Chapter 8: The Local Church and its Collections
by Thomas Bentley, Malaysia
One of the fascinating features of the nature of our God is that He is a giving God. One has put it this way: "God ever lives, forgives, outlives and ever stands with outstretched hands, and while He lives He gives, for this is Love’s prerogative to give, and give, and give." Adam was the first one to use the word as seen in Gen.3.12, "The woman whom Thou gavest to be with me". Hence in keeping with this most commendable feature of Divinity from Genesis to Revelation our God is seen as a "giving God", see Gen.12.7; Rev.22.12. Israel as a nation redeemed and released from Egyptian bondage, on receiving the details of what the Lord Jehovah specified as being essential for the Tabernacle to be built, responded diligently and devotedly as is recorded in Ex.35.1–36.7. This giving was due to their being willing hearted, "And they came, both men and women, as many as were willing hearted, and brought bracelets, and earrings, and rings, and tablets, all jewels of gold: and every man that offered offered an offering of gold unto the LORD" Ex.35.22, and the wise hearted used what was brought to build the tabernacle. Notice for example, "And every wise hearted among you shall come, and make all that the LORD hath commanded" Ex.35.10; "And all the women that were wise hearted did spin with their hands, and brought that which they had spun, both of blue, and of purple, and of scarlet, and of fine linen" Ex.35.25; "Then wrought Bezaleel and Aholiab, and every wise hearted man, in whom the LORD put wisdom and understanding to know how to work all manner of work for the service of the sanctuary, according to all that the LORD had commanded" Ex.36.1. They were so impelled to bring such an amount to Moses that they were told, in our language, ‘Enough is enough’. Thus it is written in chapter 36.5-7, "And they spake unto Moses, saying, The people bring much more than enough for the service of the work, which the LORD commanded to make. And Moses gave commandment, and they caused it to be proclaimed throughout the camp, saying, Let neither man nor woman make any more work for the offering of the sanctuary. So the people were restrained from bringing. For the stuff they had was sufficient for all the work to make it, and too much." Let us ask ourselves at this stage "Does our giving to God reach this standard in quality and quantity?"
It is essential and indeed vital, to our understanding of the subject of giving to recognise that we may give our gifts and our goods, and yet miss the priority of God in this matter and fail in giving our persons in wholehearted devotion to God, as is urged by Paul in Rom.12.1, "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service." The Lord wants more than my money or my resources. He wants me in total resignation to Himself, and this surely is extremely personal, practical and permanent. Is that all? Nay, verily, for as we turn to Heb.13.15 our God is awaiting yet a further giving, and that is praise, "By Him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to His name." It is recorded that the great C. H. Spurgeon having ministered from this verse one Lord’s Day, was found by one of his parishioners the very next day lying on the ground, having been attacked by a person who managed to take his money. His friend standing by said to him, "Can you still praise the Lord?" "Yes," he replied, and among the many things Spurgeon reiterated as his cause for praise was, "the robber did not take my life, he only took my money; and while he hit me, I did not hit him" and so on. Yet another offering is to be noted as found in Rev.8.3,4 and that is prayer, "And another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel’s hand." Every possible resource is to be ours through the grace of God whatever the circumstances may be.
King David provides a good illustration of the concept of giving in a selfless manner. Though he was intent on building a temple for God he was told that such was certainly not to be his privilege. "And David said to Solomon, My son, as for me, it was in my mind to build an house unto the name of the LORD my God: But the word of the LORD came to me, saying, Thou hast shed blood abundantly, and hast made great wars: thou shalt not build an house unto my name, because thou hast shed much blood upon the earth in my sight" 1 Chron.22.7,8. Naturally, he might well have both suppressed his interest and retained his resources, leaving others to supply the need. But no, David is recorded as having "prepared in abundance" for the Temple, although he would never have the privilege of being personally involved in its construction, "And David prepared iron in abundance for the nails for the doors of the gates, and for the joinings; and brass in abundance without weight; Also cedar trees in abundance: for the Zidonians and they of Tyre brought much cedar wood to David. And David said, Solomon my son is young and tender, and the house that is to be builded for the LORD must be exceeding magnifical, of fame and of glory throughout all countries: I will therefore now make preparation for it. So David prepared abundantly before his death ... Now, behold, in my trouble I have prepared for the house of the LORD an hundred thousand talents of gold, and a thousand thousand talents of silver; and of brass and iron without weight; for it is in abundance: timber also and stone have I prepared; and thou mayest add thereto. Moreover there are workmen with thee in abundance, hewers and workers of stone and timber, and all manner of cunning men for every manner of work. Of the gold, the silver, and the brass, and the iron, there is no number. Arise therefore, and be doing, and the LORD be with thee" 1 Chron.22.3-5;14-16. Whatever our situation in life may be, let us never withhold our devoted giving from God even though certain privileges that we may have anticipated, may not be ours in which to engage.
