Giving: An Example From the First Century Church

We can give like the first century Christians

Much has been written on the subject of financial giving, because it is an important topic. What we give reveals the true posture of our hearts, despite what we say or even think. The Word of God has a lot to say about giving, but some of it has been hidden in the history of the Church, a history that must be woven together from Acts, the Epistles, and records from the Roman Empire. This is not an easy task. Why did God make it so challenging, you ask? Actually, it was not nearly as challenging to those who were living through the events themselves, for the most part unaware that their experiences would become part of the very Word of God itself. If we, however, are going to really get a feel for what was happening at the time of Paul, we must take some serious study time and learn Acts, the Epistles, the geography of the Mediterranean world, and some Roman history.

The year was 56AD. Christianity was barely a quarter-century old, and Paul was already on his third missionary journey. [1] While visiting Macedonia, in what today is in northern Greece, the Word of the Lord came to him and he penned 2 Corinthians (2 Cor. 2:13; 7:5). [2] The Lord covered many subjects in the epistles to the Corinthians, and one of them was giving. [3]

The writing of an epistle, or any part of the Word of God, is a team effort. Rarely does God or the Lord Jesus inspire the writer to put on paper something about which he is totally unfamiliar (although it does happen, especially in prophecy). Usually the Lord works within the heart and life of the writer such that he is like-minded and of the same passion. Then the words on the page are the heart and Word of God as well as the heart and words of the writer. The Apostle Paul was passionate about the Church at Corinth, and for good reason.

Corinth was one of the three major trading and transportation centers of the Roman world at the time of Paul, the other two being Ephesus and Antioch. Corinth had a population of well over half a million people (slaves included). Paul had traveled through Corinth on his second missionary journey and established the Church there. In fact, he lived there for more than a year and a half (Acts 18:11), and got the Church of Corinth off to a flying start. [4] Crispus, the synagogue leader, was one of his converts (Acts 18:8), and it is almost certain that Sosthenes, Crispus’ replacement, although he started as an ardent opponent (like Paul himself had once been), also became a dedicated Christian (cp. Acts 18:17 and 1 Cor. 1:1).

Paul started his third missionary journey from Antioch in Syria (Acts 15:35), traveling on foot though the Roman provinces, including Galatia in what we now know as Turkey, “strengthening the churches” (Acts 15:41). It was on this third journey that he stopped at Ephesus for about three years, and taught at the school of Tyranus for two of those. His ministry there was so effective that word of his teaching reached out all over what we now know as western Turkey, the Roman province of Asia (Acts 19:10). [5] It was during this three-year stay in Ephesus that Paul penned the epistle of 1 Corinthians (1 Cor. 16:8).

In 1 Corinthians, Paul urged the believers to give regularly, every Sunday. [6]

1 Corinthians 16:1 and 2a
(1) Now about the collection for God’s people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do.
(2) On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income….

Paul had just traveled through Galatia, and now, from Ephesus, he wrote to the Corinthians and told them to do the same thing he had recently told the churches of Galatia to do—give every Sunday. He told them to give on Sunday “…so that when I come no collections will have to be made” (1 Cor. 16:2b). The Apostle Paul (and Jesus) both knew what anyone who has tried to give knows, that if you wait until you have “extra” money to give, you will seldom give. People who wait until the end of the month to gather their money will find what the ancients found, that their money “…will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle” (Prov. 23:5b). The only way to consistently give financially is to make up your mind that you will give, and then give regularly. That applies to then and now.

Believers were coming from Corinth to Ephesus to see Paul, and he was sending messengers to Corinth. In fact, many churches stayed in contact with Paul, who consistently sent information and greetings to those he knew, encouraging and helping them from afar (Rom. 16; 1 Cor. 16:19-24; Eph. 6:21-24; etc.). Stephanus, Fortunatus, and Achaicus came from Corinth to Ephesus (1 Cor. 16:17), and likely brought the letter from the believers—the one with questions—that is mentioned in 1 Corinthians 7:1. After Paul wrote 1 Corinthians at Ephesus, it was taken by believers to Corinth, where it was read and acted upon. The strong words of 1 Corinthians “hurt” the believers (2 Cor. 7:8), but with good results. There was repentance and a readiness to see justice done (2 Cor. 7:9-11). Among other things, the man who was sexually involved with his father’s wife was put out of the church (cp. 1 Cor. 5:1-13 and 2 Cor. 2:5-11). [7] Also, the believers began to collect money on a regular basis, every Sunday, even as Paul had directed (cp. 1 Cor. 16:2 with 2 Cor. 8:6 and 11).

