This sermon is number 43 in a series of 46
1 Corinthians - Part 43
by David Legge | Copyright © 2004 | All Rights Reserved | www.preachtheword.com
I Corinthians 16:1-4
At last, some of you are saying, we've reached the last chapter of this epistle - 43 studies up to this evening, and I don't know how many it will take to get chapter 16 finished, but probably it will take us up to Easter or thereabouts. I would value your prayers too, as I consider the short series, or whatever it may be, that will take us up to the end of the season - so please do remember that in prayer as I consider that from now through to the Easter period. Tonight we're looking at this passage 'Concerning Collections', and the title is right out of our reading as you will see in verse one of chapter 16:
"Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye. Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come. And when I come, whomsoever ye shall approve by your letters, them will I send to bring your liberality unto Jerusalem. And if it be meet that I go also, they shall go with me".
Now let me just say that I couldn't possibly this evening take up everything with regards to the great subject of giving in this study just in one night. I commend to you four messages that I gave not so long ago on the subject 'The Grace of Giving'. We preached it on Sunday mornings, and not only did we preach it but we offered it at great bargain because the two tapes are free, two tapes with two messages on each - four messages free of charge, and the tape recording ministry offers those with no obligation at all, but you can consider a donation to the building fund! So I want to refer you to those two tapes because I will leave certain things out tonight with regards to giving, and we'll only be looking at the contextual theme of giving in this portion. So I'm not going to exhaust the subject by any stretch of the imagination tonight, but do get those tapes if you can.
Some people think it mercenary to preach on the subject of money, and I can understand that because many who have called themselves Christians have abused the subject often to their own gain. Because some churches or organisations and movements have gone into overkill financially, emphasising giving, many folk don't mention it at all. So there's a pendulum swing from the charismatic prosperity gospel that says God will bless you if you give as much as you can, God will give it all back to you and much much more, and really they're only making themselves richer and fatter financially - that has caused others to swing to the opposite end of a pendulum, and totally ignore the subject of money. We find that that is something that the apostle Paul, and none other than the Lord Jesus Christ, never ever does.
But here in this epistle in chapter 16, I can almost see the faces of the Corinthian believers grimacing as Paul the apostle mentions to them this delicate subject of financial giving. Although some of them must have referred to it in their writing of an epistle to Paul, because we know that in this first epistle to the Corinthians he is answering the questions that the Corinthian had. We don't have their epistle, but we know that often when he touches on some of these subjects he is answering their questions. I think we can be in no doubt, when we read in verse 1, these words: 'Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye'. He is answering their question on the subject of this collection that Paul was making for the saints in the city of Jerusalem.
We often grimace too when giving is mentioned, simply because the subject - maybe perhaps above any other subject - really hits us where it hurts: right in our pockets! The Lord Jesus Christ, didn't He say: 'Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also'? I think that tells a great tale as to why some people find this subject so difficult. Then in another place the Holy Spirit exhorts us, again through the apostle Paul, that God loves a cheerful giver - and the word in Greek is the one which we derive the word 'hilarious' from, you could almost translate it: 'God loves a hilarious giver'. He loves His people to be willing, not just financially, but in every respect of their giving to God, He wants them to give joyfully, He wants them to give liberally and hilariously.
Now is that the way Christians give? Christians often don't give their time like that, and we laboured yesterday morning talking about that special time with God, and so often it's like seeing how long we can stay under the water with one breath in our lungs. We see how long we can pray, or how long we can read our Bible, without getting so tired of it that we almost die! Sometimes giving is like that: we do it out of duty because we feel we have to do it as Christians, if we even do it at all it's not done joyfully. Vance Havner, that prolific writer and quip inventor, said that most Christians today give with the sentiment of the hymn: 'When we asunder part it gives us inward pain, but we shall still be joined in heart and hope to meet again'. But remarkably the apostle Paul moves - and I want you to see this - he moves from chapter 15, from talking to us about the great mystery of the resurrection, where we who are also alive, but also those who are dead in Christ, will be changed at the rapture of the church at the coming of the Lord Jesus - he moves from such a dignified and sacred subject to this subject concerning collections.
Now let me reinforce this by saying to you, as I have said before, that your New Testament doesn't have chapter divisions or verse divisions as you have here - and many of them are very intricately done, but the fact of the matter is that they're not in the original scriptures. There are no chapter 15 or 16 or verses 1 through to 58 of chapter 15, it's just not there. So in the Greek language chapter 15 runs fluently right into chapter 16, there's no division there - and what Paul is doing for us is, after us meditating upon the subject of Christ's resurrection and our own resurrection, he brings us back down to earth with a bump. He brings us from the future into the present, and he now starts to tell us how the life that is to come when Jesus comes again is chiefly related to the life that is now.