In the days of Josiah the insight that preserved him was truly ordered of God, else Athaliah, who hated kingship, would have killed him. But there was one with perception and intelligence, namely Jehosabeath, who acknowledged him and hid him in the house of God, and so he was preserved by priestly care. It is most important for the serious reader of Holy Scripture to note in any portion of the Book, the use and repetition of simple, yet key words. In 2 Chronicles chapters 23 and 24, such a word is "set".
Observe in 23.20 the King is "set upon the Throne" suggesting the Government of the house. In v.19 the porters are "set at the gates" ensuring the Guardianship of the house. Earlier in v.10 Jehoiada "set all the people … on the right side … and the left side of the temple," which signifies the Gallantry of the house. The Glory of the house is certainly discernable in the final result of this mighty activity and recovery as 24.13 records "they set the house of God in his state". The purpose in inviting the interested reader to this special portion is to note that when it comes to the subject of giving, which is essential for the ongoing work of the house, it is recorded in v.8 that the king commanded a chest to be made "and set it without the gate of the house of the Lord" denoting the Giving of the house.
In 2 Kings 11.9 it is stated that the priest set the chest "beside the Altar". The application is stimulating, as it reminds us of the privilege we have to gather in remembrance of the Lord, and then exercise our responsibility to give to Him our practical appreciation of Him. This, as we shall consider later, was within Paul’s communication to the Corinthians. Often I ask myself: would what I have set apart to offer at the remembrance meeting be more if I was truly affected by what the Lord Jesus has accomplished for me; would I give more after the remembrance than before it?
In the gospel by Mark chapter 13, there is what we may term an abbreviated record of the prophetic utterances by the Lord as recorded in Matthew chapters 24 and 25. It is helpful to note that four times the Lord Jesus urges that the persons addressed should "take heed" vv.5,9,23,33: our responsibility to do so is vital. It is encouraging to observe that before and after Mark’s account of the profusion and confusion of the times designated by the Lord, two women are mentioned, see 12.41–44; 14.1–9. Here are two women who, out of heartfelt devotion, give to God their wealth and worship. Beloved, ponder where Jesus the Lord is sitting "over against the treasury". Then observe what He is seeing, and listen to what He is saying. "And Jesus sat over against the treasury, and beheld how the people cast money into the treasury: and many that were rich cast in much. And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing. And He called unto Him His disciples, and saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury: For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living" Mk.12.41-44. "And being in Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as He sat at meat, there came a woman having an alabaster box of ointment of spikenard very precious; and she brake the box, and poured it on His head" Mk.14.3.
Surely when each one of us comes to such an exercise, He is neither absent nor oblivious. He is still the same Lord. The attitude of these women is in stark contrast to those in the days of Malachi of whom it is said they robbed God: "Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed Me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed Thee? In tithes and offerings. Ye are cursed with a curse: for ye have robbed Me, even this whole nation." However, to give to God His portion would bring great blessing, "Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in Mine house, and prove Me now herewith, saith the LORD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it" Mal.3.8-10.
Years ago brethren in an assembly, having apportioned the giving of the saints, had five pounds left. They mutually decided to give the five pounds to a dear sister they knew very well. The brother appointed put it in an envelope and placed it through her letterbox. Not very long after he met the sister who said she had something to tell him. She reported having been at a missionary meeting where a very special need was made known and she was moved to give, but she had only a five-pound note left in her purse. She bowed her head and said, "Lord, if I give this I will have nothing left, but what else can I do but give it to Thee?" And she did. But she said, "Brother, you will never believe what happened when I got home. On opening the door there was an envelope with five pounds in it." The brother in question could not get away quickly enough as his eyes filled with tears because of how God the Lord can see it all and repay the faithful. I ask my soul, has it ever been my experience to give all that I had?
The Directions for Giving
The directives given by Paul to the churches of Galatia were wholly applicable to the church at Corinth and indeed to all the churches. Thus they are very relevant to all who have the same readiness to receive Divine guidance and instruction on the subject of giving. Hence we who gather in like manner, unto His Name, should be willing and ready to comply.
The Day for Giving
This emphasises the regularity of the giving. It is continual. There could not be a more effective time than at the gathering of the saints to remember the Lord in His sacrificial giving. The very occasion offers tremendous reflection on the inestimable cost of His giving first to God and then for us.
