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- The Bible and Hunger
In the middle of the first century, famine spread throughout Judea. The apostle Paul devoted much time and energy to organizing an early “foreign assistance” program, gathering funds from Gentile churches in Asia Minor to share with those suffering in Judea.
In his second letter to the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 9), Paul seeks to repair his estranged relationship with the fractious community in Corinth. He commends his ministry to the Corinthians, “boasting” only in “the generous act of Jesus Christ, that though he was rich he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9).
That generous act of reconciliation is the wellspring for the generosity Paul urges on his readers in chapter 9. Paul wishes to boast about their generosity as a way to encourage other churches to contribute to this collection. Likewise, our own nation’s leadership in reducing global hunger and poverty will encourage other countries to do more as well.
Paul offers other insights and encouragement as we urge our nation’s decision makers to improve foreign assistance:
- Paul wasn’t looking for a handout. The collection wasn’t about charity. Rather, he urges equity, or what he terms “a fair balance between your present abundance and their need.” Your letters to Congress aim at rethinking how foreign assistance is carried out to provide people in developing nations with the resources they need to create a better future for themselves.
- This “balancing”—this transfer of resources—is made out of abundance that is a gift from God: “And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work” (9:8). God blesses us with abundance so that it can be shared with those in need.
- In the ancient Near Eastern world, Paul’s collection establishes a client-patron relationship between the church in Judea and the churches in Asia Minor. This is not an attempt to make one church subservient, but rather to build partnership. When our nation’s foreign assistance programs aim to create lasting relationships and working partnerships with developing countries—that will bring about real change.
- Finally, this early famine relief program encourages us to take on the messy work of changing laws and policies. Paul’s collection was a major undertaking, requiring efficient organization and large-scale cooperation. As you read 2 Corinthians, you can tell that fierce negotiations and less-than-perfect compromises were involved. Changing U.S. foreign assistance will be complex, but seeing it through will produce big benefits for hungry people.
As we take on the challenge of reforming U.S. foreign assistance, Paul’s words to the Corinthians give us boldness and confidence: “Therefore, since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart” (2 Corinthians 4:1).
To change foreign assistance will surely require courage and determination. May we be inspired by Paul and other early Christians who, out of generosity, used God’s gift of abundance to create hope and opportunity for those in need.