It is a strange
phenomenon in today’s church. It is recognized widely that there are
rules regulating worship. This is acknowledged in virtually every area
of church activity—except in one’s “giving.” Many know how the music
portion of the worship is to be conducted (with a cappella
singing). Not a few understand the proper communion elements (bread and
fruit of the vine), along with the day and frequency for the observance
of the supper (each Sunday). They would vigorously, and correctly,
protest any presumptuous alteration of these ordinances.
But some appear to think
there are no regulations for giving. With many, there is almost a
“design-your-own-system” procedure, along with a flippant
“it’s-nobody’s-business-what-I-do” disposition. If the Lord has
prescribed a pattern for what we do in other acts of worship, is it
reasonable to presume that he left the matter of “giving” as an entirely
optional feature—or at best very ambiguous?
Paul discussed several
requirements for Christian giving in 1 Corinthians 16:1-2.
“Now concerning the
collection for the saints, do the same thing that I commanded the
Galatian churches; every Sunday, let each one of you lay aside by
himself, if he earns anything, and put it in the treasury; so that there
will be no collections when I come” (McCord’s Translation).
When Paul, in the company
of Barnabas and Titus, went to Jerusalem to assure the church of the
validity of his apostleship, and the genuineness of the gospel he
preached (Galatians 2:1), he was readily endorsed. James, the
half brother of the Lord, along with Peter and John, extended to the
apostle the “right hand of fellowship” in the noble work in which they
all were involved. They did encourage Paul, however, to “remember the
poor,” which he was most zealous to do (2:10).
For the past half-dozen
years, prior to the composition of 1st Corinthians, the great preacher
had demonstrated his concern for the needy, and even now he was busily
involved in a campaign to assist the poor among the saints at Jerusalem
(cf. Romans 15:24-25; 2 Corinthians 8-9; Acts 24:17). In the
apostle’s mind, there was no segregation of benevolence from evangelism;
benevolence is evangelism (Matthew 5:16; Galatians
6:10)! These circumstances are the background of 1 Corinthians
Note that the instruction
conveyed in 1 Corinthians 16:1-2 is in the form of a “command”
diatasso 16x in NT). Other texts that employ the word
demonstrate the imperative nature of the language. When Jesus finished
“commanding” his disciples, he departed to preach in their cities
(Matthew 11:1). Aquila and Priscilla left Rome because Claudius
Caesar had “commanded” all Jews to depart from Rome (Acts 18:2).
The instructions that follow in this Corinthian correspondence are not
optional suggestions. They constitute a pattern for the implementation
of sacred duties.
As a result of something
Paul later wrote to this church, some have surmised that this text is
not to be viewed as a binding pattern. Regarding the same collection,
the apostle would write: “I speak not by way of commandment, but as
proving through the earnestness of others the sincerity also of your
love” (2 Corinthians 8:8).
Regarding this seeming
discrepancy one may observe: (a) the matter of supporting the cause of
God in its various needs is unquestionably a sacred obligation. (b) The
specific objects of reception, involved in rendering
that responsibility, is a matter of judgment. (c) The general procedure
for carrying out financial obligations is prescribed. (d) It is better
to motivate by love than by coercion, when at all possible. Professor
Hodge of Princeton Theological Seminary once observed:
This [“order”] is the
language of authority. For although these contributions were voluntary,
and were required to be made cheerfully, 2 Corinthians 9:7, yet
they were a duty, and therefore both the collection itself, and the mode
in which it should be accomplished, were proper subjects for apostolic
The frequency of
contributing is “every Sunday”; the Greek literally says: “the first day
of every week” (cf. Matthew 27:15; Luke 2:41). It is a mystery as
to why the force of the distributive preposition,
kata (every), was not made evident in
the KJV/ASV translations (see Danker, et
One should budget his
finances, therefore, so as to be able to give each Lord’s day. If one is
ill, or away, thus unable to contribute at his local congregation, he
should make provisions to leave his contribution behind, or else make it
up when he returns. One is obligated to contribute as consistently as he
has income. It is not right for a few to bear virtually the full
expenses of a local work, while others “ride free.”
For each family income
there must be a gift. If the husband/father is the sole wage earner, he
obviously will be the only source for a gift. If the mother/wife has a
separate income, she must contribute from that as well. When Christian
teens have a job, they must give from their income. If they receive an
allowance, a portion of that belongs to the Lord. If older folks are on
social security, they are not exempt from this act of worship. “Each
one” means “every one” who has income—rich or poor, young or old, male
The next portion of the
passage is the most controversial. Is the Christian obligated to
contribute into the “treasury” of the local church? What does the phrase
“lay by him in store” mean?
