The Financial Affairs Of Congregations:
"Providing Honorable Things...In The Sight Of Men"
Giving us with "all things thatpertainto life and godliness" (II Pet. 1:3), God has also given us knowledge about propriety and transparency in the financial affairs of congregations. Entrusted with benevolence funds, Paul was acutely aware of problems that can arise if sloppy management leads to questions or accusations. How did the Apostle answer questions before they were asked? He proactively "provided honorable things...in the sight of men" (II Cor. 8:21). This article will review this interesting passage and suggest applications.
"A Lavish Gift...Administered By Us"
Most church members give little consideration to church financial management - until there is a problem. Accounting is thought to be a lesser and perhaps even a sub-spiritual effort - kind of like washing the dishes instead of cooking a fine meal. All that changes when questions or accusations arise about congregational spending. Then comes the chorus of "shouldas," "oughtas" and "whydidn'tchas?"
Knowing of the human tendency to first ignore the details of financial management, but then to complain in chorus, Paul acted proactively. He had been entrusted with "a lavish gift," the "rich generosity" of Greek Christians who had learned of famine and want among Jewish Christians (I Cor. 8). How did he conduct himself?
Paul's responsibility was to (i) receive the contribution, (ii) in the absence of dependable systems of mail, banking, or wire transfer, to physically carry the money, and finally to (iii) deliver the money to the congregations of those in need. To these three responsibilities Paul added a fourth, to (iv) "administer" the money. Taken from the Greek word diakonoumenē, to "administer" the funds, Paul had the task of managing and caring for the funds.
Those who have been entrusted with the care of funds are often the targets of complaints and criticisms. Paul understood this and worked to prevent this. He explained his concern - "We want to avoid any criticism" (I Cor. 8:20). Then Paul explained his plan - he was going to "take great care to provide honorable things...in the sight of men" (II Cor. 8:21).
Paul recognized the dangers associated with handling money. He worked diligently to remain free from any suspicion the he either mismanaged the money or took some for his personal use. Taking extra precautions to avoid dangerous scandal, the Apostle practiced the highest of ethics and the greatest of care.
Application to Today
James Burton Coffman, a famed commentator of the Churches of Christ, made this common-sense observation about "providing honorable things...in the sight of men":
There is no area of human behavior more likely to give occasion of slander than that of handling public funds; and Paul's precautions were not merely wise; they are also an apostolic precedent that should be observed by the churches of all times and places. The wise, prudent and business-like handling of a congregation's financial affairs is without exception prerequisite to any general confidence of a congregation in its leadership.
What did Paul do so well that we ought to follow his precedent? He refused to handle the money by himself. Another "brother was chosen by the churches to accompany us with the offering" (II Cor. 8:19) based on his "praise by all the churches" (II Cor. 8:18). Titus was also involved (II Cor. 8:16+). familiar with the biblical principal that "Every matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses" (II Cor. 13:1), Paul surrounded himself with trusted others who could vouch for each other's propriety and transparency.
Propriety and transparency ought to be our watchwords when it comes to the finances of congregations and ministries. When it comes to receiving and disbursing contributions, we should go above and beyond in following accepted methods of accounting, explaining, and publicly reporting. Nine times out of ten it does not matter. But if we do not regularly practice propriety and transparency, when the chorus of complaints eventually comes, we will wish that we had.