Wednesday, July 1, 2020

SOLA FIDE

The church, in Martin Luther's day, taught that works of faith were a means of grace. If a person performed a good work by his own inclination - giving alms, for example - this person earned the  "grace of congruence." He was acting in congruence with God's grace, and so was worthy to receive God's grace even though a sinner. Once he received God's grace, he could do works by faith in God's grace and so be worthy of eternal life.

Luther wrote: "Wherefore, with Paul, we utterly deny the merit of congruence and worthiness, and affirm that these speculations are nothing else but mere deceits of Satan. For God never gave to any man grace and everlasting life for the merit of congruence or worthiness" (Luther, Galatians, 67).

Paul wrote: "Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of law but only through faith in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 2:16).

Sola Fide!

The little connective translated, "but only" (ἐὰν μὴ) is critical to the argument of Paul. It can be interpreted in two ways, as an exception or an adversative (Burton, Galatians, 121). If it is understood as an exceptive, then the work of faith is an exception to the works of law. Man cannot be justified by the works of law except through the "work of" faith in Christ Jesus. Human faith is an exception to other human works by which humans earn the "grace of congruence" from God.

May it never be! The connective is an adversative, introducing something that is the opposite of work. We should translate it, "but only" not "except by" (Moulton, Grammar, 1:241). Faith is not a different kind of work. We are not justified by the works of faith. Faith is not a work at all, and no work done by faith can earn God's grace. Otherwise, we turn God into a debtor who owes us eternal life (Luther, Galatians, 66).

"But only" means sola fide!

"Through faith in Jesus Christ," we are justified, Paul continues. "Jesus Christ" is in the genitive case modifying "faith." Some have interpreted "Jesus Christ" as a subjective genitive meaning that we are justified by Christ's faithfulness. However, it is best to understand "Jesus Christ" as an objective genitive meaning that Christ is the object of our faith. Our faith is placed in Christ (Bruce, Galatians, 138-139; Murray, Romans, 363-374). Paul bolsters this interpretation by adding, "we, ourselves, have believed in Christ Jesus" (εἰς Χριστὸν ᾿Ιησοῦν), making Christ clearly the object of our faith.

John Calvin defined faith as "a knowledge of the divine benevolence (grace) toward us and a sure persuasion of its truth" (Calvin, Institutes, 3.2.12). Being persuaded by God's grace, we rest on Christ for salvation, knowing that we do not deserve nor can we earn any favor from God by any merit of our own.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

OUR BEST BEFORE GOD

How can humans be accepted by God? Can our best efforts gain God's favor? Every church faces the temptation to slide into practical Pelagianism - measuring righteousness by the best we can do apart from God's enabling grace. Subtly, a performance mentality seeps into our church life even as we preach Christ's gospel. Do we earn God's approval by what we do, or does God grant His acceptance because of what He has done?

Paul finally arrives at the central question of his letter to the Galatians: "knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified" (Gal. 2:16).

Three vital theological terms leap out of the text: "justified" (δικαιόω), "law" (νόμος) and "faith" (πίστις). All three terms are significant in the vocabulary of Paul and central to his argument in both Galatians and his longer epistle, Romans. Few words have been analyzed by theologians more frequently than justification producing an indisputably clear meaning. The term does not refer to moral causation. It is judicial and forensic in essence. God does not make us righteous in justification. He declares us to be right. Justification carries a sense of God's acceptance and approval. Since God's acceptance of us is not based on our merits but on His work, our righteousness can rightly be said to be God's righteousness (Burton, Galatians, 460-474).

The term "justified" occurs three times, and each time it is passive. We do not justify ourselves but are justified by another. God declares us right as we stand before Him. The first verb is in the present tense (δικαιοῦται), indicating an ongoing truth. The negative with the present tense tells us that justification can never be achieved by the observance of the law (R&R, Linguistic Key, 506). The second verb is an Aorist subjunctive (δικαιωθῶμεν) teaching that justification is a general truism. The third use of the term is in the future tense (δικαιωθησέται). Nobody will ever be justified by the works of the law. Paul has covered all the time zones to make his point.

