Is 1 Corinthians 16:1-2 applicable to us today?
Because the brethren in Judea were suffering from a worldwide famine, Paul went around the Roman empire collecting money from various churches to send them relief (Acts 11:27-30). The 1 Corinthians 16 passage is one of several instances in which Paul wrote about that specific universal, brotherhood-wide contribution (Rom. 15:25-28; 1 Cor. 16:1-4; 2 Cor. 8-9).
However, the passages about that specific contribution are not all that the New Testament says about giving. The entirety of the biblical data must therefore be considered in order to determine the modern relevance of 1 Corinthians 16 (cf. Ps. 119:160).
The New Testament teaches that the Law of Moses was “a shadow of the good things to come” in the law of Christ (Col. 2:17; Heb. 8:5; 10:1). Under Mosaic law, the priests and Levites were supported by the regular offerings and tithes of Israel (Lev. 6:14-18, 24-29; 7:1-9; Num. 5:9-10; 18:8-32; Deut. 18:1-6). Paul correlated this with the divine command that churches financially support preachers (1 Cor. 9:13-14; cf. 2 Cor. 11:7-9; Phil. 4:15-16). The question now before us is whether the New Testament gives any guidance as to how the church obtains the financial support they would give to preachers.
To answer that, notice that the church was giving in support of those in her number who were in need from the very beginning, years before the needs of the Judean brethren discussed in the Romans and Corinthians letters. In the very beginning of the church, she was continually supporting those of her number in need under the direction of the apostles (Acts 2:44-45; 4:32-5:11). Luke indicates that this began on the very first day of the church’s existence, the day of Pentecost which was incidentally always on a Sunday (Acts 2:42; cf. Lev. 23:15-16).
In the context of describing the events of Pentecost Sunday (Acts 2:1-41) and the early church financially supporting each other (Acts 2:44-45), Luke in Acts 2:42 writes that the first disciples “continued steadfastly” (i.e., started doing something regularly) in “the apostles’ doctrine” (the preaching of the Word – 1 Thess. 2:13), “the breaking of bread” (the Lord’s Supper – 1 Cor. 10:16-17), “prayer,” and also “fellowship” (koinonia, translated “contribution” in Romans 15:26). This indicates the strong possibility that from the very beginning the early church gave of their means during their Sunday assemblies.
This informs us as to how the early church was able to financially support preachers per the Lord’s command in a manner reminiscent of the regular support given to the Old Testament priests and Levites (1 Cor. 9:13-14). It also gives insight as to why Paul directed the Corinthian and Galatian churches to give in support of their Judean brethren specifically on “the first day of the week,” literally in the Greek “every week” (1 Cor. 16:1-2). He was simply appealing to something they had already been doing, only now directing them to focus their Sunday contributions to the support of their Judean brethren suffering from the famine.
There are some today who give the indication that the directives to the Corinthians about giving are not a command for us today. Some theorize that the Corinthians passages were not even a command given to the Corinthian church. Rather, they suppose from 2 Corinthians 8:8 that the inspired comments about giving were not meant as a command but rather as an encouragement to give voluntarily, with the 1 Corinthians 16:1-2 directives applying only if one had volunteered to participate in the offering. This view ignores how the Macedonians’ participation in the contribution was “by the will of God” (2 Cor. 8:5). It also ignores how God had told the Macedonians that they “ought” (opheilo, owed, had to the duty) to give in support of their Judean brethren (Rom. 15:26-27). Thus, 2 Corinthians 8:8’s “I say this not as a command” actually applies to the exhortations Paul then gave to Corinth to not impoverish themselves in their giving as had the Macedonians (2 Cor. 8:8-15).
To sum up, 1 Corinthians 16:1-2 should be looked at as applicable to us today even though it was giving direction concerning how to fulfill a specific need in the early church. The totality of the biblical data (Ps. 119:160) shows that weekly Sunday giving under the direction of the apostles had been taking place from the beginning not only to help those in need, but also to financially support gospel preachers. In keeping with the biblical principle to not go beyond what is written in Scripture (Deut. 4:2; Prov. 30:6; 1 Cor 4:6; Rev. 22:18-19), Christians must give liberally, cheerfully, and sacrificially as God has prospered them on the first day of every week. This is how the church must obtain the funds needed to carry out evangelistic, edifying, and benevolent work today.