Having composed a scholarly biography of the life of Jesus, Luke set out for Theophilus an account of the early church. Luke had an affinity for clarifying the place of Christianity within the broader sphere of the Roman world. In Acts 11:27-30, he noted that a famine in Judea prompted Gentile Christians to share with their Jewish brothers. The gift from the multiethnic church in Antioch initiated the prophets’ vision of all nations gathering with Israel to worship the Lord. Isaiah prophesied that in the last days, all nations would come to Jerusalem for worship and reconciliation (Isa 2:2-4). He said, “Nations will not take up the sword against other nations, and they will never again train for war” (Isa 2:4b). In Isa 56:6-7, the prophet announced the future day when foreigners would convert to the Lord and worship in the temple with the result that God’s house would be called a house of prayer for all nations (Matt 21:3//Mark 11:17//Luke19:46). Zechariah prophesied that in the day when the Lord restored His people, many nations would join themselves to Israel in Jerusalem (Zech 2:10-13).
Luke wrote that Saul and Barnabas carried the gift from the Antioch church to Jerusalem (Acts 11:29-30). The famine relief efforts of the Hellenistic Christians in Antioch set the stage for the substantial role these kinds of efforts played in the world of the New Testament. Due to a famine that had come upon the land, the Gentile Christians had the opportunity to aid their Jewish brethren. In Paul’s view of redemptive history, Gentiles and Jews were to be united through Christ’s death and resurrection—and Paul hoped that famine relief from Gentile Christians to the saints in Jerusalem would be a means of unity between these groups.
(1) In Gal 2:1-10, Paul referenced his Jerusalem visit and noted that the apostles in Jerusalem encouraged him to continue to remember the poor in Jerusalem as he evangelized the Gentiles. Paul recounted the ministry he and Barnabas had delivered to the Jerusalem leaders and stated that James gave them the right hand of fellowship (Gal 2:9). James exhorted Paul and Barnabas that as they evangelized the Gentiles, they should remember the poor in Judea (Gal 2:10).
(2) In 1 Cor 16:1-4 and 2 Cor 9:12-15, Paul urged the Corinthians to contribute to the needs in Jerusalem. Paul concluded 1 Corinthians by noting his travel plans. He hoped to return and visit them again, picking up their contribution so that he might take it to Jerusalem (1 Cor 16:1-4). In 2 Cor 8:1-9:15, Paul affirmed the Corinthians’ initial intentions to give and urged them to complete their commitment. Paul wrote that the Corinthians’ gift would supply the needs of the saints but also glorify God by causing many to thank the Lord for His care through His people. The Gentiles’ generosity would be a proof that they had received the gospel (2 Cor 9:12-15).
(3) In Rom 15:22-33, Paul wrote that he planned to take the Gentiles’ contribution to the church in Jerusalem as a means of gaining favor with the church there. Paul wrote that though he hoped to visit the church in Rome and go by way of them to Spain, he was first traveling to Jerusalem to take the gift from the churches in Macedonia and Achaia. These Gentile churches were indebted to the Jewish saints in Jerusalem, sharing in the spiritual benefits of God’s faithfulness to Israel (Rom 1:18-19; 11:17-32; 15:7-13). Paul urged the Romans to pray that the church in Jerusalem would receive him and the gift from the Gentiles.