Bible boy_reading_bibleThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

1 Corinthians 16:1-4

The Collection for the Saints

16 Now concerning[a] the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do. On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come. And when I arrive, I will send those whom you accredit by letter to carry your gift to Jerusalem. If it seems advisable that I should go also, they will accompany me.

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Last week’s post concluded Paul’s teaching on the resurrection of the body in the eternal life to come.

In this last chapter of 1 Corinthians, Paul characteristically takes care of what I would call housekeeping: general, local directives along with his personal plans, ending with a benediction, a blessing.

Matthew Henry’s commentary notes that Paul wrote this in AD 57.

Paul is collecting a large sum of money from the other churches in Greece and Asia Minor to take to the poor converts in Jerusalem.

John MacArthur gives us a brief timeline (emphases mine):

He hasn’t gotten to Corinth yet; he hasn’t written the book of Romans yet, but by the time he gets to Corinth and pens it, he collects this stuff to take back to the Jews at Jerusalem.

And by the way, he had gathered money from Achaia, Macedonia, as well as Asia Minor, which would be Ephesus and some other cities that he had touched there. So, he had, apparently, a very, very substantial, large amount.

In that era, Jerusalem no longer had the splendour it had under Solomon. Ancient historians’ records indicate that it was a city of grinding poverty, with a steadily increasing population. Many Jews who came to the city for religious festivals stayed on afterwards, including those who converted at the first Pentecost and wanted to become part of the church. Furthermore, many converts did not have regular employment, as some of the local Jews did not want to hire Christians.

MacArthur says that Jerusalem received a goodly sum of money from donations by wealthy benefactors who came from abroad for religious feasts:

And none of those Jewish benefactors who were granting money to the city would want it to go to those who were confessing a crucified, rejected Messiah.

Early in Acts, we discover that the first converts in Jerusalem pooled together what they had for the church, including property. However, those resources were finite.

There was also a famine in the land. Times were desperate, indeed, hence Paul’s desire for a huge sum of money from the Gentile churches.

Paul was always one for uniformity. One could think of him as the Apostle who brought quality control into the Church. He was always about best practice in doctrine, worship, conduct and giving.

As such, he begins by writing about the collection for the saints in Jerusalem and instructs the Corinthians to follow the same directives that he gave the church in Galatia (verse 1).

Matthew Henry interprets that verse as being one of encouragement for the Corinthians:

Note, The good examples of other Christians and churches should excite in us a holy emulation. It is becoming a Christian not to bear to be outdone by a fellow-christian in any thing virtuous and praise-worthy, provided this consideration only makes him exert himself, not envy others; and the more advantages we have above others the more should we endeavour to exceed them. The church of Corinth should not be outdone in this service of love by the churches of Galatia, which do not appear to have been enriched with equal spiritual gifts nor outward ability.

Paul then tells the Corinthians how the collection should proceed in his absence. Recall that 1 Corinthians in its entirety is a response to questions from the congregation. 1 Corinthians 16 is also a chapter with answers to their questions.

Paul says that the Corinthians should collect all the money before he arrives, with congregants giving what they can week after week at Sunday worship (verse 2).

Henry’s approach to giving at Sunday worship is practical without being burdensome:

Indeed all our charity and benevolence should be free and cheerful, and for that reason should be made as easy to ourselves as may be. And what more likely way to make us easy in this matter than thus to lay by? We may cheerfully give when we know that we can spare, and that we have been laying by in store that we may.

This is the point of giving regularly at Sunday worship. Our donations go to the clergy, to the poor in the congregation, perhaps to the poor in a special mission project in another locale, and to the maintenance of the local church building as well as church programmes, such as Sunday School.

MacArthur says that the Greek word Paul used for ‘collection’ is ‘fellowship’:

… several times in the New Testament, 2 Corinthians 8:4, 2 Corinthians 9:13, and Romans 15:26 to be exact – when Paul refers to the collection, he calls it the koinōnia. He actually uses the word koinōnia to describe a collection. And the word koinōnia means – what? – fellowship. But to him, it is inseparable. You cannot share money without sharing fellowship.

Fellowship fosters unity among all churches, e.g. those in our denomination, such as poor congregations overseas:

Paul’s point here is that the church’s primary responsibility is to make sure that it funds its own needs. That’s basic.

Now, notice also that it is not one local church funding only that local church, but one local assembly here in Corinth caring for the needs of another local assembly in Jerusalem so that the church, when it really is the church, and when it understands what it is universally, will meet its needs anywhere, not just selfishly pouring it on at its local point of existence. But the church is to meet its own needs.

MacArthur tells us why Sunday is the day for the church to collect donations at worship:

Now, the normal day for the church to meet was the first day. Did you know that? It always has been. In John chapter 20 is where it all started.

People say, “Well, how did we ever get away from the Sabbath, and how did we ever get on Sunday?”

Well, here it is, in John 20:19 it says, “The same day at evening” – this is Resurrection Day, when Jesus rose –being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst.” The first post-resurrection service was held on Resurrection Day, Sunday, the first day of the week. Well, that became such a great day, such a glorious day, Resurrection Day, that that became the standard day.

And you move over to the same chapter, the twenty-sixth verse, “And eight days later, again the disciples inside” – eight days later would be the next Sunday – “Thomas with them: then came Jesus.” The second service they ever had after Resurrection was also on a Sunday, and that became the pattern. And so, later on, as you move into the book of Acts, you see them gathering on that day.

Over in Acts chapter 20, for example, it says, “And we sailed away from Philippi. We came to Troas, and on the first day of the week, when he disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached to them.”