The Determination for Giving
V.2 reads "let each one of you" (R.V.), making it abundantly clear that the giving is personal, essential and actual. The Spirit of God is surely telling us that the exercise in giving is individual, irrespective of state, standing or substance. This signifies very clearly that giving is not a family exercise when, as is often done, one member gives for all. It is always to be maintained and carefully practised that the giving is the result of individual exercise and appreciation. It is as individual as eating the bread and drinking the cup, yet both the giving and the partaking issue in a collective act.
The Distinction for Giving
Giving is to be proportional, "as God hath prospered him". Our giving is not to be either measured or limited. At this point it will be valuable to refer to the subject of giving as is understood by the use of the word "tithe" especially in the Old Testament. The first indication of tithing is in Gen.14.20, "And blessed be the most high God, which hath delivered thine enemies into thy hand. And he (Abraham) gave him (Melchisedec) tithes of all." Interestingly the last reference to the word occurs in Heb.7.1-10, "For this Melchisedec, king of Salem, priest of the most high God, who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings, and blessed him; To whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all; first being by interpretation King of righteousness, and after that also King of Salem, which is, King of peace; Without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God; abideth a priest continually. Now consider how great this man was, unto whom even the patriarch Abraham gave the tenth of the spoils. And verily they that are of the sons of Levi, who receive the office of the priesthood, have a commandment to take tithes of the people according to the law, that is, of their brethren, though they come out of the loins of Abraham: But he whose descent is not counted from them received tithes of Abraham, and blessed him that had the promises. And without all contradiction the less is blessed of the better. And here men that die receive tithes; but there he receiveth them, of whom it is witnessed that he liveth. And as I may so say, Levi also, who receiveth tithes, payed tithes in Abraham. For he was yet in the loins of his father, when Melchisedec met him." Thus the first and last references are to the same event. While much could be written on this vital issue in respect of giving, Nehemiah chapter 10 is instructive as there is recorded the determination of those who returned to the Land, and responded devotedly by affirming their willingness to adhere to the revealed mind of God as given by the prophet Nehemiah. As they promised to support the work of God they agreed to tithe, "And that we should bring the firstfruits of our dough, and our offerings, and the fruit of all manner of trees, of wine and of oil, unto the priests, to the chambers of the house of our God; and the tithes of our ground unto the Levites, that the same Levites might have the tithes in all the cities of our tillage. And the priest the son of Aaron shall be with the Levites, when the Levites take tithes: and the Levites shall bring up the tithe of the tithes unto the house of our God, to the chambers, unto the treasure house" Neh.10.37,38. How sad that by the time chapter 13 is reached, there was a total failure and fallacy in their former vows, "And I perceived that the portions of the Levites had not been given them" v.10. What a solemn reminder to each of us who can promise so much, but due to one reason and another, we fail to fulfil our vows in wholesome, wholehearted giving to our God.
The range covered by Paul in these two chapters, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, on the subject of giving is unequalled in terms of words employed, illustrations given and exhortations ministered. While it is not possible to offer a detailed exposition of these chapters, due to space, we trust there will be sufficient exposition to incite the reader to attend to the vast detail these two chapters offer on the exercise of giving.
The last verse of chapter 9 is mighty: "Thanks be unto God for His unspeakable gift." The strength of this tremendous statement lies in the single use of the word "unspeakable", as this is the only occurrence of the word in the New Testament. Ch.8.9 offers one of the most sobering references to the stupendous cost the Saviour paid for our redemption: "though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that ye through His poverty, might be rich." My deep concern is, what sacrifice am I prepared to undergo for the enrichment of the testimony today? To what degree were the beloved Macedonian believers willing to subscribe to the material cost of the work? Paul says "How that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality" 2 Cor. 8.2.
