A Reformed Baptist Perspective on Public Theology: The Pauline Epistles, Part IX – 1 Corinthians 15-16

You can read earlier posts in this series by clicking on the links below:

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Every year around April, an onslaught of news stories are published claiming to have discovered Jesus’ pinky toe, and the like. Where these “scientists” got the original, authoritative labs to determine a DNA match is never disclosed. Rather, we are expected to grant more credence to these “scientists” than to 500 eyewitness contemporaries of the resurrection itself, because we have become an elitist culture: a culture that lives in the shallow end of the intellectual pool and defers whenever possible to the “elites” among us.

The Centrality of the Resurrection

Paul doesn’t leave the matter of Christ’s resurrection up to the religious and political elites of his day. Rather, he points to those who knew Christ best. He challenges his contemporaries to do the intellectual leg-work (like Luke; cf. Lk. 1:3) and thoroughly search out the matter of the resurrection. He not only submits the resurrection to the hard scrutiny of his first century contemporaries, but he also declares the resurrection to be of first importance.

Why is the world so determined to disprove the resurrection of Jesus Christ? As Paul states, the resurrection of Jesus Christ is of first importance. Apart from the resurrection of Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied. Hence, when we come to 1 Corinthians 15, we come to the centerpoint of the intersection between Christ and culture.

Charles Darwin, in his autobiography, declared the resurrection to be a “damnable doctrine.” Richard Dawkins is also quoted as having said, “Don’t kid yourself that you’re going to live again after you’re dead; you’re not. Make the most of the one life you’ve got. Live it to the full.” Let us consider that denial of the resurrection and the judgment to follow is precisely what enabled men like Stalin and Mao to “Make the most of the one life you’ve got. Live it to the full.” It led Nietzsche into insanity and William James to commit suicide. “If the dead are not raised, let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die,” (1Cor. 15:32b; NASB). If the dead are not raised, there is no morality, no teleology, no purpose, no governorthere is only Nihilism, purposelessness, licentiousness, futility, and despair.

Supporting the Kingdom of God among the Kingdom of Man

Since the dead are raised, we have faith in Christ, hope in our great inheritance to come, and love for all the saints. It is because of this love for the saints that Paul presupposes the Corinthian church’s love for the Jerusalem church. Presupposing their love for all the saints, he requests that they set aside in their collection a donation to aid Jerusalem during their time of famine. From within the kingdoms of man, Christ is building His kingdom. This kingdom demands from Christians a greater sense of patriotism than any earthly kingdom may demand. For all of the financial support we may offer to the coffers of earthly magistrates out of a sense of national pride, our duty to the kingdom of heaven takes precedence.

This general point also applies to how local churches ought to use their budgets. Although there are many praiseworthy projects that individual Christians should support, we must remember that the Church (as an institution) has been primarily charged with the task of making and maturing disciples.. Because local churches have limited resources at their disposal, churches should allocate their resources to activities that are of the utmost importance. This approach to the allocation of local church resources would naturally exclude many of the so-called “social justice” projects and all other matters that might otherwise fall under the purview of the kingdom of man (Rom. 13). In other words, local churches should practice the concept of moral proximity and ensure that the kingdom of God is well supplied.

Most Christians rightly denounce hyper-Calvinism in regard to the work of the individual pastor, evangelist, or missionary. Sadly, many of these same Christians become functional hyper-Calvinists when it comes to their own role of supporting the work of the local church, church associations, and missionary societies. Paul did not divorce the importance of financial support for the ministries of the church from the ministries themselves.

Some might have said, “The Jerusalem church is already established. If they cannot support themselves, let them die. We should be supporting new church plants.” I have heard a similar sentiment from some in the church, today. Paul took the contrary position: “On the first day of every week each one of you is to put aside and save, as he may prosper, so that no collections be made when I come. When I arrive, whomever you may approve, I will send them with letters to carry your gift to Jerusalem,” (1Cor. 16:2-3; NASB). Jerusalem’s inability to support their own ministry during this season of their church life was not a blight on them as a church. Paul did not instruct the churches in Corinth and Galatia to just let this church die. Rather, regardless of where the kingdom of God is present and in need within the kingdom of man, it is to receive the support of the churches of God.