The expression “by him” (
heatou) is commonly assumed to suggest, “save up at home.”
The Seventh-day Adventists have long contended for this view in an
effort to negate the first-century evidence for Sunday worship (Canright,
207-08). But the evidence does not support that view. The phrase “by
him” most likely means, “let him take to himself what he means to give”
(Hodge, 365). Or the words may be considered as a neuter form, “by
itself” (McGarvey, 161), or “to put something aside” (Danker, 268).
James MacKnight rendered the full phrase: “lay by itself putting it into
the appointed treasury” (208).
The phrase “in store”
imperative mood (a command), present tense (repetitious action),
participle. The verbal action depicts consistently depositing something
in a “treasury” (
Christian has an obligation to help sustain the local church treasury,
regardless of the extra missionary and/or benevolent work to which he
may contribute otherwise as an individual.
Some, in an attempt to
negate church responsibility, dispute that the early church had
“treasuries” at this point in time. “It is improbable that at that time
there was any Church treasury, and not until much later was money
collected during public worship” (Robertson / Plummer 384). And so, as
noted above, a common allegation is that the “storing up” was what the
individual did at his home. This is pure speculation and quite contrary
to the explicit testimony of the passage, namely that these Christians
(and others, e.g., those in Galatia) were to give “every first day of
the week.” Moreover, common sense dictates that the monies collected had
to be deposited somewhere.
Leon Morris noted that
since “Paul expressly deprecates the collecting of the money when he
arrives (which would be necessary if they all had it laid by at home) it
is perhaps better to think of it as being stored in the church treasury”
(238). See a similar discussion in: Shore, VII.353.
The modern translations
(e.g., Wuest), and commentary assertions (e.g., Fee, 813), that the
phrase signifies, “put aside at home,” are entirely unwarranted. There
is no “at home” in the text—either stated or implied (contra
Thayer, 168). Appeals to texts in classical literature are irrelevant to
this context. This “at home” business is the very
circumstance Paul was endeavoring to prevent—”that no collections be
made when I come.” Another scholar responds:
Some have interpreted the
par heauto (literally ‘by
himself’) to mean ‘at home.’ But then why mention doing it on Sunday,
when they could just as well do it regularly at home at other times? The
meaning must rather be that the Christians were to bring their offerings
to church on Sunday, since that was the day they assembled for worship
(Acts 20:7; Rev. 1:10). It is significant that the early church
father, Justin Martyr (second century A.D.) testified that contributions
to the church were received on that day (Apology I, 67.6) (Mare, 293).
Another writer also has
observed that since the “laying by” was to “be done on the day of their
religious assembly, and so that there should be no trouble or time lost
in collecting it when he [Paul] came, it is rather to be inferred that
on each Sunday it was to be deposited in the treasury of the church”
The celebrated historian,
Mosheim, in describing the Lord’s day worship of the first-century
church, stated that: “Every Christian, who was in an opulent condition,
and indeed every one, according to their circumstances, brought with
them their gifts, and offered them, as it were, unto the Lord”
Under the Old Testament
regime the Hebrews were not allowed to be “free-lancers” with their
“tithes.” Rather, the Lord charged: “Bring the whole tithe into the
‘osar – “treasury”
cf. Job 38:22], so that there may be food in my house” (Mal.
3:10). Similarly, Christians have a primary duty to the local
church; they may not act as independent agents in their giving to the
The assertion of some
commentators, that this injunction is not a pattern and holds no
authority for today, is a reckless statement of no basis. It wholly
ignores the command motif at the commencement of the passage, as well as
the application of the instruction beyond Corinth (1:2; 16:1).
The expression, “as he
may prosper” is one word in Greek (
subjunctive mood (most likely), present tense, passive voice verb. The
subjunctive is the mood of possibility, the present tense reflects an
action in progress, and the passive voice indicates that the subject is
the recipient of action—in this case, prosperity from God. The term
itself basically means “prosperous journey,” and thus suggests this
idea: to whatever degree he “is prospered” by God, week-by-week, he must
contribute a portion to the Lord’s work “according to his ability”
(Acts 11:29; cf. the exceptional “beyond their power” – 2
The more one is
prospered, the more he should give; the less he prospers, less is
required. As Christ once expressed the principle: “to whomsoever much is
given, of him much shall be required” (Luke 12:48b).
Still, the amount
expected seems vague. Is there more precision that
might be anticipated, beyond the general principle—”to the degree one is
While we do not live
under the Old Testament economy, there are many incidental truths one
can learn from those documents that assist us in arriving at various
elements of truth. For example, Paul appealed to the law of Moses to
establish the principle that one who exerts considerable labor in a
cause, is worthy of sustenance for his effort (1 Timothy 5:17; cf.
