Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Am I My Brother's Keeper? Part Two

By studying Paul’s letters strictly “historically, chronologically, and geographically” I began to see how these “First century churches” were, first of all, so very much like our churches today, and second, I began to see how much we could learn from them.

In Acts, chapter 11, shortly after Paul’s conversion, we find him in Antioch along with Barnabas teaching the Word of God, when some prophets from Jerusalem arrive. One of them named Agabus began to prophesy that there would be a great famine all over the world. The “world” to them, of course, was the whole Roman Empire. So, the Christians in Antioch took up an offering, and the Bible says, they took it “in the proportion that any of the disciples had means” which meant they gave as much as they possibly could. And they sent it to the Church at Jerusalem, by way of Barnabas and Saul (or Paul.)

The Christians who were in Judea were already exposed to special trials. They were condemned by the Sanhedrin, opposed by the rulers, and persecuted by the people. And now, they were in the midst of a famine. Paul sought not only to relieve them by this contribution, but also began to promote, everywhere he went this “fellow-feeling” between the Jewish and the Gentile Christians, which would be evidenced by sending help to Jerusalem.

In today’s text in Paul’s second recorded letter to the Corinthians, he writes to them concerning the offering which they had promised a year earlier to make (which, by the way, they hadn’t done yet.)

This scripture, of course, speaks of a “monetary” offering. And we do need to study this in-depth concerning our views and beliefs on tithing, but today, I’d like to look at it a little differently.
One of Paul’s main objectives with the churches’ offerings was to teach this “fellow-feeling” between the Jewish and Gentile Christians. This “camaraderie”, this “we’re all in this together”, this “we are our brothers’ keepers” attitude was far more important to achieve than any amount of money they could give.

This became clearer to me over the past few months than I’ve ever known before.

Listen to these words of the Apostle Paul:

2 Corinthians 8:1-5; 12-15; (It’s interesting to note in verses 1-2, just “who” the “Churches in Macedonia” are. They are the church at Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea. Now think - which of Paul’s letters do we go to when we need great comfort; Philippians and Thessalonians! The ones with the greatest needs, gave the greatest gifts!)

2Cointhians 8:1-5 Now, brethren, we wish to make known to you the grace of God which has been given in the churches of Macedonia, that in a great ordeal of affliction their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of their lberality.

For I testify that according to their ability, and beyond their ability, they gave of their own accord, begging us with much urging for the favor of participation in the support of the saints, and this, not as we had expected, but they first gave themselves to the Lord and to us by the will of God.

2Corinthians 8:12-15 For if the readiness is present, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have.
For this is not for the ease of others and for your affliction, but by way of equality-- at this present time your abundance being a supply for their need, so that their abundance also may become a supply for your need, that there may be equality; as it is written, "HE WHO gathered MUCH DID NOT HAVE TOO MUCH, AND HE WHO gathered LITTLE HAD NO LACK."

2 Corinthians 9:6-15 Now this I say, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.
Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed;

Now He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness; you will be enriched in everything for all liberality, which through us is producing thanksgiving to God.

For the ministry of this service is not only fully supplying the needs of the saints, but is also 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!

Next time - when these words “hit close to home…”


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