We have been studying Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians and we come here in our final lesson to chapter 16, which is a very practical chapter. It almost seems anti-climactic after his focus on matters such as the Resurrection, spiritual gifts, and Christian love. Here he begins to talk about Christian giving, as well as some personal matters concerning his relationship to Timothy, and Apollos, and some of the people from Corinth. Finally, there are some greetings and some encouraging statements at the end. I do not think of the chapter as an anti-climax, however. If we do that, we are really betraying an imbalance in the Christian life, because we are saying that all that really matters in Christianity is theology or doctrine. We tend to think that the practical matters fit in somewhere, but that they are less important, if not downright dispensable.
The Apostle Paul did not think that way. Paul always understood doctrine in terms of its practical application. That is why, in all of his great epistles, the flow of thought is from doctrine, in the first portion, to the application of that doctrine in the second part.
It is significant that the thing he begins with is this matter of a collection. He is not very specific about it, but we know from some of the other epistles that Paul was taking up a collection around the Roman world for the poor saints in Jerusalem. Such collections were a new thing in Paul’s day. Today we are accustomed to what we call “Christian charity.” But because of that, we fail to see how really unique this sort of thing was. In the Roman Empire, from time to time, somebody may have given a coin to a beggar, and certainly there was a certain amount of charity that was recognized in Judaism. Compared to the kind of things that we think of in terms of Christian charity, it was generally a very small thing. And yet from the very beginning of the Christian Church there was a demonstration of shared concern. Regardless of nationality, or race, or the area of the world in which they lived, the first Christians shared a common life, and, therefore, the concern of one was the concern of all.
Here in the sixteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians Paul addresses that kind of giving in very practical ways. In the first four verses he lays down some principles for it. These are not rules in the sense that they are invariable, as if what Paul says here has to be followed in precisely this way in every single situation. But they are, nevertheless, good principles about giving.
When Paul discusses this particular collection, he specifically refers to local giving. Paul is instructing them just as he had the Galatians, and presumably all the other churches for which he had oversight, that giving should be done on the local level. He does not mean, of course, that there cannot be national organizations or even international organizations that raise money for a particular cause. However, it does mean that giving, as a local expression of faith, is a valid principle, and a good one, because it has to do with accountability. If you have an organization that is somewhat remote from the people who are recipients of the gifts, the lines of communication often become strained, and accountability oftentimes gets lost along the way. If we are giving locally, we are usually giving to people whom we know, who will then manage it in a responsible way. When that occurs you have the kind of accountability that all Christian organizations, and particularly local churches, should have. There is so much dishonesty in raising money, and I might say also, so much waste in money that is raised. The best possible guard against that is to have the money raised and distributed at the local level.