There's something very important in that fact that I do not want you to miss. It's this: when God gives us ever a glimpse of the end times in prophetic Scripture, or He gives us a vision of heaven through His holy word, always but always He gives us that privilege for the purpose of helping us down here on earth. He doesn't just give it to us for our fascination that we may know the times and the seasons, and we may be able to impress others who are unbelievers, or other Christians who don't believe what we believe, because of our great knowledge. That is the Corinthian spirit, remember - knowledge above others! But God gives us these visions that we, as the Lord Jesus said, may build up treasures in heaven while we are on earth.
So don't lose the import before we go into these verses 1 to 4, of why these verses come after chapter 15, and also why they come straight after his exhortation in verse 58. Let's remind ourselves of it in chapter 15, he has given them this great discourse on the resurrection that we've spent so much time looking at, and here's the real crescendo and climax of why he tells them about it: 'Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord. Now concerning the collection for the saints...'. Is it not that the apostle Paul comes from the great subject of resurrection, exhorts them to always be over-abounding in the work of the Lord, and here's the chief example of a way that they can be doing that: over-abounding in their giving to the saints.
Please don't miss that, because what the apostle Paul is doing here is what he does right throughout all his epistles as far as I can see: he marries doctrine with duty, he marries worship and works - as the apostle James said: 'Faith without works is dead'. What Paul is telling us here tonight is, in chapter 15 married with chapter 16, the resurrection of Christ and your subsequent future resurrection one day ought to motivate you to give to God's people and to serve the Lord with all your might. In fact, what he is literally saying is: your resurrection glory can be enhanced by your giving to the saints, and if you give to the saints throughout your whole Christian pilgrimage, Paul says that that labour will never ever be in vain because the Lord is no man's debtor. Isn't that wonderful?
Now why does he specifically come to talk to the Corinthians about the subject of giving? Will we have known, if we have been taught nothing else over these weeks, that the church at Corinth was a church in disorder - wasn't it? If ever there was a church in disorder it was this one! In fact, right at the very beginning of chapter 1 we find that the body was in division, bodily there was division, there were factions. Some were saying: 'I am of Paul', 'I am of Apollos', 'I am of Cephas', others who were super-spiritual were saying: 'Well, I'm not of any of those mere men, I am of Christ'. Paul reprimands them, he says that's a carnal party spirit, it's not to be in the church of Jesus Christ. So they were in disorder bodily, they were in disorder intellectually because they were esteeming human wisdom over the wisdom of God that's revealed in the Scriptures and by the Spirit. They were following these men, the one they thought was most clever; or the one that they thought was more eloquent in his preaching like Apollos. Ethically we find that they were in disorder, they were suing one another, they were taking each other to court - brother against brother. Rather than burying the hatchet in the church of Jesus Christ and allowing spiritual men in the assembly to judge over matters, even social and financial matters, they were running to the courts, the law courts of the land. What a bad testimony that was! Morally there was disorder, there was sexual immorality, there was incest, there was fornication of every conceivable kind - such which was not even mentioned among the pagans, the heathen Gentiles, Paul says! There was disorder regarding their charity, they were offending the weaker brother. Men who were confident of their spirituality were eating the meat that was sacrificed to idols, and they thought that they had the theological knowledge - which in some sense they did - but they didn't account for how it might offend weaker brethren, how it may pull them down and make them backslide into the pagan worship that they had been delivered from in their conversion. They had little charity for one another, and that's why Paul had to come in chapter 13 and give them that great discourse on charity - that you can be the greatest prophet and understand all mysteries, and even give your body to be burned, but if you don't have love you've nothing!
Practically, when it came to church order, they were in disorder. Headship was nonexistent, the headcovering was starting to fall way, order around the Lord's Table - they were getting drunk there. There was disorder among the gifts spiritually exercised, such as tongues and prophecy, that he legislates on. There was disorder among the women, the women were taking a place of priority that God had not ordained. In chapter 15 that we've just finished we find doctrinally there was disorder in the subject of the resurrection, they were beginning to doubt their own bodily resurrection one day. Now Paul, at the last chapter, tells us or at least insinuates that there was also disorder with regards to collections - their liberality, there was disorder there too in their giving.
