The Collection for God's People
1Now about the collection for God's people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. 2On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made. 3Then, when I arrive, I will give letters of introduction to the men you approve and send them with your gift to Jerusalem. 4If it seems advisable for me to go also, they will accompany me.
5After I go through Macedonia, I will come to you—for I will be going through Macedonia. 6Perhaps I will stay with you awhile, or even spend the winter, so that you can help me on my journey, wherever I go. 7I do not want to see you now and make only a passing visit; I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord permits. 8But I will stay on at Ephesus until Pentecost, 9because a great door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many who oppose me.
While I was teaching high school we had an annual event called the Coin Clash. This was a school-wide fund raiser based on collecting coins from the students. The money was collected by homerooms and it became a large competition between each homeroom. The money, once gathered, would then be donated to a worthy cause that had been chosen for that year. This was important, but the competition also served another important purpose. It was held early in the school year when classes could still be difficult because there was so much diversity whether it was due to race, gang affiliations, or something else. The competition served as a powerful tool to bring the students in each class together. They ceased to be a class of individuals and became a team, and often, great friendships were built during the week.
What Paul is doing with this collection is not quite like those collections, but there was a similar concept involved. Rather than getting all of the Christians to raise money and compete together to create unity, he is asking that all of the Gentile Christians take up a collection for the Church in Jerusalem. No doubt, one of Paul’s motivations in doing this was to help out the Jerusalem Christians who had undergone incredible persecution and were now beginning to feel the effects of it. He has another purpose, though. There has been a great deal of misunderstanding and mistrust between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians. It took a long time for the Jewish Christians to accept that the Gentiles could truly be viewed as equals within Christianity without also living by the visible markers of being a Jew. This collection would serve as a powerful sign and indicator that the the Gentiles are part of the same universal church body that the Jewish Christians are. It would, at least in Paul’s mind, build a great deal of unity between the two groups.
Paul doesn’t give us a great deal of detail in this passage concerning this collection, but when we piece together the various other passages that deal with this great project, the details begin to fill in (see 2 Cor. 8-9, Galatians 2:1-10; Romans 15:24-33). The collection was charity for a hurting church, but it was also an opportunity to break down the walls of hostility and mistrust that had been built between the Gentile and Jewish Christians. Generosity and love would span a bridge over the chasm of suspicion that had been created between these two factions of the Church. This plan will encounter great difficulties (2 Cor. 8-9; Acts 21), but none of that is in sight yet.
One thing that we can learn from this passage is that Christian giving had not become entirely systematized yet, although it is clear that there was a central location available to collect and store money as a Church. There are many principles laid down for giving here, though, that will be a part of any church that approaches giving in a healthy way. Giving should be done regularly (first day of every week); universally (each one of you); systematically (set aside a sum of money. . . saving it); proportionately (in keeping with his income); and freely (no collections will have to be made). Regular giving of any type is vital for a Christian community because it is both a regular exercise in self-sacrifice as well as a powerful reminder that all that we have comes from God and by giving we return just a small portion of that to him.
Another part of Paul’s plan is that he will not just send money to Jerusalem but he will send several men from Corinth, chosen by them, to go as well. This will serve the dual purpose of removing Paul from any suspicion of taking the money himself as well as generating a meeting, of sorts, between the Jewish Christians and several Gentile Christians. It is much easier to judge and develop prejudices against people that you don’t know; this will help greatly in breaking down those walls. In addition, it is much easier for churches to continue giving sacrificially when faces can be attached to the giving. Once the Corinthian brothers have gone to Jerusalem it will be much easier to continue to give in the future to people that they know and love.
Beyond that, though. It is vitally important to develop deep and lasting Christian relationships beyond the confines of our own church and, in our times, even beyond the confines of our own countries. It is far more than just a matter of boosting financial support from wealthier churches to less fortunate churches. Building personal relationships like this between churches does a world of good for both the recipient churches as well as the providing church. They both benefit from the building of relationships, the growing horizons of friendships, and the expanding of their vision of the universal scope of the body of Christ. Personal relationships like this can be more costly than just sending money, but there true value is priceless.
Paul then informs the Corinthians of his travel plans for the immediate future. He intended to spend the winter in Corinth (winter travel was difficult to the point of being nearly impossible and was dangerous) and then head out once again in the spring. When Paul came, he didn’t just want to spend a short time there and move on, he wanted to be able to really stay and enjoy some real time together. Yet, Paul always realized that plans might change. It is all dependent on the Lord’s will not his.
Paul, for the immediate future, however, will stay in Ephesus. He mentions that there are both encouraging and discouraging things happening at Ephesus. Paul understands, though, that it is the Holy Spirit who has opened a door of opportunity. Paul has clearly learned an important concept. Wherever the Spirit truly opens a door for the gospel to be spread, opposition is never very far behind. There will rarely, if ever, be a time when the gospel can be preached without also facing great opposition. This should both encourage and steel us. Doors will open, but opposition will come as well.
One thing that is implied in all of this talk of collections is the fact that Paul believed that giving to other Christians in need is the same as giving to the Lord Himself. Do you have that same attitude when it comes to giving? What about Paul’s desire for Christians from other parts of the world to develop relationships? Do you use your resources and time to take self-fulfilling vacations or do you use them to build relationships with Christians in other parts of the world?