In order to grasp the character of our giving as well as its sacrificial and spiritual display, it is useful to note that Paul by the Spirit of God employs seven words that enable us to enrich our exercise in giving as well as extending its size, scope and sincerity. In v.2 the word to be noted is "liberality" which is found eight times in the New Testament, five of these being in 2 Corinthians. These occurrences are: 1.12 "in simplicity and godly sincerity"; 9.11 "Being enriched in every thing to all bountifulness"; 9.13 "your liberal distribution"; 11.3 "your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ". The others are: Rom.12.8 "he that giveth, let him do it with simplicity"; Eph.6.5 and Col.3.22 "in singleness of heart". It is clear that it denotes the motivation of our giving. Each believer is surely able to appreciate the primacy of God that makes His will and glory the impelling power in our giving. The word "grace" is used in the following verses 8.4,6,7,9,19; 9.8,14,16, and is calculated to display gratitude to God for all His goodness manifested in His unspeakable giving. The very familiar word "fellowship" appears in 8.4, making the exercise of giving something that is the portion and privilege of all in the local testimony. A similar word, "ministration" appears in v.8 and occurs also in 9.1,12,13. This signifies the earnestness and dignity the exercise displays at all times. In 8.2 and twice in v.14 the word "abundance" clearly affirms that giving ought to be full, fat, rich and bountiful: something that exceeds the expectation, yet more than fully meets the need. Two preachers were leaving an assembly after a fruitful period in the Gospel when the brethren thanked them very heartily for their fervent and fruitful labour in the work, but no gift was forthcoming. It was a time when cars were not available and all the preachers had was a caravan drawn by two horses. So as they were about to pull the reins and get the horses moving one of the preachers said, "But don’t forget brethren, the horses need hay". Unfortunately it might be necessary to say today, "the car needs petrol", and most will know it is not getting any cheaper. Paul teaches us by use of the word "bounty" 9.5,6 ("blessing", see R.V.) that the goodwill which finds its expression in the gift, or the spirit displayed in the giving, is transferred to the gift and it certainly becomes a blessing. Finally, in 8.20 (R.V.) the word "bounty" appears, which is a different word to that just highlighted. It is only used here, and it denotes that due to the rich nature of the giving, it not only demands a care and a guard for its security, but also deserves it. Unfortunately such secure care has not always been forthcoming because the brethren handling the assembly’s giving failed to regard its sanctity.
It is without controversy that the letter to the Galatians is corrective in nature. Paul senses the absence of fidelity to all that he taught during his time of valued service, to which he makes several appealing references. Obviously the saints require a reiteration of their privileges and also of their responsibilities so as to respond and hence recover, the vital and spiritual character and conduct of the assemblies, that answer to the mind and will of God.
It is necessary for each of us to realise the ministry that Paul gives in the verses dealing with giving is clearly presenting truths that are imperative. Paul applies the message personally "Let him ..." v.6. He then denotes the ongoing privilege of receiving Scriptural instruction, "Let him that is (being) taught". Evidently the words that follow denote a directive. The privilege always denotes a responsibility which Paul states can be fulfilled by practical communication of a gift in keeping with one’s exercise. Hence we have here a clear reference to personal giving.
Usually the next verse, v.7, is treated as being apart from the foregoing directives, but let us see it as corrective. The verse very obviously deals with sowing and reaping: "Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap." Such concepts have been used by Paul elsewhere in the context of giving, "If we have sown unto you spiritual things, is it a great thing if we shall reap your carnal things?" 1 Cor.9.11. Later in 2 Cor.9.6, Paul adds both a negative and positive assurance: "He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully." It is truly possible we could disregard Paul’s advice here on giving and we might never expect God to deal with us because of our obvious neglect of responsibility. Our God is observant, so we ought not to disregard the directives He imparts. The ability of the apostle as led by the Spirit of God, to draw upon simple, yet vital illustrations for the spiritual enrichment of the saints, is, needless to say educative. It is the power and prerogative of the Spirit to remind us of how we should respond to Divine directives. Sadly, if we fail to do His will, it becomes regrettable evidence of the influence of the flesh. Surely it is our utmost desire to obey the directives of the Word by always doing good. The advice of v.10 "Let us do good unto all …" can be taken as being conclusive.
One remarkable feature of Paul’s communications by letter to any Macedonian assembly that must be recognised is that he never exerts his power nor expresses his position as an apostle. As has been noted already, when he is referring to the Macedonian saints it is always complimentary, see 2 Cor.8.1; 11.9. On the subject of giving, Paul’s language and joy reflect the thoughtfulness and constant support the Philippians maintained for him wherever he went in the service of the Lord. Such an exercise today is surely expected from saints who value the fulness of Divine grace, and hence are unfailing in their sustaining provision for those who serve God faithfully.
V.10. "But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at the last your care of me had flourished again, wherein ye were also careful, but ye lacked opportunity." Paul is anxious to show that he is truly grateful, and that his sincerely expressed gratitude is not an expectation of future favours. It can be described as A Service to be Esteemed. The word "care" or "to think", describing the thoughtfulness of the Philippians, is the same word as in 2.5, "the mind" that was in Christ Jesus, and it certainly enhances the exercise of the saints in Philippi.
