It is customary in churches of the Lord to take up a collection on the first day of the week "that the work of the church may continue in this place." We have all heard statements to that effect right before the plate is passed for all to give whatever they have purposed in their hearts. Often before the plate is passed, the following scripture is read:
"Now concerning the collection for the saints. as I directed the churches of Galatia, so do you also. On the first day of every week let each one of you put aside and save, as he may prosper, that no collections be made when I come"(I Cor. 16:1-2).
Once the money is gathered, it is then usually deposited in the bank and is from then on referred to as the "treasury." The methods of decision-making about this treasury vary from place to place. In some churches, the elders decide where and how the money should be spent; other churches hold men's business meetings and a few churches have meetings of the whole group, men and women, to decide how this treasury should be spent. Typically, expenditures include: local preacher's salary, distant preachers' salaries, money for visiting preachers holding gospel meetings, utilities, teaching materials, building payment and maintenance, lawn maintenance, and other miscellaneous expenses (such as curtains for nursery, new shingles, lawn mower repair, etc). Generally, after these expenses are met then a certain balance is left in the bank in case of any unforeseen emergencies such as the air conditioner or heater breaking down.
The treasury has many controversies surrounding it as who really should decide how it is spent? Can it be used for supporting human institutions such as orphan's homes and missionary societies? When certain expenditures are proposed, does the majority rule or should one dissenting voice be enough to stop the idea? Can the treasury be deposited in an interest-bearing account? Just how much is too much to be spent on material things such as the building and the carpet?
These questions are often hard to answer and some seem to have no answer in the scriptures. Maybe there is good reason for that. Maybe these questions shouldn't have to be raised at all.
Paul writing I Corinthians (A.D. 51-55) deals with, among other things, questions the Corinthians had previously addressed to him. After instructing them on things he had heard about them (1:11, 5:1), he begins to answer their inquiries. He begins, "Now concerning the things about which you wrote..." (7:1) and he proceeds to discuss marriage. After that discussion, "Now concerning things sacrificed to idols..." (8:1); "Now concerning spiritual gifts..." (12:1) and finally, "Now concerning the collection for the saints..." (16:1). The Corinthians had apparently asked Paul how to take up a collection for the saints. Which saints? "And when I arrive, whomever you may approve, I shall send them with letters to carry your gift to Jerusalem" (16:3). The specific reason for this collection was for the saints in Jerusalem. The way it was supposed to be gathered is indicated in verse 2: "On the first day of every week let each one of you put aside and save as he may prosper...(NAS). The original language is even more emphatic: "...each one of you by himself let him put storing up whatever he is prospered." This issue is dealt with in only a few verses but more is said about it in II Corinthians. All of chapters 8 and 9 deal with this and should be read in their entirety at this time.
Paul begins by telling the Corinthians how the churches in Macedonia
"...overflowed in the wealth of their liberality. For I testify that according to their ability and beyond their ability they gave of their own accord, begging us with much entreaty for the favor of participation in the support of the saints..."
So, the Macedonians heard of this work and begged to be allowed to participate; they had not been commanded by Paul to do this. He continues in v. 7:
"But just as you abound in everything, in faith and utterance and knowledge and in all earnestness and in love we inspired in you, see that you abound in this gracious work also. I AM NOT SPEAKING THIS AS A COMMAND, but as proving through the earnestness of others the sincerity of your love also."
He reminds them how Christ became poor that they might become rich and says in v. 10,
"...and I give my opinion in this matter, for this is to your advantage, who were the first to begin a year ago not only to do this but also to desire to do it. But now finish doing it also; that just as there was the readiness to desire it, so there may be also the completion of it by your ability."
They began this work, collecting for the saints, and now he is urging them to complete this work. In 9:1, still on the same topic, he refers to it as "this ministry to the saints" -- the same collection referred to in I Cor. 16. The accomplishments of this ministry are explained in II Cor. 9:12:
"For the ministry of this service is not only fully supplying the needs of the saints, but is overflowing through many thanksgivings to God. Because of the proof given by this ministry they will glorify God for your obedience to your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for the liberality of your contribution to them and to all, while they also, by prayer on your behalf, yearn for you because of the surpassing grace of God in you. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift."
What a beautiful picture of the grace of God working in his people!
This ministry is again referred to in Romans 15. Paul is explaining to the Romans how he hopes to stop and see them on his way to Spain.
"but now, I am going to Jerusalem serving the saints. For Macedonia and Achaia (Corinth was the capitol of Achaia) have been pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem. Yes, they were pleased to do so, and they are indebted to them. For if the Gentiles have shared in their spiritual things, they are indebted to minister to them also in material things" (vs. 25-27).
Here this contribution is referred to but not commanded to the Romans. He makes a point in v. 26 and surely he expects the Romans to follow their example when occasion arises but does not command them to participate in the same collection referred to in I Cor. 16 and II Cor. 8 and 9.
What conclusions can be drawn at this point?
1. The Corinthians wanted to relieve the needy saints who were not among them but were in distant Jerusalem. Paul told them how to go about it (I Cor. 16:1).
2. Individually, they put aside and saved on the first day of every week. On Paul's arrival they sent their "gift" by an approved messenger to Jerusalem (I Cor. 16:2-3).
3. The Galatians were charged with the task, to handle it in the same manner (I Cor. 16:1).
4. The Macedonians took part in this same relief effort (II Cor. 8:lff).
5. The Romans were notified of the contribution that Macedonia and Achaia were pleased to make for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem (Rom. 15:26).
6. Apparently, the Romans were not taking part in this or it would not have been necessary for Paul to tell them about it.
It had been anywhere from 18 to 26 years from the time the first disciples were baptized on the day of Pentecost until Paul wrote the first letter to the Corinthians. What had the church been doing with their money all that time?
"...And they began selling their property and possessions, and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need" (Acts 2:45). "...and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own; but all things were common property to them" (Acts 4:32).
"For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales and lay them at the apostles' feet; and they would be distributed to each as any had need" (Acts 4:34-35).
"And in the proportion that any of the disciples had means, each of them determined to send a contribution for the relief of the brethren living in Judea" (Acts 11:29).
When we consider that Jesus, when he sits on his throne will separate the sheep from the goats based on their response to those in need (Mt. 25:32-46) it is no small wonder that the early disciples were eager to help out those nearby and those far away. Hopefully brethren today overflow with just as much love for their brethren. Hopefully, they are joyfully and cheerfully sharing their bounty with others. However, how does any of this relate to our present day concept of the "treasury" and all the questions that arise concerning it? Please go back to the beginning of this article and the description of the treasury and its uses and try to reconcile that with the inspired pattern where "giving" is concerned. -- A. Roberts