Now my question to you tonight, before we go on any further, is this: is there disorder with your giving? How do you know? Well, first of all: are you giving at all? But then the second question, assuming as a Christian that you are giving, and maybe that's a very big assumption for some of us tonight - but how we are giving is the next question. Therefore Paul, answering their question, now sets down in order principles concerning collections. Let's begin to look at them tonight: the first thing he tells them in verse 1, 'Concerning collections for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye'. He tells them that they have to be giving in this collection purposefully, purposefully. Now reading verse 1 tells us, reading between the lines, that these Corinthians knew about the collection for the saints of Jerusalem. They would have to have known about it, first and foremost, to have asked him about it - but they must have known what Paul had told the churches at Galatia, because he just says: 'even so do ye'. He doesn't really go into much detail about what he told them.
Before we actually look at how they were to give purposefully, let me just show you some of the emphases of the life of the apostle Paul and his ministry. Paul really had three concerns in his ministry, and maybe that's generalising it a little, but if we can do it and summarise three concerns that the apostle had. We read in the book of Romans in chapter 9 and chapter 10, that he had a real concern for his kinsmen according to the flesh - the nation of Israel, his brothers and sisters in Judaism. He said that he would almost consider being accursed, anathema for God, if he could save his brethren in Christ, undergoing the wrath of God for them and giving them his salvation. In chapter 10 and verse 1 he says: 'My heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved', he had a concern for his kinsmen.
But then we see that he had also a concern for the Gentiles. You remember God had chosen him, a chosen vessel to bear Christ's name to the Gentile people, and we know Paul chiefly as the apostle to the Gentiles. He had a concern for the Jew, he had a concern for the Gentiles, but of course you would be ignorant or blind in reading the epistles not to see that Paul had a great concern for the saints of God, for the children of God. If we could summarise that concern for the saints of God, we could summarise it in three headings - first: he was concerned for their spiritual strength. He wanted men and women in Christ in these New Testament days to be over-abounding in their faith, to be victorious, to build themselves up in their most holy faith and be encouraged in days of darkness. The second thing we find he was concerned about for the saints was their social standing. He wanted them not only to be spiritually strong, but he wanted their witness for Christ in the civilisation in which they lived to be God-glorifying and honouring. He wanted them to be sanctified and holy and peculiar people.
Here's the third thing with regards to the well-being of the saints, that Paul was concerned with. He was not just concerned with their spiritual strength or their social standing, but he was also concerned about their financial statement. You see it right throughout his epistles, he was concerned with the financial state of those in the church of Jesus Christ. Now, verse 1, this collection that he had given orders to the church of Galatia and also to the Corinthians was something that he had done for one solid year - soliciting contributions from the churches (notice the plural, by the way, there wasn't just one church in Galatia, there was the churches of Galatia) and also, as we go into the book of Romans chapter 15, he went to the churches of Macedonia and Achaia, and he requested the collection of money for - as we read in Romans 15 - the poor among the saints in Jerusalem, the poor among the saints of Jerusalem.
Now it might surprise you that this great city of glory and gold, that we read about in the Old Testament and the days of Solomon, had become a poor city. The fact of the matter is, although it was the religious capital of Judaism, and arguably the world, many many people because of that flocked to it. They thought they would find utopia in Jerusalem, and by doing so they drained the resources of the city financially. Added to that is the fact that the people who Paul is talking about here, the saints in Jerusalem, were born-again believers. The Jews had shunned them, the synagogue had stopped supporting the poor among them, they were persecuted as believers in the Lord Jesus, many of them were put out of their homes, their possessions were confiscated, they found it hard getting decent jobs. That's the reason why most Christians in New Testament days were probably slaves. Many of them were in prison, some even faced death, and in Acts chapter 11 we read that there was a famine in the city of Jerusalem. So we can see very clearly that there was an economic plight among the believers of Jesus Christ in the city of Jerusalem.
Now, I know and you know that Acts chapter 2 tells us that the believers in Jerusalem, just after Pentecost, sold their property, sold their possessions, and distributed the finances among the poor - but we also know that that wouldn't last forever. It wouldn't provide for their needs for the foreseeable future. Paul now comes to the churches, Galatia, the churches in Macedonia and Achaia, and he requests a collection for the poor saints in Jerusalem that really need their help at this time. Now please note that Paul's chief concerned was not just to meet the need of the saints, but Paul saw the bigger picture - he wanted the need of the saints to be met through the body, met through the body!
Now often when there's a great need, maybe some of us are on our knees praying for a multimillionaire to come along and just write us one check that will wipe the whole slate clean - but do you know something? That would be a wonderful answer to prayer, perhaps maybe even a miracle, but the fact of the matter is it would rob the blessing from the body. Paul saw the benefit of the need of the saints being met by the whole body, and he saw this collection as being a way whereby the body could be unified - specifically the Jews and the Gentiles. You know that there was that problem in the early church between these two nations, even though they were one in Christ.
