Our theme this year is Called: Finding Our Purpose in God’s Plan. I would like to address from time to time this year is our purpose in worship. It is easy for our worship to become a ritual. In some of my travels last year I had some conversations with different church leaders which awakened me to the concern that there are many who do not know what the purpose is what we do. They did not understand the purpose of Sunday night assembly, the prayers that we offer, the collection we take up, the significance of the Lord’s Supper or any of those things. I found these discussions disconcerting and alarming.
I want to state at the outset of our lesson that everything we do is purposeful. There is nothing that we should as some sort of checklist or required act. The Jews after the exile were condemned in the book of Malachi for maintaining worship but not having the heart or the purpose behind their worship. The Pharisees were likewise condemned by Jesus for the same error. The Pharisees paid such close attention to the laws and rules like the Sabbath and the tithe that they completely missed the point altogether. They missed the purpose and the goal of those instructions given by God.
This is a great danger we also face. Sometimes when people ask why we do these things, you may have heard the answer that we have “five acts of worship.” The scriptures never teach that there are only five acts of worship. Worse, the concept sets up the idea that worship is a checklist of things that must be done or something is incomplete. Could we come together and decide to not have singing but in its place have a longer sermon presented? Yes, and it would still be acceptable worship.
The problem with the concept of the five acts of worship is that if we just get these five things done, no more and no less, then God is pleased with our worship. But this is not the intention of the scriptures. God never called for his people to worship to simply make sure that they perform certain perfunctory acts. I believe we have missed our purpose when we think of our gathering together in this kind of way. In the first century the Pharisees failed at sorting through what was tradition and what was authorized by God. So it is my desire to spend a few lessons this year talking about our worship and why we do what we do. You may remember that I already did some lessons on the Lord’s Supper last year in an effort to help us never take this glorious memorial of our Savior as merely a ritual. I would like to spend our time in this lesson looking at the collection. Please turn in your copies of God’s word to 1 Corinthians 16.
Now Concerning the Collection for the Saints (16:1)
We need to begin with the phrase, “Now concerning” because this shows that Paul is again answering a question the Corinthians had. This is the phrase Paul uses throughout this letter when he is addressing question he has received from them. So Paul is addressing how this collection that the church was regularly taking up was to be accomplished.
Second, we need to state the obvious. The church had a treasury. The church had a collection of money. Sometimes it seems there is a question about the church having money on hand. But this is the whole point of the instruction given in this passage. We will speak more to this point in just a moment.
Third, the collection was for the Lord’s people. The word “saints” is a reference to Christians. Now we have an important historical context to consider. We read in the scriptures that there was a problem that the Christians in Jerusalem were destitute (Romans 15:26). Paul is traveling through the Roman Empire to various churches taking the collection gathered to help these destitute Christians in Jerusalem. This collection was a widespread effort, including the churches in Galatia as the rest of 1 Corinthians 16:1 indicates. This collection is never used in the scriptures to help the poor who are not Christians. The work of doing good to those who are not Christians is a work we do as individual Christians and is not in the scope of the work of the church. In the scriptures we only see two uses for this collection: to spread the gospel, teaching the lost and teaching God’s people and to help Christians who were in desperate need. The collection is not used for anything else as we read through the book of Acts. This is the necessary background to what these Christians are giving toward. They are to give because Paul is going to come and collect what they are giving for these destitute Christians in Jerusalem and bring them this offering.
Each of You Put Something Aside and Store It Up, As He May Prosper (16:2)
The apostle Paul wants the offering to be planned for and saved up ahead of time instead of being hurriedly and ineffectively thrown together once he arrived. Paul does not want these Christians to reach in their pockets and give whatever might happen to be laying around. God has always wanted purposeful, thoughtful giving. When we studied 2 Corinthians 8-9 we saw this point clearly made that God does not want people to give out of compulsion.
Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. (2 Corinthians 9:7 ESV)
The point is not to guilt people into giving. The point is not to extract money out of people who do not want to give. God wants people who desire to give. This is a picture of joyful stewardship. Christians are people who recognize that all that they have has come from God and joyful give back to the Lord to show their dependence on God. The offering is not your weekly dues or the cost of admission to the church. We realize that God loves a cheerful giver and we want to be pleasing to God and love him. So God wants us to think ahead and be purposeful about what we are going to give. God wants you to give what you want with the hope that we will want to give much because of God’s generosity toward us.
It is important to point out here that God did not command a tithe in the New Testament for Christians. He does not want ritual. God wants us to give as we have prospered. No amount or percentage is ever required in the New Testament. As we prosper much then we give in accord to that prosperity. As we prosper little then we give in accord to our lack of prosperity. For what we have we give in proportion to that prosperity.
