I believe that if we do something in Christian worship, we need to be doing it not because we think it might be a good idea or helpful, but because it is something that the bible teaches us to do. Therefore when it comes to supporting the work of the church, while we might be able to come up with some pretty good practical arguments for why we should take up a collection in worship, ultimately the only solid reason for doing it would be because the Bible says we should. And in both 2 Corinthians 9 and 1 Corinthians 16 the Bible does say that we should be taking up collections for the needs of the church:
2 Corinthians 9:1-15 (NKJV)
1 Now concerning the ministering to the saints, it is superfluous for me to write to you;
2 for I know your willingness, about which I boast of you to the Macedonians, that Achaia was ready a year ago; and your zeal has stirred up the majority.
3 Yet I have sent the brethren, lest our boasting of you should be in vain in this respect, that, as I said, you may be ready;
4 lest if some Macedonians come with me and find you unprepared, we (not to mention you!) should be ashamed of this confident boasting.
5 Therefore I thought it necessary to exhort the brethren to go to you ahead of time, and prepare your generous gift beforehand, which you had previously promised, that it may be ready as a matter of generosity and not as a grudging obligation.
6 But this I say: He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.
7 So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver.
8 And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work.
9 As it is written: “He has dispersed abroad, He has given to the poor; His righteousness endures forever.”
10 Now may He who supplies seed to the sower, and bread for food, supply and multiply the seed you have sown and increase the fruits of your righteousness,
11 while you are enriched in everything for all liberality, which causes thanksgiving through us to God.
12 For the administration of this service not only supplies the needs of the saints, but also is abounding through many thanksgivings to God,
13 while, through the proof of this ministry, they glorify God for the obedience of your confession to the gospel of Christ, and for your liberal sharing with them and all men,
14 and by their prayer for you, who long for you because of the exceeding grace of God in you.
15 Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!
1 Corinthians 16:1-4 (NKJV)
Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given orders to the churches of Galatia, so you must do also:
2 On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come.
3 And when I come, whomever you approve by your letters I will send to bear your gift to Jerusalem.
4 But if it is fitting that I go also, they will go with me.
Now I have to confess that in the past, I have had something of a wrong attitude when it comes to teaching and preaching about tithes and offerings, I often approached this subject somewhat sheepishly, and frankly, I was always a little embarrassed to discuss it.
This is partly because I always felt like it was self-serving, I mean let’s face it, my salary as a pastor comes out of the tithes and offerings of the church, and partly because of all the bad examples we see of individuals who are using Christian ministry as a vehicle for making money. The world sees televangelists with mansions and jets who have a donation line at the bottom of the screen, and they are repulsed they rightly see that these men and women clearly love mammon just as much the rich young ruler loved money. The televangelists don’t seem to have ever read Christ’s admonition in Mark 6:19-21:
19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal;
20 “but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.
21 “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
But two things eventually convicted me that I needed to change my approach to the collection, the first is the fact that something is sinfully abused doesn’t negate its proper use. For instance, the televangelists also corrupt the preaching of the word, they preach heresies and bad doctrine all the time. But I don’t adopt an attitude of “well because they corrupt preaching, I should avoid it.” Heaven forbid! Also, I have been convicted of the fact that if something is an element of worship (see the addendum at the of this essay) and we are commanded to do it, it’s a good thing, a blessed thing, and something that God’s people benefit from when they do it. So in not teaching about the collection, I’m neglecting a good thing, something God has instituted and uses for the good of his people, the church. So for instance, while the pastor is paid out of the tithes and the offerings of God’s people, just as the priests and Levites were in the Old Testament, the tithes and offerings also provide for the support of missionaries, the support of seminaries, the extension of the gospel through tracts, sermons, and other means, and the relief of the poor and those passing through a crisis or an emergency.
And while we’re discussing it, have you ever stopped for a second to think how beautiful and yet simple the collection as it is outlined in the New Testament is? There are tons of ways that it is true and I’ll try to unpack them more in a little while, but here are just a few: First, it is anonymous, which helps to kill the pride of the giver, and doesn’t make the receiver feel beholden, Second, it is regular and systematic rather than being in fits and starts, whenever we gather for worship on the first day of the week, we take up the collection so when a need or an emergency arises we aren’t caught unprepared. Third, it is done by the body rather than the individual. No one individual can know all the needs of the church, and many times members won’t know about crises that arise within families, the elders and deacons though are tasked with knowing and then applying these resources as they are needed. As always God’s wisdom in this matter is greater than ours!
We see those principles in operation in the verses I cited above. In both of these letters, Paul is writing to the Christians in Corinth, which was a wealthy city. He wrote regarding the collection that was being taken to relieve the desperate need of their brothers and sisters in Jerusalem, which prior to 70 AD had been the center of the Christian church. While there were poor amongst all the churches of the Roman world, there were certain factors that made the Christians of Jerusalem corporately poorer than most of the other churches.
