1 Corinthians 16:1-4
Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do you.…
Several causes had contributed to this poverty; and, among others, perhaps the persecution promoted by Paul. Many Christians were driven from their homes, and many more must have lost their means of earning a livelihood. But it is likely that Paul was anxious to relieve this poverty, mostly because he saw in it an opportunity for bringing more closely together the two great parties in the Church (Galatians 2:9, 10). He saw that no doctrinal explanations were likely to be so fruitful in kindly feeling and true unity as this simple expression of brotherly kindness.
I. IN OUR OWN DAY POVERTY HAS ASSUMED A MUCH MORE SERIOUS ASPECT. The poverty which results from accident, or even from wrong-doing or indolence, could easily be met by individual charity or national institutions. But the poverty we are now confronted with is that which results from competition. So overstocked is the labour-market that the employer can name his own terms. Where he wants one man, a hundred offer their services, so that necessarily wages are pressed down by competition to the very lowest figure. In all our large cities there are thousands who by working sixteen hours a day earn only what suffices to maintain the most wretched existence.
1. The most painful and alarming feature of this condition of things is, that every new method of facilitating business, every improvement in machinery, makes life more difficult to the mass of men. Individual charity is here a mere mop in the face of the tide. What is wanted is not larger workhouses where the aged poor may be sheltered, but such a system as will enable the working man to provide for himself against old age. What is wanted is not that the charitable should eke out the earnings of the labouring classes, but that these earnings should be such as to amply cover all ordinary human wants. What the working classes at present demand is, not charity, but justice.
II. IS THERE ANY SYSTEM WHICH COULD CHECK THE EVILS RESULTING FROM COMPETITION?
1. The essence of the demand of socialism is that "whereas industry is at present carried on, by private capitalists served by wage-labour, it must in the future be conducted by associated or co-operating workmen jointly owning the means of production." The difficulty in pronouncing judgment on such a demand arises from the fact that very few have sufficient imagination and sufficient knowledge of our complicated social system to be able to forecast the results of so great a change. In the present stage of human progress personal interest is undoubtedly one of the strongest incentives to industry, and to this motive the present system of competition appeals. The organisation of all industries and the management and remuneration of all labour demand a machinery so colossal that it is feared it would fall to pieces by its own weight.
2. Some of those who have given greatest attention to social subjects, and have made the greatest personal sacrifices in behalf of the poor, believe that deliverance is only to be found in the application of Christian principles to the working of the present competitive system. True progress here, as elsewhere, begins in character.
3. Appeal is confidently made to Christ by both parties. By the one it is affirmed that were He now on earth He would be a communist. Communism has been tried to some extent in the Church. In monastic societies private property is surrendered for the good of the community, and this practice professes to find its sanction in the communism of the primitive Church. But the account we have of that communism shows that it was neither compulsory nor permanent.
4. It is perhaps of more importance to observe that our Lord took no part in any political movement. He was no agitator, although He lived in an age abounding in abuses. And this limitation of His work was due to no mere shrinking from the rougher work of life, but to His perception that His own task was to touch what was deepest in man, and to lodge in human nature forces which ultimately would achieve all that was desirable. It was by the regeneration of individuals society was to be regenerated. The leaven which contact with Him imparted to the individual would touch and purify the whole social fabric.
III. IN ANY CASE THE DUTY OF INDIVIDUAL CHRISTIANS IS PLAIN.
1. To seclude ourselves in our own comfortable homes and shut out all sounds and signs of misery is simply to furnish proof that we know nothing of the spirit of Christ. We may find ourselves quite unable to rectify abuses on a larger scale, but we can do something to brighten some lives; we can ask ourselves whether we are quite free from blood-guiltiness in using articles which are cheap to us because wrung out of underpaid and starving hands.
2. The method of collecting which Paul recommends was in all probability that which he himself practised (ver. 2). But what is chiefly to be noticed is that Paul, who ordinarily is so free from preciseness and form, here enjoins the precise method in which the collection might best be made. He believed in methodical giving. He laid it on each man's conscience deliberately to say how much he would give. He wished no one to give in the dark. He knew how men seem to themselves to be giving much more than they are if they do not keep an exact account of what they give, how some men shrink from knowing definitely the proportion they give away. And therefore he presents it as a duty to determine what proportion we can give away, and if God prospers us and increases our incomes, to what extent we should increase our personal expenditure and to what extent use for charitable objects the additional gain.
(M. Dods, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye.