– Paul in Galatians 2:9-10 NKJV
It’s hard to imagine just how wrong it would have felt to many faithful Jews at that time even to entertain the idea that Gentiles could be justified by God simply by faith – no Jewish-ness (‘works of the law’ – Gal. 2:16) required. The accomplishment of Jesus had not only surpassed every hope of the Jews, but had also come with a sharp word of prophet-like judgment to them as well. All nations were supposed to be blessed in Abraham and by Abraham’s descendants. Instead, they had taken on some of the characteristics of the various empires that had continually been oppressing them. As N.T. Wright brilliantly puts it, God’s rescuers needed rescuing themselves. The invitation to Gentiles had always been open throughout Israel’s history, but for the most part, it was an invitation that wasn’t getting delivered.
The language of the New Testament is vibrantly coloured by the tension of Gentile-Jew relations, but the language of our world isn’t. Perhaps this can keep us from noticing how often we can take up the same attitude towards people who do not share our faith in Jesus. Our self-righteousness is often disgusting. In the same way that Paul talks about Gentiles ‘doing the things contained in the law’ (Romans 2:14), many people today are doing great things for the world with no faith in Jesus at all. God’s people are identified by faith, and this doesn’t give us the right to make it harder for people that don’t look like us to come to this faith. Not only will we have to be more willing to allow them join us in our work, but we may have to humble ourselves and join them in their work.
Remembering The Poor Today
The leading apostles gave the ‘Gentile side’ of the ministry to Paul and the one thing that was of utmost importance to both of them was care for the poor. One does not have to read the Bible for very long to see how God is angered when His people don’t care for the poor. Multiple prophecy-warnings by prophets in the Old Testament, Jesus in the Gospel narratives, and the New Testament all confirm this concern of God that is to be our concern as well.
What keeps us from ‘remembering’ the poor? Allow me to suggest that our minds are on other things. If you live in a Western nation in the 21st century, that means that you are bombarded with advertising images and slogans that are determined to keep your mind on whatever it is they are trying to sell you. We need to re-capture the eager-ness of Paul and his fellow Apostles (or more importantly, the eager-ness of Jesus our Lord) to care for the poor. Comfort, convenience, home-improvement, investment (let alone drowning in debt), fashion and the like should all take a back seat to our eager-ness to remember the poor. There are countless ways to serve the needs of less privileged people around the world. We must make it our priority.