Three times in this one verse, Paul tells us we are not justified "by the works of the Law" (ἐξ ἔργων νόμου). The preposition "by" (ἐξ) emphasizes the source of our justification. Paul did not have a convenient term like "legalism" to describe the issues he faced, so he used this expression to make his point. Legalism is any attempt to justify oneself by obedience to the law (Bruce, Galatians, 137). "Law" is in the genitive case. I don't think it is a subjective genitive as if the law can produce the works. It is an objective genitive meaning that the object of our works is the law. We choose to do what we think will fulfill the law to justify ourselves (Meyer, Galatians, 85).

The expression works of the law (ἐξ ἔργων νόμου) is parallel to the expression "faith in Jesus Christ" (δὶα πίστεως ᾿Ιησοῦ Χριστοῦ). The object of works is the law. The object of faith is Christ (Meyer, Galatians, 85). Here too, the genitive "Jesus Christ" (᾿Ιησοῦ Χριστοῦ) is an objective genitive, not a subjective genitive (Bruce, Galatians, 138-139). Christ does not produce faith (subjective genitive). He is the object of our faith (objective genitive). We place our faith in Christ Jesus because He is the one who justifies us.

Unfortunately, the NASB mistranslates the phrase as "the works of the Law," capitalizing law to identify it as the Mosaic law. Both "law" and "works" are anarthrous and should be translated "works of law." Paul is not talking just about "the Law," a specific code of conduct revealed through Moses. He is talking about divine law in general, all that is in accord with the character and will of God. Without the article, Paul stresses the qualitative nature of God's law. Paul expands his thought in Romans where he uses the same clause "works of law" to describe the Gentiles who are accountable to God's law without possessing the Mosaic Law (Rom. 2:11-16; cf. 3:20, 28). All attempts to curry God's favor by law-keeping, whether written or unwritten, do not work (Burton, Galatians, 120, 443-460).

Religion's temptation is to drift toward works righteousness. In our pride, we determine to control our destiny by what we do instead of accepting what He has done. We develop selective righteousness in our churches as a means of quantifying holiness - an unwritten code of conduct. A performance mentality grips our faith as we parade our works of law before God and others.

Lord, root out in me any subtle seepage of pride that trusts my works over your work, my achievements over your sacrifice.

Friday, May 29, 2020

WALKING THE GOSPEL PATH

We talk a good gospel, but do we walk a good gospel? Do we stay on or stray from the gospel path? Paul publicly rebuked Peter and Barnabas because he saw that "they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel" (Gal. 2:14).

Galatians 2:14 is the only place in the New Testament where we find this verb "were not straightforward" (ὀρθοποδοῦσιν). The word comes from two Greek roots, "standing straight up" (ὁρθός) and "foot" (πούς). It means to "stand erect on the feet." In other words, Paul says that we are not to waver or stumble as we walk (TDNT, 5:449-451).

The verb is followed by the preposition "about" (πρὸς) which, when used with the accusative case as here, commonly indicates motion toward some destination. However, it can mean "with" or "according to" something. For this reason, two possible interpretations have developed about the statement. Paul might be saying 1) their actions do not square with the truth of the gospel, or 2) they are not advancing toward the truth of the gospel (Moule, Idiom Book, 52-53). Are they not standing upright as measured by the truth of the gospel, or are they not walking toward the right goal?

I think it best to interpret Paul as saying that they are not walking straight on the path to the truth of the gospel. They have taken the wrong road. They have strayed from the path (Bruce, Galatians, 132). The expression "truth of the gospel" refers back to the same phrase in Galatians 2:5. To walk straight toward the truth of the gospel is our goal. The danger is that we get off track. We get distracted by life. The twists and turns, the rocks and bumps of life cause us to stumble. We take detours that compromise the truth of the gospel by our personal preferences and legalistic convictions. We lose our way, causing others to go astray.

