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A Forgotten Tradition

Support For Jerusalem

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Publish Date: 
Sat, 07/04/2015
A Forgotten Tradition

For 35 years now, the International Christian Embassy has been holding Israel meetings on all around the world. A common practice in churches worldwide is that at the end of the meeting a special offering is usually collected to bless Israel. I am always grateful when this happens. But reading Paul’s epistle to the Corinthians made me wonder if the Apostle Paul would have whole-heartedly endorsed this practice.



To the church in Corinth, Paul gives these precise instruction:

“Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given orders to the churches of Galatia, so you must do also: On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come. And when I come, whomever you approve by your letters I will send to bear your gift to Jerusalem.” (1 Corinthians 16:1–3)



So we see that Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, instructs the churches that every single week part of the regular offering should be set apart in order to be prepared for Paul when he would arrive at the church. This would assure a generous gift that could be delivered to the saints in Jerusalem. This regular practice of “setting something aside for Jerusalem” is today probably one of the most ignored customs that we find in the New Testament. The main question is, of course, was this just a very confined command to the church in Corinth or does this apply also to other churches as well as to us today?



A command to the wider church
This 'order' which Paul delivered to the church in Corinth was not just for the Corinthians but he explicitly states that he also has “given orders to the churches in Galatia.” And it was not just the Corinthians or Galatians, but we know from the Scriptures that regular giving for Jerusalem was part of the ‘systematic theology’ which Paul introduced to every single church he established. The churches in Macedonia (in northern Greece) must have been taught this principle as well, since Paul commends them several times in particular  for their exemplary generosity regarding their giving to the saints in Jerusalem (2 Corinthians 8:1-7, 9:1-5; Romans 15:25-28).



This means the churches in Galatia (that is, Asia Minor), Macedonia (Greece) and even the Romans were taught in person or in writing about this principle of regularly supporting Jerusalem. Thus every single church that was established by Paul was taught and commanded to regularly bless Jerusalem and the Jews. However, it would seem that it is one of the most ignored early traditions in the church today.



The Apostolic roots
The reason why Paul did this is manifold. First, it dates back to the historic gathering of the Apostles in Jerusalem as reported in Acts 15. There, we learn that the church recognised and fully endorsed the work of God among non-Jews. They commissioned Paul to the work for which God had called him to among the Gentiles. But we learn from Paul’s letter to the Galatians that to raise support for Jerusalem was an important part of the Apostlic decree for the Gentiles. “They desired only that we should remember the poor, the very thing which I also was eager to do.” (Galatians 2:10)

The majority of commentators agree that both Paul and the Apostles in Jerusalem were referring to the poor in Jerusalem. So Paul diligently worked for the support of Jerusalem at the express command of James, Cephas (Peter) and John, who were considered pillars in the early church (Galatians 2:9).



Another reason for Paul's eagerness to bless Jerusalem dated back even further. The regular support of Jerusalem seemed to have been a part of the DNA of his mother church in Antioch from where Paul first started his mission work. There in Antioch, the church responded to a prophetic call about a “famine coming to the whole world” (Acts 11:27-30). The only place the Antioch church decided to assist was the region of Judea. The emissaries whom the elders sent to deliver the gifts to Jerusalem was Barnabas and a young convert called Paul. This means his habit to support Jerusalem and Judea dates back to his very first home congregation in Antioch.



The Gentiles owe the Jews
But there was a final, deeper theological reason why Paul felt it was absolutely necessary for Gentile churches to support the Jews of Jerusalem. Paul writes about it to the church in Rome.

“For it pleased those from Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor among the saints who are in Jerusalem. It pleased them indeed, and they are their debtors. For if the Gentiles have been partakers of their spiritual things, their duty is also to minister to them in material things.” (Romans 15:26–27, NKJV)



Here Paul makes a bold statement: the churches in Macedonia recognised that they were debtors to the Jews. They owed something to Jerusalem. But Paul was not referring to some financial loan the mother church in Jerusalem might have given the church planters in Macedonia for their own building projects. No, Paul refers to a spiritual debt. The Macedonians realised themselves that they were spiritual debtors to Jerusalem. They acknowledged that they received the word of God, the Messiah, the covenants and much more from the Jewish people (Romans 3:1; 9:4-5). Therefore, it was more than appropriate to return this spiritual blessing with material gifts.



