So in his brief note of encouragement in chapter 16, we can discover several important principles of stewardship.
The principle of consistency.
“On the first day of the week” (v. 2) provides the first evidence that first-century Christians worshipped together on the first day as a weekly celebration of the resurrection of the Lord (cp. John 20:19; Acts 20:7; and Rev. 1:10). Paul instructed them that on every first day, “each of you is to set something aside.”
One characteristic of God is his consistency and orderliness. Earlier in chapter 14, Paul corrected certain practices of worship by insisting that God is not a God of disorder but of peace (v. 33). Thus Paul’s final instruction about worship speaks to order and consistency, as well: “But everything must be done decently and in order” (v. 40). If the Corinthians would consistently set aside their offering on the first day, no collections would need to be made when Paul arrived. In other words, Paul wanted them to give generously and regularly so they would be giving from the heart and not because of pressure that may have been exerted by his presence.
Our giving should be a matter of theological conviction that leads to practical and consistent expression. Consistency requires thought, planning, and preparation that in turn allows us to have a greater sense of worship as we give.
I can still remember my parents giving me money and an offering envelope every Sunday. This principle of consistency became so engrained in me; it was second nature. I would no more have thought about going to church without an offering than I would have gone to school without my books or out to play baseball without a glove.
When my wife and I had children, we also had the privilege of teaching them how to worship with their tithes and offerings. We would give them their allowance in such a fashion that it was easy to calculate the tithe. We made sure they had their envelopes prepared before Sunday morning.
These lessons stick. My daughter Rachael was once given a college assignment to develop a budget based on a fictional salary. She felt like she had done well on the assignment because she was able to balance income and expenditures with money left for savings, but her paper was returned with a low grade. When she inquired about it, the professor told her and the entire class it was unrealistic to place a 10 percent gift to the church first in her budget. With such a small income, she couldn’t afford such generosity. She calmly responded, “My father always taught me that 90 percent with God is better than 100 percent without him.” Talk about a proud father! It has been a joy to see that my children have grown up to be good managers of money.
I have known few generous givers who were not first consistent givers. What can you do to develop consistency? First, I would suggest that you follow Paul’s direction about laying aside your tithe and offering first. When you sit down to write your checks for the week, write this one first. If your church provides an envelope, put your check in it the day you write it and place it in your Bible. By following a consistent procedure, you will arrive prepared to worship through your consecrated gifts and offerings.
The principle of personal responsibility.
The phrase “each of you” means exactly what it says. No one is to be excluded. Rich and poor, old and young, male and female—each one is given the privilege and responsibility to participate in this offering. In 2 Corinthians 8:2, in fact, Paul told them that the churches of Macedonia gave generously out of their deep poverty.
Giving is essentially personal because God associates the gift with the giver. “Money has no value whatsoever, unless it is the expression of life, labor and love. Furthermore, God has no favorites in his purpose of blessing, and since He wants to bless everyone, He expects everyone to give.”2 No one should ever be excluded from worshipping God through tithes and offerings, and no one should do so without theological reflection that leads to thoughtfulness and consistency.
The principle of proportionate giving.
Paul didn’t specify a certain amount in this text. Having been nurtured in Judaism, Paul would have practiced tithing according to Old Testament prescriptions. But in this case Paul simply stated that each person should give “to the extent that he prospers.”
The New International Version translates this phrase “in keeping with his income” (1 Cor. 16:2), but that reflects too much of our present culture. Some of the early Christians were slaves who had little or no income. Some Jews when they became Christians were ostracized by their families, and thus they were often dependent on the church for support. Remember, however, that Paul had already underlined the necessity for “each one” to participate.
By giving them the opportunity to give “to the extent that he prospers” (1 Cor. 16:2), some would have the opportunity to give larger gifts than others, thus ensuring that the collection would be sufficient to meet the needs of the saints in Jerusalem. There can be little question that Paul anticipated this offering would be a generous one. In verses 3 and 4, he spoke to the issue of transporting this gift to Jerusalem.
Proportionate giving requires us first to consider the extent of our blessings. And I don’t think Paul was referring only to financial blessing! Remember the linking of this text to the teaching of the resurrection. In Ephesians 1:3, Paul declared that God has “blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavens, in Christ.” Proportionate giving comes from the overflow that recognizes God as the source of life and the owner of everything, and thus all that we have comes from his hand.
Proportionate giving requires us seriously to consider what we give to God. I assume you have probably surmised that this offering was in addition to the normal giving for the needs of the church in Corinth. Thus, in the giving of this additional offering, Paul encouraged them to consider the blessings of the Lord before they decided on what they would give.
In one of our many building campaigns in Norfolk, we invited the congregation to make a gift beyond the tithe for the children’s wing. My daughter Tina was old enough to understand that we were asking for a special offering, and she wanted to participate. So we sat down at the table to consider what would be an appropriate gift beyond her tithe.
We had challenged the people to consider a percentage gift, which makes the gift proportionate. And after she had determined what she would give, she asked what I planned to give. When I told her, she then wanted to know how much I made. When I told her, she simply responded, “Daddy, that’s not fair; you will have more left.” But even after patiently explaining to her that I had significantly more bills to pay than she did, I had to think once again about what I had determined to give.
Was it enough? Was it proportional? Did it have a kingdom mentality and conviction behind it?
Have you ever looked at your checkbook after you write your check for your tithes and offerings to see how much God has let you keep? How deeply and richly and generously have you been blessed by God, not just financially but in every other way?
How does your giving stack up to these biblical ideals?
Hemphill, Ken. 2006. Making Change: A Transformational Guide to Christian Money Management. Nashville, TN: B&H Books.
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