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5 Verses about the Poor We Need to Take Seriously

soup kitchenNothing makes me more indignant than listening to people talk dismissively about the poor—especially when they’re Christians.

From your favorite coffee shop to your local church, speaking in harsh generalizations about poverty is accepted and even celebrated. You don’t have to go far to hear someone happily share their complete disdain for people who exist with the help of government subsidies. There are not many English words spoken with more contempt than “welfare.”

It’s no surprise really. Much of America has shares common ideas and skeptical misconceptions about poverty. In the 2012 Perceptions of Poverty report it was revealed that:

  • 49% of Americans believe a good work ethic is all you need to escape poverty.
  • 47% of Americans believe if we gave poor people more assistance, they would take advantage of it.
  • 43% of Americans believe if poor people really want a job, they can always find one.
  • 29% of Americans believe poor people usually have lower moral values.
  • 27% of Americans believe people are poor because they are lazy.

Are some people poor because they make terrible choices? Of course. But life is full of complexities and even in the worst choices, many factors come in to play. Educational, cultural, parental, and institutional components can and do influence the decisions people make, but choice is not the only element affecting economic realities.

Christians are particularly called to be tenderhearted towards the poor—regardless of how they got that way. I pulled these five Old Testament verses out of the abundance of biblical admonitions about the poor:

1. When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the alien. I am the Lord your God.—Leviticus 19:9-11

Is this God-ordained Jewish law a form of old-school welfare? I think so. It amazes me how important it was for God to factor into Judaism’s social fabric care for the poor.

2. 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.—Deuteronomy 15:11

This is the verse I think of when I hear mean-spirited stereotypes about the poor. The image of being openhanded means so much more than being willing to give; it’s being generous to a fault. It’s being tender and open to those with needs. And, make no mistake, there is nothing here about caring for only needy that deserve it.

3. Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed. Rescue the weak and needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.—Psalm 82:3–4

The Bible makes it clear that, left to their own devices, some of the rich will take advantage of the poor. People of God have the responsibility and expectation to advocate and maintain their rights.

4. He who is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward him for what he has done.—Proverbs 19:17

When it comes to the disadvantaged, God is taking care of them through us. He is coming to us to request a loan for his charitable endeavors. I can think of no one who I would rather have in my debt than the King of All Creation.

5. The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern.—Proverbs 29:7

Sure, the righteous care for the needs of the poor, but they do more than that. The righteous are concerned about equity and justice for them, too. The wicked are too self-absorbed to care about either.

Do you have a favorite verse about the poor? Leave a comment and share it with me.

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25 Comments Post a comment
  1. I’m always convicted by Luke 6:30. “Give to everyone who asks of you.” No qualifications or exceptions listed there. Just give.

    October 3, 2013
  2. Ed Sumner #

    Gal 2:10 They desired only that we should remember the poor, the very thing which I also was eager to do.

    I think that one of the things that conservatives in part and Christians in particular are concerned with is that the government has taken over the Church’s job in the area of caring for the poor and that in turn the poor are being funneled into programs that are designed to make them slaves to government assistance. The government has even in some cases told churches to STOP giving to the poor if they’re going to preach to them too.

    God forbid some poor person should hear the Gospel, eh?

    October 3, 2013
  3. If I have anything extra I share it. I don’t put myself out in case of changes in my employment, but I share what I can spare. This is not done to get me into heaven or to look good in front of some social group. For one, I do not believe in heaven. Second, I have no social group. For me it is because I remember when I was around five years old and my mother had me asking people for change to get some food. Even at that age I knew it was unconventional and I vowed I would pay it back. Way more people looked at me with scorn than would give me a quarter. I don’t blame them, we all get scammed. I truly thank the people that helped us. I hold no ill feelings for those that could spare it but did not. I think in the end it is up to us. Nobody else can look in our eyes and walk in our shoes and say if what we did was right. I am certain I have given to scammers that simply bought drugs or booze, however, some of what I have given may have bought a child a meal.

