Most Christians believe we are to help the poor but how are we to make good judgments on who to help and who not to help? Are there Bible Scriptures that tell us just how we can help the poor and what we can do to help them?
The Poor in Spirit
Jesus spoke about the “poor in spirit” and pronounced a blessing on them. Is Jesus talking about the financially poor? In Matthew 5:3 He said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” The poor in spirit may be those who are despised in this world, they are looked down on by many; they are humble, contrite people. The poor in spirit are blessed because they are small in their own eyes. Since God resists the proud, He gives grace only to the humble (James 4:6). The poor in spirit are not those who are not prosperous necessarily, but those who consider others better than themselves. They are broken over their sinfulness. Christians need to love one another and we should help those who are in poor spirits too but to be poor in spirit is not to be poor financially, although that could be part of it, but it is to be meek and humble. A great definition of meekness that I heard is strength under control. The truth be told, Christians are simply one beggar who has received the Kingdom of Heaven, giving it to another beggar who as yet is outside of the Kingdom.
It is hard to discern who to help and who not to help, but even in Israel’s infancy, “There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land” (Duet 15:11).
The Poverty Stricken
When Jesus fed the thousands, He did not first check to see if they would be His disciples. He did not require them to come to Him for salvation. He simply filled a need by filling empty stomachs. Feeding the poor does not define the Christian; it is part of being a Christian. The man who stands on the street with a sign that reads, “Will work for food” may not be served best by giving him money. Perhaps he is sincere but how do we know that he simply wants to receive money so that he can continue his addiction to drugs or alcohol. The fact is that only God knows. I heard of one pastor who stopped and invited one man with such a sign to breakfast and when the man went with him to eat, the pastor asked him if he would like to mow the churches lawn for money. The man refused and said that he could not take the heat. Did the pastor do the right thing? I believe that this man gave the unemployed man the benefit of the doubt, but when he offered to provide a short-term job for money, the man refused. Sometimes giving out a gift certificate for a meal is better than giving someone you don’t know money because you may be enabling their addiction and their unwillingness to work for a living as the Bible commands (2 Thes 3:10).
There are also times when God will send a person troubles like losing their job, their home or their car in order to make them come to Him for help. The purpose of some trials, including poverty, can drive us to our knees and create in us a desire to come to God for help. God actually wants us to depend upon Him and so He may send problems and difficulties to break our pride and bring us to the end of ourselves and to seek His help.
Helping the Poor
Christians are commanded to help one another but we are also called to help those who are less fortunate than we are. Proverbs 21:13 is among the most powerful calls from God to help those who are hungry because “If a man shuts his ears to the cry of the poor, he too will cry out and not be answered.” First John 3:17 states that, “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?” Job wrote, “I rescued the poor who cried for help, and the fatherless who had none to assist them” (Job 29:12).
God asked, “Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood” (Isaiah 58:7)? We also need to “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy” (Prov 31:8-9). In fact, “The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern” (Prov 29:7).
Jesus Warns of Those Who Ignore the Poor
Jesus gave a startling wake up call to all who would profess their belief in Him in. When Jesus comes to the earth and judges between the sheep and the goats, “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least among you, you did not do for me‘“ (Matthew 25:41-45).
Sodom sinned the sin of not helping the poor as they were “arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy” (Ezk 16:49). Being a Christian means to be Christ-like. Not only those who profess Him as their Lord and Savior, but those who possess Him in their actions. We can profess and even confess Him, but unless we possess Him, He is not our Lord. As has been said, if He is not Lord of all, He is not Lord at all!
Treasures in Heaven
The reality is that it is in a believer’s best interest to give to the poor because, “He who gives to the poor will lack nothing, but he who closes his eyes to them receives many curses” (Prov 28:27). Helping the poor is actually an imperative command, as Paul told Timothy to “Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life” (1 Tim 6:18-19). The Proverbs say that, “A generous man will himself be blessed, for he shares his food with the poor” (Prov 22:9) and “A faithful man will be richly blessed, but one eager to get rich will not go unpunished” (Prov 28:20). The fact is that, “He who is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and He will reward him for what he has done” (Prov 19:17). How interesting that the wisest man who ever lived (save for Christ Who was both God and Man) wrote more on helping the poor than anyone. He writes much about the wisdom of helping the poor, even though he was the richest man who had ever lived. Was his wealth and generosity a coincidence? God does not believe in coincidences. He blesses those who bless others. That is no coincidence…it is cause and effect. This is what Ecclesiastes 11:1 means, “Cast your bread upon the waters, for after many days you will find it again.”
If you decide to help the poor, the Salvation Army is one of the best charities there are in the world with over 95% of donations going directly to services that help the poor. This organization’s founder, William Booth, said that feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and sheltering the homeless was part and parcel of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. William Booth did not just talk the talk but he walked the walk of Christ. This man is an inspiration to me and he has brought, some estimate, millions to faith in Christ by feeding them, clothing, them, and sheltering them. He did not insist that they first must believe in Christ. He did not demand their being born again. He never tied salvation to anything he ever did for anyone. He may be one of the richest men in heaven today, for he stored up treasures there that may be uncountable. He gave to the poor because that is what the Bible teaches…it is what Jesus taught, and it is what we as believers ought to be doing.
Jesus said, “And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward” (Matt 10:42). Someday when you see Christ and receive your reward, you might be pleasantly surprised to hear that, “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me’ (Matt 25:40).
Respond To God’s Word
Will you consider being a doer of what you have read today and help the poor? There are many great agencies to do this and one of them is Compassion International.
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Sources: New International Version Bible (NIV) THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net