Text: 1 Cor. 16:1-9
Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given orders to the churches of Galatia, so you must do also: On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come. And when I come, whomever you approve by your letters I will send to bear your gift to Jerusalem. But if it is fitting that I go also, they will go with me…
Don’t you just love it when people ask you for money? Better yet, don’t you love it when preachers ask you for money in church? Well, you’re all in luck. That’s just what we’re going to do this morning.
Now, yes, of course, most people hate this sort of thing. They may have had bad experiences with unscrupulous churches. They might think that asking for money is kind of dirty, a worldly thing to do. But, as we always point out, we must follow the Bible wherever it goes, and it talks about money and giving quite a bit. As we will see, the Apostle Paul brings it up in many places, as there was at least one occasion of charitable giving that he made a point of fundraising for personally.
Yes, Paul is raising funds for the church in Jerusalem, and we should remember that he brings it up right on the heels of that heavenly chapter, chapter 15. After all of the high-flying theological expressions about the resurrection, Paul comes down for a landing, and he does so by mentioning charitable giving. This means that it was a final word of sorts, which in turn means it was important. More than that, it means that giving was the natural conclusive response to all of the theology that 1 Corinthians has been teaching. If we believe the heady teaching, and if we are inspired by the call to Christian conduct, then we must give of our resources to those in need. Having received grace from Jesus, we must give grace to others.
The Collection of the Saints
Paul writes, “Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given orders to the churches of Galatia, so you must do also” (1 Cor. 16:1). This collection has to do with the famine relief mentioned in Acts 11. This comes up in Romans 15 and Galatians 2, and Paul has to dedicate two full chapters to it in 2 Corinthians (2 Cor. 8-9). It was obviously a big deal for him, and he wanted the churches from across the Mediterranean world to give willingly and liberally to the churches in Judea who were in need.
This gift was a particular one. It was for the Jewish Christians who were suffering from a famine, and the majority of those giving to these Jewish Christians would have been Gentiles. Listen to how Paul describes this collection in Romans 15:
But now I am going to Jerusalem to minister to the saints. For it pleased those from Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor among the saints who are in Jerusalem. It pleased them indeed, and they are their debtors. For if the Gentiles have been partakers of their spiritual things, their duty is also to minister to them in material things. (Rom. 15:25-27)
Notice how Paul presents this as a duty. “They are their debtors.” Who are debtors? It is the Gentile Christians who Paul says are debtors. Why are they debtors to the Jewish Christians? They are debtors to the Jewish Christians because the gospel came from them, and especially that original band of apostles and disciples. Since the Gentiles have partaken of the spiritual fruit of the Jerusalem church, it is now their duty to minister to them since they are in need, and this includes material things.
We learn an important principle here, and it is an extension of the same principle by which we should pay our pastors. Those who serve you spiritual benefits deserve your support. You should “pay them back” in a way, not by an actual one-to-one debt payment, but by tending to their needs when they arise. Charitable giving, particularly to our fathers in the faith, is a Christian duty.
How the Giving Was Done
As Paul continues in 1 Cor. 16, we can catch a glimpse of the mechanics of the early church’s giving. “On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come” (1 Cor. 16:2). Paul is instructing the churches to take up a collection each week, and he will take up the lump some when he arrives. He wants this to be concluded before he gets there, and so there is no final pledge drive, but at the same time, he is also giving them a sort of deadline with an obvious expectation.
Paul is calling for the Corinthians to give their contribution at the weekly assembly, and this most likely occurred as an element in the service. He also wants “each one” of the church members to give, and the description of what they give is literally “whatever has been prospered to you.” This means that the New King James translation isn’t entirely clear. The idea isn’t that you give with the intention of prospering as a result, but that you give from what you have already been blessed with. This may mean that you give from your “profits,” but it seems simplest to read it as something like, “give according to the way that God has blessed you.” All should give, and Paul understands that some have more than others and so the giving will be appropriate for each person’s situation in life.