Let me show you this please, turn with me to Romans 15 for a moment - don't miss Paul's method in this matter. Romans 15:27, talking about the Jews he says: 'If the Gentiles have been made partakers of [the Jews] spiritual things', isn't that what happens us? Spiritually speaking we have been engrafted into many of the blessings that Israel has, isn't that wonderful? Israel's God is our God, we who were once strangers to the commonwealth of Israel are now under many of the blessings from the God of Israel. We don't replace Israel, of course, but we come under many of the blessings. So we have been made partakers of their spiritual things, therefore 'our duty is also to minister unto them in carnal things'. Now that word 'carnal' simply means material things. Paul is talking to them specifically about the need of the believers in Jerusalem, and he says: 'Look, you believers, Gentile believers, you have benefited from the spiritual blessings of the Jews' - remember the Lord Jesus said: 'Salvation is of the Jews', the Lord Jesus was a Jew - 'Well, if you have benefited from their spiritual things, ought you not to benefit them by material things at this moment of their need?'.
Now here's a lesson: you can't share gifts in the church of Jesus Christ without also sharing in fellowship. It is one of the greatest blessings of fellowship to meet the needs of believers around us, and in fact three times within the New Testament Paul uses the word 'koinia' - usually translated into our English word 'fellowship' - for offerings of giving, Romans 15, 2 Corinthians 8, 2 Corinthians 9. He's telling us that we receive a mighty blessing of fellowship and solidarity with the sufferings and shortcomings of the people of God when we meet their needs financially. 'Saints', that's the word he uses, he's telling the church that the primary goal for our giving ought not to be just edifices, but ought to be the well-being of the saints of Jesus Christ.
Now that, in our exposition tonight, is where we have to stop - but if we were to go right through the New Testament, we would find that the church is not only to give to the needy saints, but to those who are needy no matter who they are. The parable of a good Samaritan, does it not tell us that? No matter what a man's religion is, whether he's Protestant, Roman Catholic, Muslim, Buddhist, or anything - whatever sort it may be - we are to give to those, even those who don't have a belief at all, who are needy, and show our Christian love in that way. In Galatians 6:14, listen to what Paul says on another occasion: 'Let us to good unto all men' - oh, I could stop there and spend a whole night on that one. We're very good, at times, at looking after ourselves - but do we do good unto all men, saved and unsaved alike? But Paul goes on of course in Galatians: 'especially unto them who are of the household of faith'. So not only are we to support saints, but we're to look after the poor and the needy of the world.
But please don't miss this: it's not just the saints of our own assembly, in fact here it is saints of other assemblies! He's exhorting the Corinthian Christians to help the Jerusalem Christians, and the Galatian and the Macedonia and the Achaian Christians, to help Christians of another assembly. Did he promote it as the apostle? Giving between churches? Now I know that we have an independence here in the Iron Hall, and we guard it, and I believe rightly so in these days - but the fact of the matter is, let us not lose sight of this: we are not the only work for God in the land, and there are works that need our support at times. We as believers ought not to be parochial in our vision concerning collections, but let us not be parochial in the sense that we will give to many other things, but we will not give to the work of the Lord. We'll look after our family, we'll look after our home, our domestic situations, our business, but the work of God suffers - and that's what's happening today. There are pastors who cannot be held by a church because giving is not a priority, there are missionaries who have to be brought home from the field because the finances aren't there.
One writer has said that there is money on hand for the exploitation of every kind of material enterprise on earth, yet the greatest work in the world languishes. It does its work on the pitiful religious dole when it may be supported by a bursting treasury. It is not overstating the case to say that the enterprise of the world's evangelisation depends as much on our paying as our praying! Now maybe you think that's unspiritual, well that's a pity of you because the Bible holds it out - if the Gospel is to go to the four corners of the world it will need not just your prayer, it will need something of your pocket. Give purposefully! It's not giving into the air, it's giving to see the gospel of Christ maintained and furthered, it's giving to the needy saints who really have a dire need.
Let's move on: it's giving periodically, Paul says. 'Upon the first day of the week', verse 2 - now we haven't got all week to study this, so we can't look too much at this statement 'the first day', and take it through the whole Bible - but save to say this not only tells us that the believers met on a Sunday, the Lord's Day, the day of resurrection; but it is trying, I think, here to show us that the day of resurrection, the Lord's Day, Sunday, was the day that believers gave - and the chief reason Paul is bringing this to our attention is to show us that giving is an intrinsic part of our worship. He's saying it's not to be spasmodic, our worship isn't to be spasmodic, it's to be regular. Our giving isn't to be just 'as the Spirit leads you' - that's an interesting phrase, isn't that? 'As the Spirit leads you' - now I know that the Spirit does lead us at times, in a special concern, to give to a particular work maybe that we've never heard of, or we've never thought of, or we've maybe not considered ever. But the fact of the matter is Paul is saying that that is not to be the chief motivation of your giving, your giving is not to be just as the Spirit leads in some kind of subjective way, because the Spirit here is leading you to give regularly on the first day of the week.
