Here is something depressing to consider. Though you love your family very much, the fact is that in four or five generations, nobody is going to remember who you are … this is, unless you do something really important or newsworthy, like become a serial killer or something like that. How do I know this? OK … name the names of your great-great-grandfathers. See what I mean?
So, you live, you do a few things in life, you die, a few folks cry for a couple of hours, and generational history dementia begins. (I told you this was going to be depressing.)
But here’s some good news: God does not forget you. He knew you before you were born. He chose you before you were born. Don’t argue with me on that last point, that’s what the actual words of the Scripture say. Therefore, if he has known you since before you knew yourself, he is going to know you after you are gone and nobody remains to remember you. And beyond that, when your material gains are as forgotten as are you, your material investments in God’s eternal work of building the kingdom will not be forgotten. It will have a benefit of facilitating generations of the expanse of the gospel.
In this final chapter of 1 Corinthians, Paul turns to a subject for which he was especially passionate – the collection of resources to fund ministry. He tells them to weekly lay aside a portion toward this purpose of giving. These resources would primarily go to the church in Jerusalem, though Paul also speaks of ways their generosity could help both he and Timothy in their gospel work.
This “collection” related to providing funds for the relief of Christians in the very first of all the churches – the church in Jerusalem. Why was this church poorer than the others?
Jerusalem was a poor city to begin with, often a place flooded by people who came on pilgrimages related to the various feasts. As the center of Judaism, the early Christians there were particularly persecuted for their belief that the Messiah had come and been rejected by the Jews.
Many of those who were converted on the Day of Pentecost and thereafter had likely stayed there, sharing “all things in common” as it says in Acts, likely living with multiple families in a single home and scratching out a living. There was a famine in that region that lasted for four years; we see this referenced in Acts 11. Paul also had a purposeful passion beyond the mere human needs to be addressed by these gifts. He wanted to see the body of Christ become One, bringing together the disparate backgrounds of Jews and Gentiles into one new and amazing family unity, unlike anything else. And he realizes this is a great opportunity to do just that.
Not only might he help relieve the needs of the Jerusalem church, but in an overwhelming act of love, this money from many Gentiles would go a long way toward solidify unity in the family of faith. These early Christians, on both the giving and receiving ends, would realize that they were a part of something so much bigger and greater than anything else. It is the stuff of eternity.
And this remains true in our generation. The dollar that provides a building with a youth program and a youth worker with resources … who meets a visiting student who enjoys the event and comes back, trusting in Christ as savior … who gets discipled over time and ends up on a mission field in another part of the world where a new church is begun there that will reap generations of disciples … this is the work of the church. And we can be a part of it and rejoice throughout all of eternity for what was accomplished in the mundane of the here and now.
So while it is great to achieve a reasonably high level of success and reward in terms of the scorecard of material gains and assets, it is better to invest at least a decent portion of those resources in stuff that is going to be remembered eternally … unlike you will be even with your own family.
1 Corinthians 16:1 – Now about the collection for the Lord’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 your income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made. 3 Then, when I arrive, I will give letters of introduction to the men you approve and send them with your gift to Jerusalem. 4 If it seems advisable for me to go also, they will accompany me.
16:5 – After I go through Macedonia, I will come to you—for I will be going through Macedonia. 6 Perhaps I will stay with you for a while, or even spend the winter, so that you can help me on my journey, wherever I go. 7 For I do not want to see you now and make only a passing visit; I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord permits. 8 But I will stay on at Ephesus until Pentecost, 9 because a great door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many who oppose me.
16:10 -When Timothy comes, see to it that he has nothing to fear while he is with you, for he is carrying on the work of the Lord, just as I am. 11 No one, then, should treat him with contempt. Send him on his way in peace so that he may return to me. I am expecting him along with the brothers.