I’ve heard it countless times, after a man tells the church the collection is, “separate and apart” from the Lord’s Supper, he tells them we are “commanded to give back on the first day of the week.” A lot of people have been given the impression that they have to put something in the collection plate each week, so they give because they feel they must give. This is a real problem the church needs to address.
God Loves a Cheerful Giver
In 2 Corinthians 9, Paul is writing to remind the church that they had promised to send a large financial gift to the church in Jerusalem. Apparently, the Corinthian church had been very “confident” (9:4) and filled with “zeal” (9:2) when they promised to send this large gift. In fact, other churches were inspired to give based on the Corinthians’ promised generosity (9:2).
So, of course, Paul wants the Corinthian church to fulfill their promise. It would be “humiliating” (9:4) for everyone if Paul showed up to collect the gift they promised to send, but the elders of the church said, “Oops, we’re not ready” or, “Oops, we changed our minds.”
But even though Paul is encouraging them to fulfill the promise they made, he also doesn’t want it to come across like he is forcing them to give. He doesn’t want them to feel they were obligated to give in the first place or like he is twisting their arms to do something they really don’t want to do. He wants it to be a “willing gift, not an exaction” (9:5).
This is why he writes these oft-quoted words in 2 Corinthians 9:7,
Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
We often focus on the words, “cheerful giver,” but do we ever stop and consider the words, “under compulsion”? God does not want anyone to give anything, “under compulsion.” He does not want us feeling compelled to give. He wants us to give because we want to, not because we feel we have to.
Stop Compelling People to Give
When we tell the church, “You’re commanded to do this,” we are compelling them to give. We are telling them they don’t really have a choice in the matter. It’s almost taking a collection by “exaction.”
If God doesn’t want Christians giving out of compulsion, then we should probably stop telling people they should give because they are commanded to give. That shouldn’t be the reason anyone gives. No one should be made to feel like putting money in the collection plate is their duty to fulfill whether they want to or not.
Are We Commanded to Give?
“But,” some will argue, “doesn’t 1 Corinthians 16:2 command us to give every first day of the week?”
On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come.
This passage is also written to the Corinthian church about the very generous gift Paul was planning to collect for the church in Jerusalem. Paul is instructing them on how to accommodate fulfilling the promise they made. In other words, Paul isn’t instructing them about giving in general, he is saying, “Because you made this promise, here is how you should fulfill your promise.”
There are probably several applications the modern church could make from this passage. After all, the church in the twenty-first century has even more needs than the church in the first-century because there are millions more of us than there were then. The first day of the week is a great time to accommodate collecting whatever the church decides to give to support all of its on-going ministry and good works. It’s in keeping with apostolic tradition and teaching to do exactly that.
Give Because You Want To
Let me be very clear, there are a lot of reasons for Christians to give generously, but no one should give because they feel forced or obligated to give. We share our financial resources with each other so we can minister locally and globally to each other and to the world. Doing so is a blessing in and of itself; but if someone’s heart isn’t in it, they shouldn’t be forced to participate.
Maybe when we stand before the congregation and prepare to take up a collection, we should say something like, “The money we collect is helping to change the world in the name of Jesus. If you’ve decided in your heart to share in this work, then this is your opportunity to do so.”
Not only would something like that be more biblical, but we might also find Christians are far more generous when we stop trying to force them to give and allow them to express generosity from their own hearts.
I love you and God loves,