1 Corinthians 16:1-4
Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do you.…
We have here an illustration of one peculiar use of Scripture. This distress was long since relieved. The apostle wrote for his own time, yet the whole account is as fresh and instructive to us as it was to the Corinthians. Note —
I. THE CALL FOR CHARITY. We learn from Romans 15:26 that the Jewish converts were in great distress, and that St. Paul summoned the Gentile converts in Achaia, Galatia, and Rome to relieve them. Observe —
1. How all distinctions of race melt away before Christianity. Collections had often been sent by foreign Jews, but here was a Jewish object supported by Gentiles — a new thing in the world. Christ was the Man, the Saviour, not of one people, but of the world, and in Him all were one. Henceforth there was neither Jew nor Greek, etc.
2. Jerusalem, Corinth, and Galatia were linked by a common object. You have seen a magnet applied to a mass of iron filings, and watched the multitude of delicate points all adhering to each other, through the invisible influence which, sent throughout them all, makes each in its turn a magnet. To scattered races, separate castes and ancient enmities, Christ was the Magnet which united all.
3. This had been done before by war and trade. In earlier times the different and even opposing tribes of the Roman republic were united on the field of battle; they felt they were warring for the same cause. Later we find that trade united men by mutual interest. "We will not injure others, because, by so doing, we shall injure ourselves." Christianity unites, not through a common hatred or interest, but through a common love.
4. Remark how in God's counsels sorrow draws out good. Pain and sorrow are mysteries. The sufferers at Jerusalem could not see the meaning of their sorrow; nor did they know how many a Greek and Roman was weekly laying up his store for them; nor how, through their pain, Galatia and Corinth and Rome were drawn by cords of love together. So we often suffer, and see no good result from it. But assuredly, we are not suffering in vain. Suffering works out for us a weight of glory, which tells how our characters are perfected through suffering; but there is a higher Christian light to see our pain in: it blesses others. This is the blessedness of the suffering of Christ; it is the law of the Cross. To be willing to bear in order to teach others! — to lose, in order that others may "through us noblier live" — that is to know something of the blessedness He knew.
II. THE PRINCIPLE OF ITS EXERCISE.
1. Systematic in manner (ver. 2). That is, instead of waiting for one stirring apostolic appeal, they were to make charity the business of their lives. This contribution was to be a matter of principle, and not of impulse. One burning speech of St. Paul's might have elicited a larger sum. But he preferred the effects of steady perseverance to those of vehement emotion. For impulse is often mere luxury. To give largely, to strip off a coat to give to a shivering man, may after all be nothing more than a relief from importunity, or a compact with conscience, or a compromise with laziness. On the contrary, this systematic plan of St. Paul's —
(1) Costs something, and(2) teaches —
(a) the habit of a thoughtful life; it reminds us continually that there is something which is owed to God, and therefore is not our own; and it is well that, by an outward system, we should train our inward spirit to the unforgetful thought of our debt to Him.
(b) Self-denial. It gradually lays the foundation of a life of Christian economy; not that which sacrifices one pleasure for another: for this is but mere prudence; but that which abridges pleasure, in order that we may be able to give to God.
2. The measure of liberality was "as God hath prospered him."(1) St. Paul establishes a principle here. He lays down no rabbinical maxim of one-tenth or one-fourth. He leaves the measure to our own conscience. "Ask thyself," he says to each, "how much owest thou unto thy Lord?"(2) Besides a wide margin is here left necessarily for variety of circumstances. God prospers one man in fortune; another, in time; another, in talent; and time, talents, sympathy, are often better gifts than money. "Silver and gold have I none," said St. Peter, "but that which I have I give unto thee," and the man was healed. So now, often the greatest exercise of charity is where there is nothing given, but where the deserving are assisted to support themselves. Often the highest charity is simply to pay liberally for all things had or done for you; because to underpay workmen, and then be bountiful, is not charity. On the other hand, to give, when by so doing you support idleness, is most pernicious.
3. Now, the first principle will explain why the second is not realised. Men do not give as God hath prospered them, because they do not give systematically. They who have most are not they who give most, but the reverse, as is proved by the annals of all societies. Many are the touching cases where the givings of a servant, a governess, a workman, have more than equalled the munificence of the rich. So also was St. Paul's experience (2 Corinthians 8:1-4). The reason of this strange difference is, that system is easier with little than with much. The man of thousands squanders: every impulse is satisfied immediately; he denies himself nothing; he gives as freely when he is touched by a tale of woe, as he indulges when he wants indulgence. But his luxuries grow into necessities, and he then complains of his larger liabilities and establishment. Now let me appeal to those who really wish to do right in this thing. St. Paul's principle is the only safe or true one. Systematise your charity. Save, by surrendering superfluities first. Feel that there is a sacred fund, which will be made less by every unnecessary expense.
(F. W. Robertson, M.A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye.