John Chrysostom: The little in turn becomes a lot

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Now about the collection for the Lord’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 your income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made. 1 Corinthians 16:1-2

“When he said, “On the first day of every week,” he added, “each of you.” “I do not say this only to the rich,” he says, “but also to the poor; not only to the free but also to slaves; not only to men but also to women.” Let no one remain unaccomplished in this ministration. Let no one refrain from sharing in the gain; rather, let everyone contribute. Certainly, do not even permit poverty to become a hindrance to this contribution.

And even if you are ten thousand times poor, you are not poorer than that widow who emptied herself of all her property. Even if you are ten thousand times a beggar, you are not more of a beggar than the woman of Sidon who had only a handful of flour, yet was not prevented from extending hospitality to the Prophet Elijah. Although she saw a chorus of children surrounding her, and famine pressing upon her, and nothing else remaining in reserve, she received the prophet with great readiness.

Why did he say, “each of you (by himself) is to put something aside and store it up?” Perhaps because the one laying aside was ashamed and hesitated to offer something little. For this reason he says, “You put to the side and save; and when the little in turn becomes a lot by small contributions, then bring it before all.” He did not say, “gather together,” rather, “store it up,” so you may learn that this expense is a treasure, that this expenditure becomes an advance, a treasure better than any treasure.”

John Chrysostom in “A Sermon on Almsgiving” Homily 10.13 in On Repentance and Almsgiving, The Fathers of the Church, Volume 96, translated by Gus George Christo (Washington D.C.: CUA Press, 1998) 139-140.

It has been conspicuously difficult for me to locate sermons on almsgiving through church history. Thankfully, when we venture back to the early church fathers we locate gems like this one by John Chrysostom. At least three points are noteworthy for us.

Firstly, everyone must participate. Regardless of the level of income, everyone has something to share. As Chrysostom put it, “do not even permit poverty to become a hindrance to this contribution.” Why? In sharing deeper realities come into view. Specifically, we learn that God supplies.

Secondly, small gifts add up to big amounts. Again, as Chrysostom keenly put it, “the little in turn becomes a lot by small contributions.” God sees the sum total of all our small gifts, and He knows that our collective giving can send a big message to a watching world.

Thirdly, the collective giving becomes a “treasure better than any treasure” because it is stored up in the only place where it cannot be touched. So, don’t store up money for yourself on earth and watch it waste away, but store it up in almsgiving and secure it for eternity.

What will you do? Whether or not you are observing Lent, or even if you missed the first week (as today marks the end of the first week), think about what extra you have beyond what you need to live on. Store it up for abundant sharing. Pray about whom to bless and share richly.

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