So, by the time you’re into Acts 20, it’s the pattern of the Church to meet on the first day of the week. And by the time you get to Revelation 1:10, that day has a name, and it’s called the Lord’s Day. The Lord’s Day. You might also be interested to know that the day of Pentecost, in which the Church was born, was a Sunday, the first day of the week. You might also be interested to know that the Church never did celebrate the Sabbath as such. In Colossians 2:16, Paul says, “Don’t let anybody bind you to a Sabbath.” In Romans 14, he says the same thing. And it is the only one of the Ten Commandments not repeated in the New Testament.

So, the Sabbath was set aside in favor of Resurrection Day. And the Church was to come together on the first day. And that’s why he says what he says here, “On the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store.”

Now you say, “Well, why? Why on the first day of the week?”

Because that’s the day of worship. And how you handle money is inextricably tied with the depth of your worship.

MacArthur explains how donations to the Jewish temple and pagan temples worked in ancient times. The treasuries he describes were, essentially, banks:

In the early years of the pagan temples in Greece and in the Roman world, the pagans would give their money and their offerings at the pagan temples. And all the pagan temples had what were known as thēsauros or treasure boxes. And people would come with their money and place it the thēsauros, the treasury of the temple. This was true in Judaism, wasn’t it? The temple treasury, don’t you read about that in the gospels? This was true in many pagan religions. In fact, it got to be so that the temple actually would come to the place where it would not only receive the gifts of the people, but it would even hold their money for them. So that temples – pagan temples became banks. The biggest banks in the Greek world were in temples. And the reason was because the people worshiped the gods they worshiped out of fear and nobody would rob the temple bank. Safest place to put a bank.

They actually had safe deposit boxes that you could have for your own deposit and so forth. So the idea in terms of the cultural background is of a treasury associated with the meeting place or the place of worship. The idea of the term simply means to set by yourself privately and devoting your own thinking and self-determination to the determining of whatever amount you’re going to give and to place it in the treasury. Now the use of the term treasury in that world would have commonly brought to their mind the treasury at the house of worship. So it seems best to see that the phrase is simply saying put your money in the treasury, and they would know that the treasury would be that which was common to their place of worship.

This is why churches have a treasurer, someone who can keep a good account of the donations and handle the congregation’s giving responsibly:

And that’s why, beloved, you want Godly people in responsibility in the church.

Like Henry, MacArthur says that the amount we give at worship is up to us but suggests that we be as generous as we are able to be:

That’s up to you. But do it every week and everybody do it. And David said, “I will not give the Lord that which cost me nothing.” Do it sacrificially. Do it magnanimously. And I’ll tell you a great truth people, when you start to give to God, God starts to return it. You know, it’s like planting seed. It is absolutely like planting seed. If we had time we could go across this room and we have testimonies. When I first taught these truths and within about a matter of six months or so we go $500,000.00 in gifts to begin to build this building. And I bet if we could have people stand up, they could tell how God has blessed those gifts since that time. Since they invested with Him. Giving to God is like planting seed.

Henry has similar exhortations:

Our prosperity and success are from God and not from ourselves; and he is to be owned in all and honoured with all. It is his bounty and blessing to which we owe all we have; and whatever we have is to be used, and employed, and improved, for him. His right to ourselves and all that is ours is to be owned and yielded to him. And what argument more proper to excite us to charity to the people and children of God than to consider all we have as his gift, as coming from him? Note, When God blesses and prospers us, we should be ready to relieve and comfort his needy servants; when his bounty flows forth upon us, we should not confine it to ourselves, but let it stream out to others. The good we receive from him should stir us up to do good to others, to resemble him in our beneficence; and therefore the more good we receive from God the more we should do good to others. They were to lay by as God had blessed them, in that proportion. The more they had, through God’s blessing, gained by their business or labour, their traffic or work, the more they were to lay by. Note, God expects that our beneficence to others should hold some proportion to his bounty to us.

Returning to Paul’s instructions, he told the Corinthians to decide who should make the journey to Jerusalem and accredit them by letter (verse 3).

Henry explains:

This would be a proper testimony of their respect and brotherly love to their distressed brethren, to send their gift by members of their own body, trusty and tenderhearted, who would have compassion on their suffering brethren, and a Christian concern for them, and not defraud them. It would argue that they were very hearty in this service, when they should send some of their own body on so long and hazardous a journey or voyage, to convey their liberality. Note, We should not only charitably relieve our poor fellow-christians but do it in such a way as will best signify our compassion to them and care of them.

Paul concludes by saying that, if the donation is substantial enough, he will accompany the accredited persons to Jerusalem (verse 4).

Henry says:

Note, Ministers are doing their proper business when they are promoting or helping in works of charity. Paul stirs up the Corinthians to gather for the relief of the churches in Judea, and he is ready to go with their messengers, to convey what is gathered; and he is still in the way of his duty, in the business of his office.

MacArthur adds:

Look at this, verse 4. This is really an insight into Paul. And he says, “Look if it’s suitable, I’ll go along with it.” In other words, listen, if you give enough so that I won’t be embarrassed, I’ll go along and accompany it. Isn’t that good? I’m not about to take a long trip to Jerusalem, though if you just give a little bit. So that’s just a nice little way for Paul to say you know, come on, stretch yourself a little. If it’s a suitable offering, I’ll even go.

Paul was finally able to take the large sum of money from the Gentile churches to Jerusalem in Acts 24. He must have been thrilled.

Acts 24:17 says:

17 Now after several years I came to bring alms to my nation and to present offerings.

He was put on trial and imprisoned for a few years at that point and ended up in Rome, at his request, for a proper trial. Although he was allowed to preach for a time, he ended up dying as a martyr for the faith.

Returning to 1 Corinthians 16, Paul laid out his travel plans, more about which next week.

Next time — 1 Corinthians 16:5-9