The Unifying Principle
Gal. 2:10 They asked only one thing, that we remember the poor, which was actually what I was eager to do.
Paul was called to minister to the Gentiles and likely there were those who may have accused him of forgetting his own countrymen. The Jews back in Jerusalem were struggling. There had been a famine and many were starving. Those who had accepted Jesus as the Messiah had an additional burden of being disowned by their families. The result was a fledgling church spread throughout the Mediterranean, made up of many diverse people, struggling for unity. Paul was making his case for ministering to the Gentiles while Peter, James and John were preaching to the Jews. They had previously gathered in Jerusalem to discuss what might be required of Gentiles who were becoming Christians. Did they also have to take upon themselves the Jewish practice of circumcision? The decision was made that they did not and Paul would continue ministering to those who were not Jewish. The unifying principle became ministry to the poor, and quite specifically, the Jewish Christian poor who were struggling in Jerusalem. All of those who were coming to Christ were rallying around these who were in need. God was unifying the believers, those who may have previously been heathen-unbelieving Greeks, and Jews. As they united to minister to the most needy among them, God was binding them together into a new people — Christians!
The differences among the Christians was quite stark! There were those who had been very devout and religiously Jewish. They followed every letter of the Jewish law and believed this was important to their new Christian faith. There were the Gentiles, the ones who had come from a very pagan Greek background. Their previous behavior would have been viewed as vile to the Jews. Literally their own personal practices would have made them unclean to the Jews and yet, somehow, these very different people were to be united in Christ. Instead of focusing on themselves and their own wants or desires, they were to pay attention to the very neediest among them. While they were caught up in arguing over things like circumcision, they had fellow brothers and sisters in Christ who were starving to death. It was time to get their eyes off of themselves and onto the leading of the Lord.
Today is a unique day in the United States as we celebrate the inauguration of a new president. On both sides of the political aisle people are angry with one another. Some are very excited about the days ahead and others are terrified. There are believers in Jesus Christ who will find themselves in both of these camps. It’s easy to focus on our differences and have expectations that we ought to all be the same. Initially the Jewish Christians thought that it would be a good idea for converts to be circumcised. That made sense to them, but God began to move in ways that they had never even imagined and the Greek converts were a complete surprise to them. The ways in which we think things ought to be done may not be the way in which God wants to get them done. God has always been able to break down the barriers in society and unify the people of God when they fix their eyes on Jesus. This was not just done in the past, but can be done in the present, when God’s people are unified around God’s mission.
Paul’s call to remember the poor was one facet of the unifying mission of the early church. Those who disagreed with one another on so many levels could agree that ministering to the poor was important. The act of remembering led to physical engagement. They actively collected offerings everywhere they went, giving sacrificially to help their sisters and brothers who were in need.
God’s people need to be actively engaged in God’s mission becoming a unifying factor when those at the table are from varied backgrounds and perspectives. Our unifying mission today remains the needs of those who are poor, both in body and in spirit. God’s people need to bring the love of Jesus Christ to those who need spiritual transformation, but also physical comfort and support. Jesus never separated compassion from salvation, they went hand in hand. He healed the sick and saved them from their sins.
Instead of focusing on our differences, may we continue to press forward in the mission of God. The poor remain with us and are in desperate need of the people of God to be unified, co-laborers together in the mission of God. Remember the poor! Remember your calling! Remember, they will know we are Christians by our love.
Lord, please help us to be united as your people, focusing on your mission. Amen.