Paul urged Titus to organize the weekly giving (2 Cor. 8:6) so that a gift could be sent to Jerusalem (1 Cor. 16:3). This is a good example of how it takes careful reading, sometimes between the lines, to see what happened in the Church. We know from 1 Corinthians 16 that the church was exhorted to give weekly, but who was in charge of overseeing the collection? That is not written in 1 Corinthians, but anyone who has tried to get a job done knows that important tasks do not get accomplished without organization and leadership. In this case, the Lord graciously lets us know in 2 Corinthians that Paul had sent Titus to organize the giving and the gift for Jerusalem.

It is not clear why the Corinthians stopped giving to the believers in Jerusalem. What is clear is that Titus oversaw the money they gave. The believers gave to the church leaders, who had the responsibility for properly managing the funds. It is the responsibility of the church leaders to make sure the funds go where the Lord would have them go. Church leaders, guided by prayer, wisdom, and revelation, are to use the funds wisely so “…that no man should blame us in this abundance which is administered by us” (2 Cor. 8:20-KJV). They are to provide “…for honest things, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men” (2 Cor. 8:21-KJV). This principle still holds today. Believers give to the church leaders, who are responsible before the Lord to handle the money honestly and wisely.

We can imagine some scenarios as to why the Corinthians stopped taking collections for Jerusalem. People may not have been available to make the journey to Jerusalem and back, which would not only have taken six months or so, but, because they would have been carrying cash, would have been extremely dangerous as well. Or Titus may have been waiting for Paul, and when Paul stayed in Ephesus the enthusiasm and urgency for giving to Jerusalem dissipated. Or the situation in Jerusalem may have changed, making the Corinthian believers unsure of the need. Or the original funds may have been tapped, especially since 2 Corinthians mentions the “extreme poverty” of the believers just to the north of Corinth in Macedonia (2 Cor. 8:2). In any case, the Bible does not tell us, so we do not know.

After staying for three years in Ephesus, Paul traveled north through the province of Asia, and then sailed west to Macedonia, in northern Greece, where the cities of Thessalonica and Philippi were. He had told the believers in Corinth he was going to travel to see them via Macedonia (1 Cor. 16:5). When he got to Macedonia, he encountered something that probably surprised even him—the desire of the believers there to give, even out of their poverty.

As we noted above, many people came to see Paul, and many left his presence with information, encouragement, and greetings to Christians in all parts of the Roman world. In a communication with the Macedonian churches, Paul had boasted about the Corinthians and their giving to help the believers (2 Cor. 9:2). The effect of this boasting was very powerful, and inspired the believers in Macedonia to give also. As Paul wrote to the church at Corinth:

2 Corinthians 9:2b
“…your enthusiasm has stirred most of them to action.”

When Paul got to Macedonia, he found that the believers there had been inspired by what the Corinthians were doing, and they were also taking up offerings and desiring to support the Church. We today can and should learn from this. When we give, it inspires others to do likewise. When we see other believers giving, then we are inspired. The Church is a Body, and every part affects all the other parts.

The collection of money specifically mentioned in 1 Corinthians 16 was for the believers in Jerusalem (1 Cor. 16:3). However, offering money was used to help the believers in many ways. It supported the ministers (1 Cor. 9:11; Phil. 4:14-18), the poor (Gal. 2:10), widows (1 Tim. 5:9-11), and supplied the needs of God’s people (2 Cor. 9:12; Acts 11:28-30). The money people lovingly give to Spirit & Truth Fellowship goes to many causes as well. We support ministers both in the USA and overseas; help the poor and widows; supply needs to God’s people; support live teaching, tape, internet, and video outreach, and much more.

The Macedonian believers gave with the right attitude, as the following verse shows:

2 Corinthians 8:5
And they did not do as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God’s will.

Christians who share of their finances should do so cheerfully, from the heart. If one’s heart is in the right place, and he is dedicated to the Lord, he will give money as one part of the greater giving of his life in service to the Lord.

