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Tuesday
Nov022010

At The Apostles' Feet

Someone has observed that money makes the world go round, and that is probably not an arguable point, but an inspired somebody else tells us that the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Money is a necessary evil throughout most of the world. Christians labor to earn it and rely upon it to purchase food, clothing, shelter and iPods. Even churches find it necessary to solicit financial contributions from their members in order to fund the work – to support the teaching of the gospel, to provide a modestly comfortable place in which to assemble, to lend aid to needy brethren. As the early church had a treasury, we can learn from them to leave our funds always at the apostles’ feet.

I. Treasury

    A. Judas’s Moneybag

        1. before there even was a church like we know it today, Jesus and his apostles traveled about the Palestinian area and they needed a little money to provide for things like food

        2. these were men who had labored as fishermen, tax collectors and carpenters, who walked away from secular labor to engage in the work of ministry

        3. the more interesting fact was that some of their support derived from female disciples, who had well-heeled husbands (Luke 8:1-3)

        4. for whatever reason, a treasurer was selected from the twelve, but he was motivated by greed to steal from it (John 12:1-8)

        5. it was at this point that Judas seems to become convinced that his easy money is coming to an end and he puts into motion a plan to sell his Lord to the Jews for thirty pieces of silver

 

    B. The Apostles’ Feet

        1. when the church began, it had few obvious expenses beyond benevolence

            a. the church did not have a set meeting place, unless it was somewhere on the temple grounds and evangelism was left to the apostles who remained in Jerusalem

            b. there is a great need, however, in the realm of assisting needy and aged believers (Acts 2:42-45)

        2. when confronted with a request from a stranger for assistance, Peter averred that the gospel existed for a higher purpose than relieving poverty (Acts 3:1-10)

            a. Peter remembered that Jesus warned they would always have the poor with them, but he did not immediately turn the church at Jerusalem into a social work institution to distribute funds to the poor, but kept the focus on the message of saving grace

            b. Peter probably did have access to the funds the members were contributing from their property sales, but it was never their purpose to serve as an enticement to prospective members

        3. this cooperative sharing continued as along as the deplorable conditions did in the first century Jerusalem church (Acts 4:32-37)

            a. he laid the funds at the apostles’ feet, indicating trust in their discretion to spend them wisely, considering the sacrifice Barnabas had made

            b. Barnabas would not pull strings or expect constant consultation in how the funds were spent, but he would trust the apostles to do the right thing

        4. this practice spread as the church grew and it began to include a daily distribution to needy widows (Acts 6:1-4)

 

    C. The Local Elders

        1. it is some time after this that, as the church spread throughout the Mediterranean world and as the apostles began to die, elders were appointed in each locality to look over the flocks among them

        2. still, the needs were mostly related to benevolence, although now that preachers were traveling to uncharted lands, they also required support, so that a weekly collection was made (First Corinthians 16:1-4)

        3. the collection funded a ministry to the saints (Second Corinthians 9:1, 12-15)

        4. preaching was funded by money sent from churches (Philippians 4:10, 14-18)

        5. aid was sent directly to the elders in afflicted areas (Acts 11:27-30)

        6. preachers gained the right to be supported from the gospel (First Corinthians 9:7-14)

 

II. Observations

    A. Holy Purpose

        1. the money that we contribute to the work of the Lord is part of our worship and is a sacrifice before God just as surely as animals were slaughtered by the Mosaic priests for the same cause

        2. we are not suggesting the money is somehow consecrated and holy, any more than this building is, or this table is, at least not in the same sense that the temple and its implements were holy

        3. but when something is given to God, it should be treated with respect for his majesty and authority, and it should not be diverted to other purposes or treated lightly

 

    B. The Work of the Local Congregation

        1. we are authorized by implication to pay for things that God commands we collectively do

            a. we are to be evangelistic

            b. we are to engage in mutual edification through worship assemblies

            c. we are to come to the aid of needy brethren and widows indeed

        2. but we are not authorized to rent a jump house or to buy weenies and potato chips or to go into secular business

            a. there is so much mission creep in the country today as institutions expand beyond their own objectives and intrude into others’ – and churches are at the head of the class in distracting from their soul-saving mission to try to solve all the physical and social problems of an otherwise disinterested community

            b. they dilute the gospel’s power when they confuse it with the psychological and carnal ambitions of people

 

    C. Contribution

        1. the only means of contribution relevant to the New Testament is that of its members

            a. some members sold property of their own free will and brought part or all the proceeds to the church

            b. as the church became more established, a weekly contribution became part of church life

        2. that excludes bake sales, car washes, business investments, land speculation and twisting the arms of visitors, strangers and other donors to fund the work of the saints

        3. indeed, it should be counted a privilege both to have sufficient funds to sacrifice and to make the gift to the Lord who saved your life (Second Corinthians 8:7, 9:5-9)

            a. our giving should not be only through a sense of compulsion, but should be done willingly, even cheerfully and liberally

            b. we will probably choose to help others through alms and charitable donations, but our contribution to the church is the meager satisfaction of the debt we owe as disciples

 

    D. Honesty 

        1. today, we trust the men who pass the plates, who count the contribution, who transport it to the bank, who make an accounting of the deposits and expenses, and who hold credit cards to be honest and reliable in everything they do (Second Corinthians 8:16-21)

        2. and we trust the elders to make wise and scripturally authorized decisions about the budgeting and expenditure of these funds; it is not a blind faith in fallible men, but rather we pay attention to what we are supporting and to the reports we receive to be sure we are doing our part

        3. our minds go back to Judas whose greed got the best of him, allowing him to steal from his friends and to betray God; we think about Ananias and Sapphira who lied to God to make their gift look larger than it was

        4. whether we are supporting the work, handling the funds or receiving them, we have an obligation to have regard for honorable things always

 

Conclusion

The funds we contribute are still at the apostles’ feet in the sense that their collection and disbursement should be according to the approved examples of the early church, taking no license to support error or missions that exceed the ones given to the church.

 

Questions For Review

  1. What expenses did Jesus have in his ministry? Who covered them?
  2. How did his treasurer discharge his duties?
  3. What is meant by laying the funds “at the apostles’ feet?”
  4. What three basic works form the mission of the local congregation?
  5. What is the responsibility of elders in handling the church’s funds?
  6. What attitudes should characterize our giving to the collection?
  7. Where are the opportunities for dishonesty with the collection?

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