Firstly, the Christians in Jerusalem had suffered systematic persecution and discrimination more directly and more quickly than Christians elsewhere. At this point, Christians were beginning to be shunned and ostracized throughout the world, but the Jerusalem Christians had already been openly persecuted. We know that Paul himself had assisted in hunting out the Christians prior to his conversion. We also know that just as Jesus had warned in John 16:2, they were now being put out of the synagogues and becoming outcasts in their own society. Their ability to trade or find work in Jewish society was probably severely hampered.
Secondly, we know that they were suffering through a time of famine, so food prices in Judea were probably especially high. Individual saints might not have seen this coming, but as in the case of the famine that occurred in the days of Joseph, God prepared his church to help one another in the midst of it. We read in Acts 11:28-29 that a prophet named Agabus, “stood up and showed by the Spirit that there was going to be a great famine throughout all the world, which also happened in the days of Claudius Caesar.
Then the disciples, each according to his ability, determined to send relief to the brethren dwelling in Judea.”
Finally, we know that the church in Jerusalem initially, to quote Acts 2:44 & 45, “had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need.” And while this common pooling of resources showed the love of the brethren for one another after a couple of decades, the effects would have had a devastating long-term impact. All the property of these Christians was gone, all their investments, everything they might have derived income from. By God’s grace, none of the other churches did this, and the fact that Luke records it in Acts as a historical oddity shows that this practice was not continued. Many believe it was a mistake, Charles Hodge, for instance, calls it an “Error which arose from an excess of zeal over knowledge.”
The Jerusalem saints might well have starved without the systematic and ongoing assistance of their brothers and sisters in the Gentile nations, and it shows not only the wider connectionalism amongst Christians and the need to support and relieve one another, but from these verses, we can derive several important principles regarding giving in the Apostolic church.
1) Contributions were made every Lord’s Day
2) Everyone was supposed to contribute
3) Contributions were to be in proportion to the means of the giver
1) Contributions were made every Lord’s Day
The collection was to be taken up on the first day of the week, the Christian Sabbath which they were already calling “the Lord’s Day”, because it was, of course, the day on which the Lord Jesus Christ had risen from the dead. We know from texts such as Acts 20:7 that this was the day on which Christians gathered to worship and fellowship and so it was natural that when they came together for worship, that they put the things that they had laid aside into the church treasury.
Paul explicitly says that Giving was to be regular, systematic, week after week, and proportionate to their income. What Paul did not want was a sudden “panic stricken whip-round” to quote David Jackman or an embarrassed passing of the hat when he got there.
This consideration should cause us to examine our own pattern of tithing. Do we remember that this is as much part of our worship as singing hymns and psalms? Do we plan for it, and do it as an act of worship? The collection is an appointed means of giving thanks to God and one that the Bible tells us will be a blessing.
2) Everyone was to Contribute
1 Cor. 16:2 – “let each one lay something aside” This command was to apply to rich and poor, young and old. This too has a spiritual end in mind as Charles Hodge in his Exposition of First Corinthians observes:
The same amount might perhaps have been raised from the rich few. But this would not have answered one important end which the apostle had in view. It was the religious effect which these gifts were to produce in promoting Christian fellowship, in evincing the truth and power of the gospel, and in calling forth gratitude and praise to God, even more than the relief of the temporal necessities of the poor, that Paul desired to see accomplished.
We learn so much as we give. In our giving, we remember that we are part of the same body and that each part supplies the needs of the other. As we give, we do so as an act of worship to God. As we give, we become agents or streams by which God blesses others and we cause them to glorify God and to give thanks to Him and to pray for us.
Cheerful giving is one of the few concrete ways in which the transforming work of God can be seen in our lives. We live in a world where greed is generally the rule and while the world may pour its contempt on the church and maintain that they are just as good if not better than God’s people there is one truth they may suppress but cannot deny namely that of all the different groups in the United States, evangelicals give the most to charity year after year. In this fact, we see the undeniable life-changing work of the Holy Spirit.
3) Contributions were to be in proportion to the means of the giver
As a pastor I often get the question, “Should I tithe?” by which they usually mean should they set aside 10% of their income for the church. In answering that question I usually point out that there is no specific direction to tithe in the New Testament. Instead, there is a direction to freely give in proportion to the manner in which the Lord has prospered you, and that may be subject to change, some years we may have more than 10% to give, some times less, but as we have the ability, we should sacrificially give to the needs of God’s people, remembering that as we do so we are laying up treasure in heaven.
The willingness of Christians to freely give is often an indication of the state of the spiritual health of a church. I do not know by design how much any of the members and families in our own congregation give on a regular basis, and I do not hear any dire warnings from the treasurer that the church is “sick” in this regard, but sadly, it is the case that many Christians do not even come close to giving as the Lord enables them, and ultimately they end up impoverishing both the church and themselves.