This was likely the main engine behind Paul’s eagerness to raise support for Jerusalem wherever he went. The Gentiles were debtors to the Jews. Therefore, since they had received so many spiritual riches from them it was only the right thing to do that they would return that blessing to Jerusalem.

So we see that there were many good reasons for Paul to motivate all the churches he planted among the Gentiles to bless Israel in return.



Some practical advice
Paul was very hands-on in his approach to these Gentile churches. He gave practical advice to the elders of Corinth, suggesting a continuous but incremental approach. “Lay something aside”  and do it every week (1 Corinthians 16:2).

Paul naturally had no interest in overburdening the church with such a task. He preferred small steps over a long distance rather than a short breath of exaggerated enthusiasm. He also knew that small amounts over a long period might accomplish more than one single offering when he came. But it also accomplished something else: no matter what the emphasis of the year, month or week, and no matter what the current church activities were, it made them constantly mindful and thankful to the Jews. While it was not the main focus, it was always there.



The principle of “laying something aside” might also apply to other areas. Wouldn’t it be appropriate to lay something aside from everything we do in God. In our weekly prayer meetings, lay a certain amount of prayer aside for Israel. I was touched by the great Evangelist Reinhard Bonnke when he told me some time ago: “Every week in our staff devotion we pray for Israel!” Israel, for sure, is not his main focus but still he lays a few moments aside to pray for the Jewish nation every week.

In your teaching series as a pastor, lay a period aside when you teach on Israel or mention it in your sermons. That is what the noted preacher Charles Spurgeon did. In dozens of his sermons, he started with or inserted a brief comment on the future restoration of the Jews.



And, of course, in your financial giving consider “to lay something aside” for Jerusalem. Make it part of your annual budget. Do it regularly. Every year, Robert Morris of Gateway Church in Dallas, Texas sets aside 1% of his budget to bless Israel. The early church did the same!

A source of blessing
Finally, let me close with a testimony from a good friend of mine. Apostle Alberto Magno de Sales pastored a small church in Santa Cruz, Bolivia some 12 years ago. I well remember meeting him the first time at our Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem. He wanted to see me in order to make an offering for our ministry in Israel. Knowing that Bolivia is the poorest country in Latin America, I hesitated to accept the generous gift of several thousand dollars from him. But I will never forget how he almost got angry, insisting that I receive the gift.



“I will not allow you to rob that blessing from my church,” he said.



The next year and every year following, he would return back and each year the gift increased as the church grew. A few years ago I asked him: “Alberto, how do you do this in your poor community?” His reply astonished me: “Very simple” he said. “Every week as Paul says we give our Friday offering to Israel, while we keep the Sunday offering for the church”.



His was the first church I saw practically applying Paul’s teaching in his church. But what was even more astonishing was the story of his community. Since he started doing this, his church grew dramatically. “Today”, he told me recently, “out of our church comes some of the leading lawyers, professors and judges of our country. God is visibly blessing our church and its youth”, he said.

Just a few weeks ago, the pastor from one of the largest churches in Taiwan visited me. They support many of our projects. Hearing how God is blessing his church, I asked him about the secret of his growth. His answer came out without much thought. “Because we bless Israel!” he insisted.



At a leaders gathering with Pastor Robert Morris in Jerusalem one year ago, he was asked what is the main key to the growth and impact of Gateway Church. He said it was the Lord who showed it to him. “I am blessing you because you chose to bless my people”, the Lord told him.

I do believe that Paul understood another principle which caused him to be so strong on the need for churches to support Israel. He knew that as these churches would bless Israel, God would bless them in return. For Paul, supporting Israel was an integral part of being a healthy church. To understand where your roots are and where you come from was in Paul’s mind an important part of staying alive.



So let us make a commitment to “lay something aside for Jerusalem” in every aspect the Lord shows us. Include Israel in your Bible study, your finances, your prayers and even your travels. The Lord will surely bless you for it! 

 

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