Why did Paul confront Peter "in the presence of all" (Gal. 2:14)? Why not confront Peter privately following Jesus' instructions (Mt. 18:15)? The confrontation was public because the sin was public. Public sin by church leaders requires public correction to deter others from sliding into the same sin (1 Tim. 5:20). The rule of thumb for discerning our response to sin on the public/private continuum is simple. The degree to which sin is public is the degree to which sin must be corrected publicly.

Scripture does not record Peter's response. He may have rationalized his behavior by arguing that he was acting out of concern for the weaker Christians from Jerusalem. Peter may have argued something similar to Paul's own dictum to be "all things to all people," including being under the law to those under the law (1 Cor. 9:19-23). He was merely being politically correct for the sake of the church in Jerusalem. However, there are clear limitations to such actions. Our position cannot justify the damage done to the gospel message. (Bruce, Galatians, 132-134). What went on in the background, we can only speculate. Nevertheless, neither church politics nor weaker brother arguments should be allowed to distract from the truth of the gospel.

Walking the gospel path is difficult at times. Martin Luther wrote, "many have the gospel, but not the truth of the gospel." We can preach the gospel with our words, but stray from the gospel with our works. Actions that reinforce the law nullify the gospel. The gospel path has many rocks and twists, temptations and distractions, that can cause us to stumble on the way or lead us off the path of truth. Luther acknowledged how hard it is to stay on the gospel path. "In the time of temptation, I confess that I myself do not know how to do it as I ought" (Luther, Galatians, 61).

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

GOSPEL HYPOCRITES

Hypocrite: A person who pretends to be something he/she is not, two-faced.

There are all kinds of hypocrites. There are political and social hypocrites. There are philosophical and religious hypocrites. But the worst hypocrites are the gospel hypocrites. Peter was a gospel hypocrite for distancing himself socially from the Gentiles. Paul wrote:

"The rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas ..." (Gal. 2:13-14).

We get our English word "hypocrite" from the Greek word used here. Paul uses two related words, a verb and a noun, to stress the hypocrisy of Peter. The verb "joined him in hypocrisy" (συνυπεκρίθησαν) meant to join with others in pretending (BDAG, 793). The noun "hypocrisy" (ὑποκρίσει) meant to put on an outward show, a pretense (BDAG, 845). The root meant to "answer from under" (Burton, Galatians, 108) and referred to actors who spoke from behind a mask. The actor's job was to explain the drama by playing a role so that everything he did was in keeping with his character in the production (TDNT, 8:559-560).

In classical Greek, the words did not necessarily imply a negative meaning. The hypocrisy could be positive. Other descriptive words were necessary to determine whether the hypocrisy was negative or positive. However, within Judaism, the term is negative. It is sin. The Septuagint used the word in connection with apostasy. A hypocrite was someone who only pretended to follow God's law until it became inconvenient and then turned away from God's truth. The venerated Maccabean leader, Eleazar, said he would choose death rather than hypocrisy, which he viewed as apostasy (2 Maccabees 5:25). The Septuagint often used the word "hypocrite" (ὑποκρίτης) to translate a Hebrew word that meant a wicked or ungodly person. Paul's use of the term reflects this Jewish background. Hypocrisy has to do with denying the truth of the Gospel (TDNT, 8:562-569).

Peter wasn't merely being socially two-faced. He was denying the gospel - apostasizing! Apparently, both Jewish and Gentile Christians were in the habit of eating meals together in the church at Antioch. These social gatherings were reflections of the transforming power of the gospel, making the church one new man in Christ (Eph. 2:11-16). Peter gladly ate with them until the Jews from the church in Jerusalem arrived. He withdrew from the Gentiles to eat only with the Jews, and, in so doing, led the other Jewish Christians to join him. Paul viewed this correctly, not merely as a social failure, but as a corruption of the gospel itself. Peter was a hypocrite. He was pretending to be what he was not in Christ.

