For someone who absolutely hates handling other people's money, I seem to have spent a lot of my life doing it! From early ‘performances' on our front path where myself and a couple of primary school chums would ‘charge' our friends to watch a singing/dancing spectacular (!), then reward them with sweets bought with their money, to coach outings with college peers and more latterly school trips, I seem to have made a habit of organising events which required me collecting and safeguarding cash. The stress of charging the right amount to cover costs, keeping the money safe, making sure it all adds up and spending it wisely is immense.
I understand, then, why Paul is so cautious in his dealings with the gift from the church in Corinth. It is so important to be completely transparent with finances. Unlike my ventures, he is not stipulating a fixed ‘charge', but organising the collection of a love gift, long promised by the Corinthians to support the church in Jerusalem.
He begins by commending Titus as an honourable and hard-working brother to be part of the ‘receiving' team, together with two other brothers, who are unnamed but of high reputation for their conviction and integrity. One is ‘famous among all the churches for his preaching of the gospel', 8:18, and the other has often been ‘tested and found earnest in many matters', 8:22. They sound like the sort of people to whom you would be happy to entrust a large sum of money! Moreover, the ‘famous' brother has been specifically appointed by the churches to carry out this task, to remove the burden and therefore possible blame from Paul with regard to the interim stewardship of the offering.
Paul is taking the very wise approach of putting together a team of trustworthy co-workers to take joint responsibility for the safe collection and delivery of the money. He has his checks and balances in place to ensure that, as far as is possible, not only is the money collected in an open manner, but it is also seen to be collected in an open manner! He declares ‘for we aim at what is honourable not only in the Lord’s sight but also in the sight of man'. Paul's goal is to glorify God in everything he does and if that means applying strict policies on the transference of money so that there can be no accusation of fleshly corruption, so be it! It is vital for all procedures relating to money to be completely above board!
Paul's final exhortation in chapter 8 is that the Corinthian church prove the love they claim, by raising the generous offering they have promised, and of which Paul has boasted to other churches.
Chapter 9 focuses more on how the church is to give, which of course is as relevant for us as it was for the early Christians.
Firstly, we are to be ready to give. I heard a story recently of a Christian who was approached and asked for his bike. He just said ‘Yes, sure!' and handed it over. He reasoned that the man had greater need of it than he did. He was ready to give, not only in a church collection, but in his daily life! (Ironically, the man brought it back because he felt so bad about taking it!) Secondly, we are to give willingly. Paul uses the word ‘zeal'. Do we give zealously? Are we so urgent in our desire to give, that we rush into church every Sunday morning eager to contribute to the work of God? Thirdly, we are to plan our giving. We are to ‘arrange in advance', 9:5, what we wish to give. Giving should not be something we do ‘off the cuff', but something we consider in the same way we would a gift of any other kind.
I pray that our giving as a church is so generous that it stirs up faith in other churches and that we too, seek first to glorify God.