EQUIPPING THE SAINTS TO DO THE WORK:
When the church began in Acts of the Apostles, it soon witnessed numerical growth from 120 members to addition of 3000 members and to another addition of 5000. Today, professed Christian’s population numbered more than two billion worldwide. Likewise, the growth is extending across geographical boundaries from Jerusalem to Antioch to Colossae to Thessalonica to Rome to Ethiopia and to the end of the earth today.
Trends in church growth are usually both numerical and geographical. In these trends, the church extends the kingdom of God in human society. Consequently, the church faces the challenge of maintaining just social shape both in its economic and cultural relationships. The church took about twenty years to put in place just social shape in the region of Judea. It was not easy task to maintain this just social shape in this locality. The leaders and followers were under strict censorship of the Holy Spirit and accountability to one another. However, over time and space, it becomes more difficult to still maintain this just social shape in the church, as it is obvious today.
As the church grows, the leaders face the challenge of stewardship and accountability of the manifold grace of God and of due responsibility to the whole body of Christ.
The key element in just social relations is the sense of joint ownership of the community of believers. Church leaders, pastors and missionary church planters sometimes erroneously manage God’s household like personal belongings. One hears such phrases as “my church”, “my ministry” and “my missions”. Likewise, this leads to disloyalty and mismanagement in the area of just economic relations. One can evaluate a leader’s justice or injustice with respect to the economic relations by how he/she handles the collections among the saints and other remittances.
Lessons from the Social Setting Of The Early Church
As Paul traveled, among his converts were some wealthy and high-class people such as Titus, Justus, Crispus a ruler of the synagogue (Acts 18:7-8), Erastus, the city treasurer (Romans 16:23), Lydia a dealer in purple cloth (Acts 16:14), many prominent women (Acts 17:4) and a number of prominent Greek women. Moreover, the number of Christians in the Gentiles churches was increasing obviously more than the number in Jerusalem. Proportionately, the Gentile church was economically stronger than the Jerusalem church.
I suppose the adverse economic depression due to famine affected the Jerusalem saints the more. The Jerusalem saints who were essentially Jews did not usually share or even visit Gentiles. Moreover, some of the market produce of the Gentiles was unclean for the Jews’ consumption (1 Cor. 8:1ff, Romans 14:14).
The exemplary sharing of Antioch church with the Jerusalem church, the Macedonian commitment in their poverty to still share with Jerusalem church were motivations and challenges to other churches to get involved in Paul’s service for the saints. As Paul carried on his Gentiles mission, he took upon himself the service of collecting offering for the poor saints in Jerusalem. He got the churches at Galatia, Macedonia, Achaia, Corinth, involved in the mission. (1 Corinthians 16:1-4, Romans 15:25-28)
The teachings of apostles and especially that of Paul emphasized social welfare of caring for the poor, widows, and orphans (Acts 20:35). Paul usually commanded the rich to be generous (1 Tim. 6:17-19). Paul taught that commitment to sharing with other believers was evidence of sincere love and such deed would establish one’s righteousness. Paul counted sharing with the poor saints as acts of worship, which ‘enlarge your harvest of righteousness’ (2 Cor. 9:9-11). Paul taught that the essence of hard work and extra earnings was to support the weak (Acts 20:33-35).
What Paul Intended To Accomplish With The Collections Of Offerings
Paul had known by revelation the plan of God that the Gentile Christians were fellow citizens with God’s people (the Jews) and members of Gods household. The first major concern of Paul was to destroy the social barrier, ‘the dividing wall of hostility’ between the Jews and the Gentiles (Ephesians 2: 14, 19). Paul expressed this concern many times in the content of both his preaching and his letters. He testified that he has “fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ from Jerusalem and as far round as Illyricum” (Romans 15: 19). By this, Paul acknowledged that the Church began at Jerusalem with the “just social shape” among the believers as narrated in Acts 2: 42-47, 4: 32-37. To fully preach the gospel in Paul’s understanding implies not only individuals’ profession of faith in the Lord Jesus but also integration of new believers into the Church community.
In line with Paul’s writing, he was “(making) every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). Paul hoped to promote the unity of the Jews and Gentile Christians indeed by this service of collecting offerings for the poor saints in Jerusalem from his Gentiles’ mission field.
Paul strongly desired to prove his loyalty and solidarity to the Body of Christ by bringing the Gentiles’ offerings to the mother Church at Jerusalem as token evidence. Paul would not want to be tagged a separatist who was out to build his own empire with Gentile proselytes. Paul hoped that this step would remove suspicions and biases some might be having about his Gentile mission.
Paul had wished that his apostleship among the Gentiles would be such “that the Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15: 16). He testified that the Gentiles have shared in the Jews’ spiritual blessings and they owe it to the Jews to share with them their material blessings as well (Romans 15: 27). However, Paul still requested the Romans to pray that the Jerusalem Church might accept the Gentiles’ offering from him. Paul had said that Gentiles’ offerings would make the saints in Jerusalem give thanks to God (2Cor. 9: 12). Moreover, in their prayers for the Gentiles their hearts would go out to accept them as belonging to the same God (2Cor.9: 14). Moreover, the acceptance of the Gentile believers would imply the acceptance of Paul’s apostolic service by the Body of Christ – the Church. Thus, Paul brought along to Jerusalem Gentile representatives in addition to the material collections of offerings.
Paul hoped that the sharing of the Gentiles’ offerings with the saints in Jerusalem during such hard time of famine would be a boost to the witnessing effort of the Church in general. In this sense, one can read Paul’s intention from what he wrote, “Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I make much of my ministry in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them” Romans 11: 13-14).
If Apostle Paul were here…
When Apostle Paul was at Antioch he diligently did the work of God. He, together with Barnabas, taught people the word of God. In a short time, his congregation increased numerically and their lifestyles were so distinctly challenging to the extent that observers could not but liken them to Christ, hence the alias, “Christians” they were branded.
The early Christians in Acts knew there were going to be great problems and it was important for them to live because through them the Word should get to the outermost part of Judea and the entire world. Survival thus became an issue. No brethren must die of hunger! That must be their resolution, and what a great one it was!
The early Christians must have discussed the vision exhaustively and thus, they came up with a plan. The wealthy among them brought down their wealth. Those who had properties (lands and perhaps stocks) sold them and brought down the proceeds. These were collected together and distributed out to the brethren according to each person’s needs. Note that those who gave did so willingly and cheerfully. Also, they put into consideration other brethren resident in Judea as they sent relief to them (the then Headquarters).
Let me reveal to you that we have watched helplessly the field we are to harvest good seeds for God grow geometrically and our resources, ironically, grow slimmer, hence hindering us from achieving half what we have always desired for God.
We want to make a change this year and we need your INVESTMENTS through your freewill gifts, including tithe and offering. These are needed to set in motion the wheel of change rolling in the direction that God has called us to go.
As you seek His Kingdom and His righteousness with your earnings, be rest assured that our God would remember your labour of love and will give you ABUNDANT DIVIDENDS of your heavenly INVESTMENTS (see Matt. 6: 33 and Galatians 6: 9-10). It would be your own way of equipping the saints to do the work of the Master. God bless you!!