Wednesday, 25 March 2015

The Sunday Collection

     “Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I ordered the churches of Galatia, so you do also. On the first day of every week, let each of you by himself store up whatever he is prospered, that there be no collections when I come” (1 Corinthians 16:1-2).1
     The perí dé (“now concerning”) formula in 1 Corinthians draws attention to Paul’s answers to questions these brethren had asked in their earlier correspondence to him (7:1, 25; 8:1, 4; 12:1; 16:1, 12). The current response, pertaining to “the collection for the saints” (v. 1a), presupposes their previous knowledge of it.2 Even though Paul is issuing an apostolic “order” or “command” (diatassō) (v. 1b), it is not to be regarded as burdensome (2 Corinthian 9:7; cf. 1 John 5:3). 
     The same directives had been communicated to the churches of Galatia (v. 1c),3 and the Macedonian churches were also involved (v. 5; cf. Romans 15:26; 2 Corinthians 8:1–9:7).4 Paul goes on to reference the churches of Asia (v. 19), who apparently participated as well (Acts 20:4), plus all the churches in the province of Achaia (Romans 15:26; 2 Corinthians 1:1; 9:2) that would have included Corinth, Cenchrea, and potentially Athens (Acts 17:24; 18:18, 27; 19:21; Romans 16:1).5  Throughout 1 Corinthians the readers have consistently been reminded of what is taught and practiced everywhere in all the churches (1:2; 4:17; 7:17; 11:16; 14:33).
     “On the first day of every week” – katá mían sabbátou (v. 2a) – indicates a regular occurrence on a specific day each week. The implication is that the Corinth church and her sister congregations in various places were assembling weekly on this particular day (cf. 11:17-26; 14:23, 26; Acts 20:7). The first day of the week (Sunday) marks the historical juncture when our Lord conquered death (Mark 16:9), providing the cornerstone of the Christian faith (Romans 1:4; 6:4-11; 1 Corinthians 15:1-4, 12-22; 1 Peter 3:21). Thereafter it was this day of the week on which the resurrected Christ appeared to his disciples (John 20:19, 26),6 the Lord’s church was established (Acts 2:1; cf. Leviticus 23:15-16; John 19:31), and early Christians assembled together to commemorate Jesus’ atoning sacrifice (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 11:17-26; 16:1-2).
     “Each of you by himself” (v. 2b) describes a personal responsibility (cf. 2 Corinthians 9:7). The expression “let him store up” (thēsaurízōn) (v. 2c) means to treasure up or store up in a common treasury. Just as the observance of the Lord’s Supper involves both individual and collective components (11:20, 26, 28), so too does the contribution. The qualifier “whatever he is prospered” (v. 2d) is clearly not a set percentage (in contrast to the old covenant tithing system).7 Contributions stem from each one’s ability or level of prosperity (cf. Acts 11:29; 2 Corinthians 8:3). When Paul says, “that there be no collections when I come” (v. 2e), he implies a communal church treasury as opposed to separate, individual gifts; note the singular “gift” in v. 3. Their mutual “gift” at this time was to be delivered to help meet the needs of their Judean brethren (vv. 3-4; see also 2 Corinthians 8:16-24; Acts 20:4; 21:17; and compare Acts 11:29-30).
     This benevolent aid that was intended for a particular situation does not negate the broader implications of how the work of the church is to be financed. These verses constitute an apostolic command issued to multiple congregations in various locations to be regularly observed on a specified day each week. Was the giving to stop when the present need was met? Beyond this explicit injunction, there are numerous examples of the Lord’s work funded through the free-will offerings of Christians collected in a common treasury (cf. Acts 2:42, 44, 45; 4:32, 34-37; 5:1-2; 6:1-4; 11:29-30). The churches of Macedonia, apparently under the same directives as the churches of Achaia and Galatia (2 Corinthians 8:1–9:7), also contributed to evangelistic efforts (2 Corinthians 11:7-9; Philippians 4:15-20). Moreover, a one-time benevolent opportunity was not the only work the Corinthian and Galatian brethren were expected to support (1 Corinthians 9:11-14; 16:6; 2 Corinthians 12:13; Galatians 6:6).8
     No other method of financing the Lord’s work is biblically sanctioned beyond the intentional and generous giving of members of the local church. “Let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God indeed loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7).
--Kevin L. Moore

     1 Unless otherwise noted, scripture quotations are the author’s own translation.
     2 For additional information on this particular collection, see Galatians 2:10; Romans 15:25-28, 31; and 2 Corinthians 8–9.
     3 Cf. Acts 16:6; 18:23; Galatians 1:2. These are probably the churches in the southern region of the Roman province of Galatia, including Antioch of Pisidia, Lystra, Derbe, and Iconium (Acts 13, 14, 16), rather than the North Galatia territory. Note that Gaius of Derbe and Timothy of Lystra were part of the delegation that carried the funds to Jerusalem (Acts 20:4). Unless Paul had sent a letter or a representative that we do not know about, the last opportunity he would have had to communicate this information to the Galatians was nearly three years before 1 Corinthians was written (Acts 18:23).
     4 Macedonian cities where churches had been planted were Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea (Acts 16:9–17:14). Representatives of the Thessalonica and Berea congregations helped deliver the funds (Acts 20:4), and Luke may have represented the church at Philippi (Acts 16:12; 20:6). The generosity of the Philippi saints is further highlighted in Philippians 1:5-7; 2:25-30; 4:10-19.
     5 A summary of the churches potentially involved include those in the Galatia cities of Antioch, Lystra, Derbe, and Iconium; the Asia cities of Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, Laodicea, Colosse, and Troas; the Macedonia cities of Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea; the Achaia cities of Athens, Corinth, and Cenchrea; and possibly more.
     6 Christ’s second appearance to his disciples, according to John’s testimony, was “after eight days” (John 20:26), an idiom signifying “a week later.” John is writing to a Gentile audience, and it was not uncommon for the ancients to count any portion of a day as a whole day. If the counting began on the previous Sunday (John 20:19), then eight days later would be the following Sunday. Compare Matthew 17:1 (written from a Jewish perspective) and Luke 9:28 (written from a Greek perspective). Note also John’s allusion to “the Lord’s day” in Revelation 1:10. He employs the adjective kuriakos, and the only other occurrence of this word in the New Testament is in reference to “the Lord’s Supper” (1 Cor. 11:20), which was to be observed as often as these Christians assembled together in one place (vv. 17-34), which was apparently every Sunday (16:2).
     7 See my article on Tithing.
     8 The qualifiers “if you might approve” and “if it is suitable” in 1 Corinthians 16:3-4 indicate some degree of flexibility. We could also include the churches of Rome and Asia in this discussion (Romans 12:6-8; 15:24; Acts 20:35; Ephesians 4:28; 1 Timothy 5:17-18; 6:17-19). Furthermore, Jesus and his immediate disciples received donations (Luke 8:3) and maintained a collection of funds to finance their needs as they carried out their public ministry (John 12:6; 13:29).

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