The seven Church Epistles are arranged in a very specific order. Romans, Ephesians, and Thessalonians are doctrine. Corinthians and Philippians are reproof, and Galatians and Colossians are correction. [8] It is significant that the three doctrinal epistles do not put an emphasis on giving money. Romans says to give your body as a living sacrifice (Rom. 12:1). Ephesians says to live a life worthy of our calling (Eph. 4:1). Thessalonians says we are to “…live in order to please God…” and the Thessalonian believers were doing that (1 Thess. 4:1).

It is in the reproof and correction epistles that money and giving are specifically mentioned. In a sense, God says through the reproof epistles, “If you aren’t giving your life (and money) in service, at least give money.” When our heart is right before the Lord, then we give money along with the rest of our resources, talents, and energy. Giving money is the “proof” of our love (2 Cor. 8:24), and tests the sincerity of our love:

2 Corinthians 8:8
I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others.

One thing we learn from the Epistles is that because giving comes from the heart, it is not dependant on having “extra.” The Macedonian believers, inspired by the giving of the Corinthian believers, reached deeply into their souls and gave out of their “extreme poverty.”

2 Corinthians 8:2
Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.

This is a wonderful truth; you do not have to have a lot to be able to give, you have to have desire. An example of this in the Gospels is the woman who gave only two copper coins, but like the Macedonians, she gave out of her “poverty” (Mark 12:44). You may be one who has talked himself out of giving because you do not think the little you can give will make a difference. Not true! It makes a huge difference to God, who will reward you richly. Also, it will make a huge difference to you, because you will know in your heart that you are helping the Church, laying up treasures for yourself in Paradise, and enabling God to richly bless you. Also, it makes a difference to the people you set an example for, and God has a way of making even small contributions do big things. Never hold back on giving because of the amount you have. Look what the Macedonians did!

2 Corinthians 8:3a
For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability…

How could they give “beyond their ability”? By giving money that they really needed. They were willing to be uncomfortable so others could be comforted. And that’s not all. They begged, but not for money. They urgently pleaded for the privilege of helping other believers.

2 Corinthians 8:3b and 4
(3b) …Entirely on their own,
(4) they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints.

What amazing love! Not only did the Macedonian believers give, but they considered it a privilege to do so. What a wonderful model for us to follow. How many people today plead for the “privilege” to give? Not many, it is sad to say. But the Macedonians did, because they had the right attitude. Giving is a privilege. There are many people who are completely broken in body and soul, and destitute in life. They cannot give. If you are able to give, you should consider it a privilege. It is safe to say that most Christians will give only as long as it does not make them uncomfortable. But not the believers in Macedonia. They were on fire, and looked to getting their rewards in Paradise. They were giving their lives to the Lord (1 Thess. 4:1), and they were awaiting the Lord from heaven, who would reward them in Paradise (1 Thess. 1:10).

We Christians need to take seriously the biblical injunction to “…store up for yourselves treasures in heaven…” (Matt. 6:20). God will repay us many-fold for what we give now. Many people will stand at the Judgment Seat and think back on how they spent their money in their earthly life and wish they had given more for the work of the Lord. Let’s not be among them. The Macedonians will not be. They considered it a privilege to give. Is it any wonder that 1 Thessalonians, the first Church Epistle Paul wrote, and the one that sets forth the Rapture, was written to believers in Macedonia? They were blessing the Lord, and he blessed them back with that wonderful doctrinal epistle setting forth our future hope.

The epistle of 2 Corinthians reveals that the tables had turned. A year earlier the Macedonians had heard of the giving of the Corinthians and were inspired to give in spite of their circumstances, but now the giving of the Macedonian churches was helping to rekindle the passion for giving in the Corinthian Church. Paul wrote and told the Corinthians that he wanted them to know about the situation in Macedonia, about their poverty and their giving (2 Cor. 8:1-4). On that basis, Paul urged the Corinthians to “finish the work” (2 Cor. 8:11). How did Paul urge the Corinthians forward? By the epistle of 2 Corinthians, surely, but also by sending believers “…to visit you in advance and finish the arrangements for the generous gift you had promised…” (2 Cor. 9:5b).