V.11. Paul is exceedingly anxious that the saints do not misjudge his language, for in v.11 he expresses ever so clearly A State to be Envied: "Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith [therein] to be content." Paul is clearly anxious that the saints do not misinterpret his return of thanks as indicating that he is expecting more from their hand and heart of love. Several forms of learning are clearly recognisable in the New Testament, e.g. Acts 26.24 where the word "gramma" is used as defining what the reader would learn from reading. Another interesting word that is used frequently in our New Testament and describes another form of learning, which is that by teaching, is the word "didaskalia", Rom.15.4. However, the word that is used here is "manthano" which is clearly experimental, and we note with interest that it is used of the Lord Jesus Himself in Heb.5.8. Hence it is in the school of discipline and experience that any true servant of the Lord can leave his situation with God. Note that in quoting the verse above, the word "therewith" is not used, as it is misleading, because it would be totally wrong to infer that Paul was content with his lot, but rather it was in spite of it. Actually, the word "arkeo" which is the root of the word in the text, signifies "to suffice" as in 2 Cor.12.9. Let us make sure that whatever our circumstances may be, our joy and peace, our labour and love, are totally independent of circumstances.
V.12. In extension of his thoughtfulness Paul expresses what we could describe as A Secret to be Expounded, for he faces two extremes by declaring, "I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound: in everything and in all things have I learned the secret both to be filled and to be hungry, both to abound and to be in want" (R.V.). It is interesting to observe how Paul changes from "having learned as a devoted disciple", v.11, to "having been initiated", v.12, into the secret of being able to face all circumstances by faith and a total reliance upon Him who is all-sufficient.
V.13. Paul uses a most descriptive word to inform the saints at Philippi that by the freely ministered strength of the risen Lord, he can face the changes and conditions life in the service of the Lord can bring: hence we define it as A Strength to be Experienced. The word used here in the text is "ischus" conveying the thought of strength or might, see Eph.1.19; 6.10.
Vv.14–18. It is clear from v.14 the apostle is anxious that the saints at Philippi do not misunderstand his language and come to the decision that they no longer are to be exercised in sending Paul their tokens of fellowship as in their former manner. So we have here A Sacrifice to be Encouraged. The words are assuring: "Notwithstanding ye have well done, that ye did communicate with my affliction." Yet again with joy and a deep sense of gratitude he voices the fact that the saints in Philippi were the only ones that supported him after his departure from Macedonia as is stated in v.15. It is interesting to note that Paul seldom mentions his converts in his epistles, as he does here and also in 2 Cor.6.11, where the language is expressively affectionate. Also in Gal.3.1 it is hardly less so, in spite of the epithet. Just how many times the gifts to Paul were sent from the Philippian assembly may be questioned, but the term "once and again" as in v.17 would indicate at least twice. Again Paul is anxious that the saints to whom he writes have a clear understanding of both his message and motives. The apostle is clear in his use of the word "desire", for the text can be read as "I do not desire the gift, I do desire the fruit".
The following important words are used that ought to be noted: "content", autarkes, v.11, meaning "independent"; "to be full", chortazo, v.12, meaning "I am full or satisfied"; "I have all", apecho, v18, meaning "I have everything"; "I am full", pleroo, v.18, meaning "to make replete or supply liberally"; "abound", perisseuo, vv.12,18, meaning "I am overflowing". This last word is used five times in the epistle as well as in Eph.1.8 and Col.2.7. Paul adds that the things which were brought to him by Epaphroditus were "an odour of a sweet smell". Earlier in the epistle, 2.17, he refers to his own service as a pouring out of the drink offering, and now refers to that of the Philippians in the same light.
V.19. The apostle can do no more than thank the saints at Philippi ever so sincerely, but he is sure, and that above everything else, that God will requite them. Paul is sure that his God will fully supply their needs in full accordance with His riches of glory in Christ Jesus. Obviously this can be viewed as A Source To Be Exhausted.
V.20. There is A Song to be Expressed, as indeed Paul raises his voice in an acclamation of praise to our God and Father Who is worthy of all the thanksgiving we offer because of all that He is and for all His rich provision for us now, and forever.
- What shall I bring to the Saviour?
- What shall I lay at His feet?
- I have no glittering jewels,
- Gold, or frankincense so sweet.
- Gifts to the Saviour I’m bringing,
- Loves richest treasures to lay
- Low at His feet with rejoicing,
- Ere yonder sunset today.
- What shall I bring to the Saviour?
- Lips His dear praises to sing,
- Feet that will walk in the pathway
- Leading to Jesus the King.
- What shall I bring to the Saviour?
- Love that is purest and best,
- Life in its sweetness and beauty
- All for His service so blest.
- (Lizzie De Armond).