What were Peter's true convictions, and who was he hiding them from? There were two possibilities. 1) Peter's true convictions were that the gospel freed him to eat with the Gentile Christians as one in Christ. He was hiding those convictions from the Jewish leaders who came from Jerusalem. 2) Peter's true convictions were that he should only eat with Jews, and he had been hiding those convictions from the church in Antioch all this time. Either way, Peter is a hypocrite. Here is the problem with our hypocrisy and the gospel. Our hypocrisy renders our witness untrustworthy. How we live taints our gospel witness. No one knows where we stand, so why should they believe what we say?

The sad reality is that Peter led Paul's trusted missionary partner and friend, Barnabas, astray (συναπήχθη). The word means to be carried off (BDAG, 784). Peter's hypocrisy carried Barnabas into hypocrisy. The word "hypocrisy" is in the dative case and could be either a dative of accompaniment or dative of agency. In other words, Barnabas was either swept along with Peter's hypocrisy, or he was influenced by Peter's hypocrisy (Burton, Galatians, 109). Either way, he, too, denied the truth of the gospel.

How Barnabas' hypocrisy must have stung Paul. Barnabas had been the first to welcome Paul into the church. Barnabas and Paul had planted churches in southern Galatia on their first missionary journey enduring hardship and struggle together for the gospel. They would not be partners on Paul's second missionary journey. Luke states that the break up of their partnership occurred over John Mark (Acts 15:36-41). However, this episode in Antioch may well have factored into the fracture. F.F. Bruce suggests that the dispute over John Mark would not have been enough to break up the team, but for this more serious matter (Bruce, Galatians, 132). The hypocrisy of Barnabas eroded Paul's trust in his partner. Their close relationship came to an end not long after this event in Antioch.

The gospel proclaims that there are no racial, social, cultural, ethnic, and gender barriers (Gal. 3:28-29). It is the great equalizer. All people stand equally at the foot of the cross as one in Christ. Gospel hypocrites pay lip service to this transforming truth, but their partisan lifestyles belie the good news they preach.

Lord, keep me from becoming a gospel hypocrite. Show me those attitudes and actions that, however unwittingly and subconsciously they might be, deny the gospel I preach. Convict me to repent of any self-deluded rationalizations I might use to justify my behavior. Energize me to live what I preach.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

OUR SOCIAL LIVES AND OUR GOSPEL WITNESS

Birds of a feather flock together. We naturally gather with people like us and identify ourselves with those who think like us. Like likes like. We eat, drink, laugh, and share with others from similar subcultures. Our Facebook posts elicit "likes" from those who are most like us socially, culturally, and politically.

What is wrong with that? Why should it matter with whom I socialize? It matters because our socio/economic and political identifications may negatively impact our gospel witness. The gospel transcends our social boundaries by calling us to reach those unlike us. We can compromise our mission by our social lives and nullify our gospel witness by our partisan politics.

Paul confronted Peter about how his social activities compromised the gospel. "Prior to the coming of certain men from James, he (Peter) used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision" (Gal. 2:12). This led others to join in his hypocrisy, so Paul accused them of not being "straightforward about the truth of the gospel" (Gal. 2:14).

Let's peel back the layers to grasp the damage we can do to our gospel witness by our social lives.

PAST HABITS

Paul begins with an infinitive clause "prior to the coming of certain men from James." The preposition (πρὸ) with the infinitive (ἐλθεῖν) means "before" (MHT, Grammar, 3:144). Paul adds "from James" (ἀπὸ Ἰακώβου) which is a rare usage of the preposition and means "after coming from James" (MHT, Grammar, 3:259). James is the source of the delegation. But we must be careful not to read too much into the coming from James as if James authorized their theological views (Robertson, Grammar, 579). More likely, they perceived themselves and were perceived by others as having his authority. These Judaizers presented themselves as if they were an official delegation sent by James to examine matters in Antioch.