Sometimes - and I know that we need to be, as believers, open to the Spirit's leading and guidance, and I believe most of the time we're not open enough - but there's an awful lot of subjectivity and airy-fairy nonsense taught and said about the leading of God's Spirit. Do you ever hear it? 'God led me to do this, God led me to do that', and sometimes this statement 'the Spirit leads' covers a multitude of sins and iniquities. Everything is put down to the spiritual world because you can't see it, and therefore you can't judge it. It's like people who say: 'I can't come Sunday night, can't come Monday night, can't come Thursday night, but I'll be with you in spirit' - with you in spirit. Vance Havner once said: 'I'm fed up preaching to congregation of disembodied spirits'. 'Spirit', it's like using the injunction of anonymity with regards to giving that we find in the Sermon on the Mount, don't let the right hand know what your left hand is doing, to camouflage your poverty in giving! You're not concerned to feel that people know what you're giving, you're more concerned about people knowing what you're not giving!
We can work these things for our own good at times and for our own benefit and favour - the point that Paul is giving here is that we're not to just be parcelling up a wee amount of money at the beginning of the month when we get our pay, giving is more than that! He's not legislating that you have to give so much every so often, he's telling us: 'Look, because this is linked with the first day of the week, this is worship!'. You're to give worshipfully, as well as regularly! Now, Peter tells us that we are New Testament priests, doesn't he? He says as New Testament priests we are to offer up spiritual sacrifices; Paul said in Philippians 4:18 of an offering that it was as a sweet smelling savour unto God. Now here's my question to you in the light of this word: do you see your giving as worship? I'll tell you, it would be hard for some of you, because you leave the Lord's Table before you even get a chance to give! Those that are there, some of you don't give - it's not because I'm looking, it's only because the amount is counted afterwards, I don't count it but I know how much it is. It's impossible that everybody could give what they ought to give, but the fact of the matter is that we're missing out - do you see it like that? We're missing out in our worship!
Now let's take this on a wee bit further: what else did they do on the first day of the week? In Acts chapter 20 verse 7, on the first day of the week Paul broke bread with the believers, didn't he? Now there's nothing more sacred, I would vouch to say, for the believer than the Breaking of Bread, remembering the Lord around the broken bread and the cup. You know, we would guard that against anything - wouldn't we? - infiltrating it or spoiling it. If money was mentioned at the Lord's Table there would be a hue and cry, but what does the apostle do? He says: 'When you're meeting at the Lord's Table to remember the sacrifice that He give for you, don't you forget to dig your hand deep into your pocket!'. I'm not making this up now, it's here in the book - it's resurrection day that we remember the Lord, isn't it? We've just finished this resurrection chapter, and the greatest pinnacle of spiritual worship on the first day of the week, when the believers were met together, they were to give to God their spiritual worship and worship from their material wealth.
How can you give a couple of coppers to the Lord Jesus Christ if you're gazing at Calvary? Can you do it? Do you know what God said to His Old Testament people: 'Will a man rob God?'. You can't rob God of money in a sense, because He owns everything, but what they were robbing God of was worship, the worship that is His due when we give Him offerings of our financial wealth. 'Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings' - there you have it.
Periodically, purposefully, thirdly personally: 'let every one of you', verse 2, there's nobody exempt, it's all-inclusive no matter how little you can give. Do you remember the wee woman who give the mite in the temple? The Lord was watching one day - you're allowed to watch you know! He was watching, there He was, and the wee woman came in and gave her mite, and the Lord Jesus commended her for it - do you know why? Because it was all that she had, but she give it! Now mark this please: she give personally, and she give sacrificially, and the Lord Jesus didn't run over to her and say: 'Love, you don't need to give that for you have nothing else'. He didn't reprimand the officials of the temple for receiving the gift, He commended her because she gave all she had. Giving, this is what the New Testament teaches, giving when we have little says more about you than giving when you have much - because what is left when we give, after we give, tells more about our spiritual state than what we give! What we keep for ourselves, no matter how much the amount is that we give away...
