Several gracEmail readers have asked about the Sunday church offering. Does First Corinthians 16:1-2 require it? Every Sunday? Only on Sundays? Does this text prohibit other fundraising projects by the church?
* * *
Although Paul was apostle to the nations (“Gentiles”), from the beginning of his ministry he emphasized the unity of Jew and non-Jew in Christ. As a demonstration of that unity and as a capstone to his life’s work, he carefully organized a financial contribution from many of his Gentile churches to the Jewish mother-church in Jerusalem (Gal. 2:7-10; Acts 20:16, 22-24; 2 Tim. 4:7). In a similar manner, Jews scattered around the Roman world in Paul’s day demonstrated their solidarity with Palestinian Jewry by contributing an annual Temple tax to the Jerusalem establishment.
Paul frequently wrote and spoke concerning this Gentile offering (1 Cor. 16:1-4; 2 Cor. 8-9; Acts 19:21). He expressed some concern whether the Jerusalem church leaders would finally accept it, and great satisfaction when they finally did (Rom. 15:25-33; Acts 21:17; 24:17; 2 Tim. 4:7). Paul had mentioned this collection to the Corinthians either in person or in a previous unpreserved letter, and they had asked for more information. He provided that in First Corinthians 16:1-4. Although the Corinthians had been quick to volunteer for this project, they dragged their heels about fulfilling their commitment and Paul wrote them a year later urging them to turn carry through on their good intentions (2 Cor. 8-9).
First Corinthians 16:1-4 involved a special one-time offering, from selected donors, for a particular purpose, collected personally by Paul and a small group of representatives from the donating churches. It is possible that this did not even involve a Sunday “church” collection, since the better translation of Paul’s words is simply to “set aside and save.” This passage certainly contains no general, universal command to churches everywhere — and no prohibition of anything. Like every other New Testament passage involving Christian financial giving, it concerns a special offering to meet a special need. The simple truth is that everything we have belongs to God, and he asks nothing less of us than that we give him ourselves (Psalm 24:1; Matt. 22:21; Rom. 12:1).