Paul Organizes Relief Contributions for the Holy Ones
SPIRITUAL interests are of primary importance to true Christians. Nevertheless, concern for the physical welfare of others is also important to them. They have often provided for those experiencing hardship. Brotherly love motivates Christians to help fellow believers who are in need.—John 13:34, 35.
Love for his spiritual brothers and sisters moved the apostle Paul to organize a collection among congregations in Achaia, Galatia, Macedonia, and the district of Asia. What made this necessary? How was the relief program organized? What was the response? And why should we be interested in what took place?
Situation of the Jerusalem Congregation
After Pentecost 33 C.E., Jews and proselytes from elsewhere who became disciples at Pentecost remained in Jerusalem for some time to learn more about the true faith. Where necessary, fellow worshipers gladly helped to bear the burden of such an extended stay. (Acts 2:7-11, 41-44; 4:32-37) Civil unrest may have resulted in further need as Jewish nationalists fomented rebellion and mob violence. So that no follower of Christ would go hungry, however, daily distributions were made to needy widows. (Acts 6:1-6) Herod applied himself to persecuting the congregation, and in the mid-40’s C.E., famine ravaged Judea. As far as Jesus’ followers were concerned, all of this may have resulted in what Paul called “sufferings,” “tribulations,” and “the plundering of [their] belongings.”—Hebrews 10:32-34; Acts 11:27–12:1.
In about 49 C.E., the situation was still serious. Thus, after agreeing that Paul would concentrate on the Gentiles in his preaching, Peter, James, and John urged him to “keep the poor in mind.” That is what Paul endeavored to do.—Galatians 2:7-10.
Organizing the Collection
Paul supervised a fund for poor Christians in Judea. In about 55 C.E., he told the Corinthians: “Concerning the collection that is for the holy ones, just as I gave orders to the congregations of Galatia, do that way also yourselves. Every first day of the week let each of you at his own house set something aside in store as he may be prospering . . . [Then] whatever men you approve of by letters, these I shall send to carry your kind gift to Jerusalem.” (1 Corinthians 16:1-3) A year later Paul said that Macedonia and Achaia were participating. And when the proceeds were sent to Jerusalem, the presence of delegates from the district of Asia seems to indicate that congregations in that region too had contributed.—Acts 20:4; 2 Corinthians 8:1-4; 9:1, 2.
Nobody was pressed to give more than he could afford. Instead, it was a matter of equalizing so that any surplus might offset deficiency among the holy ones in Jerusalem and Judea. (2 Corinthians 8:13-15) “Let each one do just as he has resolved in his heart,” said Paul, “not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”—2 Corinthians 9:7.
The apostle gave the Corinthians good reason to be generous. Jesus ‘had become poor for their sakes, that they might become rich’ spiritually. (2 Corinthians 8:9) Surely they would want to imitate his giving spirit. Moreover, since God was enriching them “for every sort of generosity,” it was fitting that they help to supply the needs of the holy ones.—2 Corinthians 9:10-12.
Attitude of the Participants
We can learn much about voluntary giving by considering the attitude of participants in the first-century relief program for the holy ones. The collection went beyond concern for poor fellow worshipers of Jehovah. It implied that there was a bond of brotherhood between Jewish and Gentile Christians. Offering and accepting contributions signified unity and friendship between these Gentiles and Jews. Their sharing was material as well as spiritual.—Romans 15:26, 27.
Paul may not originally have invited the Macedonian Christians to participate—they too were in deep poverty. However, they ‘kept begging for the privilege of giving.’ Why, even though they were experiencing “a great test under affliction,” they joyfully gave “beyond their actual ability”! (2 Corinthians 8:1-4) Their great test apparently included accusations that they were practicing a religion unlawful for Romans. So it is understandable that they would have empathy for their Judean brothers, who were suffering similar hardships.—Acts 16:20, 21; 17:5-9; 1 Thessalonians 2:14.
Although Paul had used the Corinthians’ initial zeal for the collection to encourage the Macedonians, enthusiasm in Corinth had waned. Now the apostle cited the generosity of the Macedonians to motivate the Corinthians. He found it necessary to remind them that it was time to finish what they had started a year earlier. What had happened?—2 Corinthians 8:10, 11; 9:1-5.
Titus had initiated the collection in Corinth, but problems arose that likely thwarted his efforts. After consulting with Paul in Macedonia, Titus returned with two others to bolster the congregation in Corinth and finish the collection. Some may have insinuated that Paul had tried to exploit the Corinthians. This is probably why he sent three men to complete the collection and gave recommendations for each of them. “We are avoiding having any man find fault with us in connection with this liberal contribution to be administered by us,” said Paul. “For we ‘make honest provision, not only in the sight of Jehovah, but also in the sight of men.’”—2 Corinthians 8:6, 18-23; 12:18.
Delivering the Contribution
By the spring of 56 C.E., the donated money was ready to be taken to Jerusalem. Paul would go with the delegation chosen by the contributors. Acts 20:4 says: “There were accompanying him Sopater the son of Pyrrhus of Beroea, Aristarchus and Secundus of the Thessalonians, and Gaius of Derbe, and Timothy, and from the district of Asia Tychicus and Trophimus.” Evidently, among them there was also Luke, who may have represented the Christians in Philippi. Thus, at least nine men went on this mission.
“The total sum gathered for the collection must have been considerable,” says scholar Dieter Georgi, “because the final efforts, involving Paul and so many delegates, would not have been worth the trouble and expense otherwise.” The party served not only to ensure security but also to shield Paul from any accusation of dishonesty. Those sent represented the Gentile congregations before the holy ones in Jerusalem.
Sailing from Corinth to Syria, the delegation would have reached Jerusalem by Passover. However, word of a plot to kill Paul resulted in a change of plans. (Acts 20:3) Perhaps his enemies had intended to do away with him at sea.
Paul had other concerns. Before departing, he wrote Christians in Rome to pray that he ‘might be delivered from unbelievers in Judea and that his ministry for Jerusalem might prove to be acceptable to the holy ones.’ (Romans 15:30, 31) Although the holy ones would undoubtedly receive the contributions with deep gratitude, Paul may have been concerned about the trouble that his arrival could cause among the Jews in general.
The apostle certainly kept the poor in mind. While the Scriptures do not say when the contribution was handed over, its delivery promoted unity and enabled Gentile Christians to show their Judean fellow believers gratitude for spiritual riches received from them. Paul’s appearance at the temple not long after his arrival in Jerusalem provoked a riot and brought about his arrest. But this ultimately gave him opportunities to witness to governors and kings.—Acts 9:15; 21:17-36; 23:11; 24:1–26:32.
Our Contributions Today
Since the first century, much has changed—but not underlying principles. Christians are rightly informed of financial needs. Any contributions they make for those in need should be voluntary, motivated by love for God and for fellow humans.—Mark 12:28-31.
The relief measures taken in behalf of the holy ones in the first century show that the administering of such contributions must be well organized and handled in a scrupulously honest manner. Of course, Jehovah God is aware of needs, and he makes provision for his servants so that they can continue sharing the good news of the Kingdom with others in spite of hardships. (Matthew 6:25-34) Yet, all of us can do our part, whatever our economic status. In that way, ‘the person with much will not have too much, and the person with little will not have too little.’—2 Corinthians 8:15.