Friday, May 4, 2018
The Poor, Grace, and Leadership
Gal. 2:9 and when James and Cephas and John, who were acknowledged pillars, recognized the grace that had been given to me, they gave to Barnabas and me the right hand of fellowship, agreeing that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. 10 They asked only one thing, that we remember the poor, which was actually what I was eager to do.
Paul makes his trip to Jerusalem after many years of ministry. He never tries to claim that he is in any type of position of leadership, but humbles himself before the Apostles. He went with Barnabas and they took Titus with them. Titus was a Greek who had not been circumcised. This was a pretty radical consideration for those in leadership who had been ministering among the Jews. The problem was that Paul was called to minister to Gentiles and recounting this story, he is making a point.
The leadership of the church saw that God’s grace had been extended to Paul. This must have been overwhelming because his reputation would have preceded him as a persecutor of Christ followers. They saw in Paul the results of a transformed life and were not legalistic, but eagerly embraced what God had done. Although ministering to the Gentiles had not been a part of their strategic plan, they saw, through grace, that it was God’s plan and they were willing to embrace this new direction.
Finally, the leaders did remind Paul to remain true to a core conviction of ministry, and that was to remember the poor. It didn’t matter if you were ministering to Jew or Gentile, the poor were to remain a focus and this, they would all have in common.
There is so much packed into these two verses of Scripture. Time had passed and yet, James, John and Peter had remained true to the faith. For those whom God has called into leadership there is the encouragement to remain true to your calling. These men continued to seek the face of God and were able to identify the work of God, even when it went in a new direction. Leaders must never become so entrenched in bureaucracy that they cannot see the flow of God’s Holy Spirit, which may be in ways which had never been envisioned previously. As we enjoy God’s grace, we need to also recognize the places where grace is being extended and rejoice.
The founder of my tribe, the Church of the Nazarene, was a man by the name of Phineas Bresee. He continually drew the church back to the issue of identity. Just like these Apostles, he understood the calling of the Church of the Nazarene, and it was to preach scriptural holiness and minister to the poor. This embracing of ministry to the poor parallels the admonition of the Apostles.
Remember the poor! I believe that this should still be on the radar screen of every follower of Jesus Christ! The gospel does tend to lift us out of our circumstances and after several generations we may find ourselves far from being engaged with the poor. It’s in that moment that we must again become intentional in our ministry and focus. For all that we have the privilege of enjoying in life, there are poor who help to pay the price. If you begin to scratch the surface of the connections it will begin to make you very uncomfortable. It may make you question why we can purchase clothing at such a cheap price! Why are avocados so readily available in the US — and whose lives are we disrupting as a result? Are our fossil fuels creating barren desserts for the poor in the Middle East and possibly having an impact on the refugee crisis? I could go on but it’ll be painful. But there is a reason that the thread about the poor is found in the Scriptures and in the mantra of a founding father. Jesus gave up everything for us — for we are poor. Compared to the resources of the Father, even Warren Buffet is a poor man, for what he has is temporal. If we follow our resurrected Lord, we will discover the need to always remember the poor. Our hearts will break for those who suffer and we will be challenged to examine our own lives and the ways in which we may contribute to the poverty of others.
I’m so grateful for the grace that God has extended to me, I want my eyes open to the movement of the Spirit, and I want to remember the poor. It’s a huge challenge and one that is impossible without the daily indwelling and infilling presence of the Holy Spirit.
Lord, I need you. Amen.