We also see how the gift would be taken to Jerusalem. “And when I come, whomever you approve by your letters I will send to bear your gift to Jerusalem. But if it is fitting that I go also, they will go with me” (1 Cor. 16:3-4). The contribution will be delivered by elected representatives of each church, and Paul may also go with them, if things work out. There will be accountability, but there will also be personal interaction. This will be at true gift of love. Indeed, this is so much the case, that Paul wants to be able to spend a lengthy time with the Corinthians as he passes through. “And it may be that I will remain, or even spend the winter with you, that you may send me on my journey, wherever I go. For I do not wish to see you now on the way; but I hope to stay a while with you, if the Lord permits” (1 Cor. 16:6-7).
The Gift is a Grace
It’s no doubt tempting to read this, along with the rest of chapter 16, as something of a parting appendix. It’s just a bunch of “Oh, and by the ways…” tacked on after the important stuff. But you need to fight that impulse. This collection is also theologically loaded, and you can see that by comparing how Paul describes it in other letters.
In 2nd Corinthians, Paul will discuss this collection throughout all of chapters 8 and 9. There he encourage free and generous giving, and he explains what the giving will accomplish in this way:
the administration of this service not only supplies the needs of the saints, but also is abounding through many thanksgivings to God, while, through the proof of this ministry, they glorify God for the obedience of your confession to the gospel of Christ, and for your liberal sharing with them and all men, and by their prayer for you, who long for you because of the exceeding grace of God in you. (2 Cor. 9:12-14)
Did you catch all of that? Their charity will supply for the “needs of the saints” but it won’t “only” do that. No, it will cause others to give thanksgiving to God, and also, in connection with that, it will cause more giving. It will serve as a proof of the Corinthians’ obedience to the gospel. This is absolutely essential for us to understand: Christian charity does not only help the person receiving the charity. It also blesses the giver and the larger church community. It is a form of sanctification, and it causes worship and praise to God to abound. It is directly connected to worship.
Paul uses lots of strong terms to describe this collection. He calls it a grace (1 Cor. 16:3; 2 Cor. 8:7). He calls it fellowship or communion (2 Cor. 8:4; 9:13; Rom. 15:26). He says that it is a blessing (2 Cor. 9:5). And even calls it worship. In several places he uses the general term “service” which can carry the meaning of worship, but might also just mean diaconal care (2 Cor. 8:4; 9:1,12,13; Rom. 15:31). But on at least two occasions, Paul uses the even stronger term, λειτουργεο, to describe this giving. That word is where we get our word “liturgy,” and implies religious service or worship. (This term appears in 2 Cor. 9:12 and Rom. 15:27).
Charity is a form of divine service. It is a form of worship. Charity shows our doxology towards God, and our giving of our material goods today is analogous to the Old Covenant sacrificial practice of giving animals and crops. It is not propitiatory, but it is symbolic of Christ’s grace, and we give it as a part of our sacrificial worship.
Having this fuller understanding of charitable giving allows us to understand just how important—and how central—giving is in the life of the Christian. It is not a nice “extra” that you do if you can ever get around to it. It needs to be the fruit that comes from your tree. It needs to be fruit which comes from your tree naturally, and therefore it is fruit which shows the world what kind of tree you are. Since you have been given grace by God in Christ, you must give grace to those in Christ. This needs to be who you are.
And we must have the faith to believe that our gift will be effective, that God will use it, and that God will provide for both us and the one we are giving to. It works like prayer. It works like evangelism. We give as a servant and an instrument in God’s hand, and we trust that He will use the gift as and effective means of His grace in the salvation and preservation of His people.
As always, this all comes together when we remember the gifts given to us when we were need. Remember those other brothers in Christ who have given to you, both spiritually and materially, and remember Christ Himself whom God has given you so that you might be delivered and rewarded with God’s own riches. We give because we have received. We give because God has given His gift to us in Jesus Christ.
Let us pray.