In several of his letters, the apostle Paul is appealing for funds for the Jerusalem church (Rom. 15:25-28; 1 Cor. 16:1-4; 2 Cor. 8, 9). In fact, bringing the gift from the church of Antioch to Jerusalem was one of Paul’s first acts of ministry (Acts 11:30). He later organized similar efforts among the churches in Macedonia and Achaia (Rom. 15:25-28). First and Second Corinthians reflect his longing to enlist them in this giving initiative (1 Cor. 16:1-4; 2 Cor. 8, 9).
Paul’s appeals were not a new initiative; however, they have a special significance for us today. Their context was one of a global crisis, and Paul’s approach offers guidance to leadership under difficult circumstances.. Ellen White writes that “in his first letter to the church at Corinth, Paul gave the believers instruction regarding the general principles underlying the support of God’s work in the earth.”. These explain our current interest in Paul’s effort and instructions in regard to the collection for Jerusalem.
THE GLOBAL CRISIS
The first collection in which Paul participated was in response to the prophet Agabus’s prediction of a global (Roman Empirewide) famine (Acts 11:27-30).. Historically, we can situate these events in the years A.D. 46-54, during the reign of Claudius. This famine is well-documented in many sources. Daryn Graham, an expert on the reactions and responses to natural disasters throughout the Roman Empire, has found extensive evidence of the famine in the papyri and the writings of the Roman historian Pliny.⁴ He establishes that the Nile River in Egypt, the major source of food for the empire, had experienced an unprecedented increase in the water level in A.D. 45, resulting in a poor harvest in Egypt and throughout the empire. This was compounded by drought conditions in Syria and Judea in A.D. 46, the other two breadbaskets of the empire. Artifacts reveal that the situation came back to normal in the year A.D. 65.
Two passages from Paul testify of an enduring crisis. In his first letter to the Corinthians (circa A.D. 55) Paul mentions the “present crisis” and advises believers not to spend resources on marriage (1 Cor. 7:26). In his second letter to the Corinthians (circa A.D. 56-57), he describes Macedonia as “also under severe trials” (2 Cor. 8:2). The context reveals that he was referring to the economic challenges that they were facing. Hence, Paul’s appeals for the poor in Jerusalem were addressed to believers who themselves were not enjoying financial prosperity. In such a difficult economic context, how did Paul present his appeals to convince those who were themselves hit by the crisis to participate?
Paul’s appeals highlight the principle that we should encourage and instruct the church to give even in times of crisis. Reflecting on the profile of the recipients of Paul’s appeals, Stenschke, a New Testament and early church scholar, observes that “Christian charity is not just a status-enhancing project for the wealthy upper-class members and of no concern to other Christians.”⁵
In the midst of the global crisis Paul presented, among other arguments, participation in the collection as an act of charity, a means to foster unity, and as an exchange principle.
Acts of Charity
Paul refers to the action as the sending of “relief” and defines the recipients as the “poor” (Acts 11:29; Rom. 15:26). Acts of charity were already common in the early church (Acts 2:44, 45), but Paul’s appeal was unique and revolutionary. He introduced the notion of translocal charity. During those days, people often employed funds locally to assist the needy in the community, often resulting in public recognition and honor.⁶ The book of Acts testifies to that reality: “Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas” (Acts 4:36) and Tabitha of Joppa, whose Greek name was Dorcas (Acts 9:36), were introduced and honored as benefactors of their local communities.
In contrast, Paul invited believers outside Judea to give to people they do not know, would probably never meet, and who would have no chance to reciprocate or even to express gratitude to them. Paul was introducing the concept of inter-church solidarity, of giving beyond borders.
During a crisis, more than at other times, naked self-interest, seeking one’s own safety and benefit, easily comes to the fore. Paul’s appeals call us to resist this natural inclination and point to the importance of global giving as a Christian ideal.
