Now about the collection for God’s people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. On the first day of every week, each one of you should
set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up, so that
when I come no collections will have to be made. I Corinthians 16:1-2
In this concluding chapter of First Corinthians, Paul continues to answer the Corinthians’ questions by addressing their inquiry regarding the offering for the Jerusalem saints. Paul repeats similar instruction he had given to the Galatians regarding how this offering was to be taken. His instruction revolves around their putting aside a sum of money on the first day of every week for this collection. Apparently, Paul didn’t want any offerings to be taken when he came to Corinth.
While not addressing their gathering together, Paul’s allusion to the first day of the week is undoubtedly a reference to the Lord’s Day. Elsewhere, we learn this was the day when the saints gathered for worship, for the Lord’s Supper and for instruction (Acts 20:7). The language used for this gathering at Troas implies the purpose of their coming together was to break bread—the fact Paul was there and was teaching was secondary. It doesn’t say we gathered together to hear Paul but to break bread. And the language implies this was not a one-time event but a regular occurrence. Each week, on the first day of the week, they gathered to eat the Lord’s Supper.
Why did the early church gather regularly on the first day of the week? They did so because it was the Lord’s Day. In designating Sunday as the Lord’s Day, the early believers took a Roman custom and filled it with Christian meaning. Whatever day a Roman emperor came to his throne was known as Emperor Day during his reign. Since the Lord Jesus rose from the dead on Sunday, believers celebrated it as the day he began to reign. And they gathered regularly to worship Him on that day.
What an important emphasis this is today when so many believers are abandoning any need to gather with a local church on the Lord’s Day. They feel it is sufficient to have sporadic fellowship with brothers and sisters instead of formally gathering with the Lord’s Church on the Lord’s Day. But this is not a recent phenomena; the writer of Hebrews addresses those who were in the habit of not gathering together formally (Hebrews 10:25). He uses the Greek word episynagoe, which is the formal word for a synagogue meeting, the formal gathering of Jews for worship, to describe these Christian meetings. Far from encouraging them to abandon such gatherings, the writer encourages them to attend them “all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
Justin Martyr, an early church father writing around 150 AD, describes a Christian meeting in the following way:
The service begins with readings from the “memoirs of the apostles” (the Gospels) or writings of the prophets, as long as time allows. Then the president teaches from the Scriptures. Prayers and the celebration of the Eucharist follow, as described above. At the end, those who have prospered voluntarily bring their gifts to the president, who will distribute them to those in need.
Is there a reason for so many abandoning any need to gather formally on the Lord’s Day? Undoubtedly, it is due in part to the waning authority of Scripture in a postmodern age. Since post-moderns minimize truth claims, so any need to sit under authoritative instruction has also waned. Post-moderns resent being preached to, preferring to share and dialogue with others. So as the authority of Scripture waned, so was the need to gather together formally to hear the exposition of Scripture.
This became crystal clear to me a while back when I sat with a young man who no longer saw any need to associate with formal church life. As I asked him a series of biblical questions (What elders are shepherding your life? How are you being equipped by fivefold ministry? and How do you respond to the fact that the writer of Hebrews warns against not meeting formally with the church?), he blankly stared at me as if I was talking French. It was apparent that what Scripture said had little or no authority in his life. He not only did not offer any explanation, he showed little concern that he had chosen a path which was at variance with what Scripture said. It was evident that I might as well have quoted from the Farmer’s Almanac; it would have had more authority than Holy Scripture.
The writer of Hebrews exhorts us to gather more frequently rather than less as the Day approaches. Let us do so, in full confidence that the resurrected Lord meets with his people who gather in his name each Lord’s Day.