1 Corinthians 16:1-4
May 12, 2019
Lord’s Day Worship
The sermon starts at 17:40 in the audio file.
Or, Collection by and for the Saints
If I’m not mistaken, I don’t think that I’ve preached a full sermon about giving yet at TEC in our eight and a half years together. I would have talked about Abraham giving a tithe to Melchizedek when we were going through Genesis. I’ve talked about our offering as part of the liturgy, why we don’t pass plates and why we bring forward the bucket of collection during the consecration part of our service. And we talk about giving and money and budgets at all of our bi-annual family meetings. Yet I don’t think there has been a message entirely devoted to tithes, offerings, or fundraising.
It is something I’ve thought about doing during one of our beginning-of-the-year refresh sermons on liturgy. Maybe 2020 will be the time; today won’t be, at least not exactly. Because while 1 Corinthians 16:1-4 is about a collection of money, and taking that collection following a Sunday by Sunday pattern, this paragraph is talking about a special collection for the poor rather than a collection for the ongoing operations of a church itself. I’m not convinced that this paragraph is a prescriptive passage, as in, all Christians in all churches in all times and places must do it like this, while, on the other hand, 1 Corinthians 15:58 has no such limitation. I believe 16:1-4 is more descriptive, as in, showing some principles that may have various applications for us.
There was a severe shortage of supplies in Jerusalem when Paul wrote 1 Corinthians. He was in Ephesus but he knew about the problem in Jerusalem; he had known about it for some time (Luke wrote in Acts 11:28 that there would be a famine under the Roman Emperor Claudius). It had been a problem when Paul went to Jerusalem and the council told him that he should care about the poor, “the very thing I was eager to do” (Galatians 2:10). He mentions the problem in his letter to the Galatians, in his letter to the Romans, and again in 2 Corinthians, more than a year later (2 Corinthians 8:10) after writing 1 Corinthians. The needs of the Jews were critical, but in a chronic way.
Paul must have already communicated about this collection project to the Corinthians before writing this letter. That’s because 1), he seems to assume a lot of background as he starts this section of his letter, and 2) he starts the section with “now concerning,” a formula which previously indicated that he was answering something that they had written to him about. So it is reasonable to suppose that he is replying to some question they had. We don’t know what exactly it was that they wanted to know, but we do have what Paul thought would answer it.
Chapter 16 is the final section of this letter which includes some comments on his own travel plans and intention to visit them (verses 5-9), some comments about the upcoming visits of Timothy and Apollos (verses 10-12), some final exhortations (verses 13-14), and a variety of greetings from others before a final good-bye and benediction (verses 15-24).
In the first part of the chapter he talks about the fundraising they should do prior to his arrival. There are three parts to it. We’re going to consider what he has to say and then consider a way we could apply it.
There is a connection between this paragraph and the last verse of chapter 15, but I’ll suggest that connection in a bit. Paul clearly switches subjects and appears to be answering something they were concerned about.
Now concerning the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do. There are some important clues and perhaps even more important pieces that aren’t included.
The collection is an interesting word by itself. This is the only place it used in the New Testament, and in other Greek writings it is used in contexts of irregular financial contributions for religious/sacred purposes. Even though Paul talks about giving in other letters, and even about giving toward this particular need in other letters (2 Corinthians 8-9; Romans 15:25-32; Acts 24:17), he uses different words in those other places. There is something unique about this. It’s the word λογεία, meaning the result of donations and contributions. It is related to the word λόγος which we usually think of as “word,” but which also has the idea of a “concentration point.” In Jesus, the Logos, all things come together. In this collection, all the money comes together.
The collection is for the saints. Paul was calling Christians “saints” long before any Pope ruined the word by making it a special category of super-Christian, someone with enough works of virtue that he or she had “extra” virtue to spare once entering into heaven. That’s not how Paul ever uses the word. It refers to the “holy ones,” those who are set apart for God. In chapter 1 Paul called the Corinthians saints and said that they were part of the saints everywhere (1:2). The saints are making a collection. And we learn in verse 3 that saints are the ones who receive the collection, namely the ones in Jerusalem. Like I said, Paul must have communicated in some way about this project previously because he doesn’t say anything about the nature of the need of the saints here (as he does in 2 Corinthians 9:12).
Paul had already told the Galatians about the plan, and there’s nothing extra, nothing different, the Corinthian church needed to do. The need was too big for just one church to meet, so Paul coordinates a collection among many churches.
It’s a surprisingly simple procedure, but one that answers their question. 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.
When should the collection occur? It should occur regularly, and apparently it should occur with regard to the church’s gathered worship. The collection should happen on the first day of every week, Sunday by Sunday. The original construction is “each Sabbath plus one day,” which is Saturday plus one, meaning Sunday, the first day of the week. This isn’t the only, and certainly not the definitive, proof that the earliest Christians started to meet on Sunday instead of Saturday, but it certainly adds some color to our picture of their practices. There is something about the rhythmic effort that reminds the congregation about the needs of fellow believers elsewhere.