Conclusion

As you may have noticed, we have come full circle back to the theme of love. Paul expects that the local church would have love for the church in Jerusalem and for those who are being sent from Paul. In the same way, he encourages them toward others-centered living within their own body. As local churches practice the second Great Commandment of loving others as themselves within the kingdom of God, the natural trajectory is such that our love should naturally spill over into the kingdom of man.

Giving in the Order of Worship (Part One)

Earlier this year our church underwent several changes. First, we ordained two new deacons (we now have three). Second, we ordained a new elder (we now have two). Third, we instituted a time of giving in our order of worship. There were several considerations that contributed to our decision to start “passing the plate.” The following are just a few:

Giving as a Command

One of the big questions commonly asked of Calvinists is how they reconcile their soteriology with the Bible’s exhortations to evangelize. There are many different angles from which Calvinists approach this issue, but ultimately, they will unanimously end up hitting on the big one: we are commanded to evangelize. The same is true for giving. We give because we are commanded to give in the Bible.

In 1Corinthians 16:1-2, Paul orders the church in Corinth to regularly take up offerings on the Lord’s Day. He had not only given this command to the church at Corinth, but had also given it to the churches in Galatia. The specific occasion for this command was a famine that had come upon the church in Jerusalem, but notice that Paul does not have them take up a one-time “love offering” to help meet the need in Jerusalem. Rather, he had them take up regular offerings. This was so that the flock would not be pressed for funds when he came to them to collect the money. Rather, out of their regular givings, they would have compiled a large sum that they would have been unlikely to raise with a single offering. The work of the church requires regular giving. Churches cannot function without it.

Passing the Plate 01Throughout the Old Testament, God’s people are commanded to bring their gifts to the Lord. Even the sacrifices are referred to as gifts in some passages (Numbers 18:11; cf. Hebrews 5:1). The Magi brought gifts to Christ as an act of worship when He was a young child (Matthew 2:11). These commands to give are reiterated by the author of Hebrews when he says:

“And do not neglect doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” (Hebrews 13:16; NASB).

Such doing good and sharing is reminiscent of the early church in Acts 2 who shared all things in common and gave to anyone as he had need (vv. 44-45). So, if anyone asks why we should give, there may be many answers we can give. However, if all those were to fall by the wayside, we would still have the command given us in Scripture. Let us not withhold our gifts from the Lord who has so graciously given all things to us.

Giving as an Act of Worship

Another issue that was raised in our discussions about giving was the fact that pretty much any sermon you will find on subject of giving will inevitably make reference to the fact that giving in the Bible is an act of worship. In Matthew 6:1-4, Jesus gives instructions on worship through giving. He instructs those listening to His sermon to give in such a way that only they and God know how much was given. The point is that the gift is meant to be a theocentric act, not an act to draw attention upon oneself. We give out of worship toward God, not out of a desire to bring glory to ourselves.

This was the sin of Ananias and Sapphira. Ananias and Sapphira, having seen that others like Joseph of Cyprus (Acts 4:36-37) were selling land and giving to God, sold their land and gave only a portion of the proceeds. When they brought the portion to the apostles, they were asked why they lied. The land belonged to them, Peter said. As long as they owned it, it was theirs with which they could do what they wanted. They chose to sell the property and give some of the proceeds from it in order to bring glory to themselves (Acts 5:1-16). The act of giving is an act of worship to God, not to self.

Before we decided to include giving in the order of worship, we had always had an offering box in the back of the room. This box made giving the only act of worship at our church that was not included in the order of worship. It took the corporate sense out of this one act of worship and made it individualistic. Thus, I and others argued that, if we were going to call giving an act of worship, it should be included in the corporate worship service.

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In the next article, I will discuss three more arguments for giving in the order of worship: giving as a teaching tool (for our children), giving as a blessing to the giver, and giving as an act of stewardship.