Peter "used to eat with the Gentiles" before this pseudo-delegation came from James. The phrase "used to eat" (συνήσθιεν) translates an imperfect tense. The imperfect tense here indicates repeated and ongoing action (Burton, Moods and Tenses, 12). Peter's habitual activity before the arrival of these self-proclaimed ambassadors of legalism was to eat his meals with the Gentiles. This is not surprising since God had shown Peter in a vision that he should welcome Gentiles as equals in the church (Acts 10:28)! Peter knew by direct revelation that God had opened the gates of His kingdom to Gentiles and expected Peter to share the common bond of the gospel with Gentiles as equals.

WHAT CHANGED?

When (ὅτε) these men from the mother church in Jerusalem arrived, Peter changed. He withdrew from socializing with the Gentiles. This imperfect tense is best understood as inceptive, he began to withdraw (R&R, Linguistic Key, 505). The tense indicates action in progress but not yet completed (Blass/Debrunner, Grammar, 169). Peter probably thought, "Why can't I socialize with whomever I want? These are my friends from my home church. I identify with them. We think alike. What is wrong with that?" Nothing in itself, of course, but everything is wrong with that thinking when our identification with a partisan group corrupts or obscures the truth of the gospel (Gal. 2:14).

Paul understood immediately that this social change by Peter had enormous ramifications for the gospel. The way Peter was acting undermined the gospel even if it seemed to be merely a social activity. Paul described Peter as "holding himself aloof" from the Gentiles. Once again, the verb is an inceptive imperfect. Peter was beginning to hold himself aloof. The verb (ἀφώριζεν) means to separate himself or to set himself apart. Ironically, Paul chose the same word that he used to describe God's call to preach the gospel to the Gentiles! Paul wrote, God "had set me apart" (ἀφορίσας) "so that I might preach Him among the Gentiles" (Gal. 1:15-16). Peter separated himself from the people that God had separated Paul to reach! Thus, he was undermining the gospel. Paul called it hypocrisy because it threatened the health of the church (Gal. 2:13).

PEER PRESSURE

Peter identified himself with the Jewish Christians from James because he "feared the party of the circumcision." The participle translated "fearing" (φοβούμενος) is best understood as a causal participle ( Burton, Moods and Tenses, 170). Peter changed because he feared "the ones out of the circumcision" (τοὺς ἐκ περιτομῆς). The expression indicates an identifiable group of people - a party of people. They could be a political party within the church like the Judaizers or the self-proclaimed messengers from James. However, it seems unlikely that Peter feared this group of people or that he feared James. We should probably see this as a description of an actual political party within Judaism. The Jewish militants were very active in Judea at this time. These zealots, known as "freedom fighters," had formed a powerful, nationalistic political party that threatened anyone who socialized with Gentiles. Peter likely feared the power of this political party back in Jerusalem, and that is why he compromised the gospel (Bruce, Galatians, 130-131).

The gospel levels social hierarchies, breaks down cultural barriers, eliminates racial distinctions, crosses political divisions, and flattens ethnic pride. Eating together - a simple act of respect - reinforces the gospel message. Social distancing compromises our gospel witness.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

A PC GOSPEL?

Many warn about the dangers of being "PC" - politically correct. There is undoubtedly a PC of the left that intimidates our gospel witness, but there is also a PC of the right that dresses the gospel in cultural clothing. Whenever a culture absorbs and re-formats the gospel in cultural dress, it loses the universally transformative power God intended. Paul rejected the PC gospel in Antioch when he stood up to Peter.

"When Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned, ... when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in the presence of all..." (Gal. 2:11-14).

