By Keith Sharp
In one little congregation where I once preached, the treasurer, who was also the local bank president, contributed one dollar a week to the church and expected the congregation to plan its expenditures accordingly. After a year of that, I had to find another place to preach in order to survive.
Often Christians don’t like lessons on the collection. Of course, preachers must “declare … the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:26-27) even though the subject may be unpopular (2 Timothy 4:2). The subject of church finances may be unpopular, but it is a portion of the counsel of God, and it is my duty to teach on it.
The passage which authorizes a collection for the church is 1 Corinthians 16:1-4:
Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given orders to the churches of Galatia, so you must do also: On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come. And when I come, whomever you approve by your letters I will send to bear your gift to Jerusalem. But if it is fitting that I go also, they will go with me.
This passage answers five questions concerning church finances.
What are we to do about funding the work of the local church? The apostle’s subject is “the collection” (verse 1). The Greek word translated “collection” is “used chiefly of religious collections for a god, a temple, etc.” (Deissmann. 105, so Kittel. 4:282-3).
Some contend this passage only authorizes a collection for needy saints. It is certainly true that this specific collection Paul commands is for poor Christians. However, many passages authorize the local church to have a treasury (e.g., 2 Corinthians 11:8), and other passages also authorize other uses for the church’s money (Ibid). But this is the only passage that shows how the church is to raise its money.
Others contend, since this collection was for needy saints in Jerusalem, the church should only take a collection when a need arises. When all the lost are won to Christ, all needy saints are cared for, all Christians have been built up to the stature of Christ, and Christians no longer need to assemble to worship, then there will be no need for a collection.
Paul continues, “as I have given orders to the churches of Galatia, so you must do also.” These verses contains an apostolic command and “are the commandments of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 14:37). It is not to just one church, but is general in scope. This passage constitutes the entirety of the New Testament pattern for how the local church is to raise its money (cf. 2 Timothy 1:13). Thus, it is wrong for the church to raise money in any other way (2 John 9).
When should this collection take place? “Upon the first day of the week.” Based on the Greek grammar, the New American Standard Bible and the English Standard Version correctly translate this “on the first day of every week.” Thus, the first day of the week is the only day the church may take a collection, and it should have such a collection every first day of the week.
Who should contribute? “Each one of you.” The “you” are the members of “the church of God which is at Corinth” (1 Corinthians 1:2). Thus, the members of each local church are responsible for financing the work of that local church. Each member of the congregation has fellowship (shares) in the collective work of the church to the extent he gives of his means toward these endeavors (2 Corinthians 8:4).
How should we contribute? “Lay something aside.” Because of this peculiar phraseology, some contend this is simply a private laying up at home. But Paul specifically calls this a “collection” (verse 1). Storing money up at home would violate Paul’s purpose, “that there be no collections when I come” (verse 2). The phrase “lay something aside” emphasizes that the individuals members are to purpose ahead how much to give, rather than to give haphazardly (cf. 2 Corinthians 9:7a).
1 Corinthians 16:1-4
What? – “the collection”
When? – “On the first day of the week”
Who? – “let each one of you”
How? – “lay something aside”
How Much? – “as he may prosper”
How much should we give? Old Testament Israel was to give a tithe of all the produce of the land (Leviticus 27:30-33; Deuteronomy 14:22; Hebrews 7:5). But, the New Testament does not require a set amount or percentage. The principle is “as he may prosper.” Christ addresses our hearts and gives us principles whereby each Christian should determine for himself how much to give ( 2 Corinthians 8:12; 9:6-7).
Why should we take such a collection each first day of the week? “That there be no collections when I come.” The Lord wants an orderly arrangement for the finances of the local church so that no emergency collections are needed.
Each Christian should be aware of the goals and work of the congregation of which he is a member. He should then assess his income and contribute as he prospers to help the church do its divinely ordained work. Are you aware of what we are trying to do as a congregation? Are you trying to help meet these goals?
Deissmann, Adolf, Light from the Ancient East.
Kittel, Gerhard, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament.