Gal. 2:10 They asked only one thing, that we remember the poor, which was actually what I was eager to do.
Paul and Barnabas had gone to Jerusalem where they met with the church leadership. Some have called it the first council meeting of the church. The concern was over some legalistic questions regarding the need for circumcision in the life of new believers. Not everyone who was coming to Christ was a Jew and therefore they struggled over whether they would be required to keep Jewish law. Finally they decided that they needed to keep the focus on what was really important. Paul had been called to minister to the Gentiles and this took the gospel message beyond the borders of the Jewish faith. This was affirmed by the leadership, and with their blessing they sent Paul to minister, but with this one admonition — to remember the poor.
It’s interesting that this becomes the send-off but it is also a reminder of the focus of ministry. Jesus was constantly ministering in the margins and this was to be the focus of the apostles’ ministry. The Jews were living as refugees all over the Greek-Roman world and as a result were suffering. They were to be cared for — they were a portion of the marginalized poor. God’s people were ones who were struggling for daily survival. The new fledgling church was marked by its commitment to sharing all that they had with one another, loving one another and ministering to the poor. The church leadership knew that this was their calling and focus, to follow Jesus into the margins of life and minister to the poor.
Over the last twenty years or so crafting a mission statement has become very popular. Businesses are doing it, but so are religious groups and churches. I have to confess to you that I don’t recall reading a church’s mission statement that said, “we remember the poor.” That might be the mission statement of a separate non-profit that a church might organize but seldom do we see it right in the statement of the church. I wonder why that has become the case, and why do we see it necessary to begin a separate compassionate organization to minister to the poor? I’m wondering if somehow we have bifurcated our ministry into what we think is really the gospel and then having separate compassionate ministries. I think that we can see from the early church that there could be no distinction between the two. To make Christlike disciples meant to remember the poor.
Paul collected offerings for the poor as he traveled throughout his ministry. This new fledgling church helped to minister to those who were struggling to survive as they were forced to become refugees. Look around. What do you see?
Churches around us are shrinking and trying to rediscover their focus. Maybe it’s been right there all the time. The poor, the needy, the marginalized — they are the ones who desperately need to experience the love of Christ. This is the good news of the gospel. Let’s keep the focus.
LORD, thank you for leaders who have gone before and have faithfully shown us the way. Amen.
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