The Collection for the Saints
Topic: Stewardship Passage: 1 Corinthians 16:1–16:4
“THE COLLECTION FOR THE SAINTS”
1 Corinthians 16:1-4
1 Now concerning the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do. 2 On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come. 3 And when I arrive, I will send those whom you accredit by letter to carry your gift to Jerusalem. 4 If it seems advisable that I should go also, they will accompany me.
A man called the neighborhood church one day and asked if he could speak with the “head hog.” The church secretary said, “Who?” The man responded, “The head hog.” Certain that she had now heard him correctly, the secretary replied, “Sir, if you mean our pastor, then I must insist that you refer to him with more respect.” “Oh, I see,” the man said. “Well I have a hundred thousand dollars that I was thinking of donating to the building fund.” Caught somewhat off guard, the secretary quickly blurted out, “Please stay on the line, I think the ‘big pig’ just walked in the door.”
Churches and pastors are often accused of being “in it for the money.” Sad, to say their accusers are sometimes right. But for every religious huckster and prosperity cathedral, there are many more faithful pastors and committed churches who are earnestly seeking to serve the Lord with honesty and integrity.
The Bible has a great deal to say about Christian giving. Even though it is not a popular topic for those in the pew or for the one standing behind the pulpit, the subject surfaces with such frequency as we read and study the Scriptures together that it cannot be ignored.
While “tithing” was established as the basic pattern of giving in the Old Testament, the New Testament neither legislates nor dismisses the tithe. What we do find are clear guidelines to assist believers in establishing their own personal pattern of giving. And as we might expect, that pattern begins first and foremost with the local church.
Among the promises we make to one another in our church’s covenant, which we recite monthly, we pledge to “contribute cheerfully and regularly to the support of the ministry, the expenses of the church, the care for the needy, and the spread of the Gospel among all peoples.” Those words are not randomly plucked from the air, but rather come from Scripture itself...as we hope to at least in part demonstrate this morning.
More significantly, however, we need to see that Paul does not introduce the topic as an interruption in his letter to the Corinthian Christians. It is not something that is foreign to or completely divorced from what he has been saying. We have seen over the past four weeks that Paul has been discussing the glorious doctrine of our future resurrection. And from that amazing topic he now transitions into a word of command concerning the collection. If there seems to be a “disconnect,” perhaps we are the ones who are “disconnected.”
I say that because we are far more easily moved at the prospect of being raised from the grave in the future than by giving from our wallets in the present. And yet Paul barely draws a breath between declaring, “Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:57) and giving instructions about “the collection for the saints.” In fact, the mortar that holds those two seemingly-unrelated themes together is the last verse of chapter 15: “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” This link is made even more obvious when we recall that there were no chapter-divisions when the apostle penned these words. The apostle transitions from one to the other in a seamless manner.
As this passage relates to us this morning, I believe that there are at least three things that the Lord wants the members of Temple Hills Baptist Church to recognize with regard to contributing financially to the work of the ministry. We are to give consistently, we are to give proportionately, and we are to give deliberately. If we are able to solidly get a handle on these three essentials today, we will have captured the essence of this passage.
To begin with,
We are to be giving consistently (verse 1).
Verse 1 opens with the familiar introductory phrase, “Now concerning” (“περι δε”). We have encountered it four times already in this epistle (cf. 1 Corinthians 7:1, 25: 8:1, and 12:1) and will see it once more before Paul signs off (cf. 1 Corinthians 16:12). Each time it appears to be in response to a question that the believers in Corinth had asked of the apostle. Here it deals with the matter that he calls “the collection for the saints.”
The word for “collection” (“λογεια”) is a rare one. In fact, verses 1 and 2 are the only places where it is employed in the entire New Testament. It has been found in early Greek literature when referencing “offerings made for religious purposes,” primarily as acts of devotion toward a pagan deity. As Paul does in many places, he attaches a Christian meaning to the word and uses it to speak of an act of worship to the Lord.
Specifically, it is said in this verse to be a “collection for the saints,” whose precise identity will not be made clear until we get to verse 3. The directive he is about to give is something Paul has shared and will continue to share with all the churches with which he is familiar. Here he mentions having previously given similar instructions to “the churches of Galatia.”
