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.
Learning to give properly is a central part of learning to worship properly.
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.
We haven’t truly learned to worship the Lord until we’ve learned to give to the Lord.
The day on which the Corinthians were to give their resources is also significant. The “first day of every week” to which Paul refers was Sunday. As today, it was the pattern of the earliest Christians to meet for worship on the day of their Lord’s resurrection. Despite any lingering Jewish commitment to the temple and to Sabbath-day worship, believers transferred their allegiance, worship, and giving to the resurrection day—and Paul makes clear that among the activities of their Lord’s Day gatherings, giving was to be a routine component.
Who Was Involved?
The Bible speaks of the Holy Spirit gifting certain people in the area of giving, in the same way that He gifts some for leadership and others for proclamation (Rom. 8:12). At the same time, it’s also clear that every Christian is called to contribute to the church financially. “Each of you,” Paul writes, “is to put something aside” (1 Cor. 16:2).
According to the emerging church in Acts, Christians brought their resources and put them “at the apostles’ feet” (Acts 4:35; 5:2). While we may not give in quite this manner today, the principle remains: giving is to be done within the framework of the local church, the members entrusting their leaders to steward and disburse funds as they’re received. In short, church leaders are responsible to exercise godly wisdom and integrity with their people’s funds, while the people must show godly trust and confidence in their leaders’ management.
While the local church may not have exclusive access to our giving, it should nevertheless be the primary place of our giving.
Though the apostle clearly identifies giving as a responsibility of every believer, some approach the matter with reluctance. Christians may say, “I don’t give anything now, but perhaps someday I will, when my financial circumstances are different.” This mindset is nearly always a cause for concern, because the issue is not about an amount; it’s about always seeking ways to give sacrificially to the Lord.
Further, while the local church may not have exclusive access to our giving, it should nevertheless be the primary place of our giving. It’s through our churches that we support God’s people and the advancement of the Gospel through our fellowship’s ministry efforts.
How Much Was Given?
Perhaps the most pressing question for some in relation to giving is how much we ought to give. In Paul’s directive, he doesn’t set a specific amount or percentage. He does, however, provide a helpful framework for Christians on the matter: “Each of you is to put something aside … as he may prosper” (1 Cor. 16:2). Seemingly, the amount a person gives should be proportionate to the degree to which God has prospered him. It’s discretionary. Still, we can discern a few biblical pointers in relation to the “How much?” question:
True giving begins with giving ourselves to the Lord (2 Cor. 8:5). When the Lord gets us, He gets all of us. We don’t hand over 10 percent of what we own and keep the rest. Saving faith acknowledges that we are Christ’s in totality. To Him belong, ultimately, our businesses, houses, cars, incomes, tax benefits, etc.
True giving is a response to what Jesus has given for us (2 Cor. 8:9). The Lord of the universe and King of heaven became poor on our behalf that through His poverty we would become rich. C. T. Studd says, “If Jesus Christ be God and died for me, then no sacrifice can be too great for me to make for Him.”
True giving will be generous rather than grudging or reluctant (2 Cor. 9:5). Our giving is to be a willing gift, the result of our hearts being stirred for the cause of Christ and His Gospel.
True giving will be sacrificial yet cheerful (2 Cor. 9:7). While the Old Testament speaks of a tithe—a set portion of an Israelite’s income required to be given to the community under the Mosaic law—the New Testament shifts its focus toward one’s heart condition before God in giving. Scripture knows nothing of a mentality that says, “I’m going to give 10 percent to salve my conscience, and not a penny more.”
How Was It Handled?
Back in 1 Corinthians 16, verses 3–4 answer the crucial question of how the collection would be handled. The answer is with scrupulous care. Paul arranged for the collection without ever planning to touch the money in person. The Corinthians were to raise it and keep it until Paul came, and when the gift finally went to Jerusalem, Paul would commission men of good reputation to be its couriers.
Churches today would do well to follow Paul’s example. Historically, some of the most debilitating tragedies to befall the church have centered on money. Countless leaders have disqualified themselves on account of the sins of greed, poor stewardship, and theft. May the church be careful not to tarnish Christ’s name with financial mismanagement!
A Matter of Worship
What was the collection? In the Corinthians’ case, it was for the poor saints in Jerusalem. In our day, the recipients are likely to be more varied, though the principles behind our giving remain the same. Why is such giving important? Because our money is an expression of our love. When should it be received? On the first day of every week. 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.
The Lord of the universe and King of heaven became poor on our behalf, that through His poverty we would become rich.
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.
This article was adapted from the sermon “Giving: A Matter of the Heart” by Alistair Begg.