You see, you could be a liberal giver by giving one pound on a Sunday morning, and you could be an old shrivelled up miser by giving a thousand! It's what it costs you, you see. It's what you have to start off with, and what's left over. Turn with me for a moment to 2 Corinthians 8 - 8 and 9 give real exposition of the Macedonians liberality in their giving, but look at verse 1 of chapter 8: 'Moreover, brethren, we do you to wit of the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia; How that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality'. They gave out of the deep depths, the deep sea depths of their poverty. They didn't have anything to give, but they gave anyway! The Lord Jesus is saying this: no matter how little you have to give, you've to give personally. You can't say: 'Look, I've no money to give, so I'm not going to give anything' - Jesus said: 'He that is faithful in that which is least, is faithful in that which is much'.
Personally, fourthly systematically. The third part of verse 2: 'Lay by him in store', let every one of you lay by him in store. Literally, 'Let each one of you by himself lay up, or store up'. Now many people believe that this means 'put away in your home'. You get your pay for the week - the sense is a week here - and you look at what you're going to give to God, and you set it aside and put it in a private treasury. J.M. Darby in his translation translates this verse 'put by at home', but there are other Bible scholars who believe that because this is linked with the first day of the week, and the church met on the first day of the week, that it's talking about laying by in store into the church treasury. I favour that view, there's no principle at stake, it doesn't really matter, but the fact of the matter is that the word 'store' here is a Greek noun from which we get our English word 'thesaurus'. You know that a thesaurus is a collection, a treasury of words that you can look up to get a synonymous word, for a word that you're looking for a different one for.
The fact of the matter is, this word has been used for a treasury, and it was used in Paul's day for a storehouse, a chest where valuables were stored. In pagan and Jewish cultures of the New Testament, treasuries were often associated with temples, whether it was the Jewish temple or whether it was the pagan temple. So for that reason I think what's being talked about here is that, even if they were collecting at home during the week, they were to bring on the Lord's Day these collections, and store them in the church treasury on the first day of the week - so that, as Paul says later on, there will be no collections when he comes. There would have to be collections when he came if you were storing it up in your own house, wouldn't there? If there was a need for the saints right away, you'd have to get all together, and discuss who was going to give and all the rest - I think it is in the church here that Paul's talking about.
Systematically - there's a method in it! It's not 'the Spirit moves me', the Spirit says you've got to do this! This is God's word to you! Here's my question to us this evening: if Christians were as systematic in giving to the Lord as they are in handling other financial matters, the work of the Lord would never ever suffer - isn't that a fact? I know people, and if they buy a can of Coke, they put it down in a ledger! It's not me by the way! But the fact of the matter is that there are people who are that detailed in their pennies, yet they may be robbing the church of the Living God of what it needs to further the Gospel!
Are we giving systematically? Fifthly, we are to give providentially. Not many people deal with this one, but I want to deal with it shortly - it just says 'as God', just those two words 'as God'...yes, 'has prospered you', we'll look at that in a minute - but 'as God hath prospered you'. In other words, don't forget where your prosperity comes from! It comes from the hand of God, James says: 'Every good and perfect gift comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no shadow of turning, no variableness' - it's from the Lord. The fact of the matter is in relation to giving, He prospers you providentially in His will, and the higher prospering and proportion of giving He gives you is so that you might have a higher proportion to give back to Him for the work. Do you get it?
God never gave me a million pounds, maybe that surprises you! He hasn't given me that, so He doesn't expect me to give that to His work if I don't have it. In a smaller regard, we can apply that in the sense that we have to be sensible too - yes, we have to be sacrificial, but this next point will show us that our giving providentially is to be proportionate. We're to give proportionately 'as God has prospered him'. What Paul is doing here is, in one sense, leaving it to individual discretion - and I think this is terribly important. Paul doesn't lay down a percentage that we're to give, you'll never find in the New Testament a percentage, and you'll never find a tithe. This is one great misunderstanding with regards to giving in the church today, and it's not only a misunderstanding of New Testament teaching on tithing, it's a misunderstanding of Old Testament teaching on tithing - and I commend those tapes to you, I don't have time to go into the detail of it all. But let me just mention this: there were many tithes in the Old Testament - not just 10%, there were many of them. There was the Lord's tithe that was taken of the people, of the produce, to feed the Levite priests, for the service of the temple and tabernacle. There was the festival tithe, an annual celebration to celebrate the conquest of the promised land once a year. Both those tithes were 10%, of course, which gave a mandatory 20% for everybody - 20%!
