Two whole chapters about a collection in the church, chapters 8 and 9 of 2 Corinthians, about an offering of money. That alone is enough to cause us to stop and consider how important that side of our church service is.
A general survey of what Paul says in these two chapters must at once convince us that he sees much more in the collection plate than we often do.
Although Scripture is full of the importance of offering (our Confessions speak of them too) in this article I would confine myself to 2 Cor. 8 and 9 and show from them, with the very words of the apostle, of what tremendous importance our offering is, especially now the offering for the poor and indigent, charity in that sense.
A severe famine had swept over Jerusalem and it reached such proportions that the saints faced starvation. Help was needed at once. Under the preaching of Paul and the other apostles the saints understood that the “administration of this service” belonged to the ministry of Christ and His Church. Hence, in their dire need Paul was deputated (Gal. 2:10) to ask and gather alms for the distressed brethren at Jerusalem. The need of the Jerusalem saints had to be supplied by the abundance of the saints elsewhere. That plainly was the rule according to which they went and it is well for us to mark this rule as one of the principles which changes not. Not from anywhere and everywhere might the need of the saints be supplied, but it must needs go according to the rule of the priestly offering, in brief: “our abundance must be a supply for their want.”
Thus Paul sought that collection.
Apparently, however, before he as much as had asked the collection, the churches of Macedonia came forward with a gift. They moreover “prayed Paul with much beseeching” that he would take the gift to Jerusalem for them.
That collection he had before him as he writes to the Church at Corinth. At Corinth it might be a different story. Paul had boasted of their readiness to them of Macedonia, but no doubt Corinth stood in need of a special urging.
The collection plate still had to be passed in the Corinthian church. With the collection from Macedonia before him Paul urges the Corinthians to observe their duty of offering and to observe the rule that the need of the saints in one place must be supplied by the abundance of the saints at another place. And to the better impress this upon them Paul holds before the Corinthians what a singularly glorious thing a hearty offering is, yea, so important that Paul closes chapter 9 with “thanks be to God for his unspeakable gift,” the gift namely (among others in our salvation) that we would and may supply the needs of the poor.
In the collection plate Paul sees more than we often do. We see money, and sometimes no more than that. We see coins of various denominations. He that gives, and he that carries and he that receives, so often sees little more in the collection than money. That is too bad, for the sacred gift of “lithurgy” (vs. 12, translated service) is lost sight of by the glitter of coins or the shock at the lack of them. Money, money, money, every day we handle it, but it is indeed too bad when the sacred gift of the priestly offering degenerates into the mere business of money. Money is needed, indeed, but mere money does not suffice, the church must give more than money and the poor need more. The church must give mercy, the church must give love. The church must administer grace, for that is what the poor need. And that can be had only among the saints. Mere money could perhaps be had from some different source, but grace, mercy, and peace that can be had only among the saints in the ministry of Christ.
The collection is therefore money and more. . . .money plus.
Let us see therefore what Paul finds in the collection plate.
Paul connects that gift very closely with the grace of God, in fact the word grace in 8:19 is really that collection or gift. In 8:1 first of all Paul says “we make known to you brethren, the grace of God, given unto the churches of Macedonia”, referring of course to the generous gift from them. Paul does not say, look what I received from Macedonia, but he says, look what Macedonia had received. Not we first received something but Macedonia received something and they receive grace from God. Paul emphasizes that it was the grace of God which moved them to such a collection. Macedonia itself was in “deep poverty” (vs. 2), but their deep poverty led not to the announcement that since they themselves were poor and had enough to take care of themselves they could do nothing for others, but their poverty swelled out to giving a liberal collection. Indeed a remarkable poverty that was. It was nothing but God’s grace which against the background of their deep poverty manifested itself in the collection plate. In II Cor. 9:14 it is spoken or as “the exceeding (i.e. flowing out of its bounds) grace of God which is in you”. In that gift is revealed the grace of God in the hearts, grace which overflows as it were and the result of it is seen in the collection plate. The saints gave a collection and Paul thanks God’s grace. Not man therefore, but God the honor, not of man, not what man gave does Paul see in the collection, but he sees first what God gave. . . .grace.
In 8:8 as well as in 8:24 and 9:13 it is emphasized that that collection is also a proof, a token and demonstration (experiment) of their love to God and the saints. In that collection plate Paul sees this question answered “Do they love God and the brethren?” and “do they love in word only or also in deed” (James). Actions do often speak louder than do words. To love in words is easy (especially as long as no collection is announced and we are not in “deep poverty”) but we are exhorted to love in deed. The collection is “the proof of your love” says Paul. In 8:8 it is “to prove the realness and the unfeignedness of your love.” In 24 it is “show then. . . . the proof of your love.” In the plate Paul sees therefore the proof, the evidence that they were saints of the God of love and mercy. By giving their gifts they also made a confession of “their subjection unto the Gospel of Christ” (9:13) and their confession was that the Law of the love of Christ was in their hearts. Do you love self and the world, there your money will go, yourself and the world will always be first in your consideration. And when the weekly (monthly) salary comes, you and the world will be always first; but, if the love of God be in our hearts it is borne out by the gift and offering to them that are indigent. The greater and more fervent is our love the more wholeheartedly we give. The widow’s mite meanwhile is as important as the well-to-do’s big check for “it is accepted according to what a man hath and not according to what he hath not.” Only the peculiar thing of it all is that in their deep poverty the Macedonians abounded in liberality and hence the Christian shows his love through his gifts, be they great or small. That is one of the reasons why God has such a thing as money in this world.
MINISTERING TO THE SAINTS
In 8:4 Paul sees the collection as a “ministering to the saints.” That is what Christ does, His Church is engaged in that same work. In their gifts the Church manifests that she is the willing friend-servant of the Christ. They minister, not unto themselves (neither do they give with a view to net returns) but they minister to the brotherhood. . . . what blessed ties. The word ministering is the word deacon in English. The saints “deacon” to the saints, while the God-ordained officebearer must carry this fruit of their deaconing. In that sense all the saints are deacons.
And in 9:12 Paul sees the collection as a “service.” This word refers to the priestly office of bringing offerings to God’s House.
Plainly enough the Old Testament shows us how great a part this had in the worship of the true God. Offering is a service, in it we express that we are priests of the Most High God and of His Christ and we bring the offerings of love to His House.
In 9:5 we read of “your bounty,” again referring to that selfsame collection. The word bounty, if literally translated, would read “your blessing.” Hence here Paul sees in the collection plate your blessing. Through that gift we as priests bless the brethren and are to them a cause of (not of stumbling, but) blessing. With the gift goes our blessing, in it is our blessing, that is, the receiving of it conveys to them a blessing and gives peace and joy (9:11). The needy saints taste in it a blessing. While the world curses and our enemies curse; yea, while even sometimes the brethren curse and abuse us, we contrariwise bless. We bless not only with words but with deeds. When departing from God’s House the minister pronounces the blessing upon the saints, but in that collection plate we saints bless one another and are a blessing to one another in Christ. And with this blessing comes peace.
Finally, in 8:5 we read that in and through that bounty they “gave their own selves to the Lord.” In that collection we give our own selves to the Lord. The supreme offering of His Priests. Christ gave Himself, as His servants we give ourselves first, then money. What offering pleases God? Money, possessions or goods? Nay, these things are but dead. Ourselves. . . . living sacrifices of praise to God.
That is the collection.
In a subsequent article we shall D. V. see what great things are affected by such a collection.