“The Collection for "The Saints"”

Recently, we have been exploring the church that Jesus built and its mission. We’ve noted that when the Biblical authors use the word “church” they refer to a special group of people. In the New Testament, “church” (ekklesia) describes the body of people that have responded in faith to the gospel message. That body of people, both universally, locally in groups called “churches” and individually, is busy continuing God’s work. So God’s church is both the product of His work and the vehicle through which He continues to complete His work.


This morning’s lesson is focused on the word “fellowship” (Acts 2:42) which, as will be discussed, has to do with sharing. Christian communities in the first century were busy sharing their lives, their energy, resources and stuff with each other (Acts 2:43-47; 4:32-35). When a great need arose as a result of a famine in Jerusalem (Acts 11:28), many local churches banded together in a relief effort to collect money.

Christians were exercising benevolence for one another by sending their monetary support by the hand of Paul and others to Jerusalem. The word benevolence” is translated from the Greek compound word “eunoia” which means “good will” (eu – well/good, nous – the mind/will). This word is used literally in Eph. 6:7, “With good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men.” The local churches were willing good toward their poor brethren in Jerusalem in the form of material support.


This effort was something to be done collectively, that is, as a church. But for a collective effort to materialize, each individual must do his part (1 Cor. 16:1-2).


Individual Christians are instructed to be the most benevolent people (Jas. 1:27) rendering good will to all men, especially to Christians (Gal. 6:10). Part of a faithful response to the gospel is sharing what you have with your neighbor in need (Lk. 10:27-37).


But there is a difference between the proper use of the individual Christian’s money (which may be freely given to any in need, Lk. 10:37, Gal. 6:10; Jas. 1:27) and the money gathered by a collective church (which Paul regulates in 1 Cor. 16:1-3).


So, when it comes to this action of spreading good will to people, the question is not, “Do individual Christians have a responsibility to the poor?” They most certainly do. Or, “Who among the poor is the individual Christian to assist?” He must be a good neighbor to all (Lk. 10:37; Gal. 6:10). The question is, “Who among the poor is the church (collectively) to assist?” This is a slightly different question. Note the following passages concerning various collections that local churches were taking part in:

  • (Acts 2:44-46)— “all who had believed
  • (Acts 4:32-35)— “those who believed
  • (Acts 11:27-30)— “send a contribution for the relief of the brethren
  • (Rom. 15:25)— “serving the saints
  • (Rom. 15:26)— “contribution for the poor among the saints
  • (1 Cor. 16:1)— “concerning the collection for the saints
  • (2 Cor. 8:4)— “support of the saints
  • (2 Cor. 9:1)— “ministry to the saints

Clearly, the pattern set by the example of the early church was for individuals to do good to everyone with a premium on their spiritual brethren (Gal. 6:10) but for local churches to take up collections for a more specific use. These collected funds were always used to benefit poor Christians, as evidenced in the words “saints,” “believers” and “brethren.”


Christians are instructed to give a freewill offering motivated by the grace of God on behalf of their brethren in need (1 Cor. 16:1ff; 2 Cor. 8:1ff). When a believer contributes to this work of grace, that money is set aside for the needs of the church to be spent in ways God has authorized.


On one occasion, Christians were extending this grace to their less fortunate brothers and sisters by selling off their property and possessions and bringing the proceeds to the apostles to be distributed (Acts 4:32-37). While the property, and by extension, the monetary value of the property, remained unsold, it still belonged to the individual to be used as he saw fit. But once it was sold with the intention of giving it to the church, it no longer belonged to that individual (see Ananias & Sapphira, Acts 5:1-4). 


Why is it important to make a distinction between what an individual Christian can do with his money and what a church can do with its money? Misunderstanding this principle has led many churches to use their funds to subsidize, not individual needy saints or needy local churches as we see in Scripture, but other man-made institutions.


A case may be made that financially supporting good institutions like colleges, orphan’s homes or missionary societies from the treasury of a local church effectively outsources the work churches are responsible for. Attaining knowledge, caring for the poor and sharing the gospel are all emphasized in Scripture. But at its core, we have no example of church funds being used this way in the Bible. Institutions that function to serve these purposes can be good and there are avenues by which we can support these efforts individually and still remain under God’s authority. But local churches must be careful to use their collected funds in ways that align with the pattern we find in the New Testament.