Then there was the poor tithe, the social tax of 10%, and that was every three years, 3.3% per annum - which gave a total of 23% when added to the first two tithes. Twenty-three per year! Then there was the tithes of the corners of the fields, and of the fruit of the vine for the poor - there were other taxes from time to time, and it all adds up to a requirement per annum of a minimum of 25 percent per year. Then there is grace giving in the Old Testament, it's not all about law, you could offer the firstfruits if you wanted to God, there were also freewill offerings. There were many other things, but the bottom line is this: in the Old Testament Scriptures there could be anything up to 30+% of your wealth that was given to God. Then when we come into the New Testament Scriptures the only time that tithe is mentioned, only once, is when the Lord Jesus castigates the Pharisees and says: 'Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone'. And if there was anybody to introduce the doctrine of the tithe, it was Paul, who was a Jew, a real Jew, a Pharisee of the Pharisees. He was talking to Gentiles here, many of whom in Corinth didn't know the first thing about a tithe - do you not think if they needed to know it, he would have been the man to teach them?
Paul is telling us that it's not about percentages, what our giving depends on is our individual circumstances, that we may give proportionately as God has prospered us. Now don't think, in one sense, that a Christian should be giving less than a Jew in law - but in the other sense, I know this, that for some folk during some times of the year it's very difficult even to get the tithe, to get the 10%. Maybe you find that hard to believe, but the fact of the matter is that there are some people in that situation - and for that reason Paul doesn't legislate. He says: 'Look, you give as God has prospered you, proportionately to your circumstances' - and let's face it, our circumstances can change from week to week, can't they? That's why we need to assess them week to week, not only because it's a weekly worship, but we may have needs this week that we never accounted for, and we're to be no man's debtor - is that not the truth? We can give to God and then rob our neighbour!
What did Paul say practically in 1 Timothy 5: 'But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel'. This is the question: when we get more, when we get more do we spend more, or do we give more? Oh I know, when we get less we give less and we spend less, there's no choice - but when we get more do we proportionately give more? There's a passage in 2 Corinthians 8 which has been very helpful to me, a paraphrase of it simply reads: 'God doesn't expect you to give what you don't have'. Don't misunderstand me: sacrificial giving is in the word of God, and this little widow's mite was commended - but the fact of the matter is that Paul says our contribution can be flexible. We're not to neglect sacrifice in the matter, but here's Paul's point I believe - he's talking about the Jewish poor Christians, and he's talking to some in Corinth that were probably quite wealthy and well-heeled, and he's saying this: the burden of giving in the collection should not rest upon the poor. There should never be a Christian - it happens out of necessity - but there should never be a Christian that has to pass a meal by because a rich Christian will not give what their prosperity says they should give.
We're all to bear the burden, Paul says - proportionately, right? Moving on - six is it? Seven maybe? Preventatively - that's a hard one to say - preventatively, verse 2, give as God has prospered you, proportionately: 'that there be no gatherings when I come'. Now what's Paul's point? I think this is it: there should be a continual flow of resources in the church of Jesus Christ, and a continual store of resources put away on a regular basis for when the need arises, that it might be met! That mean that when there is a need and it arises, we shouldn't be scraping the bottom of the barrel, and running around needing people to give! Now of course there are exercises and projects like the one we're in the middle of, that we could never have that amount of money set aside, in one sense, on a weekly basis - but the point of Paul is this, this is his point through my eyes: why do you need a building project to get some of you to give? Are there not needs all the time? Are there not poor Christians? Are there not missionaries that are seeking to win the lost? Is there not a 'Wonder Book', and they need another £200,000 to finance what they've already started doing let alone what they're going to do? Is there not a need?
Is giving, for you, something that is preventative? I mean, is it something that is regular, that means when a need arises in the Assembly among the people that that need can be met, because you're giving preventatively? That's what Paul is saying: 'When I come for this collection for the believers who are poor in Jerusalem, I don't want you all running around starting to dig into your pockets - that's not the way to give'. I wonder, for us, is giving a last-minute rush on a Sunday morning before we dart out the door, is it? 'I'll get a few things together here so that nobody sees I'm not putting anything in'? Give preventatively for the day that there is a need.
Then finally, eighthly, Paul commands us to give intelligently. I think this is terribly important and applicable today, verses 3 and 4: 'And when I come, whomsoever ye shall approve by your letters', please note the authority that the great apostle gave to the assembly in Corinth to appoint whoever they wished, 'them will I send to bring your liberality unto Jerusalem'. I'll send whoever you appoint, men who are approved - verse 4: 'And if it be meet', if I feel it's right, 'that I go also, they shall go with me'. I like the way he puts it there in verse 4, he's asserting his apostolic authority now, he says: 'I'm not going with them, they'll go with me' - but he's telling us to give intelligently. Now Paul was guarding his own reputation here in verses 3 and 4 because, rather than being accused of money grabbing - which might have been what people thought when he was going around collecting this money, that he had some kind of vested interest in it - he refused to handle the finances personally. There is wisdom in that.
