“Now concerning the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do” (1 Corinthians 16:1, ESV).
When I was a young Christian, way back in the 20th century, I remember hearing a long sermon, almost a tirade, in which the speaker railed against the materialism of the church. He declared, "Churches are too much like businesses! They own property, they have bank accounts, they pay employees, they have investments. Brethren, this ought not to be! We don't need worldly churches, we need spiritual ones...."
But one simple truth that 1 Corinthian 16:1 teaches us is that "business" can be quite spiritual, and that "spiritual" might look quite different from the initial impression the word makes on many people.
In 1 Corinthians. Paul covers many issues with regard to the church at Corinth, but one of them is "the collection." What was the purpose of this collection? It was for the needs of the church in Jerusalem: “ 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. And when I arrive, I will send those whom you accredit by letter to carry your gift to Jerusalem” (1 Corinthians 16:2-3).
The collection was money, and the gift was financial. Now, Scripture has a great deal to say about the proper use of finances, but most of it can be summarized under one simple point. Money and property don't actually belong to us, they belong to the Lord, and we are simply stewards in temporary possession.
We literally can't take it with us when we die, and the question becomes what we do with it while we have it? This is loaded with spiritual significance. When we give our tithes and offerings, it's not simply a duty. It's a real act of worship, it is a confession that everything we have belongs to the Lord. The property and bank accounts, the employees and investments of the church are not for their own sake, but for the glory of the Lord and the advancement of his Kingdom.
Now, that long ago speaker of mine did have a point. It is possible to become so invested in our investments that we lose sight of their purpose. Intertia enters in and they tend to take on a life of their own. How to avoid this? It takes effort. It takes time in Scripture and prayer. How many of us truly thank God for his grace and bounty when we tithe? When the direct deposit hits, do we remind ourselves that it's from the Lord, and that apart from his blessing the fruits of our labors would be for naught?
Our "business" and the earthly investments of the church are indeed fraught with heavenly significance, and the starting point of using them properly begins with making the Lord and his lordship the central focus of our lives.