Closely associated with the concept of translocal charity, Paul argues that the collection is meant to foster unity. ⁷ Stenschke views these appeals as a “statement against the ancient anti-Judaism that was prevailing in the Empire.” The New Testament testifies regularly about the tension between Christians of Jewish origin and others. In contrast, this collection affirms the oneness of Christians from different cultural and ethnic backgrounds. Besides the crosscultural element, it aimed at bridging the gap between the poor and the rich in God’s church. We read in 2 Corinthians 8:14 that “equality is the goal.” The word “is.tēs,” translated “equality,” conveys the idea of equity, fairness, of what is equitable.⁸ Ogereau, a New Testament researcher, explains that it is not about an “exact equalization” but rather an invitation “to achieve a relative, proportional equality by restoring a certain balance between need and surplus.”⁹ It was unity beyond words.
The usage of the word “koinonia” for this donation (2 Cor 8:4; 9:13; Rom. 15:26) strengthens Paul’s argument about its unifying function. It conveys the idea of “fellowship, association, community, communion, joint participation, contact.” 10 Participation in the collection was an expression of partnership among believers. According to Ogereau, “the collection was aimed at establishing a new order of socio-economic equality and solidarity among the emergent Christ-believing communities, at both a local and global level, and across sociocultural and ethnic divides.”11
Crisis provides an additional opportunity for God’s church to strengthen the bond of unity. We have a current application of this principle in the decision of the Inter-European Division to invite unions less severely hit financially during COVID to help unions most severely hit.12
The Exchange Principle
Another argument put forward by Paul for the collection is the exchange principle: those who have received spiritual blessings should reciprocate by sharing their material blessings (Rom. 15:27). Paul uses the same rationale to justify the financial support that those who preach the gospel are entitled to receive (1 Cor. 9:7-14). Following the same reasoning, Abram, after—and not before—receiving the blessings from Melkizedek, gave a tenth (tithe) of his spoil of war to the priest of Salem (Gen. 14:18).
Interestingly, the exchange principle rests on both the idea of obligation-indebtedness of the givers, and on a voluntary motive, an action that “pleases” the givers (Rom. 15:26, 27). Good will and duty are combined in the same action.
The current crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic, has led, in many places, to a more significant drop in offerings than in tithe. One possible explanation could be the misunderstanding or ignorance that the exchange principle applies to both tithe and offerings. There is a prevalent conception that offering is solely a voluntary act with no obligation for the believer. A renewed emphasis on the broadness of the exchange principle would possibly correct the disproportionate drop in offering.
PAUL’S PRACTICAL APPROACH
Three strategies of Paul deserve our attention: respect for the giver, provision of encouragement, and removal of possible hindrances.
Respecting the Giver
Though convinced of the necessity for the collection, Paul refrained from coercion. He spoke about the Macedonians as participating “entirely on their own” (2 Cor. 8:4), and he invited the believers in Corinth to give “what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion” (2 Cor. 9:7) and not “grudgingly given” (2 Cor. 9:5).
Furthermore, as a sign of respect for the individual condition of each participant, Paul did not establish a fixed amount, not even a minimum amount, that each participant had to contribute. He left it to the discretion of each participant (2 Cor. 8:12). Instead, he invited the believers to use their personal income as a reference point to establish how much they should give: “Set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income.” Nevertheless, giving generously was valued and praised (2 Cor. 9:11, 13). To avoid undue pressure at the time of collection, he encouraged them to plan their giving in advance and give regularly (1 Cor. 16:2).
During a financial crisis, appeals for giving can easily be perceived as pressure, resulting in resistance and withdrawal. Paul goes to great lengths to prevent such an outcome. The concept of proportional giving decided solely by the giver, not a fixed or minimum amount, would be very relevant for today. In addition, teaching the principles of planning in advance and systematic, not last-minute, giving may help many to materialize what they have purposed in their hearts to give.
Paul’s encouragement to his readers was quite extensive. He employs the word “charis” no fewer than eight times to speak about the privilege of participating in the collection, or how God enables the believers to give (2 Cor. 8.1, 4, 6, 7, 9, 19; 9:8, 14; cf. 1 Cor. 16.3). Ellen White speaks about the Macedonians as being “moved by the Spirit.”13 The power to give comes from the One who invites us to give. Once the believer consecrates himself or herself to God, the propensity to give emerges naturally (2 Cor. 8:5). They were transformed into the image of the Divine Giver.
