How much ought we to give? In proportion with our income, as God moves our hearts. And how ought it be handled? With the utmost integrity. At the heart of giving is the matter of worship. God reigns supreme not only in believers’ heads but also in our hearts and through our hands. Christ’s lordship ought to be evident in both our affections and our practical obedience. If Jesus is Lord of our lives, our possessions and expenses will reflect that reality.
What does it mean to be godly? Far from some remote, disengaged experience, much of the Christian life involves practical obedience. Godliness in Scripture wears working clothes, so to speak. Chapter after chapter, God’s Word confronts men and women with essential issues, impressing on our hearts the urgency of living as those made new in Christ.
One example of such obedience is offered in 1 Corinthians 16, where the apostle Paul connects godliness with giving. In the chapter’s opening verses, his practical instruction regarding the Corinthians’ giving suggests that giving is itself an expression of worship, as essential to the church as preaching, singing, fellowship, prayer, etc. In short, learning to give properly is a central part of learning to worship properly. We have never truly learned to worship the Lord until we’ve learned to give to the Lord.
What Is the “Collection” to which Paul Refers?
In verse 1, Paul speaks of “the collection for the saints.” This wasn’t an isolated initiative in Paul’s ministry; he mentions it at least three other times in the New Testament (Acts 24:17; Rom. 15:26; 2 Cor. 8:2). Viewed together, these verses reveal that it refers to a collection for the poor in Jerusalem.
Despite its significance as a religious and cultural center, Jerusalem was at this time a poor city. Devout Jews who lived beyond the city’s borders would send money to those within to make sure the economy didn’t disintegrate. And Christians within Jerusalem were poorer yet. Having professed faith in Jesus, they were outsiders among their own, making it that much harder for them to make ends meet financially.
At least in the early years of the Jerusalem church’s founding, the community was self-sufficient. They “had all things in common,” sharing with the poor and needy among them (Acts 2:44). But that practice was only sustainable for so long. Resources would eventually dwindle. When the funds were depleted, the Jerusalem Christians were left in dire straits.
Why the Concern?
Being a Jew himself, we can see why Paul would be concerned with the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem. But why did he care to involve other congregations in relief efforts?
It seems Paul saw the collection as a tangible expression of unity in the whole body of Christ. Jerusalem believers were largely Jewish; Paul’s missionary journey converts were predominantly gentile. Each group was skeptical of the other. So in calling upon the gentile Christians to help the Jewish Christians, Paul was doing nothing less than reminding them of the Gospel: that God had reconciled Jew and gentile to Himself in His Son, making one new man in place of the two (Eph. 2:15). And that bond was to be expressed in tangible ways, including taking from one’s own resources to meet others’ needs.
The giving to the Jerusalem saints was not only an expression of corporate unity; it also was to be a mark of God’s work among the Corinthians. Indeed, to this day, giving is a key evidence that God is at work in our lives, just as a failure to give should, according to Scripture, lead us to question the very authenticity of our faith (1 John 3:17). In calling on the Corinthians to give, Paul wanted the church’s members to prove their faith genuine.
When was the Collection Taken?
In verse 2, the apostle emphasizes the importance of regular giving, instructing the church to take up a collection “on the first day of every week.” Christian giving, in other words, is to be routine without becoming merely a routine.
The day on which the Corinthians were to give their resources is also significant.