What Is Our Responsibility Towards The Poor?
Our responsibility towards the poor is to do whatever we can to help relieve their affliction. As believers, we are to have compassion for believers in need but also towards our neighbors—those whom we come across that are in need and we are able to help. We should consider the reasons for their situation and help accordingly.
Compassion For The Household Of Faith
- The Bible teaches that an evidence of (or fruit of) true conversion is brotherly affection and love—meaning showing true compassion towards “the least of these my brethren” or other believers whatever their “rank” (especially those who suffer because of serving Jesus) and it is equal to doing it for Jesus Himself. This compassion should be evident within the body of Christ and we should be willing to care for each other. This compassion within the body of Christ includes: providing food for the hungry; providing drink for the thirsty; being hospitable to the homeless and foreigner; to clothe the unclothed; to check on the sick; to visit those in prison; to check on the fatherless (orphans) and widows in their affliction. We are to do good unto everyone, but especially unto them who are of the household of faith. We do this in love and our motivation for this love comes from Jesus laying down His life for us, thus we ought to lay down our lives for the believers.
Matthew 25:31-46; Galatians 2:10; 6:10; James 1:22-27; 2:14-18; 2 Peter 1:3-15; 1 John 3:16-24; 1 Corinthians 13:3
- God’s people have always been responsible to helping the poor and it has always been characteristic of one who loves and obeys God. The Israelites were commanded by God to give one-tenth of their agricultural produce for that year and store it up in their cities to feed the Levites, the strangers (foreigners), the fatherless children or orphans and the widows that lived in their cities. This was only to be done once every three years. Also, there were rules to govern how to make payment back to others who suffered loss in interpersonal relationships or to keep people from taking financial advantage of others or the poor. They would leave the corners of the field for the poor and stranger to glean freely. They were to “open their hands wide” to the poor and in certain situations they were to furnish others liberally from what God had blessed them with. The year of jubile (every fifty years) was instituted to liberate the people from all kinds of indebtedness and enslavement. This included property, indentured slaves, etc., and it helped moderate the economy and those with financial hardships.
Exodus 22:1-17; 21-30; 23:3-6; 8-11; 16-19; 25-26; Leviticus 19:9-10; 25:1-55; Numbers 18:20-24; Deuteronomy 12:17-19; 14:22-29; 15:1-23; 26:10-16; Isaiah 58:6-10; Jeremiah 22:16
Compassion For Our Neighbors
- The Bible says that we are to love God with all thy heart, soul, strength and mind, and we are to love our neighbour as ourselves. A man asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbour?” Jesus responds by telling a parable about a man who ran into thieves who stole his clothes and injure him to the point of almost being dead. Two men passed by the man and didn’t help him but one man had compassion on him by immediately helping the man’s physical condition, taking the man to an inn and caring for him and paying the cost for his immediate and continual care until he recovered. Jesus then tells them “Go, and do thou likewise.” Believers have a responsibility to show compassion to all in need. To be compassionate is to be generous and we shouldn’t just be generous to those who can be generous back to us, but we should purposely be generous to those who can’t be generous back to us. Nor should we have respect of persons based on status: rich/poor.
Luke 10:25-37; Luke 14:12-14; James 2:1-13
- Being poor means lacking the wealth (money and possessions) needed to live at the normal standard of your community (this has varying levels) with the destitute being those without the basic necessities of life (this is the lowest of the levels). The poor will always be in the world. There are legitimate and illegitimate reason for a person being poor. Our responsibility to care for the poor is towards those who reasons are legitimate, such as: victims of some kind of affliction; an inability to work because of a handicap; the result of a natural disaster; famine; being orphaned, etc. As believers, we are to help those within our communities that are poor or destitute as we are able to—meaning we use our wealth (money and possessions) to show compassion on them. The Proverbs gives us many principles concerning the care for the poor:
Deuteronomy 15:11; Mark 14:7
- The righteous are aware of the “the cause of the poor”—meaning the just treatment due to the poor (by God’s command), but the wicked is not concerned with it. If we despise our neighbors we sin, but if we show mercy on the poor we are happy and blessed. We are to have a bountiful eye and give from our own food to those in need.
Proverbs 14:21, 31; 22:9; 29:7; 31:9
- When we show gracious kindness to the poor we know that we are lending to God and He will repay. We don’t have to worry about becoming poor becomes we give to the poor, we are promised to that we “shall not lack” but whoever closes their eyes to the needs of the poor “have many a curse” or afflictions.
Proverbs 19:17; 21:13; 28:27
- If we oppress the poor we reproach or insult our Maker—the God who created the heavens and earth, the God who created us. But if we honor God, we will have mercy on the poor. Therefore, honoring God means actively caring for the poor and destitute.
Proverbs 14:31; 17:5; 22:2
- There are also “illegitimate reason” for a person being poor—meaning our responsibility to care for the poor isn’t towards those who reasons are illegitimate, such as: laziness or negligence; overindulgence in pleasure; borrowing money or debt; selfish and oppressive decisions against God, etc. These are all decisions that a person makes and their “state of being poor” is a consequence of their wrong decisions. The person is reaping what they sowed. This person should be exhorted to repent and correct the situation. If the person is willing to be restored, then we should be willing to help them accordingly.
Proverbs 10:4; 19:15; 21:17; 20:4; 22:7; 22:16; 22:22-23; 24:30-34;
- Exhort to work: The Bible says, “If any would not work, neither should he eat.” Therefore, if they are undisciplined, irresponsible, able but unwilling to spend any time working to earn money then they should be exhorted to work to fix their situation (especially if they are a believer). If they don’t obey the Bible’s command to work, then they should be noted and avoided—meaning other believers shouldn’t have anything to do with them, hoping, they will repent and be restored.
2 Thessalonians 3:6-15; Proverbs 16:26
- Consider a person’s reason for their current situation and respond with the proper type of compassion and help. We don’t want to “enable” wrong behavior, nor do we want to ignore the needs of the poor, thus if the situation is uncertain, it is better to be considerate than inconsiderate. It might be wise to have a process to determine who is really without resources, just like that of determining who is a true widow in need.
1 Timothy 5:3-6
- What does compassion for the household of faith mean?
- What are some Old Testament examples?
- What does compassion for our neighbors mean?
- What are legitimate and illegitimate reasons for being poor?
- Are you fulfilling your responsibility towards the poor?