Unless we make a point to occasionally look at the maps in the back of our Bibles, it is easy to lose track of all the provinces and cities where Paul visited and help plant the Gospel. “The churches of Galatia” were among the earliest of those the apostle planted. We can read about them in the 13th and 14th chapters of Acts, where we are informed of the first missionary journey undertaken by Paul and Barnabas. Included among the cities found along that route were Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe. From what we are told in the passage before us, Christians in those places had earlier received what Paul was now passing along to the Corinthians.
What is most important for us to see is the last phrase of verse 1. Here is the command, the imperative, the word of exhortation: “so you also are to do.” In other words, the Corinthian believers were obligated to obey the same apostolic instruction that Paul had given the Galatian churches. Unfortunately, we do not know the exact nature of that command, although we may glean a hint from Galatians 2:10, where Paul speaks of “remember(ing) the poor.” It was part of the charge that he himself had been given when he was first recognized as a follower of Christ.
What we learn from verse 1 is that “the collection for the saints” was something that consistently encouraged in all the churches. This was not an out-of-the-ordinary practice that Paul was introducing. It was to be the regular and ongoing practice of every Christian church from that day into ours.
It is even more significant to note that, while this charge is directly related to the church as a whole, it is by way of application one that is given to individual Christians. We will see this more clearly in verse 2, but for now we must not miss the fact that our financial support toward the work of the ministry is to be consistent and steady, rather than occasional and sporadic. In fact, the manner in which we give can at times be the most practical expression of our personal faith.
In addition to giving consistently,
We are to be giving proportionately (verse 2).
Verse 2 contains the basic content which Paul regularly taught to all of the churches he had planted and in which he served. “On the first day of the week,” he writes, “each one of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come.” There is a lot to see in this single verse, so let’s spend some time with it.
In the first place, the mention of “the first day of every week” is noteworthy. Literally, that phrase could read, “the first day from the Sabbath”...in other words “Sunday,” or what Christians later came to refer to as “the Lord’s day” (cf. Revelation 1:10). It is well documented that the early believers began gathering for worship on “the first day of every week” in acknowledgement of Jesus’ resurrection. All four of the Gospel writers affirm that to be the day in which Jesus walked out of the tomb in which His dead body had been laid (cf. Matthew 28:1, Mark 16:2, Luke 24:1, and John 20:1). And it is in Acts 20, verse 7, that “On the first day of the week...(the believers in Troas) gathered together to break bread” and hear the Apostle Paul preach. The observance of “the first day of the week” marked a significant break with Old Covenant Judaism.
It has been accurately pointed out that of all of the Ten Commandments, the one about “Remember(ing) the Sabbath day” (cf. Exodus 20:8) is the only one not repeated in the New Testament. I’m afraid some of us have misrepresented that to mean that the public gathering of the Lord’s people is somehow less important than it once was. I assure you that is not the case. While it is true that the Jewish legal requirement of “keeping the Sabbath” has yielded to the Christian “Sunday,” that does not mean that we have been “given a pass” to treat it like every other day of the week. Indeed, the followers of Christ are strongly exhorted by the writer of Hebrews (10:25) to “not (be) neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but (to be) encouraging one another, and all the more as you say the Day drawing near.”
Among other things that Christians gather to do on Sunday is to give back to the Lord a portion of that which He has so graciously given to them. Paul writes, “Each of you is to put something aside and store it up.” We might say that giving is a “team sport.” As with any activity that involves cooperation, everyone must do his or her part if the goal is to be met. Choose whatever metaphor you prefer in describing it...if some are not “pulling their weight” or “doing their fair share,” then the entire project suffers. And sadly, nowhere does that happen with greater frequency than in the local church.
When Paul writes, “each of you,” he is addressing the entire church and every member individually. As with the “spiritual gifts” that he addressed in chapters 12 through 14, it is necessary that every part of the body make its contribution if the whole is to function properly. Therefore, “Each (one) of you is to put something aside and store it up.” The word-picture is not hard to interpret. In anticipation of gathering with the fellow-saints on “the Lord’s Day,” every member is exhorted to “set aside” his or her “offering” during the week and be ready to eagerly present when the church comes together.
