Did you ever think about how the early churches had spent their finance? When I asked this question to a vice-principle of a Bible College, he said, “I never thought about it; I don’t know.” I appreciate the honest confession of this man, for it is not easy to be in such a position and admit, “I don’t know.”
I wonder how many believers and leaders truly thought about this matter. And if they thought about this issue and know the answer then I wonder how many are serious enough to follow the example of the early church.
Incidentally, it is obvious in the early churches of the New Testament that they didn’t practice the concept of tithing, for they were not under the finite system of law but in the infinite freedom of grace. The renowned bible teacher, Ray C. Stedman wrote, “Nowhere in the New Testament do you find tithing taught or laid upon Christians.” Does this mean they didn’t practice giving at all?
The fact is that the early church gave more than a tithe. They practiced generous giving, for they were taught to live by grace. Paul wrote, "But just as you excel in everything-- in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us--see that you also excel in this grace of giving." (2 Cor. 8:7) We need to think - Is grace motivated by unconditional love or by conditional law?
However, there is nothing wrong to set aside tithe as a minimum act of discipline but one should know that it is not a maximum offering. The principle of the New Testament is this: “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.” (2 Cor. 9:6) Based on this principle, one must examine whether the concept of tithing is sparingly sowing or generously sowing.
Let us come back to our topic to where money in the early church was primarily directed. After examining the following Scriptures the readers themselves would be able to clearly understand the precise answer.
A. EXPLICIT EXHORTATIONS ON GIVING
* Romans 12:13 – Share with God's people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
* Galatians 6:9-10 - Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people especially to those who belong to the family of believers.
* Titus 3:8 - This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone.
* Hebrews 6:10-11 - God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them. We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, in order to make your hope sure.
* Hebrews 13:2 - Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.
* Hebrews 13:3 – Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.
Albert Barnes writes that remembering those in prison and those who are mistreated means:
(1) To feel deep compassion for them;
(2) We are to remember them in our prayers;
(3) We are to remember them, as far as practicable, with aid for their relief.
* Hebrews 13:15-16 - Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise-- the fruit of lips that confess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.
* James 1:27 - Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
* James 2:15-17 - Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
* 1 Peter 4:9 - Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.
* 1 John 3:16-18 - This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.
B. GENERAL SCRIPTURES ON GIVING
* 1 Corinthians 16:1-3 - Now about the collection for God's people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made. Then, when I arrive, I will give letters of introduction to the men you approve and send them with your gift to Jerusalem.
Comment: Paul told the church to set aside a sum of money on the first day of every week (Sunday) so that this relief offering can be sent to help the poor Christians in Jerusalem.
* 2 Corinthians 9:1-2 - There is no need for me to write to you about this service to the saints. For I know your eagerness to help, and I have been boasting about it to the Macedonians, telling them that since last year you in Achaia were ready to give; and your enthusiasm has stirred most of them to action.
* 2 Corinthians 9:7 - Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. (Isn't this one of the most often quoted verses from the Holy Bible???)
Comment: Remember that Paul gave these exhortations to the Corinthian church in the context of raising relief fund to help the poor Christians.
* Galatians 2:9-10 - James, Peter and John, those reputed to be pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the Jews. All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.
* Acts 20:34-35 - You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.'
Also, one of the primary qualifications of a leader is to be generous. Along with the above Scripture, consider the following Scriptures:
* 1 Timothy 3:2 - Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach…
* Titus 1:8 - Rather he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined.
C. INDIVIDUAL EXAMPLES
* Acts 4:36-37 - Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles' feet.
Comment: Remember that these offerings that were put at the apostles' feet were distributed to the needy people (See Acts 4:35).
* Acts 9:36 - In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (which, when translated, is Dorcas), who was always doing good and helping the poor.
* Acts 10:1-4 - At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment. He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly. One day at about three in the afternoon he had a vision. He distinctly saw an angel of God, who came to him and said, "Cornelius!" Cornelius stared at him in fear. "What is it, Lord?" he asked. The angel answered, "Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God."
* 1 Cor. 16:15 - You know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints. I urge you, brothers, to submit to such as these and to everyone who joins in the work, and labors at it.
* Philemon 7 – “Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the saints.” It is also written in Pro. 11:25, “A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed.”
D. CORPORATE EXAMPLES
* Acts 2:45 – Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.
* Acts 4:32-35 - All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they share everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.
* Acts 6:1-4 - In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Grecian Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, "It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word."
Comment: In the above Scripture, it becomes quite clear that the apostles counted helping the needy and the ministry of the word as quite important. They chose seven men so that helping the needy would not be neglected while doing the ministry of the word. How many leaders in our day are balanced in this way, meeting both the physical and spiritual needs?
* Acts 11:28-30 - One of them, named Agabus, stood up and through the Spirit predicted that a severe famine would spread over the entire Roman world. (This happened during the reign of Claudius.) The disciples, each according to his ability, decided to provide help for the brothers living in Judea. This they did, sending their gift to the elders by Barnabas and Saul.
* Acts 24:17 - After an absence of several years, I came to Jerusalem to bring my people gifts for the poor and to present offerings.
* Romans 15:25-27 - Now, however, I am on my way to Jerusalem in the service of the saints there. For Macedonia and Achaia were pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem. They were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have shared in the Jews' spiritual blessings, they owe it to the Jews to share with them their material blessings.
* 2 Corinthians 8:1-5 - And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints. And they did not do as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God's will.
Also, meditating on Jesus’ teaching reveals to us the importance of helping the needy: Luke 10:25-37 (The Good Samaritan); Luke 12:32 (Giving to the Poor); Luke 14:1-14 (Inviting the Poor to the banquet); Luke 16:19-31 (Rich and the Lazarus); Mark 10:17-22 (Rich Young man to sell everything and give to the Poor); Matthew 25:31-46 (The Sheep and the Goat).
TO BE CONTINUED.....
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[1} Ray C. Stedman, Giving and Living http://www.raystedman.org/1corinthians/3608.html