How Can I Contribute to the Lord’s Church if We’re Not Assembling?
"May you live in interesting times," which I understand is an old Chinese curse. These are interesting times that have challenged us as Christians to remain steadfast to God our Father in worship, teaching, preaching, giving, etc. We have become comfortable with the way these things have been done and find it difficult to know what we should do now under the current conditions of self-quarantine, social-distancing, and cancellation of Sunday worship services and Bible classes. One act that we perform as individuals or sometimes as families is to give money such that a congregation can fulfill its work as a group.
The standard we have come to accept involves putting money in a plate that is passed around during Sunday morning or evening worship. How do we “lay by in store” if we don’t meet as a group for an extended period of time, as churches have done during the viral pandemic? Let’s look at a broader question which may help in answering the question concerning giving. Does a local church cease to exist if the members don’t meet as a group for several months, not due to apathy. but because of circumstances outside their control? In a similar vein: Does the work of a local church stop under these circumstances?
First, let’s consider who established the church. In Acts 2:47 it states “And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved”. So it is the Lord who adds to the church and it is the Lord who can remove a local church as we see in Rev 2:5: “Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lamp stand from its place, unless you repent”. We understand that the building is not the church, and we do not cease to exist as a congregation when we’re not in the building. We are the “ekklesia”, or the “called out”. We exist as a congregation because we have been called out of the world to work together for the Lord. In the same way, the work of the church does not stop simply because we cannot meet together temporarily.
Although much of this work can be done by individuals without congregational monetary cost, some works, such as evangelism and benevolence, need to be supported by the local congregation as a whole. For example, in Acts 4:34-35 we find the members of the congregation in Jerusalem selling land to provide funds so that the new converts could be fed and housed locally since many had come from far away to celebrate Passover and had stayed for Pentecost. This required more than any one person could supply since the number of individuals that needed to be cared for may have been in the thousands (Acts 2:41). In Philippians 4:15-18 Paul commends the church in Philippi for their support of his preaching of the gospel. These works did not cease when the church was not assembled. Therefore the congregation, nor the works they have committed to, stop merely because they are not assembling.
Now, let’s consider the original question - “How do we give of our means when we cannot assemble?” Let’s look at what the Bible says. In I Cor 16:1-2 Paul says “Now concerning the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do. On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come”. This passage deals with the collection for the saints in Jerusalem who were in need (I Cor 16:3). We commonly cite this verse as our proof text for the collection from our members during our assembly on Sundays, but there is much more to giving than that. In fact, if we look at I Cor 16:2, we are to consider on each Lord’s Day how much we’ve been prospered by the Lord to determine the amount we will give. It is fitting that we make this consideration on this day (the Lord’s Day) when our minds and hearts should be focused on worship. Paul continues to encourage the Corinthians by saying in II Cor 9:7: “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver”. Thus we see that giving is more than the act of putting money in the plate as it passes by. Giving, in fact, involves introspection each week to determine the amount we should give based on our blessings, and thus becomes a reflection of our gratitude to God and willingness to sacrifice.
If we look at this example in further depth, we see that Paul was not thinking about them setting aside their funds for one or two weeks, but rather week by week for as much as a year as noted in II Cor 9:1-2: “Now it is superfluous for me to write to you about the ministry for the saints, for I know your readiness, of which I boast about you to the people of Macedonia, saying that Achaia has been ready since last year. And your zeal has stirred up most of them”. So we see that these Christians reflected weekly as to how much they should set aside that week or “lay by him in store” as the King James Version says. Then when Paul came to Corinth, those funds were ready to be given to him en masse. This example points out another feature of the work that a congregation does – it’s planned – and may require a long term commitment.
In like manner, our congregation has long term commitments to evangelism, not only to the local evangelist but also to those preaching elsewhere. Given the current state of emergency, there may arise a need for benevolent assistance to Christians who are negatively impacted. We have the ongoing commitment to stand ready to help those brethren in need both locally and in other areas. As noted earlier, Paul instructed the Corinthians to set aside and store up as they prospered to fulfill their promised commitment to the Judean brethren. Let’s do the same by purposing weekly what we can set aside for the Lord and keep it until we are able to assemble once again. This means that each week, as you have purposed in your heart, you set aside an amount that you feel is appropriate based on your prosperity and the needs that you see occurring and be ready when we come together again to give the total of that amount that you set aside week by week. From the account of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-4), we see that once the commitment is made, God expects it to be kept. From the account of the poor widow and her 2 small copper coins (Luke 21:2-4), we see that it is not the absolute amount, but rather the attitude and the willingness to sacrifice that matter. Thus, whether we are assembling or not, we must meet our commitments to God for supporting His work through the congregation and through our own lives.