In Malachi, the Lord rebukes the people of Israel on this account, and we see how they are the ones who were denying themselves his blessing:
Mal. 3:8 “Will a man rob God? Yet you have robbed Me! But you say, ‘In what way have we robbed You?’ In tithes and offerings.
9 You are cursed with a curse, For you have robbed Me, Even this whole nation.
10 Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, That there may be food in My house, And try Me now in this,” Says the LORD of hosts, “If I will not open for you the windows of heaven And pour out for you such blessing That there will not be room enough to receive it.
Tithes and offerings don’t just bless the people who receive them, they also bless the givers. Paul says they are analogous to a farmer sowing seed. “But this I say: He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.” (2 Cor. 9:6) Now a farmer in the ancient world who had had a bad harvest in the last season might say, I’m going to hold on to most of my seed corn and eat it myself rather than planting it. The problem with that approach is that he could be virtually assured that his next harvest would be meager as well because he had kept the seed back rather than sowing it. Paul says in the verse above that we can do the same thing, so tithe as you are able to do so, do not say “times are too tough for me to tithe right now.” In the 20 years since my conversion, I can bear witness to this, I have never seen a blessing come from not tithing, and I have never seen a curse come from faithful tithing. Paul’s point about the sowing and the reaping has always held true. You can test that theory yourself. But remember this general rule, Christian if you hold back you rob not only God and the brethren, you rob yourself.
Simon Kistemaker sums it up this way:
God takes great delight in giving gifts to his people. He favors them with spiritual and material blessings that cannot even be enumerated. He challenges his people to follow his example and wants them to realize that “every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17). As the Father shows his generosity, so he expects his sons and daughters to be generous. And children of the heavenly Father should remember that they will never be able to rival God in his giving.
Here then are 3 final rules for your giving:
Give according to your true ability, as the Lord has prospered you – “On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper” (1 Cor. 16:2)
Give generously, cheerfully, and from the heart – “So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Cor. 9:7)
Give without boasting and pride. Do not give that other men would see you – “But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly.” (Matt. 6:3-4)
It is worth noting that the Directories of Worship of the PCA, OPC, ARP, and RPCNA all view offerings as an element of worship:
“CHAPTER 54 – The Worship of God by Offerings”
54-2. It is both a privilege and a duty, plainly enjoined in the Bible, to
make regular, weekly, systematic and proportionate offerings for the support
of religion and for the propagation of the Gospel in our own and foreign
lands, and for the relief of the poor. This should be done as an exercise of
grace and an act of worship, and at such time during the service as may be
deemed expedient by the Session.
(PCA Directory of Worship, Chapter 54)
“b. His people, enabled by the Holy Spirit, address God in prayer, in song, in offerings, in hearing the Word, in confession, and in receiving and partaking of the sacraments.”
“h. It is appropriate that there be a brief offertory prayer either immediately preceding or immediately following the worship of God with offerings. Such prayer may thank God for his gifts, devote the offering and the worshipers to his service, and invoke his blessing on its use and on those who give.”
“4. The Bringing of Offerings
a. The bringing of offerings in the public assembly of God’s people on the Lord’s Day is a solemn act of worship to almighty God. The people of God are to set aside to him the firstfruits of their labors; in so doing, they should present themselves with thanksgiving as a living sacrifice to God. All should participate in this act of worship when God gives opportunity for it. Parents are to instruct and encourage their children by precept and example to give of their substance regularly, purposefully, generously, and joyfully to the Lord through his church.”
(OPC, Directory for Public Worship, Chapters I & II)
“6. TITHES AND OFFERINGS”
“From ancient times tithes and offerings have been made to and received by God.132 They are a part of the ordinary worship of God, commanded in the Law.133 Our Lord also taught the importance of returning to God a portion of what one has received.134 The Apostle Paul instructed the Corinthians to lay aside their gifts for the saints in Jerusalem on the first day of the week.135 This coincides with the day when the early church met for worship.136”
“132 Gen. 4:3-7, 14:20 (Heb. 7:1-9), 28:22.
133 Exod. 25:1-9; Lev. 27:30-34; Num. 7, 28, 29; Mal. 3:6-10.
134 Matt. 5:23-24, 23:23; Mark 12:41-44; Luke 20:25.
135 I Cor. 16:2.
136 Acts 20:7.”
(ARP, Directory of Public Worship, Chapter 6)
“8. The presentation of tithes and offerings is warranted as part of worship.
1 Cor. 16:1-2; Mal. 3″
25. The presentation of tithes and offerings is warranted as part of worship. We are commanded to set aside our offerings on the first day of the week (I Cor. 16:1-2). God calls His people to return a portion of their substance to Him cheerfully, systematically, and as He has prospered them. The receiving of the offering may be preceded or followed by a brief prayer that joyfully gives thanks for God’s provision and commits the gifts to the work of Christ’s kingdom and the blessing of the Lord.”
(RPCNA, The Testimony of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America & Directory of Worship, chapter 2.25)