“Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given orders to the churches of Galatia, so you must do also: On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come.” 1 Cor 16:1-2
The instruction Paul gives for the collection for the saints, was for the saints in Jerusalem, who were in need from a famine that occurred in Judea:
“When these things were accomplished, Paul purposed in the Spirit, when he had passed through Macedonia and Achaia, to go to Jerusalem, saying, “After I have been there, I must also see Rome.” So he sent into Macedonia two of those who ministered to him, Timothy and Erastus, but he himself stayed in Asia for a time.” Act 19:21-22
“But now I am going to Jerusalem to minister to the saints. For it pleased those from Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor among the saints who are in Jerusalem. It pleased them indeed, and they are their debtors. For if the Gentiles have been partakers of their spiritual things, their duty is also to minister to them in material things.” Rom 15:25-27
It is a principle which permeates throughout the Scriptures, Old and New Testaments, that those who provide spiritually, are to be provided for in turn materially (1 Cor 9:3-12, Gal 6:6, 1 Tim 5:17-18). Israel supported the Levites with tithes, and Paul established among the churches that it was right for the church to support its ministers.
It is from this passage in 1 Cor 16 that taking a weekly collection during the assembly of the believers developed. In Paul’s instruction, the setting aside of the portion to be given was not done during the weekly Sabbath assembly. No believer in Paul’s lifetime would have done so, because transactions in money were not conducted on the Sabbath day, when the believers met together. This is why Paul instructed them to set their portion aside on the first of the week (the word “day” is not in the Greek), which would have been the normal time for a Sabbath observant believer to settle his accounts from the previous week’s business.
In fact, in Torah, the tithe was not figured weekly, but after the harvest, since incomes were generally based on profit received from the harvest. This is why much of the instruction on tithing in Torah is found side by side with instruction on the celebration of the harvest festivals.
Contrary to some modern teaching I have heard on tithing, it is perfectly alright to set aside a portion and save it up. Weekly giving to the church is a wonderful discipline to establish for those who need to increase their faithfulness in this area, but it is not commanded that something be put in the offering every week. What is encouraged, is that something is laid aside every week to be stored up, so a deposit to savings, however one’s savings are established, qualifies. If one gives monthly or even annually, as long as it is a fair representation of how he has prospered, then that is well.
The tithes in Torah were dispersed to Levites, as ministers of the Lord. Then other tithes and offerings were set aside for those who were suffering a material lack due to not having a father in the household who was the natural provider: widows and orphans. Then strangers living among Israel who did not own land, if they suffered; and other poor, were also recipients. Every city included a storehouse where the tithes of grain and food were kept, where those who were in need could come.
“At the end of every third year you shall bring out the tithe of your produce of that year and store it up within your gates. And the Levite, because he has no portion nor inheritance with you, and the stranger and the fatherless and the widow who are within your gates, may come and eat and be satisfied, that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hand which you do.” Deu 14:28-29
“Will a man rob God? Yet you have robbed Me! But you say, ‘In what way have we robbed You?’ In tithes and offerings. You are cursed with a curse, For you have robbed Me, Even this whole nation. Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, That there may be food in My house, And try Me now in this,” Says the LORD of hosts, “If I will not open for you the windows of heaven And pour out for you such blessing That there will not be room enough to receive it.” Mal 3:8-10
That storehouse commanded in Torah, in Deu 14:28-29, is the storehouse that Malachi speaks of in this oft- quoted passage! There is a double meaning in this passage. The first which would have been obvious to a Torah observant Hebrew of that century, is that the storehouse is where the tithes consisting of physical food and that which supplied for material needs were kept. The second that the Lord is revealing, is that the house of the LORD is also a storehouse that provides food, for man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word which proceeds from the mouth of God (Mat 4:4). There is physical food, and spiritual food, and tithes and offerings were to supply both kinds of bread. The storehouse of physical food provided for the spiritual food of Israel, for if the Levites did not have to work to earn bread, then they could devote themselves to their duties and the Word.
It is just as Scriptural for the local ekklesia to be the storehouse of material provision for the needy of their community as it is for them to be the storehouse of spiritual food in the Word of God. God so loves the world, and one day, maybe, the world will see it when His meeting places provide more generously for the poor than the county- run food bank! In fact, the Scriptures teach that meeting the material needs of the poor is a proper expression of our faith in God!
“What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” Jam 2:14-17
I believe that a church who makes room and provision for an outreach ministry, or who supplies the needs of other outreach ministries and homeless ministries and the like in their community, have discovered the heart of Abraham, the father of our faith, who was blessed by God in order to be a blessing to others (Gen 12:1-3). Abraham and the other patriarchs did not grasp for themselves, but relinquished rights, were generous, and gave liberally. In this they mirrored God, for He is a generous Giver of undeserved gifts (Mat 5:44-45, Jam 1:5), and a Relinquisher of rights in order to be a blessing to those who do not deserve it (Phi 2:5-8)! This is why God loves a cheerful giver (2 Cor 9:7) – He is looking upon a heart which is in the image of His own heart!
However, for those who are able to work, but who prefer to live idly and sponge off the generosity of others, Paul’s instruction is:
“For even when we were with you, we commanded you this: If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat.” 2 The 3:10
“But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” 1 Tim 5:8