The Old Testament “Tithe”
In the earliest age of
Old Testament history, the patriarchal period, there are two examples of
great servants of the Lord offering gifts to the Creator from their
prosperity. Abraham gave to Melchizedek, a priest of God, ten percent of
the “chief spoils” he recently had taken from some pagan kings
(Genesis 14:20; Hebrews 7:4). Later Jacob, after his dream of the
ladder that reached from earth to heaven, with its ascending and
descending angels, set up a pillar to memorialize the occasion. He
pledged to give a tenth of his resources to Jehovah (Genesis 28:22).
Later the Mosaic law
formalized the “tithe” (a tenth) as the required giving of Israel
(Leviticus 27:30-32). In addition they offered various sacrifices,
and gave “free-will” offerings. So actually, they gave much more than
the tithe (a portion being considered taxation), but ten percent appears
to have been the very minimum (cf. Malachi 3:10).
Gospel ministers have not
rendered a balanced service by merely stating: “We do not live under the
law of Moses; therefore we are not required to tithe,” as if that
somehow leaves us with no direction at all—and we are
free to give as far below that level as we are disposed
to do! Of course many are happy to accommodate themselves to a
significantly smaller amount.
The Higher Ideal
One of the major designs
of the book of Hebrews is to show the superiority of the new covenant of
Jesus Christ, over the former covenant given through Moses. Again and
again, the sacred writer uses the comparative term “better” to mark the
qualitative distinction of the latter over the former.
Christ, as giver of the
new covenant, is “better” than the angels, through whom the old regime
came (1:4). We have a “better hope,” i.e., as priests ourselves
(1 Peter 2:5, 9), a more direct access to God (7:21). The
new covenant is a “better covenant” because of the unchangeable
priesthood of our Savior (7:22). The ministry of Christ is a
“more excellent” one; indeed it is a “better covenant” enacted upon
“better promises” (8:6). The new covenant is one with “better
sacrifices” (9:23)—a reference to the sacrifice of our Lord.
[Note: The plural form is designed to correspond with the “sacrifices”
of the Levitical system, but with a symbolic emphasis—suggesting the
excellence of Christ’s offering, “perfect in all its parts” (Bengal,
In view of all this, how
could a conscientious Bible student ever come to the conclusion that we
may sacrifice less than the ancient patriarchs, or the
nation of Israel—when we have far more revelation, and
tremendously greater blessings, than they enjoyed?
We must give
consistently, generously, and joyfully (2 Corinthians 9:7).
How could any informed
Christian possibly contend that he, as a beneficiary of the new
covenant, and as a part of the body of Jesus Christ, could love less,
thus give less, than the Jew who professes to honor God, but knows not
There is little doubt
that if all Christians gave as much as 10% of their
incomes, our contributions would soar far above what they now are!
Here is a mathematical
challenge to your faith. Multiply your present contribution by ten, and
ask God to bless you with an income in that amount. And
perhaps hope he doesn’t!
Bengal, J.A. (1877),
Gnomon of the New Testament (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark).
Canright, D.N. (1889),
Seventh-Day Adventism Renounced (New York: Fleming H. Revell
Danker, F.W., et al.
(2000), A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other
Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago).
Fee, Gordon (1987),
The First Epistle to the Corinthians – The New International Commentary
on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans).
Hodge, Charles (1857),
An Exposition of the First Epistle to the Corinthians (New
York: Hodder & Stoughton).
MacKnight, James (1954),
Apostolical Epistles (Nashville: Gospel Advocate).
Mare, W. Harold (1976)
1 Corinthians – The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Frank E.
Gaebelein, ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan).
McCord, Hugo (1988),
McCord’s New Testament Translation of the Everlasting Gospel
(Henderson, TN: Freed-Hardeman University).
McGarvey, J.W. and
Pendleton, Philip (n.d.), Commentary on Thessalonians, Corinthians,
Galatians & Romans (Cincinnati: Standard).
Morris, Leon (1958),
The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians – Tyndale New Testament
Commentaries (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans).
Mosheim, John Lawrence
(1959), Ecclesiastical History (Rosemead, CA: Old Paths).
Robertson, Archibald and
Plummer, Alfred (1914), First Epistle of St Paul to the Corinthians
– The International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark).
Sadler, M.F. (1906),
The First and Second Epistles to the Corinthians (London: George
Bell & Sons).
Shore, T. Teighmouth
(1959), The First Epistle to the Corinthians – Ellicott’s Commentary
on the Whole Bible, C.J. Ellicott, ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan).
Thayer, J.H. (1958),
A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Edinburgh: T.&T.
Wuest, Kenneth (1961),
The New Testament – An Expanded Translation (Grand Rapids:
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