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And the leaders of the church who were there had nothing to add to what I was preaching. (By the way, their reputation as great leaders made no difference to me, for God has no favorites.)
Paul continues his message to the believers in Galatia that his message is straight from Jesus, and supported by all the well-known Followers of the Way. The church in Jerusalem had a reputation I am sure. It was where it all began. Where Jesus was killed. Where he got back up. It was where the Holy Spirit made his impressive first appearance in the new Church, and thousands were convinced of the truth of what Jesus said and about who he was. So, obviously the church in Jerusalem, where many of the apostles, men who were with Jesus, and were still actively relaying his teachings… obviously this place would be a bit higher on the spiritual ladder by a rung or two.
That’s why Paul adds his parenthetical comment. He wants to dispel that idea of certain believers being better than others, either to each other or even to God. God has no favorites. But, we do… don’t we? Aren’t there churches out there today whom we all try to emulate? Aren’t there believers whom we look up to, and hang on and believe and put into practice their every teaching? Aren’t there even people within our own local group of believers whom we hold as “more spiritual” than others? Step outside of the spiritual realm for a moment, and don’t we do that in other ways? Don’t we have levels for people? Places on the rung of social, economic, even racial status? Yes, we have favorites.
Paul wanted something different for the church. He knew that God has no favorites. We are all equal to him. We do not earn his favor, or better or worse standing by who we are, or what we do. It was all given to us by him, and our relationship with him does not proceed from our actions, but from his. An important point to those believers who were elevating the Jerusalem church leaders to a status they did not merit (nor most likely did they want). And an important point to us today, as we tend toward the same misconception.
They saw that God had given me the responsibility of preaching the Good News to the Gentiles, just as he had given Peter the responsibility of preaching to the Jews. For the same God who worked through Peter for the benefit of the Jews worked through me for the benefit of the Gentiles. In fact, James, Peter, and John, who were known as pillars of the church, recognized the gift God had given me, and they accepted Barnabas and me as their co-workers. They encouraged us to keep preaching to the Gentiles, while they continued their work with the Jews. The only thing they suggested was that we remember to help the poor, and I have certainly been eager to do that.
An interesting tag line to more “proof” of his message. He concludes his resume with the only suggestion that the other apostles had for him: to help the poor. What an interesting thing to add! Was Paul not concerned with that before they reminded him, or is it more important than the other stuff he had been teaching people? Perhaps both?
It’s easy for us to get so caught up in “getting people saved”, that we overlook their needs now. Jesus was so, so good at not doing that. He helped people understand and see the unseen Kingdom, and at the same time showed them that God loves every bit of them. He healed people. He touched people. He laughed and cried with people. He did not have money, so he did not give people wealth (though he did give Peter money in the mouth of a fish once, to pay the taxes…) – but he did help them. The poor in spirit. The poor by society’s standards.
Often today, the ministry we call “benevolence” is overlooked or a fraction of the overall budget at best. That is not the fault of our churches. Institutions and large organizations can not meet the needs of people. They can not love someone who has been beaten down by life, someone who made poor choices and now suffers the consequences. But we can. We… the Church can. And we mustn’t overlook that.
It is important to tell people the message that God so loved the world … and whoever believes… will not perish. But, perhaps Paul was reminded – as are we – that Jesus wasn’t just concerned about the hereafter… but also the herenow.
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