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A New Testament Relief Fund (3)

H Barnes, Westhoughton

"A certain contribution for the poor saints which are at Jerusalem" (Rom 15.26)

When they were finishing their collection, the Corinthians were to note the spiritual principle shown in a simple, easily understood farming metaphor, "He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully" (2 Cor 9.6). They could look forward to the Lord’s blessing if they gave. As Paul said later to the Philippians, "But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus" (Phil 4.19). Any need that arose on behalf of the Philippians, because of their sacrificial giving to Paul, would be amply repaid by the God of Paul’s experience – note "my God". Once again Macedonian (Philippian) believers gave generously, but as they sowed so would they reap, both to their spiritual account as fruit (Phil 4.17), and in a material way as God would recompense from His vast resources, "according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus" (v.19). Every good deed starts with a good intention, but it should materialise as a subsequent action, as Paul says, "Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give" (2 Cor 9.7). However, the giving should not be grudging, nor as a mere obligation, but as a real happy heart exercise, "for God loveth a cheerful giver" (v.7). The apostle told the Ephesian elders, "I have shewed you…how that so labouring ye ought to support the weak [sick], and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20.35). "Blessed" here means happy, as translated for instance in John 13.17; Acts 26.2; 1 Pet 3.14; 4.14. Helping those who cannot help themselves is a wonderful manifestation of grace and has the added benefit of divinely promised pleasure in giving.

How could they be expected to rise to such heights of generosity? The answer was that God was able to make the same grace abound in them as He had for the Macedonians (2 Cor 8.1). "God is able to make all grace abound toward you" (2 Cor 9.8). When such grace was known, the end result was that "ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work". This is a fulsome verse, with "all", "always", and "every" as the result of the grace of God abounding towards them! Verses 9-10 form a substantiating digression, verse 9 being a quotation from Psalm 112.9, backing up the thoughts expressed. Verse 11 then continues the thought of verse 8, with even more fulsome thoughts: "enriched in everything to all bountifulness". The end result of the grace of God being manifested in their lives was that there was "thanksgiving to God" (v.11). This is because "the administration of this service not only supplieth the want of the saints, but is abundant also by many thanksgivings unto God" (v.12). Not only are the poor adequately helped, but God also was abundantly praised by this collection, it being a demonstration of God’s abundant grace.

The Jewish saints at Jerusalem thus had all the practical proof they needed of the true subjection of the Gentile saints to the truth of the gospel (2 Cor 8.13). This gave them an earnest desire to pray for these Gentiles (v.14) on account of the exceeding grace of God which had manifested itself in the Gentiles. Any suspicion that they might have had about the Gentile believers (Acts 11.1-18; 15.1-35) must surely have evaporated.

The subject is brought to a conclusion with a great paean of praise: "Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift" (2 Cor 9.15, cp. 2 Cor 8.9). The generous gift of the Gentiles is at least "speakable", i.e. describable, but God’s gift, the Lord Jesus Christ, is beyond description in mere human words. Three times Paul in this epistle is brought to this kind of exclamation of thanks to God when writing to the Corinthians (2 Cor 2.14; 8.16; 9.15).

Just before he set off from Corinth to Jerusalem, via Syria (Acts 20.3), Paul wrote his epistle to the believers at Rome. In it he stated, "But now I go unto Jerusalem to minister unto the saints" (Rom 15.25). He saw the delivery of the collected funds as a ministry, i.e. deacon service (cp. Acts 6.2). He then explained how this came about: "For it hath pleased them of Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor saints which are at Jerusalem. It hath pleased them verily; and their debtors they are. For if the Gentiles have been made partakers of their spiritual things, their duty is also to minister unto them in carnal things" (Rom 15.26-27). He felt that the Gentiles were indebted to the Jews to contribute material means in exchange for the spiritual gain they had come into via the Jews.

Paul then wrote, "When therefore I have performed this, and have sealed to them this fruit, I will come by you into Spain" (Rom 15.28). Paul saw his role as sealing the fruit of the collected funds, that is, as we say, that something is "signed, sealed, and delivered". His desire was to see that everything was handed over in full, for he felt this as an obligation, and his agreeing that all was passed on set his seal upon the transaction. Sometime after he had delivered the funds, he told Felix the governor of Judaea that "I came to bring alms to my nation" (Acts 24.17).

Travelling with Paul to Jerusalem, as representatives of the contributing assemblies (and "Providing for honest things, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men", 2 Cor 8.21) were "Sopater of Berea [Macedonia]; and of the Thessalonians [Macedonia], Aristarchus and Secundus; and Gaius of Derbe [Galatia], and Timotheus [Galatia]; and of Asia, Tychicus and Trophimus" (Acts 20.4). These brethren met up with Paul and Luke in Troas and went on to Jerusalem.

Paul told the Corinthians about the Galatians, and the Macedonians (1 Cor 16.1; 2 Cor 8.1), and then he told the Romans about the Corinthians and the Macedonians (Rom 15.26-27). This ability to quote examples of good practice was a great encouragement to the saints.

The way the money collected by the assemblies was described with a veritable thesaurus - alms, bounty (blessing), collection, contribution, fellowship, fruit, gift, grace, liberality, ministration, service. The words used show the diverse aspects of the collection, as seen by God and men. The simple action of putting aside, collecting together, delivering, and distributing relief funds was, and is, an important Christian activity.


Some general principles that we might elicit from our study are:

• Local need should first be met by local means.

• When local means fall short, it is Scriptural to collect from further afield.

• Doing this encourages fellowship between autonomous assemblies.

• Spiritual men need to communicate accurate information about the need, and encourage assemblies to give.

• As many assemblies as practically possible should be involved.

• Giving should be voluntary with no compulsion, but generous giving should be encouraged.

• It should be a real spiritual exercise on behalf of the saints.

• For the sake of doing things honestly in the sight of men, a number of brethren should be involved in the handling and delivery of funds.

• These brethren should be well commended.

• Local distribution should be in the hands of local spiritual men, preferably elders.

• It should be seen as a matter of joy and pleasure (Rom 15.26-27, see Prov 14.21).

• Giving was according to ability (Ezra 2.69; Neh 5.8; 1 Cor 16.2; 2 Cor 8.12).



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