The verb translated "opposed" (ἀντέστην) means to stand against someone. The word usually implies resistance to an attack initiated by another person. In this case, Peter launched the attack on the Pauline principle that the gospel of grace makes us one in Christ. Peter may not have intended to attack the freedom of the gospel, but his behavior undermined the truth by wrapping it with social expectations (Burton, Galatians, 103).

Peter "stood condemned" (κατεγνωσμένος) by his past actions (perfect tense). Peter's own behavior rendered him not just offensive but self-condemned. His actions, not Paul or the church, delivered the guilty verdict (Lightfoot, Galatians, 111). When Peter visited the church in Antioch, he ate his meals freely with the Gentile Christians as social equals in Christ. Then a delegation from the right-wing of the church in Jerusalem showed up, and Peter pulled back socially from the Gentile believers to eat only with the Jewish Christians. Peter stood self-condemned by his hypocrisy.

THE BACK STORY

Peter had initially been the leader of the mother church in Jerusalem, but James had supplanted him to become the most influential. During these early years of the church, Jewish nationalism was on the rise. The Jewish freedom fighters developed what Josephus called the "fourth philosophy" as their zeal grew to advocate armed revolt against Gentile authority culminating twenty-five years later in the Roman invasion. Masada was their final fight. About the time that Peter and Paul were having this debate, Rome crucified two of the Jewish zealots. The Jewish nationalists became militant in their opposition to Jews who socialized with Gentiles. Such people were traitors to their homeland.

Jewish Christians brought some of these attitudes with them into the church in Jerusalem and likely felt that the actions of the Christians in Antioch endangered Christians in Jerusalem. The Judaizers were Jews who claimed to be Christians but who followed the regulations of Judaism and were zealous for their country. They formed a strong conservative wing in the Jerusalem church that sought to conserve the Jewish heritage within Christianity. When Paul writes that Peter was "fearing the party of the circumcision" (v.12), he likely meant the militant Jewish nationalists who threatened Christians and may even have infiltrated the church (Bruce, Galatians, 128-131).

Peer pressure infiltrates our attitudes seductively until it erupts in ugly and unexpected scenes.

SEPARATE BUT EQUAL

The first Jerusalem Council had already occurred (Gal. 2:1-10), and the second Jerusalem Council was yet in the future (Acts 15:1-29). The apostles agreed that Gentiles did not have to be circumcised at the first council, but a new issue arose involving the eating habits of Gentile Christians. Gentile Christians did not practice the Jewish dietary expectations, so to eat with them defiled Jewish Christians in their minds. The second Jerusalem Council addressed this issue (Acts 15:20, 29). In the meantime, the disagreement reared its ugly head in Antioch.

Jewish Christians were eating freely with Gentile Christians in Antioch, and Peter had joined them. The reports to the conservative party in the Jerusalem Church led James to send a delegation to Antioch to find out. Many Jewish Christians did not believe this was part of the agreement they had made at the first council. They had agreed that circumcision was not necessary, but socializing equally with Gentiles was another matter. To the right-wing in Jerusalem, eating together violated the agreement of the council (Burton, Galatians, 104-107). They believed that Jewish and Gentile Christians should be separate but equal in Christ, which is why they had separated the mission of the church. Peter would go to the Jews, and Paul would go to the Gentiles (Gal. 2:7-9).

ONE IN CHRIST

Paul understood that separate but equal meant not fully one in Christ. We practice a PC gospel if we cannot welcome Christians of all languages, colors, cultures, and backgrounds to the common table of Christ. If we cannot eat together, we are not one in Christ. There cannot be superior and inferior Christians based on nationalism or culture. We must oppose, like Paul, any behavior implying that the gospel allows any separate but equal attitude toward social, cultural, or ethnic differences within the church. The gospel is for all equally, and we are all equally one in Christ. We must fight to demonstrate that truth in the attitudes and actions of our daily lives.

Why do so many churches look socially, culturally, and ethnically similar?

