In this final chapter of the I Corinthians letter, Paul reviews several matters and leaves several words of encouragement to his readers:
- To treat young and inexperienced men with honor and be gentle with them.
- To look forward to the visit of Apollos, another preacher who was a mature teacher.
- To be careful of their faith, be alert against sinfulness and division, and also treat each other with love.
- To respect the ones who lead in supporting mission work and benevolence, and see these types of people as leaders in the church.
- He also gives a variety of greetings to various individuals in the church and offers a blessing on the church.
At the beginning of the chapter, however, he talks about a "special collection" and the details surrounding it. Much of our information about giving in church comes from this reference, so I'd like to focus in on this for this chapter.
The Collection for the Saints – 16:1-9
Vs. 1 – Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I directed the churches of Galatia, so do you also.
We're not sure which collection Paul is talking about here. In Acts 11:27 there was a special collection on behalf of those in Jerusalem for the poor, but in Acts 12:25 the Bible says that Paul completed this mission and turned the money over to the elders in Jerusalem. In other passages Paul does promise to care for the poor (Romans 15:25; II Corinthians 8-9) and this could be an on-going effort with Paul. In any case, this was a special collection and both Paul and the Corinthians knew about it, and so no further details are given here.
Vs. 2-4 – On the first day of every week each one of you is to put aside and save, as he may prosper, so that no collections be made when I come. When I arrive, whomever you may approve, I will send them with letters to carry your gift to Jerusalem; and if it is fitting for me to go also, they will go with me.
Here Paul gives the details on how he wants this special collection to be organized.
- "On the first day" refers to the Lord's Day (Sunday), which was the day that the early Christians met for worship.
- Each first day each one had to set aside what he had allotted for this special collection.
- When he came, he wanted no collection to be made; the special collection should have been taken up before his arrival (he explains later that this would be to avoid embarrassment).
- He himself will not handle the money, but will accompany whoever is appointed to carry it, along with letters of introduction and explanation to its final destination.
- He also encourages them to give according to their prosperity, according to their own particular wealth.
We find out in II Corinthians that those brethren didn't follow through on this teaching and Paul had to encourage them to finish the good work they had begun in this matter (II Corinthians 8).
From this passage we model the way that we collect money not only for special works but also for our everyday work of the church. From this example we have a pattern of several things:
- They met regularly on the first day of the week. In Acts 20:7 we see that this pattern was established early and blessed by the Apostles. This is why we do it also.
- They contributed for the work of the church. The Corinthians were no strangers to giving as a regular feature of their assemblies. Paul, in this passage, gives special instructions about a special need and this is why he insists that at his appearing no collection be made. But early church historians (Pliny) write that the church regularly took up offerings during their weekly Sunday meetings. The New Testament example of this being done here is confirmed by others who lived and wrote about those times.
- They were concerned about quantity of giving as well as orderliness in the handling of the money. Paul encourages giving in proportion to prosperity. You can't give what you haven't got, but you can give a portion of what you do have and that's the part God is interested in. We also see the care he gives in making sure that the money is accounted for by people who are trustworthy and that it is used for what it was intended for.
In the churches of Christ one of our guiding principles is that in order to be the church of the Bible, we needed to do things according to Bible teaching. It is important to be the church of the Bible because the Bible says this is the only church saved. Now the Bible "teaches" us in a variety of ways:
- It gives us a clear command or instruction of what we should or should not do and how, when, where, etc. to do it (i.e. when and how and why to do the Lord's Supper, how to respond to the gospel, and who should be elders, etc.).
- It provides examples of the Apostles and the early church living the Christian life and carrying out the Lord's will. Here we can emulate or follow their example in attitude, work and teaching (i.e. we have no command that everyone take bread and wine at communion – we have example).
- It allows us to draw certain conclusions based on information it provides.
- That there was always two or more elders for each congregation because every time elders are mentioned in the New Testament, the Bible mentions that there were two or more for each congregation. From this we can reason (use our heads) that plurality of elders is the biblical way of doing things.
- No example of "pastoral system" where one man is the leader of one or more congregations as is the case in many churches. Not found anywhere in the New Testament.
So when we try to figure out how or when or why to do something or other, these are the principles that guide us. These are the ways that we figure out what the Bible is saying:
- Is there a command in the Bible for this and if so, what is it?
- Can we find any examples of Apostles or churches doing this with approval in the Bible?
- Can we logically infer or deduce that this is what the Apostles or early church did in those circumstances from the information we have?
These are the ways we come to understand how to be the church the Bible describes.
There is another less authoritative and less exact way and that is to study what early church historians say about early church activity and teaching. This is usually used to confirm or clarify information we already have in the Bible (i.e. they met on Sunday, had communion, only used vocal music).
The reason I've said all of this is for the following. When it comes to the collection, we arrive at doing what we do, the way we do it, based on this approach (command, example, inference) that is referred to as our hermeneutic (or method) by which we interpret the Bible. Let's apply these rules:
- There is no direct command to make a collection for the regular work of the church.
- There is, however, an example of an Apostle and the church meeting on the first day of the week, every week, for worship (I Corinthians 16, Acts 20:7).
- Also an example of money being collected and reason for it (I Corinthians 10).
- We can infer that the church regularly collected money because Paul and others regularly received money to help the poor and those in ministry (Acts 12:25; II Corinthians 8:1-2).
- In addition to this, early church historians confirm that Christians met each Sunday for worship, and this included singing, communion, teaching and preaching, prayer and the taking up of a collection for the work of the church. We have early church historians confirming what we have examples of and inference for in the New Testament.
We don't need a direct command in order to pattern our behavior and attitudes. An Apostolic example, along with support inferences are sufficient to guide our actions so we can confidently say that what we do and how we do it are according to God's word.
So each week we put aside a portion from what we have, and on Sunday when we meet, we collect it and invest it in the Lord's work in a wise and orderly manner. That's the Bible way!
How and when we collect the money for the work of the church is not necessarily the most important issue in our faith. But Jesus said that if we are faithful in little things (like an orderly way of collecting and handling the offering) we can be trusted with greater things (the saving of souls).
An interesting feature of this study is how we learn what the Bible teaches on various things, whether it be how to handle money or how to go to heaven. The approach is always the same. When we want to know what the Bible says we need to see what it commands, what it demonstrates and to what conclusion it guides our thinking.
When it comes to salvation we have an overwhelming amount of information in each area. For example:
- The Bible plainly commands what is necessary to be saved (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38).
- It provides many examples of people who were being saved and what they did to arrive at this (Acts 2:40-42; 47).
- We read stories about people who were searching for salvation and the things that happened to them in this search. These, then, form our conclusions about what is necessary (i.e. the jailer – Acts 16:30-34).
Historians confirm that this is how early converts were made. When we are searching for the same kind of answers for our own souls the Bible provides the commands, examples and inferences we need to guide our response.
So what does the Bible – not the church of Christ – say that we must do to be saved?