Now Concerning the Collection: I Corinthians 16:1-2

by Wayne S. Walker

Through the years some have been heard to ridicule the idea of "five acts of worship." When we understand that the Biblical concept of "worship" involves "an act of homage or reverence to God" (see W. E. Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, Vol. IV, p. 235) then we can realize that certain acts are acceptable to God as worship because He has authorized them for that purpose--hence, "acts of worship." Most people have no problem agreeing that prayer, singing, the Lord's supper, and even Bible preaching fit into the general category of worship, but there are those who profess not to see how taking up a collection can be considered an act of worship. However, the fact is that in giving as the New Testament instructs each Christian is performing "an act of homage or reverence to God," then we should have no trouble accepting this as an act of worship.

image by Leo Reynolds on Flickr

Some words by the apostle Paul should help us to understand more about this. "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" (1 Corinthians 16:1-2, King James Version). This idea of a "collection" is not just a suggestion or some good advice, but an "order" that an inspired apostle of Jesus Christ gave both to the churches of Galatia and to the church at Corinth. Then Paul provides instructions so that we may have more precise information on the subject.

When is the collection to be taken? "Upon the first day of the week." Why specify the first day of the week? We know that this is the day upon which early Christians met for worship, as they gathered together to break bread (Acts 20:7). Later writers identify it as "the Lord's day" (Revelation 1:10). Why God chose this day for this special purpose is not revealed, but it may have something to do with the fact that Jesus rose on the first day of the week (Mark 16:9). Some human churches take up a collection nearly every time the doors are open, but since God specified that the collection was to be "upon the first day of the week," it is the only day that is authorized for a collection by the church. The language also means that if possible Christians should give each first day of the week.

Who should participate in this collection? "Let every one of you." To whom was this statement directed? "Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints" (1 Corinthians 1:2). Those directed to engage in this collection are identified as "the church" and "saints." The church consists of those who have been saved (Acts 2:47). Saints are those who have been separated from sin (Ephesians 2:19). Basically, the church is made up of those who are saints. Some human churches beg money from nearly anyone and everyone. However, the collection is designed as an act of worship for Christians, not an appeal for visitors to donate.

What exactly is the collection? It is an activity in which each member can "lay by him" or put aside his contribution to the Lord. The New King James Version says "lay something aside." It is a gathering together of money for a purpose. According to the New Testament, churches were and are authorized to use their collected funds for three purposes. The first is to support gospel preaching (2 Corinthians 11:8, Philippians 4:15-16). The second is to provide whatever is necessary for the edification of the saints (1 Corinthians 14:26, Ephesians 4:11-16). The third is benevolence for needy saints (Acts 11:27-30, Romans 15:26-28). How did they obtain the funds for these things? This is the only passage that shows how the money is to be collected.

Where is the collection to be put? "In store." The New King James Version says, "Storing up." This term implies putting something into a place where goods or precious things are collected and laid up, a storeroom, or treasury. The Jews had a treasury at the temple into which people could put their gifts (Mark 12:41). Even Jesus and His disciples, as they went about their work, had a "bag" into which they put their money for buying what they needed (John 12:6, 13:29). The early disciples brought their money to a common place, after which it was no longer under their individual control (Acts 4:34-37, 5:1-4). This authorizes a church to have a treasury, out of which whatever scriptural needs it has (benevolence, evangelism, or edification) are to be taken.

How is this collection to be given by each individual? "As God hath prospered him," or in keeping with his income. Everything we have is from God, the source of every good and perfect gift (James 1:17). He has asked that a certain part of that be returned to Him for the work of the church, but He has not specified an amount or percentage. In the Old Testament, He commanded the people of Israel to give a tithe, that is a tenth (Deuteronomy 12:6-11). However, in the New Testament, tithing is not authorized. The collection is to be a free-will offering in proportion to our prosperity, given cheerfully. "Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity; for God loveth a cheerful giver" (II Corinthians 9:6-7).

Why should the collection be taken? "That there be no gatherings when I come." The word translated "gatherings" is a plural form of the same word translated "collection." God has ordained that elders should oversee the work of the local church (I Peter 5:1-3). This would include making decisions on what to do with the funds collected. These decisions would still have to be made by the brethren during times before elders are appointed (Acts 14:23). Some explain this passage by saying that Christians should just put their money aside somewhere in their homes and then when a need arises they can put it together to meet the need. But that defeats the whole purpose of the passage. When a need arises, Paul is saying that if the money is collected and put in store, then no one will need to go around to people's houses and gather the money. Rather, it will already be together to draw upon in meeting the need.

There are two erroneous ideas about this passage that have arisen. One is that because Paul specifies a "collection for the saints," referring to benevolence for needy Christians, this passage can be applied only to taking up a collection for benevolence. It cannot be applied to taking up money for evangelism or edification and, some would even argue, to using any money thus collected for those purposes. What we have here is a specific application of a general principle. The specific application is how a collection for the saints is to be gathered. The general principle is that whatever funds the church needs are to be gathered by saints laying by in store on the first day of the week. While it is important to understand a passage in its context, sometimes a passage contains a principle that can be applied beyond its immediate context. The context of Deuteronomy 25:4 is very specific about the treatment of oxen, but in 1 Corinthians 9:9-10 Paul saw a broader application.

The other erroneous idea is that if we can take a passage which, seemingly, concerns only raising funds for benevolence and apply it to raising funds for evangelism, then why can we not also take other passages which concern how funds are spent for benevolence, sending from one church to another, and apply them to how funds are spent for evangelism, sending from one church to another and thus authorizing a sponsoring church arrangement? Actually, this idea is answered in the previous paragraph, but a couple of examples already cited help us to understand the point. It is true that in benevolence one church is authorized to send money to another church when the receiving church is in genuine need (cf. Acts 11:27-30). However, the New Testament pattern specifies that in evangelism the funds were always sent directly to the preacher (Philippians 4:15-16). Paul in I Corinthians 16:1-2 deals only with how funds are collected and implies nothing about how they can be spent.

"The collection" is a subject about which some do not like to be preached. They assume that whenever there is a sermon on the collection that they are being accused of not giving enough or that someone is trying to wring more money out of them. However, it is certainly a biblical subject, and therefore teaching the whole counsel of God demands that it be addressed. Furthermore, there is definitely a benefit to hearing and practicing what the Bible says on this topic because the Lord Himself said, "It is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20:35). Those who claim to be God's redeemed should be eager to support the church by giving of their means into the collection.

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