Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye. Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come. (1 Cor. 16:1-2)
The authority for the practice of a weekly collection within the churches of Christ comes from 1 Corinthians 16:1-2. As long as I can remember, this passage has been quoted prior to taking up that collection. There are some among us today, however, who have challenged this practice. They suggest that Paul’s instruction only applied to the one-time collection for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem (Rom. 15:26). They conclude that the church need not necessarily take up a collection upon every first day of the week. An additional argument that has been made is that the expression “lay by him in store” does not refer to the collection of the saints in the assembly, but only at one’s own home. I wish to respond to these suggestions.
First, there is no doubt that within the context of 1 Corinthians 16, Paul has reference to a collection being taken up for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem (Rom. 15:26). Paul says as much in Acts 24:17, “Now after many years I came to bring alms to my nation, and offerings.” This was a special collection. However, Paul had deeper purpose; he wanted the Gentiles to show their Christian fellowship with the Jews in a physical way (Rom. 15:27). The contribution is a unique way of showing Christian fellowship with other Christians. This is a point of which we must not lose sight in this discussion. The purpose of fellowship is a purpose that persists through all contributive activity in the New Testament, even contributions not related to the specific occasion of 1 Corinthians 16:1-2 (see Acts 2:42; Rom.12:13; Phil.1:5-6, 4:15; Gal.6:6; Heb.13:6). In other words, this purpose suggests a general schema in which all contributive activity in the church was to occur, implying a persistent pattern of behavior relative to all the churches. The point is this: while the occasion for this contribution was to help the poor among the saints at Jerusalem, the principles being taught in 1 Corinthians 16:1-2 were general in scope, and not just applicable to this occasion alone. The frequency of such fellowship is specified here as being upon the first day of every week.
Second, the Greek prepositional phrase par’ heauto is said to mean “at home.” The Greek scholar A. T. Robertson suggests this specific meaning in his Word Pictures of the New Testament. The general meaning of the Greek preposition para with the dative case is “(nearly always of the pers[on]) nearness in space at or by (the side of), beside, near, with, acc[ording] to the standpoint fr[om] which the relationship is viewed.”1 The phrase could mean “at home” given a certain context, but not necessarily. The same prepositional phrase (par’ heauto) is used in Luke 9:47, “And Jesus, perceiving the thought of their heart, took a child, and set him by him.” The words “by him” in this verse is the prepositional phrase par’ heauto. In Luke 9:47, it simply means “alongside of him,” that is, “near to him,” or “in his personal space.” This prepositional phrase is also used in the Septuagint in four places: Exodus 16:18, Proverbs 26:5, 12, 28:11. In each of these instances, the words par’ heauto indicate nearness to one’s person whether literally or figuratively. The phrase has the connotation of something personal, whether in space, time, or manner. Since the phrase is adverbial in 1 Corinthians 16:2, it could be translated “personally.” The suggestion that the Greek prepositional phrase par’ heauto means “at home” is not necessarily warranted.
Third, the context of 1 Corinthians 16:1-2 is of a corporate responsibility. In 1 Corinthians 16:1, Paul says, “Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye.” Paul gave these instructions to the churches, corporately. The churches of Galatia had been instructed to give, and Paul was giving the same instruction to the church at Corinth. The implication was that this responsibility was a corporate one, and not just an individual one. That is, the church as a whole had an interest in ensuring that the members participated in the collection, and when the collection had been gathered by Paul, the church as a body was said to have given it. The churches of Macedonia were also corporately commended for having fulfilled this responsibility in 2 Corinthians 8:1. How could the church corporately ensure the members’ participation? Simple. As a body, they took up a collection upon the first day of the week, the day that they met for the purpose of partaking of the Lord’s Supper (Acts 20:7). The Greek preposition kata in 1 Corinthians 16:2 is distributive and indicates frequency: every first day of the week. This practice of the church meeting on the first day of the week was begun in Acts 2. The day of Pentecost was a Sunday, the day after the Sabbath, the first day of the week. This practice was continued with such frequency that the apostle John eventually referred to it as “the Lord’s day” (Rev. 1:10). That the seven churches of Asia (and others) understood which day to which “the Lord’s day” referred is evident from the fact that John doesn’t explain which day it was. The church’s corporate activities were practiced upon the first day of the week (Acts 2:47, 20:7). If saving funds were to be done merely at one’s home, why was this day specified? Any other day would have been sufficient for such a purpose. It is not mere coincidence that the apostle Paul chose this day in 1 Corinthians 16:2.
