Summary: Corinth is a church with great resources, both material and spiritual, but it’s also a church with great responsibilities. It needs to recognise that it’s part of a world wide church and express that membership materially. And it needs to be on guard agai
We tend to think of the world today as shrinking, getting smaller and smaller. For example, last week, Di and I boarded a plane in Melbourne and 2 hours later we were throwing off our jumpers and getting ready for a swim in the pool at Noosa. You can get on a plane this afternoon and by tomorrow night you could be almost anywhere in the world. The rest of the world is no longer far away. Certainly not like it was in Paul’s day when travel was by walking or sailing ship or, if you were wealthy, perhaps, by horse or coach.
Yet it’s surprising what an international outlook Paul has as he writes to the church in Corinth. Look at the list of places he mentions: Galatia, Macedonia, Achaia (Southern Greece), Ephesus, Jerusalem. Despite the fact that most of his readers had probably never left their own city, they understood that they were part of a world-wide church in no less significant a way than we are today.
This had clearly been part of Paul’s teaching in his time with them. He would have shared with them the stories of his visits to other places; of the conversions that had taken place; of the lives that had been changed; and particularly of the relationships and partnerships he’d formed in the gospel. You see it in many of his letters, don’t you? He often finishes with a report on the people with whom he’s worked, people he calls his fellow workers, or partners in the gospel. And we find the same here. He mentions a number of people with whom they would have been familiar: Apollos, Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaicus and Aquila and Prisca who pop up in a number of places. Then there’s the churches of Asia, a loose collection of churches probably centred on Ephesus.
It’s a broad brush picture of a Church that stretches beyond the horizon of the local area. In fact the reason these Churches now exist is because, in the first place, the Church in Antioch saw the need to look beyond its horizon to those places where the name of Christ was unknown. Well, actually it was because God’s Holy Spirit raised their vision to the wider world. It’s because God is a missionary God who sends his people out to share his grace with others. What we see here is a small part of the outworking of God’s plan to tell people everywhere about his grace shown to us in Jesus Christ.
But it’s deeper than just a church that sends missionaries out to spread the gospel. There’s actually a deep interdependence between the various churches, shown in the way they share both their money and their ministry personnel.
Paul begins the chapter with a reminder to them of the directions he’s been sending to the various churches regarding giving. He has a deep concern for the church in Jerusalem, their mother church. He’s concerned about their poverty but he also sees this as a valuable exercise in cementing the relationship between the Gentile churches and the Jewish Church. The people in Jerusalem have been suffering great financial hardship for some time partly due to a famine and probably partly due to persecution. As a result, Paul has decided to organise a collection from among the various churches he’s set up, to be sent to Jerusalem for their support. So he gives them clear instructions, first on how the money is to be collected, and secondly about how it’s to be handled.
In fact, what we find here is a valuable guide to us in thinking about how we should give to God’s work and how the money should be handled.
First he says "On the first day of the week." That is, on the day when the church gathers together to remember Christ’s resurrection. A central part of our gathering together should be the sharing of our financial resources as a practical expression of our worship of God. What’s more the idea of this being done on the first day of the week indicates this is a regular, habitual, practice, not just something that we do when the need arises.
Now I’m not sure if there are people here like this, but I’ve certainly come across people in the past who would say to me, "Oh, I wait until there’s a special need, then I give to that." Well, let’s look again at what we read here: "On the first day of the week," that is every week, we’re to put aside our giving to God. Now of course there’s no suggestion here that this is a new law. This isn’t meant to be a hard and fast rule about giving every Sunday and only on Sunday. In this day and age when most people are paid monthly, the first day of the week may well become the first day of the month, or whatever day your payday is. If you’re on a pension, it might mean every second Thursday. But the principle is this: a regular, committed setting aside of money for God’s service, given in the context of a worshipping community.