Once again we see that Paul knew that if great works were going to be done for the Lord, someone has to organize and spearhead them. He did not just send letters to the churches and hope they would have an impact and be obeyed, he made sure the believers had leadership who could get the job done. Paul had been boasting to the Macedonians about the church at Corinth. He knew that if what he so confidently had said was wrong, he, and the southern believers, would be embarrassed, especially if believers from Macedonia traveled south to Corinth with Paul.

2 Corinthians 9:4
For if any Macedonians come with me and find you unprepared, we—not to say anything about you—would be ashamed of having been so confident.

We all make mistakes, but Paul had spoken so confidently about the giving of the Corinthians, and they had been so willing, that if when he arrived there was no money ready, it would really have put a damper on the enthusiasm of the believers in Macedonia.

What would the giving of the Corinthians do? Many, many things. Here are some of them. It would supply the needs of the believers (2 Cor. 9:12). It would ensure that the Corinthians would “reap bountifully” from God (2 Cor. 9:6). It would help the believers be “enriched in everything” (2 Cor. 9:11-KJV). It would cause “thanksgiving to God” (2 Cor. 9:11-13). Believers blessed by the giving would pray for those who gave (2 Cor. 9:14). These are some wonderful reasons to give, and they still apply today.

There is no specific record stating that Paul took the financial gift to Jerusalem. However, the fact that he traveled from Corinth to Jerusalem with nine companions (all but Luke are listed in Acts 20:4) is good evidence that he did, and it would also be why the believers in Jerusalem, though still zealous for the Law of Moses, received Paul and his companions “gladly” (Acts 21:17 KJV). The fact that the financial gift was not specifically mentioned is explained by the fact that the rift between the Jerusalem believers and Paul and his companions about the importance of the Mosaic Law took center stage.

Financial giving continued to be important to the believers in Macedonia. From prison in Rome, Paul would later write to the Philippian believers: “…it was good of you to share in my troubles…I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent…” (Phil. 4:14b and 18b). May the generous and regular giving of the Macedonians, an example in their day, continue to inspire us today to give regularly and generously.


1. The exact year is debated by scholars because most of the New Testament (NT) is not precisely dated, but the date would have been 55-57. The dates in this article are either correct or close.

2. His first missionary journey was Acts 13:3-14:26 (47-49 AD). His second was Acts 15:40-18:22 (49-52 AD). His third was Acts 18:23-21:8 (53-57 AD). The paths of his journeys can be mapped by reading Acts and following where he went in The Oxford Bible Atlas. Also, many research tools, such as Bible atlases and study Bibles, already have the journeys charted out.

3. The word “epistle” means “letter,” from the Latin epistula, which was from the Greek epistole, “message.” The “Epistles” are letters.

4. It is because we can date the term of office of the Roman Proconsul Gallio to 51-52 AD that we know when Paul was in Corinth on his first itinerary journey.

5. “Asia” was the name of the Roman province that is now western Turkey. Because Asia was the dominant province, the name eventually was used of much larger areas. The term “Asia Minor” was not known during NT times, and the first recorded use is by Greeks in the 2nd century AD.

6. Christians were already beginning to meet on Sunday, not Saturday, this early in the history of the Church. Different theories have been set forth as to why that was and how it developed: it differentiated them from the Jews who kept a Saturday Sabbath, or it allowed Christian Jews to travel to worship, or it celebrated the resurrection appearances of Jesus. The exact reason is unknown.

7. Although we cannot absolutely prove that the believer mentioned in 2 Corinthians 7 is the same as the one in 1Corinthians 5, the fact that in all of 1 Corinthians there is only one believer expelled from the community makes him the only reasonable choice, and also makes for a happy ending. The reality of being expelled from fellowship hit home with him, then he, like the Church in general, repented. God bless tough love!

8. For a short explanation of this see our book, One God & One Lord: Reconsidering the Cornerstone of the Christian Faith (Christian Educational Services, Indianapolis, IN 2003), Appendix “J.” Or see, E. W. Bullinger, The Church Epistles (Eyre and Spotiswoode, London, 1905).

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1 comment

  1. We need to be taught on giving as opposed to tithing which is mosaic and legalistic and robs us from the joys of true giving.

    I love the way its pointed out but sorely the people of the Lord is in bondage when it comes to money and the pastoral robbers and thieves are not making it easy.

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