1.) Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given orders to the churches of Galatia, so you must do also:
2.) On the first day of the week let each of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collection when I come.
3.) And when I come, whomever you approve by your letters I will send to bear your gift to Jerusalem.
4.) But if it be fitting that I go also, they will go with me.
We are coming close to the completion of our study on Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians as we move into this final 16th chapter. It will not present us with any deep theological issues but will mostly deal with measures of housekeeping and letter closure. Nonetheless, if we are not careful, we can miss some valuable teaching.
Paul starts off the chapter answering a question that must have been poised to him by the letter he had received from the church earlier: How should they go about collecting the offering for the church in Jerusalem? This offering was an important focal point during Paul’s third missionary journey. It is mentioned here and really dwelt upon in II Corinthians in chapters 8 & 9. In his letter to the Romans, it is confirmed that it was completed.
Many scholars have proposed various reasons why this offering was so important to Paul. Luke mentions it often in Acts. Paul also writes in many of his letters, especially in the letter to the Hebrews, his desire for the conversion of his fellow Jews. The church in Jerusalem was primarily Hebrew, but they were also saved. I believe that Paul’s desire for this offering was for two major reasons. The first was that there was a real need. Acts tells us that very early in the church’s existence the Jerusalem church had taken on the responsibility for the care of the displaced in the city. These were represented in Acts by the term “widows”. Also, in 49 A.D. there was a severe famine in Judea and Palestine which put even more pressure on the church’s resources to care for the displaced. Paul’s second reason was that he knew he was considered the Apostle to the Gentiles. While he was deeply respected and, I believe, loved by Peter, there were many in the Jerusalem church who had a difficult time letting go of the law and especially the requirement of circumcision. The fact that the Gentile believers were not being held to this standard made them view the Gentile churches as separate/different. Paul saw this offering from the Gentile churches to the church in Jerusalem as a chance to show in a material and beneficial way the unity of all believers. I can just picture in Paul’s mind the image of a delegation of believers from all the churches in Asia Minor and Greece coming to Jerusalem and presenting this unsolicited offering to their Christian brethren in Jerusalem…
Okay, preacher, thank you for the history lesson. How is this important today? Well, I believe it is important because it tells us some facts that we Christians should know about ourselves: 1) We should be generous people. What I mean by that is that we should be people who are looking for opportunities to give. Christians should be givers. As one author puts it, every day we are the blessing of God going somewhere to happen. Paul is not talking to the Corinthians or to us about tithing. He is talking about giving beyond the tithe. He is talking about being generous. In Jewish thought, and also in the Scriptures, one’s generosity or lack thereof was symbolized by the eyes. If you had a good eye, you were a generous person. If you had an evil eye, you were not a generous person but a selfish one. Examples of this can be found in Deuteronomy 15:9, Proverbs 22:9, Proverbs 28:22, and Matthew 20:15. Paul wants us to have a good eye, a generous eye, looking for ways to give and be generous. 2) Generous people pllan to be generous. Giving people do not always share at the spur of the moment, but sometimes we do. An unknown need may present itself quite suddenly, and yet usually in those situations we wish we had been better prepared. Normally, we are not able to give as much as we would like or what we sense the real need may be. I heard a story about Danny Thomas the other day. He was early in his career and didn’t have a lot of money but was very faithful to the church. He was at Mass one Sunday and was so impressed with what the priest had to say that he put all the money he had in the world in the collection box. It was $7. On the way home, he realized all his funds were gone. He thought his wife was going to be furious because their first child was to be born that week, and now how was he going to pay for the hospital bill? He he prayed to St. Jude, whom he said nobody prays to because he is the Saint of Lost Causes; but he prayed anyway. On the following Monday, he got an offer to do a voice-over on a radio show. They were scheduled for Wednesday, and he would get paid on Friday – in the sum of $75.00. He did the work on Wednesday, got paid on Friday, and his daughter, Marlo, was born on Saturday. The hospital bill came to $74.96… I share this as an example of giving at the spur of the moment. Danny Thomas often said he wished he had more than $7 to give.
Paul didn’t want the Corinthians or the Galatians (or us!) to be only spur-of-the-moment givers. He asks believers to be prayerful, thoughtful, continuous givers. He told the Corinthians not to wait until he arrived to make a collection. He told them to do exactly what he had told the churches in Galatia to do. The English here is translated, “I have given orders.” The Greek makes it very clear that THIS WAS NOT A SUGGESTION, but that each member on the first day of each week was to take an amount in relation to their personal prosperity and set it aside. Then when he came, it would all be collected and sent with a representative from their congregation to present it to the church in Jerusalem. Paul knew that when people actually looked forward and planned to give, they were able to give far more!
When I was serving a small church in my early ministry, one of the missions that church supported was known as the Heifer Project. It is an organization that works in Third World countries and takes the money given to it to provide cows and goats to people to help them provide for their families in different ways – milk for themselves and maybe even milk to sell. It is a very worthwhile ministry. We would announce it in the bulletin a month in advance and collect the offering on the appointed Sunday. We never raised more than $80-90 that way. Then one year I asked the church to join me in a Lenten offering. I simply asked the congregation to match any extra expense to a project. By extra I meant something that they did not absolutely have to do or have. If they went out to eat and it cost them $20, they were then to match that same amount for the project. If they went to a game or a movie, same thing. You get the idea. I also asked them to deny themselves that extra privilege if they did not have funds for both the expense and the matching donation. The church decided to donate the Lenten offering to the Heifer Project. It was funny – as Lent progressed, they got more and more excited. We planned to bring the offering and place it on the altar at the 11:00am worship service Easter Sunday. The UMW decided that everyone should bring their offering in a box that they had decorated especially for the occasion. During Easter morning’s closing hymn, the congregation members brought their offering (mostly in decorated coffee cans) and placed them on the altar. The total that Sunday was just $15 short of being $1000……When that was announced the next Sunday, a gentleman in the church got up immediately, walked over to the treasurer, and handed him $15. And that year the church was able to send $1,000 to the Heifer Project! This was repeated for the next two years that I served there, and it got bigger each year.
I shared this because it points to what Paul is trying to tell us. When we think about our giving, when we focus on our giving, when we decide that we are going to be generous people and begin to look for ways to be a blessing to others, when giving becomes part of our plan. To do what the people of that little church did years ago meant they had to stop and think and plan. They had to ask themselves, “If I go to McDonald’s or Burger King or the new Mexican place uptown, do I have the money to match? If I go see “The Empire Strikes Back” or “Raiders of the Lost Ark”, do I have the matching funds for the tickets and the concessions?” They had to think and make choices. And through the 40 days of Lent, they ended up giving 11 times more than they had ever given before…
We are coming up on the end of a long drought as a congregation. We haven’t met in the sanctuary since March 15th. The Bishop and Cabinet haven’t given any new directions, so as of now, we will not meet again until June 28th. That’s fourteen weeks without a service or collection. The church still has financial needs and obligation. We thank Ginger for the hard work she has put into the website that has allowed us to get our message out. We thank God for the telephone which has allowed us to keep in touch with one another. We thank God that when this pandemic came, He had provided a buffer that enabled us to proceed. And we thank God that this gives us three weeks to thoughtfully, prayerfully, and intentionally plan how we are going to use the resources God has given each of us to be the generous givers Christ has called us to be. Oh, yes – the word “gifts” in verse three in the Greek is charis, and it is pronounced khar’-ece, and it means a gift of grace given in response to the grace received.
Remember to confess Psalm 91 each day in the first person.
BLESSING: Now may the God of grace, the Son of peace and the Spirit of power bless you and keep you in their loving presence. Amen!