Paul says that, “Each of you is to put something aside and store it up.” This is an individual act. This is a personal act. You will notice that this does not offer instructions like the Lord’s Supper which speak to communion and doing this act together. This is not an act that is done together. This is an act that is individually decided upon. You are to set by yourself and save it. Now many have noted that the text does not say that you are to store it up at the church. Some will argue that Paul is saying that you were to store it up at home and then bring it when the need arose. However, there are two problems with this conclusion. First, Paul says that when he comes he does not want there to be a collection taken. If everyone stores up their money at home, then this is exactly what would happen. A collection would have to be taken when Paul arrives. Second, Paul says that this collection was to be done on the first day of the week. If these Christians were to set aside and save in their homes, then what is the purpose of doing this act on the first day of the week? You could just set aside the money any time during the week.
On the First Day of Every Week (16:2)
This leads us to an important question. Why were these Christians to set aside and save as they had been prospered on the first day of the week? The answer is fairly obvious: because this is the day the Christians came together. It is clear that the first day of the week is when the disciples gathered for worship. What Paul is saying is that you will purpose in your heart what you will give and on the first day of the week bring that offering. There was no other way to give the money except to physical show up and put it in the treasury box.
The treasury box appears to historically be the way that collections were taken. Remember in Judaism we read about a box that the Jews would put their offerings into, even in the days of Jesus. In the Greco-Roman world the pagan temples did likewise, having a treasury box for the offering. In doing some research regarding churches in America, it appears that the passing of collection plates was not introduced until about 1900 so as to encourage giving. Still today in many places a box is set out where people simply put their money in as they enter or exit, and it appears that this was common in the early church as well. The giving is not done to be seen by others, which is a very big point made in Acts 5 regarding Ananias and Sapphira.
It is important for us to note that there are no directions on how to collect the money. We can put out a box. We could mail it in. We could set it in a pile on the floor. We could leave it in our seat. We could pass around a basket. In fact, this is why it is often said that as a matter of expediency we are passing the baskets. This is simply a convenience but not a requirement. The passing of a basket is merely a tradition among many other possible ways we can give. This is the same as asking how are we to go and preach the gospel. We can go any way that we think of. In the same way, we can give in any method we can think of so long as we are giving as we have been prospered on the first day of the week. We are given flexibility in how we observe this command. This is not an act of corporate worship. Some will not be able to give on any particular week because they have not prospered. This is an act of individual worship that we have given to God what we have been prospered.
This has often led to other questions worth addressing. What if I only get paid once a month? What if I only get paid once every other week? What if I do not have a job and did not get paid? What if I only get paid when I make a sale because on live on commissions? We give when we have been prospered by God. The first day of the week is in place as the instruction because that is when the Christians would be gathered to be able to put it into the collection box. It is not saying that even if you have nothing you must give because it is the first day of the week. The point is to give as you have prospered. The first day of the week is how you put your offering into the collection box because there was no other way to give money in the first century. It was not a prohibition for giving at other times. I think all of have seen generous people who could not give on Sunday for whatever reason but gave on Wednesday because they desired to give and there was a means for them to do so. We would not say such a person has sinned for desiring to give as they have prospered for that week.
The main reason we added the ability to give electronically is because we realize we are prohibiting people from fulfilling this instruction biblically. Many people today, particularly younger people, do not have checking accounts. Relying on cash leaves individuals to do exactly what Paul does not want people to do: reach in their pocket at the last moment and just give something. God wanted purposeful, prepared, cheerful giving. The electronic giving allows for people to give on the first day of the week thoughtfully and purposefully. We are not removing the passing of the collection basket but adding another way for Christians to fulfill this instruction to give as we have prospered. Giving electronically is no different than putting a box in the back and giving a check as you walk in or out.
So what have we learned and what is the point? We have learned that God desired a weekly consideration of the physical blessings we have been given. We are not to take for granted what God has done for us, not only spiritually, but physically also. We are declaring our gratitude to God, showing that we know this wealth belongs to him.
Second, we see collections in the New Testament for various scriptural needs. As the shepherds laid out for us at the beginning of the year, there are many works that we are doing to spread the gospel that you are financially participating in. Support the training program is a vital work, I believe. I have said before that there is not much more that we could do of importance than teaching others how to teach the gospel. Right now we are only able to partially support Casey and he has done the work to get outside support. So we have a goal to make that fully supported. We also want to continue to give out Bibles and study materials. We want to continue to advertise on the street and online and in print. We want to expand the building so that we can continue to have people worship the Lord with us. This building is also 35 years old and will require upkeep and improvements so that we can continue to teach all who will come. We must stand ready to assist true widows if the need arises, in accordance in 1 Timothy 5. All of these things require financial resources.
I would be remiss to not state my gratefulness to you all and your financial support of me and my family. When I first came here, I needed outside support. In fact, the estimation was there would be no money left after two years of me coming here. So I took outside support for the first seven years. Now you not only support my family and my work, but also Casey and his work, and also our efforts to reach and teach in this area. God has blessed us. God has blessed your generosity. You have a heart to give and I am appreciative and greatly encouraged by your graciousness. May we continue to see the need of reaching out more and more and teaching more and more in this area. We are a church of 100 in a county of 1 million. We have a lot of work that is still to be done. If you ever want to know more about the financial state of the church, the shepherds have nothing to hide and are happy to meet with you to answer questions you have.