Cooperation or Competition

In Paul’s letters to Corinth, there is a fascinating, historical storyline that is traced between 1 and 2 Corinthians yet also connects to the Book of Acts and also Romans (1 Cor 16:1–4; 2 Cor 8:1–9:15; Acts 24:17; Rom 15:14–32; see also Acts 11:28; Acts 13; Gal 2:1-10). The issue has to do with the collection of support for the believers in Jerusalem. As it relates to Corinth, Paul made reference to the collection in 1 Corinthians 16:1-4
Now concerning the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do. 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. And when I arrive, I will send those whom you accredit by letter to carry your gift to Jerusalem. If it seems advisable that I should go also, they will accompany me.

1 Corinthians 16:1-4
The passage above may be familiar as verse 2 is often used as both a proof text for believers gathering on Sunday (the first day of the week) as well as for the collection of tithes, coinciding with this gathering. However, that’s not exactly what’s going on here, once again exposing the dangers of proof texts. Instead, Paul is making reference to a collection for the believers in Jerusalem who were once again faced with difficulties; perhaps related to the earlier famine (Acts 11:28) or some other difficulty that had left them in need. Paul asks the Corinthians to set aside their gifts at the beginning of the week, probably to encourage a regular remembrance but also to make it easier to collect the gifts at one time when he came. The wisdom is obvious, set aside the gift which could be monetary or maybe even just goods of some kind, before the week begins and those things dwindle. Further, it sets a regular pattern for them in order to maximize the collection.

In 2 Corinthians, we again find this topic addressed – though in a much more expansive discussion occurring in 2 Corinthians 8-9. In beginning this section, we find a reference made to the churches of Macedonia, who were also making a collection for Jerusalem, as well as those in Achaia – the audience of Paul’s Corinthian letter. Both geographical areas were comprised of a number of churches, yet all were working together for one common goal, namely the collection of support for their brothers and sisters in Jerusalem.

In the middle of the discussion on this collection, which at minimum included the churches in Macedonia and Achaia, but most likely the others that Paul had regular contact with, the following statement is made
13 For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness 14 your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness. 15 As it is written, “Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack.” 2 Corinthians 8:13-15
The fascinating subject of this section is fairness, namely that as those believers who are giving out of their abundance minister to those who are in need, there may be occasion where the grace is returned, again if the Jerusalem believers should have abundance and the others be in need. This is buttressed by a quotation of Exodus 16:18, specifically a reference to the Israelite gathering of manna that God had supplied them. The use of this reference not only highlights the reality of the relationship (typological) between OC Israel and the NC New Israel, but it also serves to highlight the unity of believers despite their geographical separation.

Under the Old Covenant the people of God were geographically united (though for a short time) in the Promised Land, while under the New Covenant the people of God are scattered throughout the world. Despite this, and with the expectation that one day our Lord will return to gather His people together so that where He is, there we may be also, there is a unity and more than this there is a cooperation. The believers throughout the Roman Empire during the first century were unified in their cooperation to make a collection to aid the believers in Jerusalem. What a fascinating example of grace and love among believers, who in reality probably did not even know each other personally. In effect, this is an application of the earlier principle of fairness and ensuring that all needs among them are met as found in Acts 2:44-45
Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. Acts 2:44-45
The application before us today is, do we see this cooperation among God’s people today? Think about this first within your neighborhood or city, are the believers – and I mean genuine Christ-loving believers, united together in a spirit of cooperation out of love and grace for each other? Does that expand to your county, region, or state?

Or are we more likely to see what amounts to competition? We may not like to admit it, but how many of our churches are comprised of believers who have defected from other churches? How many of our churches are aware of the needs of other believers, or churches if you like, on the same block? Do we even know the believers at the churches down the street or even right next door? Do we desire that both our church and the one next door grow in their ministry? Is that possible without competing interests? Do we find that our churches are much more divided along denominational lines that cause us to close our hands and hearts to one another, or perhaps not even recognize each other?

This is not ecumenicty for its own sake, it is simply pointing out that in Scripture the believers were much more united than we see today. There was much more a spirit of cooperation and far more interest beyond the four walls of a building. This may lead one to wonder why this is? Perhaps it is a product of wealth and self-sufficiency. Or maybe it is more the case, as our Lord says, “For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” As one reads the New Testament, what they find is an overarching spirit of cooperation that rises out of genuine love for God and love for neighbor. More often than not it seems as though we’ve lost, or perhaps never grasped, this concept from Scripture.

May our hearts be convicted for narrowing the family of God.

*This cooperation is in no way downplaying the importance of doctrinal faithfulness. All things being equal, it has been my experience that we simply do not know our (Christian) neighbor, “But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?'” Luke 10:29

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Christian saved by grace through faith.


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