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Sermon On Alms

Therefore let us obey this mandate and let us do even as Paul commands: let us place the Lord’s money beside the private store in our house, that these private funds may thereby be protected. For even as in royal treasuries, if the private wealth of a subject is deposited there, his money is rendered safe by the presence of the royal treasure; so also, if you have the money of the poor laid up in your home—the money which you collect on the Lord’s Day—it will ensure safety to your own store. Thus you will be the steward of your funds, appointed by Paul. What do I mean by this? The money which you have already laid aside will furnish the occasion and starting point for collecting more. For if you commence this good habit, you will be able to stimulate yourself to further effort without any pledge. In this way let every man’s home be a church, being the repository of sacred funds. For the treasure lying there is his contribution. The place where the money of the poor lies is safe from demons. Of a truth, money collected for alms is a better defense for the home than shield or spear or arms or bodily strength or bands of soldiers.

After he had shown when, by whom, and in what manner money should be collected for this purpose, he leaves the question of the amount which is suitable to the discretion of the givers. For he did not say, Give such and such an amount, lest the command should prove burdensome, and many would object that they could not afford it; lest the poor should say, But what if we cannot? But he left the amount of the offering to the discretion of the givers: “Let everyone of you”, he says, “put apart with himself, laying up what it shall well please him” (1 Cor. 16:2). He did not say, what he shall be able to give, or what he shall have acquired, but, “What it shall well please him”, or, What shall be suitable,—showing that he will thereby obtain the approval and the mercy of God.

For Paul did not have in mind merely that money should be given to the poor, but that it should be given cheerfully. And God did not ordain the giving of alms only in order that the poor might be fed, but also that blessings might be added to the givers, and even more for the sake of the latter than of the former. If his only concern had been for the poor, he would have prescribed merely that money should be given and would not have demanded cheerfulness in the givers. Instead of this you see that the apostle earnestly exhorts the givers of alms to be glad and cheerful. And elsewhere he says: “Not with sadness, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver.” (2 Cor. 9:7); not merely a giver, but one who gives cheerfully. And again in another place: “He that giveth, with simplicity; he that ruleth, with carefulness; he that showeth mercy, with cheerfulness.” (Rom. 12:8). For it is true almsgiving to give in such wise that you rejoice and think you are receiving more than you are giving. And so he tries in every way to make the command light and the offering a source of joy.

Consider in how many ways he tries to lighten the burden of the injunction:

First, he commands not one or two or three to give, but the whole state. For the collection (collecta) is nothing else than the contribution and share offered by all.

Second, he preserves the dignity of the beneficiaries, for he does not call them “the poor” but “the saints”.

Third, he cites the example of others, who had a similar institution: “As I have given order”, he says, “to the churches of Galatia”.

Next, he suggests a suitable day: “On the first day of the week,” he says, “let everyone of you put apart with himself, laying up”.

Five, he does not command that all the alms be contributed at once, but slowly and gradually. For it is not so good a plan to command that everything be offered on one day as to divide the offering into smaller quantities over a long period, since by the latter method the expense is hardly felt.

Six, he does not prescribe the amount, but leaves this to the discretion of the givers, and explains that God himself has granted us this freedom of choice. For when he says, “What it shall well please him”, he intimates both these things.

He adds, besides, a seventh suggestion, saying, “That when I come, the collections be not then made”. At the same time he encourages those who are waiting for his coming and comforts them by implying that the day of his arrival is fixed.

Then, not content with what he has already said, (he adds an eighth proposition. And what is that? “And when I shall be with you”, he says, “whomsoever you shall approve by letters, them will I send to carry your grace … And if it be meet that I also go, they shall go with me.” (1 Cor. 16:3–4).

See how far from arrogance and how modest is that saintly and noble soul; notice how punctilious, how full of love. For he did not desire, nay, he would not allow that the men who were to take charge of the funds should be appointed by his own choice. On the contrary he permitted the Corinthians themselves to elect them and did not consider himself insulted because he did not appoint the men himself. He thought it would be absurd that the offering should be their affair, but the choice of the administrators his. And so he granted them this privilege also, at the same time showing his modesty and giving no handle or cover for criticism and suspicion. For although he was more glorious than the sun and free from any shadow of evil, yet he took enormous pains to adapt himself to his weaker brethren, and to avoid false suspicions. Therefore he says: “And when I shall be with you, whomsoever you shall approve by letters, them will I send to carry your grace.…” What do you say? That you are not going to set sail, nor take charge of the money, but that you entrust this to others? But lest the indolent thinkers of such thought should evade responsibility, see how he guards against it. For he did not say simply, “Whomsoever you shall approve, I will send”. But what? “Approve by letters”. That you might reflect: Even though I shall not be there in body, yet through my letters I shall be present, a participant in the ministry of the men I have chosen.








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