Wednesday, 2 March 2016
They desired only that we should remember the poor, the very thing which I also was eager to do. Galatians 2:10
News Flash: This verse must be kept in its proper context.
Paul has just acknowledged that he was the designated Apostle to the Gentiles. In this acknowledgment, he shows that he and Barnabas were given “the right hand of fellowship” from James, Cephas, and John – the pillars of the church in Jerusalem. In this capacity, he was ordained as the one to go forth, evangelizing the Gentiles. However, they asked that he not forget one important thing which is “that we should remember the poor.”
The “we” in this verse means Paul and Barnabas. The context shows this is not a general “we” meaning the whole church. Additionally, the “we” was to extend to those who they evangelized, meaning the Gentiles. Further, there was intent behind this. The “poor” is not speaking of the poor in general, but the poor among the Jewish believers. Paul was being asked to make an effort to bind these categories of Christians together through this remembrance of the poor.
The admonition was given by these pillars of the church for a couple of reasons. The first is that there may be charges that Paul had such a disposition towards the Gentiles that he would forget his own Jewish roots altogether. And secondly, that even if he never forgot his roots, they desired that he would be willing to actively bless those from whom the Gentiles received their spiritual heritage.
The record shows that Paul was careful to take this to heart. His later dealings in Acts, Romans, and 1 & 2 Corinthians shows that he was faithful to this charge. His words in Romans perfectly reflect this attitude –
“But now I am going to Jerusalem to minister to the saints. 26 For it pleased those from Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor among the saints who are in Jerusalem. 27 It pleased them indeed, and they are their debtors. For if the Gentiles have been partakers of their spiritual things, their duty is also to minister to them in material things.” Romans 15:25-27
Concerning our News Flash above, the context here does not concern assisting the poor elsewhere. This does not mean that it is wrong to help them, and other admonitions in the Bible show that helping the poor is a notable thing to do. But this verse is especially dealing with the poor who are Christians, and in particular those from whom our spiritual heritage is derived. At this time, it was Jews; later in church history, it applies to those who have carried the message on to other people groups.
Paul finishes his thought on this by saying that it was “the very thing which I also was eager to do.” Vincent’s Word Studies notes, “Lit. which, this very thing. The expression is peculiarly emphatic, and brings out the contrast between Judaising hostility and Paul’s spirit of loving zeal.”
As always, Paul’s words have intent. What he relays in this verse is directed towards the Galatians in particular. They had turned their allegiances towards the false apostles and away from Paul and his true gospel message. One of the points which Paul uses to show that the Judaizers were concerned with power and control rather than true evangelism is that they failed to follow through with this one admonition of the leaders of the church. Paul, however, never failed to adhere to it.
Life application: Context is king. When someone cites a verse such as this one, it must be carefully evaluated in order to ensure that its actual purpose is understood and adhered to. Too many churches will use a verse like this as an appeal to a social gospel for helping the poor. Although helping the poor is certainly a wonderful thing, we are not to tear verses out of context in order to justify our personal agendas.
Lord, it is a great thing to do good deeds and to help others, but it often becomes a means of feeling good about the things we have done and less about bringing glory to You. Churches with a social gospel, or a social agenda, are often the most self-serving churches of all. Help us to have a heart for You first and foremost. After that, we will be the type to faithfully let others know that what we do is for the sake of the name of Jesus and for bringing many to salvation through His name. Help us to have our good deeds properly directed. Amen.