Liberality - Monetary and Moral
H. Beattie, Bury St. Edmunds
Giving to God, vv. 1-4. The important lessons of mutual responsibility and the need of a spirit of Christian solidarity are taught in verses 1-3. The Corinthians had learned, through the Lord's servants, of the poverty of other believers, and were prepared to help them according to their ability. In the second Epistle^ chapters 8 and 9 provide excellent teaching concerning Christian liberality and imply that it is a measure of our appreciation of God's own munificence. The closing exclamation of the apostle, when the subject of monetary generosity has been considered, reaches the highest point. "Thanks be to God for His gift, precious beyond telling -indescribable, inexpressible, free gift", 2 Cor. 9.15 amplified n.t. The believer's giving is one true expression of his appreciation of the sacrifice of Christ.
Regularity in giving is to be encouraged. From the money resulting from the week of work or business a certain sum was to be taken and set aside. This constituted a satisfactory arrangement, for it would be easier to deal with the weekly amount than with the larger totals accruing during a month or a year. Individual responsibility and exercise are underlined. Each one of the saints by himself is asked to calculate the Lord's portion. How much time and thought do I give to carefully apportioned Christian liberality? Do I just fumble hurriedly for any old coin when forced to contribute? Is that an honest appreciation of the value of redemption's price freely paid for me?
The measure of giving is according to what we have been given. No percentages are mentioned in these verses. Our Lord's commendation of one dear widow was that she had given one hundred per cent, Mark 12. 44. Jacob promised God one tenth, Gen. 28. 22. Some believers give to the Lord one per cent; some give less. The injunction insists that our liberality should depend on God's liberal attitude towards us, even in material things. In days when solidarity in evangelistic effort at home and abroad is imperative, the obligations of prosperity granted by God are most challenging. It is not so much a matter of generosity on the last day of my life as on the first day of each week.
The practice in assemblies of allowing believers to bring their carefully laid-aside offerings from home and unite them with others on the Lord's Day morning has no doubt been based on these verses and has proved satisfactory, being a corporate expression of gratitude. But the primary application is to the individual believer setting aside in the Lord's presence the Lord's offering. What a test of spirituality!
The extreme care of the apostle in dealing with money matters is worthy of emulation. He was not going to accept personal responsibility for the transmission of the gift. Recommended brethren would carry it to its destination, and forge, by their fellowship, fresh links between the widely separated, autonomous churches. Paul might go with them, but his presence was not indispensable. He could trust others. How blessed to be able to trust younger servants of Christ, and not to feel that if one does not feature prominently in the project that all will not go well. Paul encouraged initiative.
Apostolic Planning, vv. 5-9. No one could have depended on the Lord's leading in service more than Paul, Acts 13. 2; 16. 9-10, 18. 9-10, yet in this section we find him outlining his plans for the coming days, not in independence of God, but in submission to His will, if the Lord permit, 1 Cor. 16. 7. He hoped to accomplish an itinerating ministry in the region of Macedonia. He would spend the following winter in Corinth, but would be kept busy in Ephesus until Pentecost. Here is divinely inspired planning on the part of a servant of God that must cause some to ask the question, "Is my service planned and efficient as Paul's was, or am I at the mercy of many conflicting influences, with no clear vision of what the Lord expects from me?" There may have been changes and upheavals in the fulfilment of the programme, but definite programme and vision there was.
Clear leading for the moment had been given. A great door had been opened at Ephesus which promised tangible results for the work done. Manifold opposition stimulated rather than discouraged; the work would go on. And he was not waiting for time to think about future service during a moment of respite. Macedonia and Corinth were on the programme. Elsewhere we see how clearly this attitude characterised Paul. Romans 15- 24 and 28 mention journeys to Rome and to Spain. Titus 3. 12 outlines his plan to spend the winter in Nicopolis.
The important thing for all of us is to know what God wants us to do. It may be a work among children or teenagers, pastoral visitation, hospital or prison work, personal or public Gospel witness, or the edifying of the people of God. Let us, in the calm of His presence, learn what it is. Then instead of being whirled around by a hundred different eddies, we shall, by careful planning in the sanctuary, move forward in the majestic current of His blessed will, knowing our service, according to gift given, and doing it methodically to the glory of God.
Care for Others, vv. 10-12. True to his desire to encourage other promising men, Paul makes recommendations about Timothy and Apollos. It is amazing to realise the extent of the responsibility of an already accredited worker in his eulogising or disclaiming of others. One undisciplined word may disintegrate a useful ministry or cause a worthy man to be wrongfully ostracised for many years.
