cannot think outside their own assemblies or villages have cocooned themselves in their own isolation and withdrawn their fellowship from the body of Christ.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)