Paul elaborates on the reward that awaits the one who gives (2 Cor. 9:6). In his understanding, “generosity is as beneficial to the giver as to the receiver.”14 It never goes unnoticed in the eyes of God. Paul uses the expression “pasan autarkeia echontes,” translated as “having all that you need,” to describe the benefit of participating in giving (2 Cor. 9:8). The word “autarkeia,” translated as “need,” captures both the idea of sufficiency and of contentment.15 The needs of the giver are satisfied, and the giver is content in his or her condition. This represents a desirable condition during a time marked by scarcity of resources.
He also points to the example set by Christ, who offered Himself for the spiritually needy (2 Cor. 8:9). Believers are called to emulate the same spirit that was in Christ: To give is to be Christlike.
In the exercise of his ministry and the collection effort, some members had raised doubts about Paul’s integrity.16 As a response, Paul energetically addresses the issue through both reassuring words and concrete actions. He was fully conscious that “an accidental mismanagement of the offerings would damage his reputation as a spiritual leader and would give credibility to the accusations raised against him by false apostles.”17 In one statement, he declares: “Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God” (2 Cor. 4:2). Furthermore, Paul put in place constraining measures for himself and others to maintain the highest confidence regarding the handling of the collection: “Then, when I arrive, I will give letters of introduction to the men you approve and send them with your gift to Jerusalem. If it seems advisable for me to go also, they will accompany me” (1 Cor. 16:3, 4).
Times of crisis are known to be times of heightened suspicions, fake news, and conspiracy theories. This association is beyond our scope; however, Paul’s efforts to maintain and build credibility are very instructive. Our current time is not the time to push the issue of personal and institutional trust under the rug.
The ministry of encouraging members to partner together and with God is one that must happen in and out of season. Paul upheld the challenge during a time of global crisis, and we can learn much from his practice. Let us not underestimate the convincing power of God’s grace at any time: “Nearly all the Macedonian believers were poor in this world’s goods, but their hearts were overflowing with love for God and His truth, and they gladly gave for the support of the gospel.”18 £
C. W. Stenschke, “The leadership challenges of Paul’s collection for the saints in Jerusalem: Part I: Overcoming the obstacles on the side of theGentile Christian donors,” Verbum et Ecclesia 36, no. 1 (2015): Art. #1406, 14 pages. http://dx.doi.org/10.4102/ve.v36i1.1406, p. 2.
2 Ellen G. White, The Acts of Apostles, p. 335.
3 Downs, D. J. (2006). Paul’s collection and the book of acts revisited. New Testament Studies, 52(1), 50. David J. Downs, pp 50-70. DOI:10.1017/ S0028688506000038; http://journals.cambridge.org/
4 Drayn Graham (2020), “The Genesis of the Jerusalem Donation,” Themelios, An International Journal for Students of Theological and Religious Studies, Vol. 45, Issue 1 (April 2020) Retrieved from https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/themelios/article/the-genesis-of-the-jerusalem-donation/ (pp.62-64).
5 Stenschke, p. 6.
6 Stenschke, p. 3.
8 THAYER’S GREEK LEXICON, Electronic Database. Copyright ˝ 2002, 2003, 2006, 2011 by Biblesoft, Inc.
9 Julien Ogereau ,”The Jerusalem collection as Koivwv.: Paul’s global politics of socio-economic equality and solidarity,” New Testament Studies, Vol. 58, Issue 3 (2012) pp. 360-378; http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0028688512000033.365-366).
10 THAYER’S GREEK LEXICON
11 Ogereau, p. 362.
12 “EUD Tithe Solidarity Fund,” Inter European Division of the General Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, vote #2066, November 2020, Berne, Switzerland.
13 White, p. 343.
14 Graham, p. 72.
15 THAYER’S GREEK LEXICON
16 “Paul’s Collection for the Poor in the Church at Jerusalem,” Oxford Biblical Studies Online, Paul B. Duff, The George Washington University. Retrieved from https://global.oup.com/obso/focus/ focus_on_paul_collection/.
17 A. M. Rodriguez, Stewardship Roots (Silver Spring, Maryland: Stewardship Ministries, Department of Church Ministries, General Conference of Seventhday Adventists, 1994), p. 91.
18 White, p. 344.