The Pattern and History of our Giving
I’d like to read the first four verses of 1 Corinthians chapter 16..
“Now concerning the collection for the saints; As I directed the congregations of Galatia, so do you also. Against the first day of every week, let each one of you put aside and save, as he may prosper, that no collections be made when I arrive. And when I arrive, whomever you may approve, I shall send them with letters, to carry your gift to Jerusalem. And if it is fitting for me to go also, they will go with me.”
Christians everywhere, in the second half of the first century, were evidently well aware of the special needs of the church in Jerusalem. From what were told in the bible, it seems like these special needs were the result of a famine that was very widespread.
The first time that we hear about this famine being mentioned in the bible, is in Acts 11, verses 27 thru 30. Here’s what it says; “Now at this time, some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch.”
Antioch was located about 300 miles, straight north of Jerusalem. Antioch had become a hub for Christianity after the disciples were scattered from Jerusalem, on account of the persecution that began after Stephen was stoned to death.
Verse 26 had said; “..The disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.” History tells us that it was the Gentiles who first started calling the disciples Christians. The word Christian is only found three times in the bible. But this was the first time.
Here’s another “first” that we hear about in this chapter. Verse 27 says; “Now at this time, some PROPHETS came down from Jerusalem to Antioch.” This is the first time that we’re introduced to any specific prophets in the new testament church.
The apostle Peter had said there WOULD be prophets. Remember what he said on the day of Pentecost? In Acts 2, verse 17, he said; “And it shall be, in the last days, God says; That I will pour forth of My Spirit upon all mankind. And your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.”
And it says in Acts chapter 13, verse 1; “Now there were at Antioch, in the congregation that was there, prophets and teachers..”
But in Acts 11, verse 27, we see prophets from Jerusalem, coming down to Antioch. And here’s what it says about those prophets. Verse 28; “And one of them named Agabus, stood up, and began to indicate by the Spirit, that there would certainly be, a great famine, all over the world. And this took place in the reign of Claudius.” Claudius reigned from 41 AD, to 54 AD. I was reading from a commentary by JW McGarvey, and he did some calculating, and he figured that the preaching to the Greeks in Antioch, had occurred sometime around the years 41 or 42 AD. So that coincides exactly with when the reign of Claudius began. And the scripture says, that’s when this famine took place.
Now here’s verses 29 & 30; “And in the proportion that any had means, each of them determined to send a contribution for the relief of the brethren living in Judea. And this they did, sending it through the hand of Barnabas and Saul, to the elders.”
ALL Over The World
Another question comes to my mind when I read these verses. Verse 28 said; “..There would certainly be a great famine, over ALL the world.” Now it’s possible, that to these people, “ALL the world” may have only included the Roman empire, but still, that was a whole lot bigger area, than just the region of Judea. So then why did the Christians in Antioch, decide to send relief specifically to the brethren in Judea, and not anywhere else? Or why didn’t they start to gather funds for themselves, before the famine hit?
There may be a couple of logical answers to that question. It could be that they simply had a lot more love for others, than they had for themselves. Maybe that’s why they were “first called Christians in Antioch”.
But there could be another reason too. Agabus, the man who made this prophesy, had come down FROM Judea. It’s possible that the whole reason he came to Antioch, was to tell the brethren, how severe the effects of that famine would be, in Judea.
When the scriptures say that “Agabus stood up and began to indicate by the Spirit, that there would certainly be a great famine over ALL the world..” we can be fairly certain that Agabus didn’t stop with just those words. I’m sure that he said more about this great famine, than what’s recorded for us here.
Just like on the day of Pentecost, when Peter stood up and said; “Repent, and let each one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, for the forgiveness of your sins..” (Acts 2:38) We’re then told in verse 40; “And with many OTHER words, he solemnly testified, and kept on exhorting them saying; Be saved from this perverse generation.”
I believe it would go without saying, that Agabus also would have had “many other words” to say about the famine that was coming. And I’m sure the brethren would have had questions about it too. So then I think it’s very reasonable to conclude that Agabus told the brethren there at Antioch, that their brethren in Judea were going to need a lot of help. They had been suffering persecution for years already.
And so, what did they all do? The scripture says; “..In proportion that any had means, each of them determined to send a contribution for the relief of the brethren living in Judea. And this they did, sending it by the hand of Barnabas and Saul, to the elders.”
For Good or Bad, Saul Was a Leader
You know, Saul was the one who had really started the great persecution in Jerusalem and in Judea. You remember when Stephen was stoned to death for his preaching. It says in Acts 8, verse 1; “And Saul was in hearty agreement with putting him to death. And on that day, a great persecution arose against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea, and Samaria, except the apostles.”
And verse 3 says; “But Saul began ravaging the church, entering house after house. And dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison.” Saul was indeed, at the head of it all. But now, Saul himself was a Christian. And now he heads back to Jerusalem, not to persecute, but to minister.
Let’s read from Acts 11, verses 19 thru 26; “So then those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose in connection with Stephen, made their way to Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except the Jews alone. But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who came to Antioch, and began speaking to the Greeks also, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them. And a large number who believed, turned to the Lord.”
Not everyone who believed, turned to the Lord, but a large number of them did. This is an example of how “believing”, is not necessarily a sign of being saved. In the verse that we just read, “turning to the Lord” was something that had to accompany “believing”.
It’s like we’re told in John 12, verse 42; “Nevertheless, many even of the rulers believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees, they were not CONFESSING, lest they should be put out of the synagogue; For they loved the approval of men, rather than the approval of GOD!”
And of course that’s why Jesus said, very early on, in His ministry; “Not everyone who says to Me Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of heaven; But he who DOES the will of My Father, who is in heaven.” (Mathew 7:21) In order to DO the will of God, you’ve got to be willing to “confess Him”, and “turn to Him”.
The Gentiles Receive Christ
Now back to Acts; The word had begun to be preached to the Greeks. Chapter 10 tells of the conversion of Cornelius and his family, the very first NON-Jews, to be added to the church. And now; “..A large number who believed, turned to the Lord.”
Verses 22 & 23, say this; “And the news about them reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas off to Antioch. Then when he had come and witnessed the grace of God, he rejoiced and began to encourage them all, with resolute heart, to remain true to the Lord.”
That’s a good example of the fact that we’ve got to keep encouraging new converts to be faithful. You can’t just baptize someone, and then expect them to be just as strong and faithful as a mature Christian, without encouragement, and without continued teaching.
Now, Acts 11, verses 24 thru 26; Speaking about Barnabas; “For he was a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And considerable numbers were brought to the Lord. And he left for Tarsus, to look for Saul. And when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. And it came about, that for an entire year, they met with the church, and taught considerable numbers, and the disciples were first called Christians, in Antioch.”
A Book of Firsts
The book of Acts, is a book of “FIRSTS”. On the first day of the week, the very first gospel sermon was preached by Peter, and the doors to the kingdom of God, were first opened. Stephen became the first to die for his faith, and the first persecution of the church began. Then the first Gentile converts are made, and we see for the first time, the disciples being called Christians. The first introduction is made, of prophets in the church, and the first mention is made, of a collection being taken up, to help Christians in another location.
Back in chapter 9, we saw that Barnabas, was the first one, to really endorse Saul as a true disciple, and come to his aid. Listen to Acts 9, verses 26 & 27; “And when he (Saul) had come to Jerusalem, he was trying to associate with the disciples, and they were afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple. But Barnabas, took hold of him, and brought him to the apostles, and described to them, how he had seen the Lord on the road, and that He (the Lord) had talked to him. And how at Damascus, he had spoken out boldly in the name of the Lord.”
So, Saul and Barnabas had a special relationship, and that’s why Barnabas goes to Saul’s home in Tarsus, to find him, and to bring him back to Antioch, so they can work there together. And when the Christians at Antioch hear of the impending famine, and when they determine to send “a contribution for the relief of the brethren living in Judea”, they send it “in charge of Barnabas and Saul”.
Now even though this first relief effort was sent by Barnabas and Saul, it was Saul, who really seems to have taken charge, of the constant effort to help the brethren in Judea. Saul was the first one to really persecute these people, but now he’s the one who works the hardest, to bring them the aid that they need. (anyone can change, can’t they?) Several times in the scriptures, we see how Paul encourages congregations to give, and to help in the ministry to Judea.