The phrase “store... up” (“θησαυριζω”) does not mean “to hoard,” but rather “to save” or “to guard as a treasure.” In other words, “set it aside” for the Lord and not allow anything else to lay claim to it. A simple story that I first heard years ago may serve to illustrate what I mean:
A little boy was sent off to church one Sunday by his father, who gave him two quarters and said, “One is to be given to the Lord when the offering plate is passed, and the other is to buy yourself an ice cream cone on your way home from church.” On his way to church he reached into his pocket and pulled out a coin and began flipping it in the air and catching it. On one of the flips he missed, and the coin rolled away from him into a nearby sewer. He tried to retrieve it. Unable to fetch it, he shrugged his shoulders and said rather matter-of-factly, “Oh well, Lord, there goes your quarter.”
Some of you have heard me relate how my father taught me the importance of “setting aside” the first portion for the Lord each week. On Fridays, on his way home from work, my Dad would stop at the bank to get his paycheck cashed. He would bring it home and give my Mom money for bills and groceries, and me an allowance. But before he did either of those things, he would go upstairs and open a top dresser drawer, take out a small metal box, and place the money that two days later would be placed into the offering plate at church. It was put away and would be used for nothing else. That has left an indelible impression with me regarding where our priorities ought to be.
Such an example demonstrates that giving to the Lord is not an impulsive thing, but rather something—if done right—is born out of a settled conviction. We should consider our financial support of the Lord’s work to be an act of worship done in a systematic and personal way. It should be preceded by careful thought and prayer.
“How much should I give?” is a question that many ask, and that takes us to what is perhaps the most personal aspect of Paul’s instructions. When it comes to the specified amount one should contribute, the apostle simply says that the one who gives should do so “as he may prosper.” In other words, “as one is able.” When the Jewish exiles began gathering a collection for the rebuilding of their fallen Temple, we read that “According to their ability they gave to the treasury” (Ezra 2:69). The Lord does not require more of us than we are able, but most of us are more “able” to give than we may like to think.
As we have already noted, the New Testament does not prescribe a “tithe.” But neither does it speak against it. “Tithing” may be a good “starting place,” but it is neither recommended nor objected to. Instead, one is to give in proportion to the manner in which he or she has been blessed. A “tithe” may be far too little for some, while it is an impossibility to others. For example, someone who has $50,000 can share $5000 and it would be no small thing. But for someone who has $5 million, $5000 would not much of a sacrifice. The more a person gains, the more he or she is able to give. That means a higher percentage and not just a higher amount.
We find this principle of proportionality dating as far back as Deuteronomy 15:14, where in the context of discussing the release of a slave during the Jewish Sabbatical year, one was told to “Furnish him liberally out of your flock, out of your threshing floor, and out of your winepress. As the LORD your God has blessed you, you shall give to him.”
In his little book, The Treasure Principle, Randy Alcorn writes, “You can’t take it with you—but you can send it on ahead.” He then reminds us of six basic principles in considering what we should give to the work of the Lord. I will mention them briefly:
- First, God owns everything. I am His money manager.
- Second, my heart always goes where I put God’s money.
- Third, heaven, not earth, is my home.
- Fourth, I should live not for the “dot” but for the “line.”
- Fifth, giving is the only antidote to materialism.
- And sixth, God prospers me not to raise my standard of living, but to raise my standard of giving.
Paul was planning another visit to Corinth (cf. 1 Corinthians 16:5-6), this time in part to receive the offering that was being collected for fellow believers who were in need. The reason he wanted the believers to begin following his instructions now was so that he would not need to make a last-minute financial appeal when he arrived. If the church members were giving consistently and proportionately, then he would be able to receive their offering and make sure that it got to its designated destination.
And just where that was to be is explained in verses 3 and 4. Discerning Christians ought never to simply give to any ministry without careful consideration and discernment. Instead,
We are to be giving deliberately (verses 3-4).
The variety of translations that these two verses have received testify to the difficult nature of the Greek text. As we have earlier noted, the English Standard Version reads this way: “And when I arrive, I will send those whom you accredit by letter to carry your gift to Jerusalem. If it seems advisable that I should go also, they will accompany me.”
Paul will soon be coming to Corinth, and here for the first time he explains where the gift they were to begin collecting would be directed. At the end of verse 3 we are informed that it would be sent along to Jerusalem. When we bring in other Scripture to bear upon this passage, we find an account from a few years earlier. Reading from Acts 11, verses 27 through 30, we are told...
