By Bruce Green
In 2 Corinthians 8 and 9, we have a minister to the Gentiles raising funds for Jewish people. That might sound a little strange to us, but it is totally consistent with the biblical principle that we are people first and everything else (all of the adjectives we choose to describe ourselves) is a distant second. That was a truth that needed hearing (and heeding) in the first century and it is no different today.
There’s quite a bit of back story in regard to the contribution that Paul gathers from the predominantly Gentile churches for the people of Jerusalem. While Paul and Barnabas were working with the church at Antioch, a prophet named Agabus came up from Jerusalem and predicted that “a severe famine would spread over the entire Roman world” (Acts 11:28). The Antioch church, which had been started and sustained to a large degree by the church in Jerusalem, responded by sending financial relief through Paul and Barnabas (v. 29-30).
Sometime later, the Paul and Barnabas traveled back to Jerusalem. This time, the circumstances weren’t as pleasant. They went there to investigate what the Jerusalem’s church was teaching in regard to the Jewish covenant.
Were they teaching that it was something to be bound on Gentile disciples?
They learned they were not. Moreover, all agreed that Paul and Barnabas would continue to reach out to the Gentiles and Peter, James and John would reach out to the Jews (Galatians 2:9). These three apostles requested that Paul and Barnabas “remember the poor” (v. 10). In the context, this probably has special reference to the poor of Jerusalem.
Finally, there’s the incident that occurs at Antioch sometime later. Peter came to Antioch and was eating with the Gentiles (Galatians 2:12). “Eating” in the text is more than consuming food—it is to be understood in the fellowship sense of “you are who you eat with.” That said, Peter was eating with Gentiles disciples who were not observing Jewish dietary laws (why would they?).
But then something happened. James and some others came to Antioch and Peter suddenly stopped eating with the Gentile believers. Paul rebuked him for his hypocrisy, and we’re told that even Barnabas was led astray (v. 13).
Not long after this, Paul and Barnabas part ways (Acts 15:36ff). Luke tells us the issue had to do with John Mark, but I know of no reason why we have to take that as the only reason for their splitting. It’s possible that the incident at Antioch also weighed in on their decision. It’s also possible that the church in Antioch was swayed by the people from Jerusalem so that they sided with Barnabas and Paul was left without a sponsoring church. All of this helps explain why the Corinthians would have viewed Paul as something of a second-rate apostle (he wasn’t one of the Twelve, he couldn’t get along with Peter, Barnabas or John Mark, and had no base of operations). It also possibly explains why they have been dragging their heels in regard to the contribution (8:10-11).
Whatever might be the case, this much is clear—Paul didn’t back off from his commitment to the people of Jerusalem one bit. Though he was labeled by some there as a traitor and a renegade (see Acts 21:21ff), he remained completely dedicated to their welfare. That more than anything explains why we have a minister to the Gentiles raising money for the people of Jerusalem.
May his tribe increase!
You can find more of Bruce’s writings at his website: atasteofgracewithbrucegreen.com.