How warmhearted is the apostle's recommendation of these two servants who were beginning to move around in the Lord's work. Timothy's appearance and manner may have been in total contrast to his. Timothy had not had the Damascus road experience. He may have lacked the virility and courage of the older man. He worketh the work of the Lord, says Paul, just as I do. Respect him; make him feel at home. Help him on his journey.
Apollos is not subjugated by Paul. What a lovely balance this verse reveals! In spite of deep desire and strong beseeching, Apollos had not seen his way opening up towards Corinth. So Paul respects his personal conviction, and promises, on behalf of his eloquent friend of whom he could have been jealous, a visit at some later time. The planned programme of Apollos, conceived in the Lord's presence, did not leave him time to visit Corinth then. Paul does not try to coerce him into changing what he believes to be the will of God. How often disaster has overtaken efforts of ill-inspired coercion and promising ministries have been blighted.
One thing to remember though, as we read through the Epistles, is that Paul does not glibly recommend people not fitted for the job.
Counsel and Salutation, vv. 13-24. The fighting spirit of the warrior comes to the surface in verse 13. Be always on duty and always on guard. Stand to attention and don't slouch or loll about. Be virile and play the man. Don't be a weakling. Here is the nature of our Lord, stronger than the strong one, expressing itself in the battle. There is nothing wishy-washy about Paul's bearing as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. But to make sure that we have fully understood the true nature of divine strength, he urges that everything should be in love. There is nothing feeble about the love of God. The ministry and sacrifice of our Lord Jesus revealed love that was stronger than death.
The appeal to recognise manifested gift and workers in verse 15 is of the utmost importance. It would have seemed as if Paul's nomination of Stephanas would have sufficed to confer authority. But the Corinthians are invited to examine the evidence. Neither novices nor newcomers, they are the firstfruits of a remarkable Gospel work, and they serve the saints in a multitude of ways. If believers want to do exploits for God, they will do well to serve under such trusted experienced friends. First recognise the spiritual working labourers, then serve under them. This is apostolic counsel about apostolic succession: "Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ", 11, 1.
The three brethren mentioned were not only faithful in their work at home, but they had brought refreshment from Corinth to Paul, undertaking perhaps a dangerous journey. Moreover, the plea to recognise them is made. This is our only guide in the present day. Hierarchies imparting supposed authority abound on every hand, while claims to special power because of unbroken contact with apostolic laying on of hands are advanced. But the basis of leadership taught in the New Testament is clear, "know them which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you . . . esteem them very highly in love/or their work's sake", 1 Thess. 5. 12. Men may claim to be; work proves what they really are.
Is there a more remarkable couple in the Scriptures than Aquila and Priscilla?, Acts 18. 2, 26; Rom. 16. 3; 1 Cor. 16. 19; 2 Tim. 4. 19. There was no drawbridge continually lifted over the moat around their home as is so often the case today. They opened it to a tent-maker, a working evangelist like Paul, to a keen student like Apollos, or to all the members of the local church. Did they have kitchen or lounge meetings for the neighbours? They were certainly always on duty.
Our form of greeting has changed since apostolic times. In some continental countries believers kiss on both cheeks. The important thing is to make believers welcome, all spirit of chilly aloofness being banished. Paul cannot greet them personally, but he seizes the pen from the hand of his amanuensis and traces his name. In spite of all the irregularities, so tragic and so painful, which the Epistle was meant to correct, he signs his name, and prays that the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ might be with them. Then he adds, as in no other letter, the most tender of all his greetings: "My love be with you all in Christ Jesus". The Epistle was bound to succeed in its purpose.
Love in Christ; love for Christ; here is the crucial test. The Lord is coming: Maran-atha! Love is the answer to all the problems in Corinth. "No man speaking in the Spirit of God saith, Jesus is anathema; and no man can say, Jesus is Lord, but in the Holy Spirit", 12. 3 R.v. "If any man loveth not the Lord, let him be anathema. The Lord is coming. Maran-atha", 16. 22 r.v. Love for my Lord - here is the foundation of the true Christian life. To love Him in the light of His presence and glory, "he is thy Lord; and worship thou him", Ps. 45. 11.
It is most encouraging, having examined rapidly the warnings and exhortations of this first Epistle to the Corinthians, to learn of the happy outcome in that assembly. In the second Epistle Paul writes: "For though I made you sorry with my epistle, I do not regret it ... Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye were made sorry unto repentance . . . For godly sorrow worketh repentance unto salvation, a repentance which bringeth no regret ... I rejoice that in everything I am of good courage concerning you", 7. 8-16 R.v.
May a like attitude in our hearts towards the Holy Scriptures lead to a genuine humility that will allow our God to grant in ever increasing abundance the grace indispensable in this time of acute need. Amen.