Wednesday, March 18, 2020
REMEMBER THE POOR
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.