In the early years of the Christian church, a real concern was expressed for “the poor among the saints in Jerusalem (Romans 15:26).” These particular Christians were poor for a number of reasons. They were severely affected by the famine of A.D. 46 during the time of the Emperor Claudius (see Acts 11:27-30). They also experienced persecution at the hands of the Jewish religious establishment in the form of social ostracism and economic boycott. Besides this, the mother church in Jerusalem had heavy obligations to care for their widows and a large number of itinerant teachers and leaders, as well as providing hospitality for Christian visitors who frequented the city. To this was added the heavy taxation imposed upon the citizens from both Jewish and Roman sources. All of this affected the Christians living in Judea.
The apostle Paul was a primary force behind the drive to gather a special offering from the Gentile churches for these Judean Christians. This was an offering over-and-above local church expenses, which were funded by the tithes of each congregation.
The special fund-raising effort on behalf of those living in Judea began when a man named Agabus came as a guest speaker to the church at Antioch. This was during the time when Barnabas and Paul were part of the pastoral staff of that responsive church. Agabus predicted that a famine would come, and that it would affect primarily the people in Judea.
The Christians of Antioch took this prophecy very seriously. They trusted God to provide them the additional funds needed to give to those who would be affected by the famine. When they raised an amount that matched their goal, they sent it to Judea by Barnabas and Saul (Acts 11:27-30).
How did Paul set out to facilitate the offering? He must have begun by reflecting upon the way the church at Antioch had initially responded. That response is described for us in Acts 11:29-30:
** Each believer decided personally whether or not to be involved.
** Each participated according to his or her ability.
** They followed through and did it.
Using that first Faith Promise offering as a model, Paul encouraged all of the churches he established to participate in such offerings—pooling their resources to meet the needs of people outside their local church communities. Churches in Galatia, Corinth, Macedonia, Rome and all over the Roman Empire participated in this type of offering, which, as we have seen, was over-and-above the tithes the people gave to support their local work.
This special offering was global in scope. Paul, from Tarsus in Cilicia, was an apostle to the Gentiles. He wrote to the church at Corinth, which was in a Roman province, using the Macedonians as an example to help stimulate their faith. We know he also received offerings from churches in Rome and Galatia. Titus, from Crete, and men selected from churches planted on all three of Paul’s missionary journeys (e.g., Berea, Thessalonica, Derbe and the province of Asia) were asked to help gather and carry the offerings from their congregations to Jerusalem (Acts 20:4, 24:17). It would be difficult to become more international than that! This global aspect of Paul’s method commends it to us today for funding missionary endeavors.
An examination of the Scriptures dealing with this particular offering shows that the motivation for giving was multifaceted:
** First of all, it was a love response to our Lord because of His love for us: “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift (2 Corinthians 9:15)!”
** Paul was careful to point out, secondly, that the offering was to “honor the Lord himself and to show our eagerness to help (2 Corinthians 8:19).”
** It was an expression of an obligation on the part of the Gentiles, who had shared in the Jews’ spiritual blessings (Romans 15:27).
** There was a felt need to help the Jews with their material needs (Romans 15:27).
** Finally, Paul viewed this undertaking as part of his desire to finish the race and complete the task given to him by the Lord Jesus—“the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace (Acts 20:24).” Paul said this while on his way to Jerusalem to deliver the offering.
This offering is directly mentioned in a number of places (see Acts 11:27-30; 24:17; Galatians 2:10; Romans 15:23-33; 1 Corinthians 16:1-9). The major passage, in terms of its length, is 2 Corinthians 8 and 9.
The Corinthian believers were aware of the special offering even before reading Paul’s detailed instructions recorded in 2 Corinthians. This is clear from 1 Corinthians 16, where Paul specifically asked that a special offering be taken to Jerusalem. Verses 1-4 give us a number of specifics:
Now about the collection for God’s people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made. 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.
Today we sometimes see one local church stimulating another local church by its example. This same dynamic took place among first century churches. According to 16:1, the Galatian churches had established a practice that became a good example for the Corinthians.
All of these details depict Paul’s outline regarding this offering included in Scripture so that we would practice those same principles today. They are all elements of the modern day “faith promise missionary offering.” In the first century, such offerings were taken to relieve famine-stricken people. Today they serve to relieve a greater, spiritual famine—a famine of the Bread of Life.
As 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 demonstrates, the special offering of New Testament times was promised a year in advance. It was promised in faith, depending upon God to provide it. Paul reminded the people of it, so that no one would be embarrassed when the time came to collect what they had promised.
How much should we be giving? C. S. Lewis said it well: “I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. In other words, if our expenditure on comforts, luxuries, amusements, etc., is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving away too little.”*
* C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, MacMillan, New York: 1975, 81. Intro., implementation and biblical foundations printed by permission from Donald Jensen, Your Church Can Excel in Global Giving, Churchmart, Wheaton, 1994. Testimonies printed by permission from Norm Lewis: Faith Promise: Why and How, OM Lit, Waynesboro, GA, 1992.