This past Monday night I was reading a link posted by a former Florida College classmate (and now preacher’s wife). She was commenting on the fact that she believed that the standard “Litmus test” for Christians who are voting is flawed. For many, it is whether or not a person supports gun rights, is anti-abortion, and supports securing our borders. She went on to explain that helping the poor is something that we were commanded to do and that she believed that a Christian could in good conscience vote for a person who believed helping the poor was the most important platform to stand upon. Several “proof texts” were offered to explain why such a stance should/could be held. This got me to thinking, what does the bible actually reveal is the proper response to the poor of the world?
Let me first make it clear, we do have a responsibility to the poor. Paul wrote in Gal. 2:10 “Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.” Jesus put it this way, “Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys (Luke 12:33).” To deny that we have a responsibility to the poor is to deny the very word of God. However, by quoting those two verses I have not showed the context in which they were written. Even as I looked at Nave’s Topical Bible at a Christian’s duty to the poor I saw several verses either clearly pulled out of context or were stretched to mean poor, but do not necessarily infer financially providing unto the poor. So, what does the bible say is our duty to the poor.
We must first begin by understanding who has been given the task of aiding the poor. The post I referenced earlier try to prove that nations have been given the job to provide for the poor. Read Eze. 16:49. “Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and need.” There is no doubt that Sodom is being accused of closing up their bowels of compassion. However, what we must determine is whether this was a collective condemnation of the individual Sodomites or the condemnation of the government’s lack of compassion in aiding the poor of the land. The more I look at this passage (and those like it) the more I see God holding individuals accountable. It seems to me that Ezekiel is trying to get Israel to see where they as individuals have failed. As a nation, they all have come short on showing compassion to the needy even though they had the ability to provide to that need.
Even Paul’s comments in Gal. 2:10 were those directed at him personally. He needed to be mindful of the poor. He was not saying the church was, he was saying Christians were to be mindful of the poor. Even if I were to take his comments in Gal. 6:10 about doing good unto all men to refer to aiding the poor (which I think it does include but certainly is not limited to) it doesn’t mean that it belong to any entity but the individual. Gal. 6:10 is about individual responsibilities as Christians. So is James 1:27, I John 3:17-19 even Matt. 25:31-46 is about individual accountability. Let me be clear on this, I cannot expect to be a part of a benevolent organization had think that I have done my personal responsibility. Just because I give to a charitable organization does not mean I personally fed the poor. Just because I support a candidate whose platform is “aid the poor” it does not mean that I have helped the poor. This is why I get so bothered by organizational efforts. Too many people think that they have done their part by casting a vote or dropping a little money in the “charity box.”
But, who are the poor? The definition of poor has greatly changed in our country. In the bible the poor were usually identified by two groups. First, those who were too sick to earn a living. These were usually those found at city gates, temple gates, etc begging for help. It was not they they were too lazy to work, it was that it was impossible for them to work due to their health condition. Second, those who through outside forces lost everything…. They were usually identified as widows and orphans. (Ever notice the bible never said take care of a widower?). Those that lost the primary caretaker of the home were forced into poverty at no fault of their own. These are those I have the obligation to help. The one “struggling to pay rent” while owning a smart phone, cable TV, an d a luxury vehicle are NOT poor. - WTK
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Helping the Poor
Volume 7 Issue 12