With regard to the collection for the saints

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So this morning in church we looked at 1 Corinthians 16, and, in what I think is probably a first when teaching on stewardship, everyone there decided to increase their giving. How did I do it?

Well, of course, having a small church helps if you want to get everyone on board. But there’s another thing. I’ve written before about the dichotomy that comes about when people reify the church. I had a long screed here explaining this but it can basically be summed up in a picture. Most people think of Christian giving like this:

Nobody likes the idea, it causes tension, and pastors get embarrassed talking about it since they’re the representatives of the receiving party, not the giving party.

The impression you get from Paul’s writing, however, looks like this:

People don’t give to the church, they are the church, and the church gives the money away outside of itself.

Yes, I’m aware that one interpretation of this passage is that Paul was describing one particular collection to be taken up to Jerusalem, not a general pattern of giving. I think the Περὶ δὲ construction and the use of present imperatives renders this unlikely.

I was amazed looking over this passage about how delicately Paul handles the issue. First, note that he does not stipulate how much is to be given. Then in v2 he says that giving is to be decided and set aside at home (παρ᾿ ἑαυτῷ), and so that he does not embarrass people by making a fund drive when he arrives. Next, he does not handle the church’s money himself, but he asks them to arrange for trustworthy people from within the church to administer it. They are to take it directly to the recipients. Only if they ask him to will he travel with them. Everything is done and handled by the people giving the money away and there is complete transparency in how it is handled.

So we tried it. As the church planter, I tried to model Paul’s role; I explained all that and a bit about the theology behind giving, and then I left the members to make a decision about what they would do. “I think we should go for it!” was the instant response. After some discussion about what to do with the money, they decided to make a weekly contribution to a charity which runs a local food bank for children’s and old people’s homes and local people who are struggling; one person from the church (not me, of course) would collect the contribution and take it directly to the food bank.

But the real encouragement for me was not what we decided but that, by shifting the way people think about giving, people became excited about and committed to doing more of it.