An Advent Christian pastor writes, “How far can we apply a Scripture text beyond its meaning in context? Before I arrived, our church already had a “Joash chest” (from 2 Kings 12:9-16) which we used to collect a special offering. Is this wrong? Should I tell them it is against the context?”
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It seems to me that it is okay to “borrow” scriptural language or concepts, or to extend them for constructive purposes, so long as: (1) One is truthful in saying that is not what the context means, but that we are “borrowing” or “extending” biblical language; (2) One does not bind the matter on others as if it were required by God’s word; (3) The matter does not violate any other Scripture or the promptings of the Spirit; and (4) One is not merely acting out of laziness, instead of finding a Scripture that is more appropriate to the situation.
King Joash’s “chest” was for a special offering, as you note, and the Jerusalem Temple in Jesus’ day also had a box or chest in which people placed gifts. Jesus once commended the generosity of a widow who donated two small copper coins worth about a penny — which happened to be all she had (Mark 12:41-44. The King James Version called the coins “mites,” giving our expression “a widow’s mite.”) There is nothing in the Bible about passing an offering basket up and down pews of worshipers — or even about worshipers lined up in pews, for that matter, since the early church frequently met in private homes.
Since Scripture does not give specific instructions for the exact manner of collecting church offerings, or even require an offering every week, we surely are left to our own judgment to do whatever seems best, within the scope of any other scriptural principles such as orderliness and honesty. Were I in your place, I might wait until I was teaching or preaching on the subject of giving, then simply mention the church’s practice with an explanation of the origin of the box’s unusual name.