Fourth, the instructions Paul gave to the churches of Galatia concerning giving were not exclusive to the occasion of helping the poor among the saints in Jerusalem. Galatians 6:6-10 reflects these concerns. Paul’s instructions to the churches of Galatia included contributing regularly to those who were teaching the saints. This is the force of the Greek verb koinoneo in Galatians 6:6; they were to have fellowship with their teachers by virtue of their supporting him monetarily. The present active imperative nature of the verb implies that they were to do this regularly. Moreover, the notion of sowing to the Spirit in Galatians 6:8 also has reference to monetary giving. (Compare the same imagery of sowing and reaping in 2 Cor.9:6 where the context is clearly monetary giving.) Moreover, Galatians 6:10 has reference to giving monetarily, as the occasion arises, to anyone who has a physical need, but especially Christians. Paul is saying in Galatians 6:6-10 that the responsibility of the church is to do this: 1) pay the preacher, 2) give to those who are in need whether Christians or not. I have no doubt that Paul gave instructions to the churches of Galatia regarding the collection for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem, but he gave these other instructions first. We must not exclude any of the orders concerning giving that Paul gave to the churches of Galatia from the context of 1 Corinthians 11:1; the latter instructions must be viewed in the context of the former.
Fifth, Paul did not want to take up any collections when he came to Corinth. He says this specifically in 1 Corinthians 16:2. In fact, this is why he wanted the brethren to regularly give every first day of the week into a treasury. The Greek verb thesaurizo has reference to a treasury of money. If each Christian at Corinth were to put something from himself into his own personal treasury “at home,” when Paul arrived, a collection would necessarily need to be made to take money from all of the individuals who had saved up, but had not contributed to the general treasury of the church. However, Paul specifically said that he wanted there to be no collections when he came. This meant that he expected all of it to be in one place upon his arrival. What better place to keep it than in the general treasury of the church? Hence, the context forbids the notion that Paul was telling each individual Christian to save up money at his own home. Instead, his giving was to be done on the first day of the week, when the church assembled together on the Lord’s Day to partake of the Lord’s Supper, and the contribution was to be put into the general treasury. This was an act of worship, because in giving, they were participating in fellowship (koinonia) with one another as they did so, and thus directly glorifying God by their unity of spirit and purpose. This practice was not limited to the church at Corinth alone, because Paul taught the same thing to the churches of Galatia, Macedonia, and everywhere he went (1 Cor. 4:17, 7:17).
If an individual Christian can say that he has monetarily prospered, then he has an obligation to give upon every first day of the week. Some do not monetarily prosper every week. They are not obliged to give. However, for those who do, regular giving is not only authorized, it is commanded. There is no doubt in my mind that the church at Corinth was being instructed to fulfill a specific occasion of giving in 1 Corinthians 16:1-2. However, there is also no doubt that the principles of their giving were principles that were taught to all of the churches with which Paul had association, in Galatia, Macedonia, and Corinth. The sustained purpose of their giving was to have fellowship in the work of the Lord. Their end result was to support those in need. They did this by corporately treasuring up monies upon the first day of the week that came from the personal earnings of each individual member. It was a corporate responsibility that the church was said to have accomplished. The specific occasion of 1 Corinthians 16:1-2 was not exclusive of any other occasions of giving, and the monies collected were all placed into a general treasury to be available when the time came for it to be used. Those who argue against this aspect of worship that the Lord’s church observes every first day of the week, simply do not understand the concept of corporate giving. Upon the first day of every week, let us regularly give to God’s work.
1 Bauer, Walter. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. Second Edition.