We were hosting a group of Chinese educators at Second Baptist Church, Liberty, Mo, as part of their tour across the U.S. Some of our guests had more than one PhD. And most of them spoke English. I spent an hour with them before worship, explaining what they would witness and answering questions. None of them had ever attended a Christian worship event and they asked about our faith and how we were organized and financed. The one point that amazed them and produced multiple questions was the fact that the church was totally funded by member contributions. This subject came up again at the luncheon after worship. Christian stewardship is an anomaly to the world. It is not membership dues, program fees, taxes, connected to personal advancement, or assessment for services rendered. Christian giving is the result of God's love and blessings.
This is the basis on which Paul dares to urge the Corinthian believers to give generously to help the Jerusalem believers who live 800 miles away, people whom they did not know and would probably never meet. Keep in mind this fundraiser was not helped by Internet connections, an advertising campaign or television spots!
Paul lays out a simple reasonable plan for this offering: “On the first day of the week (Sunday), each of you should set aside whatever you can afford from what you earn so that the collection won't be delayed until I come” (1 Cor.16:2). It's a straightforward plan that respects the varied levels of personal income, suggests enough time for the offering to grow and values all gifts equally. We remember Jesus' stories about the widow who gave her penny (Mark 12:41-44) and the generosity of Zaccheus the tax collector (Luke 19:2-9). No gimmicks or last-minute push, no guilt tactics, but a reasonable plan in which every person can be an important participant.
Paul wisely lays out a plan to get the money to the Jerusalem church. Early in my church life I set some personal guidelines as a pastor: never ask people to give to something I was not willing to give to, never handle church funds personally, monitor the budget by bookkeeper and finance committee and make sure funds are used for their intended purpose. Be ethical and respectful with church finances.
The church is asked by Paul to choose from within their own members those who will deliver the offering to Jerusalem. They will experience the joy of this generosity and can personally share the story with Corinth. Paul will later decide to be a part of this delegation. He also sends three men to Corinth to help with the fundraising and to assist with the delivery of the funds (2 Cor.8:17-19, 22). The only one of the three respected individuals named is Titus, a frequent companion in ministry with Paul. All three individuals are evidently known and respected by the Corinthians.
Traveling in that day was perilous and their 800-mile trip included sailing across the Mediterranean Sea. Every precaution is being taken to safeguard these valuable resources. This offering is not only much-needed support for the Jerusalem Christians; it also represents unity between different cultural groups and an example of how Christ makes all of us one by God's grace.
Our text offers the modern church some timeless lessons of Christian stewardship. Giving should be a prominent part of our living and testimony. Because we love God and want to minister and help others we should plan and give regularly.
This may sound as dull as monthly bill paying until you remember ministry and people offer challenges and unforeseen needs. We plan and provide consistently because we love God and others. Giving should be an act of worship. I give a regular amount to the church monthly, but I also look for special needs outside the church throughout the year.
If you pay attention there will be opportunities that appear outside your usual plans and offer a special blessing. Each person has different resources and God does not expect everyone to give $10,000 when your income is stretched to support a family of four or pay medical bills. When your heart is shaped by God's love you will know how much you can give beyond your practical obligations. I have known people with limited means who saved their pocket change all year long and came up with a remarkable amount to support the local food pantry and foreign missions at the end of the year. It's what you do with what you have that matters, not what you wish you could do!
I look back at the years when I paid my own way through college and seminary...then the early years of marriage and the birth of two children...and I wonder how I got through the ongoing financial stress. But I always gave to support my church, missions and special needs. Sometimes my gifts were small and I struggled, but I experienced joy. Giving begins when you give your heart to God and realize he has given himself to you first. May generosity play a key part in your plan for living and may loving God be your primary motivation.
Retired after 46 years in pastoral ministry, Michael K. Olmsted enjoys family, supply preaching and interim work, literature, history, the arts and antiques.
Formations is a curriculum series from Smyth & Helwys Publishing, Inc. through NextSunday Resources.
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