A friend wrote me recently asking what I thought of a certain humanitarian organization. She was exploring options for overseas involvement in areas of justice and had run across this organization. This particular NGO (Non-Governmental Organization) works all over the world and refers to themselves as “Christian” (though on further investigation, maybe not exactly the same ilk as I am…). I have heard of them, but didn’t really know much about their work, so I went to their website to investigate further before giving an answer to my friend. I was intrigued to find plastered all over their website, their vision – “an end to poverty – and making that vision a reality.”
I have to admit that my initial reaction to that was something akin to disdain. Ending poverty? Really? Several thousand years of poverty, several failed socialist and communistic experiments, and the poor are still among us – but this group believes they can eradicate poverty? Is that even something to aim at? If it is, I have to say that that is depressing at best. It’s most certainly not doable, so why set that as your goal? It is presumptuous at worst. Jesus himself said, “For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have me.” (Mark 14:7) Was He wrong? Will the poor one day NOT be with us?
The questions piqued my interest in this subject, so I decided to find out what the Scriptures teach about the poor. This is by no means a comprehensive expositional study on poverty in Scripture. It may, however, be a starting point for your own study, reflections and hopefully, action.
Just as a reference, I found 178 references to the “poor” and 20 references to “poverty.” (I am using the ESV.)
Facts about poverty:
1. It can be brought on by people’s own bad choices, such as laziness and sloth (Prov. 10:4, 14:23, 20:13, 28:19), ignoring instruction (Prov. 13:18), unjust giving principles (Prov. 22:16), drunkenness and gluttony (Prov. 23:21), and poor planning (Prov. 21:5) – to name a few.
2. God ordains poverty for some people according to His will and pleasure. (I Sam. 2:7)
3. The Lord also raises up the poor and changes their lot as He wishes. (I Sam. 2:8, Ps. 113:7)
4. The Lord considers the poor blessed – and gives them the kingdom of heaven. (Luke 6:20)
5. We are to care for the poor. (most of the 178 references regarding the poor…)
So, how do we care for the poor? This is a hot topic these days in the light of “When Helping Hurts” and “Toxic Charity” and “Walking with the Poor.” How do we help the poor and care for the needy and do it well? Obviously, this topic cannot be fully explored (or even barely touched!) in a blog post, when a good number of excellent books have been written on the subject. And I’m certainly not saying that it’s easy, or without pitfalls! But I would point you to a few points from the Scripture, and then encourage you to explore this issue further – by digging into Scripture for yourself, by buying one of these books to read, and by getting out there and doing it. Even if you do it poorly, you’re headed in the right direction if you’re willing to learn from your mistakes and be taught.
10 Ways to Help the Poor – but not to eradicate poverty:
1. Loan them money, but don’t charge interest on the repayment – Ex. 22:25
2. Leave some of the excess of your labor for the poor – Lev. 19:10, 23:22
3. Don’t release them of the responsibility of wrong-doing just because they are poor – Lev 19:15
4. If your family member becomes so poor that they can’t take care of themselves, let them live with you – Lev. 23:35
5. Make him responsible, but don’t take away what he needs to survive – Deut. 24:12
6. Don’t mistreat him because he can’t defend himself – Ps. 35:10
7. Defend their cause and deliver them from injustice – Ps. 72, Prov. 31:9
8. Be generous with them – Prov. 14:21, 31
9. Meet their immediate, physical needs – Isaiah 58
10. Tell them the Good News – the Gospel IS good news to the poor! – Is. 61:1, Luke 4:18
The one way that I found in my study of obtaining a nation free of poor people was for all the people in the land keep all of the commands of the Lord – strictly. “But there will be no poor among you; for the Lord will bless you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance to possess— if only you will strictly obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all this commandment that I command you today.” (Deut. 15:4-5) This may go without saying, but I think history has played out that this is not going to happen. God’s original chosen people never managed it. And aren’t we all just rebellious Israelites at heart?
Isn’t that the point of the Gospel? We need Him. And we need to follow His principles for dealing with the poor among us, because they will always be among us – given our rebellious hearts.