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1 Corinthians 16:1-4

Our Collection: Our Obligation

1 Corinthians 16:1-4


Teaching Moments


1. This historical setting of this text is fairly clear. On his third missionary journey Paul is taking up a collection of money for the poor saints in Jerusalem. Paul refers this collection as a "fellowship" that was made for the "poor among the saints in Jerusalem" (Romans 15:26). Luke refers to this collection and notes the different individuals who accompanied Paul to Jerusalem as representatives of the churches which had contributed (Acts 20:4). In his second letter to Corinth, Paul encourages the Corinthians to complete their commitment to this fund (2 Cor. 8:10-11). 2 Corinthians 8 & 9 provide the theological motivation for this gift and some of the principles that should guide the Corinthians in their giving: (1) goal of equity among brothers (8:13-15); (2) give according to what one has (8:12); (3) gift should arise out of the heart (9:7-8); and (4) the motive for giving is to bring glory to God (9:12-15).

2. There are some difficulties that are associated with this text.

1. This historical setting of this text is fairly clear. On his third missionary journey Paul is taking up a collection of money for the poor saints in Jerusalem. Paul refers this collection as a "fellowship" that was made for the "poor among the saints in Jerusalem" (Romans 15:26). Luke refers to this collection and notes the different individuals who accompanied Paul to Jerusalem as representatives of the churches which had contributed (Acts 20:4). In his second letter to Corinth, Paul encourages the Corinthians to complete their commitment to this fund (2 Cor. 8:10-11). 2 Corinthians 8 & 9 provide the theological motivation for this gift and some of the principles that should guide the Corinthians in their giving: (1) goal of equity among brothers (8:13-15); (2) give according to what one has (8:12); (3) gift should arise out of the heart (9:7-8); and (4) the motive for giving is to bring glory to God (9:12-15).

2. There are some difficulties that are associated with this text.

a. We are not sure whether the collection was set aside individually at home (saved up at home and collected when Paul arrived) or whether it was set aside corporately during the weekly assembly (saved up in a "treasury" so that there would be no collections when Paul came). I think the later is more likely since the "first day of the week" makes more sense in the context of a corporate assembly or a weekly day of worship rather than, as some have argued, that "first day of the week" was payday in the ancient world.

b. There is some disagreement about whether this text is a "pattern" of some kind and what kind of pattern it is. Some would say that this text commands all congregations to have a weekly monetary contribution. But the Macedonians were not commanded to do this (2 Cor. 8:1-4), and ultimately Paul does not even command the Corinthians (2 Cor. 8:8). Further, if it were necessary for the "pattern" of the church to have a weekly contribution, then this is something the Corinthians would have already been doing and there would have been no need for Paul to "command" anything, and there would have been no need for the Corinthians to ask about how to go about collecting this money. ("Now about" indicates the Corinthians were asking advice about how to do this.) Further, Paul does not "command" in the sense of laying down a law, but he suggests an arrangement for fulfilling the goal.

c. There is also some disagreement about whether this text is a "pattern" about to whom the church should give money among the poor. Some believe that only "poor saints" should receive money from the church treasury. However, I think 2 Corinthians 8:13 indicates that this money not only supplied the needs of saints, but also helped non-Christians. Further, the examples of 2 Corinthians 8 & 9 reflect how God's people (everyone, even the aliens, were permitted to collect manna; cf. 2 Cor. 8:15 as a quotation of Exodus 16:18) and God himself gives to non-saints (God supplies the seed to unbelievers too). In addition, God's provisions in creation and providence reflect his benevolence to all people, saint and non-saint.

d. There is also some disagreement about whether this text is a "pattern" for how the good works of the church should be supported. Some believe that this text excludes any other means of fund-raising than free-will offerings or that the church should not receive money in any other way than free-will offerings. However, the text itself does not exclude anything. It only calls upon the Corithians to share according to their ability. Can a church treasury earn interest on its money? If this text is exclusive, it excludes even that.

3. The basic problem, I think, is reading this text as a "pattern." Instead of an absolute pattern for the church, it is rather an occasional, incidental arrangement for the specific purpose of helping the poor saints in Jerusalem. It does not intend to say this is the only way you can do things or that this is the only reason for which you can take up a collection. It is Paul's specific response to a Corinthian question. Question: How should we collect this money for Jerusalem? Response: Follow the arrangement I gave the churches of Galatia, take up a collection when you meet on Sunday and save it up till I come.

4. What are some of the principles of this text if it is not simply a pure command obligating us to a particular every Sunday duty?

a. It reflects the principle that God's people ought to meet the needs of specific situations, and they can use the convenience of the Sunday assembly to meet these needs.

b. It reflects the principle that everyone should give "in keeping" with their "income." God calls people to share according to what they have, not according to what they don't have.

c. It reflects the principle that God's people should have a special concern for the poor. Indeed, the apostles charged Paul that in his preaching of the gospel he should remember the poor (Gal. 2:10), which Paul was eager to do.

5. Paul wants representatives to accompany the gift to Jerusalem. I don't think this is to insure how the money is used, but to increase the dimension of "fellowship" that the gift represents. Paul intended this gift to be a "fellowship" between Jews and Gentiles. Thus, some Gentile representatives would enable a personal dimension of fellowship. [All the names in Acts 20:4 are Greek names, though we cannot be certain that they were all Gentiles. Indeed, Timothy was half-Gentile, but technically Jewish.]


Group Discussion

1. How have you heard this text read in the past? What conclusions have you heard drawn from this text? Evaluate those conclusions.

2. What is the historical situation of this text? How do you understand the fact that the Galatians were told to do something that the Macedonians were not (2 Cor. 8:1-4)? How do you understand the fact that the Corinthians were ultimately not commanded to do this (2 Cor. 8:8)?

3. Is this text an absolute command for every Christian to give every first day of the week in the weekly assembly as a test of faithfulness? Why? Why not?

4. What principles do you see in this text that apply to contemporary Christians?

5. How would you explain to a friend Paul's principle about how much to give in verse 2? [You might read 2 Corinthians 8:11-12 and 9:6-8 at this point as well.]

6. What is significant about who will have the responsibility and accountability over this gift?

7. Given our discussion above, what is the "obligation" of this text?





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