Who should contribute to the collection? It should be done by the entire body. Each one is to participate in the effort, though not necessarily the same amount, as the next phrase indicates. But this is not for only the rich, it is not only for those who have the spiritual gift of generosity, it is not excluding anyone either. It is a collective collection.
What should go into the collection? It should be the extra blessing of one’s work. Put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper. The something is not a percentage of a paycheck, of course, how many of the Corinthians had an actual consistent paycheck? Probably not many. Those who were slaves or merchants or farmers depended on different seasons, and different weeks produced different profits. In fact, the phrase as he may prosper suggests that weeks where one did better could lead to setting aside more for the collection. When you are blessed, part of that means that you are then blessed to give. The passive voice also reminds us where good weeks come from: God.
Where should the collection be stored? Paul said put [it] aside…store it up. Some have taken this to mean that each household should have a collection, like a family savings jar. But two things from the context suggest otherwise. First, why do it “on the first day of every week”? Just for sake of the mental discipline, or, more likely, because that is when the church was gathering? Second, if Paul didn’t want them collecting when he arrived, then doesn’t it make more sense that the church stored the increasing collection somewhere so that it would be ready whenever Paul arrived?
As for the why to take a collection in this manner, it’s not because Paul didn’t want to get involved in the nitty-gritty. He wasn’t above dealing with money. He was the organizer of this financial project, and he was willing to travel with the funds. The reason is because a systematic collection both reminds us of our connection to others and it keeps us from giving the least amount available to us at the last minute (“I forgot to bring the checkbook” sort of thing). He didn’t want anyone to liquidate their assets and lose the reminders or the diminish the resources.
The giving is regular (every Sunday), inclusive (each one), systematic (set aside), and thankful (as prospered).
Money can be a tricky thing, and it’s certainly not hard to imagine that the Corinthians could have had issues with suspicion. Is this just a scam? Who can be trusted? So Paul gives some practical directions for sake of integrity and relationships.
And when I arrive, I will send those whom you accredit by letter to carry your gift to Jerusalem. There wasn’t the option to transfer numbers from one account to another; there was no app for that yet. There also doesn’t seem to have been any transport for hire; if you wanted a letter or a package delivered, you either had to go yourself or know someone who was traveling that way. Here Paul expected that the congregation would choose some faithful men who could carry the gift, keep it safe, and deliver it to the right people in Jerusalem. It’s the GenEx (Gentile Express, emphasis on the Gentile, not on express).
Paul would send them with a letter, an official note that showed who had sent them. But what is this important for? If it’s cash, and you need cash, do you really ask who gave it? Probably the letter was an introduction of the Gentiles to the Jews, and so an opportunity to show solidarity, to connect the care and love of Christians for other Christians. The letter might also be useful along the way with other churches if the Corinthian representatives were looking for lodging or support.
If it seems advisable that I should go also, they will accompany me. I think this is instead of sending them with a letter. He doesn’t explain what qualification would make it advisable. I read some who think if the gift was big enough that Paul would go, but would he be embarrassed if it was too small? Instead he seems willing to listen to their thoughts on whether he would be better to introduce people in person. We know now, according to 2 Corinthians 1:15-16, that he decided to go with the group.
As I said at the beginning, the Corinthians’ collection is more of a special offering than a tithe or what we practice as regular weekly giving. But it does give an example of Christians supporting other people in need. It is an immediate application of “always abounding in the work of the Lord” (15:58). It is a way we show generosity, and it is a way we appreciate our unity in Christ.
For sake of application we’re going to take a special offering for cyclone relief through Project 92 next week. We’ve had a relationship with Matthew Smith for around seven years, and recently decided to add his frontline gospel ministry in India into our annual support budget. Matthew let his supporters know about the great needs in regions of India affected by the cyclone.
Our deacons already decided to send some support, and, with 1 Corinthians 16, this seemed like an opportunity for the entire church to practice a collection for those in need. It is not a gimmick, not planned, but a concrete application of the passage.
In a direct email to the elders regarding the money already given by the deacons, Matthew wrote:
Will ensure that this gets into the hands of the right people on the ground who will, in turn, coordinate for the purchase and distribution of relief supplies for those affected by the cyclone in Eastern India.
So again, next week we’ll take a special offering.
There are many needs in the world, among the saints and those who aren’t. Our ability to communicate around the globe is a blessing and can increase the burden since we are able to know about many of those needs. There are also many cheats and scammers in the system, some who are getting rich off of poverty. But, a second problem (the swindlers) doesn’t eliminate the first problem (the needs). In this case, as a church we have not been inundated with requests/opportunities, we have a relationship with and good reason to trust Matthew, and the Lord seems to be prospering us as a people enough to take up a collection among those who want to give.
We want to be wise, and we want to be wise for sake of being generous rather than being too wise in our own eyes to be generous.
How would the Corinthians know that the money they sacrificially and faithfully collected week by week for over a year would be distributed to those who really had a need? Even with a hand-picked group to deliver the collection, there would be no guarantee of knowing the good that their gift accomplished. Except, that God sees our works and our love for others even when they don’t, and when we don’t. So serve the saints, on every day of every week as you are able.
For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do. And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises. (Hebrews 6:10–12, ESV)