Why don't we see more churches that exhibit social, cultural, and ethnic diversity?

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

REMEMBER THE POOR

The coronavirus is raging. The stock market is plunging. Panic is spreading. People are hoarding as toilet paper flies off the shelves! The rush to hoard because we can hurts those who can't afford to hoard. In times of crisis, we should remember the poor. Those who have little to start, lose what little they have when supplies are limited.

The first century church obeyed God's call to care for the poor because they trusted God's provision for their daily needs. The elders of the Jerusalem church extended the right hand of fellowship to Paul and Barnabas with no conditions except they "only" asked "that the poor they might remember" (Gal. 2:10). The verb "ask" must be supplied to make sense of the verse. They "only" (μόνον) made this one request. The adjective "only" is placed first in the clause for emphasis. The object of the verb to remember is "the poor" (τῶν πτωχῶν). It is in the genitive case because the verb to remember (μνημονεύω) can take a genitive as its object (BDAG, 525). The object (πτωχῶν) is placed before the verb for emphasis. God's heart emphasizes the priority of the poor.

The word "poor" meant someone dependent on the help of others - a beggar. We tend to have a negative connotation of beggars today. However, such poverty was not to be viewed as the result of laziness or ineptitude in Israel. The poor man was poor because of the injustice of the rich in Israelite theology. God had laid out a program to help the poor under the Mosaic law (Ex. 20:22-23:19) because God was the protector of the poor when they cried out to Him in their need (Ex. 22:27). God's law established rules to protect the poor (Deut. 15:1-18; 24:14-22). The prophets regularly attacked the rich for social injustice because they oppressed and abused the poor, which was a violation of God's law (Amos 2:7; 4:1; 5:11; 8:4; Isaiah 3:13-15; 5:8-9; 10:2; Micah 2:2; 3:2). God considered social injustice by the wealthy and powerful to be acts of immorality that deserved His judgment.

The poor often cried out to God for help, and He heard their cries and helped them in their affliction (Ps. 10:16-18; 72:2,4,12-15; 140:12-13). They were dependent on God, who cared for their needs. Care for the poor was a significant aspect of worship in the synagogue communities of the first century. Synagogue communities even founded hospices for the terminally ill. Rooted in their theology as opposed to social programming, the first century Jews remembered the poor. Part of the temple tax paid for the needs of the poor. Almsgiving was an obligation of synagogue members to care for the poor in their community. (NIDNTT, 2:821-823). The Jewish Christians of the early church were steeped in this practical theology of worship and carried it over into the church assemblies.

The verb translated "remember" (μνημονεύωμεν) has a variety of meanings, but when used with the poor means more than a mental thought. It means to remember in a way that helps the person being remembered - the poor (NIDNTT, 3:240-241). Once again, there is a rich legacy of biblical theology embedded in this call to remember the poor. God remembers people when He extends His help to them in mercy and grace (Gen. 8:1; 19:29; 30:22). Because God remembers people, the poor cry out to God in prayer to remember them by meeting their needs (Ex. 32:13; 1 Sam. 1:11,19), and the needy ask for those in power to remember them by meeting their needs (1 Sam. 25:31). A good theology of prayer starts with we who are dependent and needy calling on God to remember us in our need (Judges 16:28; 2 Kings 20:3; Job 10:9; Ps. 88:50).

Remember the poor means to act in tangible ways that help the poor. It is grounded in a theology of prayer and viewed as an act of worship. Rooted in the very nature of God, care for the poor, the alien, the orphan, the widow, the oppressed demonstrates the heart of true religion (James 1:27). No wonder Paul said he was eager to remember the poor (Gal. 2:10). The verb translated "eager" (ἐσπούδασα) means to hurry, to rush, or to make every effort to remember the poor (BDAG, 763).

We face a crisis of growing need in our world today because of the pandemic. The church can view this time as an opportunity to remember the poor. We should rush to help those in need not to hoard what we can gather.