2 Corinthians, chapters 8 & 9, are almost completely devoted to the subject of this ministry. And Paul uses the example of the Macedonians in particular, to serve as an example to others, to give freely, and generously.
He writes in 2 Corinthians 8, verse 2; “That in a great ordeal of affliction, their abundance of joy, and their deep poverty, overflowed in the wealth of their liberality.” And in verse 5, he writes; “And this, not as we expected, but they FIRST gave themselves to the Lord, and to us, by the will of the Lord.”
Giving Yourself is a Must
So there’s another “FIRST” for us. If we would do the WILL of the Lord, we have to FIRST, give ourselves to the Lord. THEN, we’ll be prepared to do the rest of His will. But if we can’t manage to give OURSELVES, then anything else that we give, is simply “going through the motions”, and it really won’t account for anything anyway.
Paul wrote, in 2 Corinthians 9, verse 1; “Now concerning this ministry for the saints, it is superfluous for me to write to you.” In other words, it’s MORE than what is necessary. You already know all about it. And in verse 2, he says; “For I know your readiness..”
God Teaches Us Important Principles
And Paul uses the example of “this ministry for the saints”, to teach us some principles, that God wants us to KNOW, and to LIVE by. For example; Verses 6 thru 11; “Now this I say; He who sows sparingly, shall also reap sparingly. And he who sows bountifully, shall also reap bountifully.”
Now here’s a little something that’s interesting. The word bountifully, doesn’t mean what you think it means. The word actually means.. “upon blessings”. “He who sows upon blessings..”
The literal translation is.. “with adulations and praise”. In other words, here’s the exact meaning.. “He who sows with adulations and praise TO God, shall also reap with adulations and praise FROM God!” And the more you sow, the more you’ll reap. I think it’s little things like this, that make the scriptures so much richer.
But back to the text; “Let each one, do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed.”
“As it is written; He scattered abroad, he gave to the poor; His righteousness abides forever!”
“Now, He who supplies seed to the sower, and bread for food, will supply and multiply your seed for sowing, and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in everything, for all liberality, which through us, is producing thanksgiving to God.”
God is saying; don’t be afraid of giving LIBERALLY, because God will give it back! He will “..multiply your seed for sowing”! He won’t multiply your seed, if all you want to do with that seed, is use it on yourself; But if your purpose is to do even MORE sowing, God will multiply your seed!
And, God will “..increase the harvest of your righteousness”. When will you receive, “..the harvest of your righteousness”? You’ll receive it on the last day, won’t you? When everyone, shall “..appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.” (2 Cor 5, verse 10)
Concerning the Collection
Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 16, verse 1; “Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I directed the churches of Galatia, so do you also.” We’re not going to be taking up a collection for the saints in Jerusalem, are we? But Paul is still leaving us a “pattern” to follow. And here’s the pattern..
Verse 2; “Against the first day of the week, let each one of you put aside, treasuring up, as he may prosper, that no collections be made when I come.”
Your bible may say; “ON the first day of the week..”, but that’s NOT accurate. We’re NOT supposed to WAIT, until the first day of the week, and on THAT day “put aside, and treasure up, as we may prosper”. We’re supposed to “put aside, and treasure up”, all week long, as we may prosper. THEN, ON the first day of the week, we can GIVE, what we’ve put aside, all week long.
The original wording of that verse is; “AGAINST the first day of the week”. In other words, “In regards to the first day of the week”. In regards to the day, when we come together and worship God. “Against THAT day”, put your money aside, treasuring it up, so that it’s ready, when the first day arrives.
Paul said; “And when I arrive..” Paul isn’t going to arrive here in our town, BUT, until the end of time, there will ALWAYS be another first day of the week arriving.
Jesus said, in Mathew 26, verse 11; “The poor, you will ALWAYS have with you..” So then the pattern is; “Against the first day of every week, put aside and treasure up, as you may prosper”.. So that you can give, ON the first day of the week, when we assemble together, to worship God, our creator.
But there’s something that you’ve got to give FIRST. You’ve got to give yourself! THEN you can treasure up.. “treasures in heaven”.