“Now in these days prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. And one of them named Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world (this took place in the days of Claudius). So the disciples determined, every one according to his ability, to send relief to the brothers living in Judea. And they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul.”
Because of the severity of the famine in Judea, fellow believers were suffering greatly. The situation only seemed to worsen over time. Again and again Paul called upon the churches scattered from as far away as Rome to contribute to a relief effort on their behalf. When he wrote yet another letter to these same Corinthians a year or so later, his appeal had become even stronger. In fact, he devotes two chapters of that epistle to the express topic of stewardship responsibility. It all culminates in their recognizing “the surpassing grace of God” which had been bestowed on them through the atoning death of the Lord Jesus Christ. He concludes his appeal there by saying, “Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift” (cf. 2 Corinthians 9:15).
Can there be any higher motivation for giving than in response to the God who gave His Son to die in our place (cf. John 3:16, Romans 5:8)? Can there any greater example than Christ’s own? Paul put it this way in 2 Corinthians 8:9, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.”
But again, their giving and ours should be with wisdom and discernment. Unlike governing agencies, the church is not to simply “throw money” at a problem and hope that somehow it gets fixed. In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey—and I suspect Hurricane Irma, as well—everywhere you look appeals are being made to alleviate those who suffered horrific loss. Unfortunately, some of those appeals are nothing more than scams established by those without conscience. Large sums of money are collected and never distributed to those for whom it is intended. Nevertheless, gullible and non-discerning people “feel good” because they have “done something,” whether it has been meaningful or not.
This is why Paul inserts specific detail to his instructions in verses 3 and 4. In addition to collecting money to assist in the relief effort, he tells the Corinthian church to designate certain trusted persons who will be given the task of carrying their gift to the needy saints in Jerusalem. Once they are “approved” by the church, he will “send” them off “by letter” bearing his apostolic signature...a personal “letter of recommendation,” if you will. What’s more, if the circumstances permit, he will travel to Jerusalem with them and personally hand deliver the “gift” they have been moved to give. That’s accountability.
We need to see this last point as something more than just practical plans of personal preferences. There is a covert plea here for care and scrupulousness with which money for ministry is to be handled. The eras of church history are littered with examples of pastors who have loved money more than ministry and “filthy lucre” (Titus 1:11, KJV) more than their faithful Lord. “Church money” must be handled in an open and honest way. If it is not, then whatever you are giving should be redirected to a ministry worthy of the name.
Two years after making this initial appeal to the Corinthians, Paul was at last ready to deliver the offering that had been collected not only from that church but from others as well. We may presume it to have been a rather sizable gift. Writing to the church in Rome, he said, “At present...I am going to Jerusalem, bringing aid to the saints. For Macedonia and Achaia (in other words, Corinth and cities in that same region) have been pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem” (Romans 15:25-26).
It is the responsibility of every Christian to give consistently, proportionately, and deliberately to the ongoing work of Gospel ministry. In fact, it is disobedient to not do so. I trust this text has made that clear to all of us. It is an act of worship every week that we gather to willingly and cheerfully give a portion of what we possess to the Lord, the One who has first so bountifully given to us. And lest we lose sight of the richness of God’s gift, Romans 8:32 reminds us that “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”
Our giving should not be done spontaneously and impulsively or in a haphazard manner. We should be giving generously from a heart that is motivated by His Spirit...and we need to be doing that until it becomes second nature to us.
There are many parachurch organizations actively engaged in the work of the Lord and worthy of support. We have heard from several of them in these recent days through their appeals to help with the hurricane relief and rescue efforts. There are also random acts of kindness that we are called upon to respond to in any given week. However, as baptized believers who have covenanted together, our first responsibility is to support the ministry of the local church of which we are a part. That is because the local church is the primary means by which God displays Himself in the world through the preaching of the Gospel.
As we give consistently, proportionately, and deliberately to the work of the Lord, the Kingdom of God will expand and King Jesus will be exalted. In a subsequent letter, Paul will remind these same Corinthian believers that “Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully” (2 Corinthians 9:6).
We have already noted that the Bible has much to say about money. Howard Dayton, the founder of Crown Financial Ministries, has compiled a topical overview of biblical passages which address the topic of financial stewardship. His list includes 2350 verses. It is not surprising, then, that Jesus Himself had a great deal to say on the subject...and perhaps nothing more significant than this:
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21).