Theology In Action: Paul, The Poor, And Christian Mission -- By: Jason B. Hood

Journal: Southeastern Theological Review
Volume: STR 02:2 (Winter 2011)
Article: Theology In Action: Paul, The Poor, And Christian Mission
Author: Jason B. Hood


Theology In Action: Paul, The Poor, And Christian Mission1

Jason B. Hood

Christ United Methodist Church, Memphis

Introduction

The apostle Paul2 is famous for his theology and his role in the formation of early Christianity. Most believers are familiar with his preaching, evangelism, and letter writing. But many Christians have little awareness of Paul’s mission to the poor, a mission embodied in “Paul’s obsession for nearly two decades”: his “collection for the saints.”3 Paul’s collection and other teaching on possessions and generosity occupy more space in his letters than his teaching on justification by faith. Yet scholars and contemporary church leaders alike often fail to give the collection and related Pauline teaching the attention it requires, and fail to absorb insights from Paul’s praxis (perhaps due in part to the inability of scholars to agree on the boundaries of the collection).4 To that end, this study examines Paul’s efforts for the poor and the significance of his work for believers today.

Paul’s Collection For The Poor

The collection for the poor provides an important window to Paul’s own social concern. The hint we have of Paul’s concern for the poor comes in Galatians 2:1–10, in his discussion of his relationship with the apostles in Jerusalem.5 Paul and Barnabas are accepted as apostles to the Gentiles. The leaders in Jerusalem call them to “remember the poor” as they carry out their mission, and Paul professes that he and Barnabas were already eager to do what this request required (2:10). No doubt Barnabas’s track record made him a prime candidate for apostolic mission, since he modelled such service (Acts 4:36 –37).

The instruction seems to be a general description of how to conduct ministry rather than the beginning of the collection proper. But Paul’s collection grew out of this admonition.6 The “poor” as the target of the collection were probably Judean Christians in a state of material want due to some combination of natural or political disaster (food shortages could be caused by both) and loss of inheritance and family structure as social punishment for believing in Jesus as Messiah and joining with his followers. No doubt many among the believers were w...

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