You might say: 'Well, sure Paul was an honest man if ever there was one' - of course he was, but the fact of the matter is he was also a wise man. He knew that other people wouldn't see him as honest, and if they had anything against him that would be an accusation that they would give. So he's abstaining from all appearance of evil, the wisdom that he give others. But is it not true that this area of money is often a bigger temptation to the workers for the Lord Jesus Christ in the gospel than deviating spiritually, doctrinally, or even morally? Is that not the case? The love of money can fuel and motivate their service for Christ, and drive them to higher things!
Therefore, Paul tells you, here's some principles that need to be heralded in this day and age: the worker's duty is to be accountable financially, the worker's duty is to be able to say: 'This is where the money went, this is what I did with it' - but your duty in your giving is not just to scatter the money all around you, or when your tears start tripping you because you see a wee starving African, that you put your hand in your pocket! You need to know that the money that you're giving is used legitimately and wisely, and therefore he says: 'Appoint respected men among you, and I will send them to Jerusalem with letters of approval'. In Acts chapter 6 we see that the apostles had to do this because they wanted to labour in prayer and in the ministry of the word of God, and they told the believers there to set out from among them spiritual men full of the Holy Ghost, and the qualification for handling the money was not financial or commercial, but moral and spiritual! I believe it was the deacons that did it.
John MacArthur says, and I think this is a tremendous illustration as we conclude this and draw it altogether: 'God made all of His creation to give', isn't that right? 'He made everything around us to give, He made the sun and the moon and the stars to give forth light. He made the clouds to give forth rain. He made the earth to give forth, yielding seed and plants and vegetables. He also designed his supreme creation, man, to give'. 'But', MacArthur goes on, 'fallen man is the most reluctant giver of all God's creation, but one of the surest signs that you have been recreated, that you're redeemed, that you are regenerated, that you are a saved person, is your willingness to give'. So how is it? He goes on to quote the Athenian statesman Aristides, and I'm going to quote him now - listen to this. Aristides wrote of Christian people in the second century AD, listen to how he describes them: 'They walk in humility and kindness, and falsehood is not found among them, and they love one another. They despise not the widow, and they grieve not the orphan. He that hath distributes liberally to him that hath not. If they see a stranger they bring him under their roof, and they rejoice over him as if he were their brother. They call themselves brethren, not after the flesh, but after the spirit and in God - but when one of their poor passes away from the world, and any of them see him, then he provides for his burial according to his ability. If they hear that any of their number is in prison or oppressed for the name of their Messiah, all of them provide for his needs - and if it is possible that he may be delivered, they deliver him. If there is among them a man that is poor and needy, and they have not an abundance of necessity' - wait till you hear this - 'they will fast two or three days that they may supply the needy with his necessary food'!
Oh, we're all advanced, aren't we today? Oh, we know so much more than those Christians in those days - but John said: 'But whoso hath this world's good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?'. Warren Weirsbe said: 'Christian giving is a grace, the outflow of the grace of God in our lives, and not the result of emotion or pressure. An open heart cannot maintain a closed hand'. Is that not true? Is your hand closed tonight to the giving of God's work? Is it closed? Do you have this spirit: 'I'll not give!'? I'll tell you, do you know why you'll not give? Because your heart is closed! If we appreciate the grace of God extended to us, we will want to express the grace of sharing with others - and the fact of the matter is this, and this is what a lot of people can't stand but this is the fact of the matter, in 2 Corinthians 8:9 not only does Paul here in 1 Corinthians inextricably link this grace of giving with the Lord's Table upon the first day of the week, and the resurrection on the day of the Lord, but he also in 2 Corinthians 8:9 links it with the very coming of our Lord Jesus Christ into the world and taking upon Himself of our sin. He says, as you know: 'For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich' - and if you esteem the Lord Jesus Christ's sacrifice for you, you will sacrifice for Him.
"Were the whole realm of nature mine
That were an offering far too small".
Do you know why the Corinthians were exhorted by the Macedonians' giving? Those Macedonians who gave out of their poverty? Here's what Paul says: because first they gave themselves! Is that not the key?
"Were the whole realm of nature mine
That were an offering far too small.
Love so amazing, so divine
Demands"...my ten pound note? No!
Demands my life, my heart, my all".
Does He have your all? For if He has your all, He'll have your wallet.
Lord Jesus, we hear Thee say: 'I gave my life for thee. My precious blood I shared, that thou might ransomed be, and quickened from the dead. I gave my life for thee, what hast thou given for me?'. Lord, we pray that all of us may give all of ourselves this night and always, Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the forty-third tape in his 1 Corinthians series, titled "Concerning Collections" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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