    October 3, 2013
  4. Prov. 19:17. He who is gracious to a poor man lends to the LORD, and He will repay him for his good deed. Excellent post Jayson…

    October 4, 2013
  5. rcyl1268 #

    Reblogged this on rcyl1268 and commented:
    I thought this is worth sharing .

    October 4, 2013
  6. mwpeterson #

    Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Amen, I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for Me.’
    Matthew 25:45 TLV
    All of Matthew 25:31-46, but verse 45 jumps out at me, even more so than verse 40, where this same statement is rendered in the affirmative. Not only are we called to action, but we are explicitly called to avoid inaction; indifference isn’t an option. Our responsibility to help those in need can’t be abdicated to the State either, as Ed pointed out.

    October 5, 2013
  7. I’ve always felt our mission to the poor was more important as Christians than any act of preaching or moral judgment. A genuine act of charity can say more than any sermon. When I give a dollar to someone living in the street, I always pray that it can buy a good meal, bring them joy, and get them one step closer to turning their life around.

    October 5, 2013
    • I agree Alex. Jesus was constantly announcing the coming of the kingdom by doing good. I think that it’s our good works that opens people’s hearts to the validity of the gospel.

      October 6, 2013
  8. Excellent post!

    October 5, 2013
  9. Thanks for this. In recent years my eyes have really been opened to the fact that poverty can happen to any of us at any time, no matter how hard we’ve worked or what kind of foundation we’ve laid.

    October 11, 2013
    • I really think that’s part of the fear of dealing with the poor. We want to see them as people who have chosen this lot—it’s a lot less scary for us. The closer we get to them, the more the become people like us.

      October 11, 2013
  10. Ed Sumner #

    I don’t know Jason if it ever occurred to you or not, but sometimes it’s not that people despise the poor, but that they despise those who PRETEND to be poor whilst they scam the system for every cent they can get. For example, the recent California dirtbag who was reported on TV that he was received several hundred a month in food stamps and living it up on the beach. Can you BLAME people for not wanting to subsidize such a person? I can’t. Or those who scam the system to get so-called crazy checks for their children.

    Being on disability for a heart problem, I get all of $16 a month in food stamps. Anything else I need has to come out of the disability check. And YES, I resent the fact that people like those scammers exist. Those of us who COULD use extra help aren’t getting it because of people like THEM.

    October 11, 2013
    • Of course it’s occurred to me. The disingenuous are the reason people give for not helping out the poor. I get it. There are people who will scam and take advantage of others—those people have always existed.

      I don’t particularly care. It’s my responsibility to be wise about how I spend my money and who I give it to. That’s my responsibility. I do not have the luxury of using bad people as a reason not to help others. And, in the end, I would rather be taken advantage of than have a callous heart.

      I think the percentage of the people scamming the system are so much smaller than the people who generally need help. The problem isn’t necessarily the “scumbags;” it’s the news media that shares those stories over the individuals who are falling through the cracks.

      October 11, 2013
      • Ed Sumner #

        Since it really isn’t Uncle’s responsibility to care for the poor, but that of the Church, perhaps we should take back that responsibility, and with it, the onus to make sure those getting assistance actually REQUIRE it, and tell government to butt out? Personally, methinks that is an idea whose time has come. It’s obvious that the social workers who are taking care of doling out the largesse of others (basically what government social programs do) are NOT checking to see who needs and doesn’t need assistance, and THAT is why people make the statements they make. Nobody likes to be made a fool of, can you blame them? I can’t.

        It used to be that when a person needed help, the first place they went was the Church. Now, it’s the government. This shouldn’t be. Helping the poor is something that assists in the giving of the Gospel. Government can’t do that. All government can do is make slaves of those people who come to it, and THAT government does well anymore.

        October 11, 2013
        • This is a popular sentiment on the right, one I disagree with.

          October 11, 2013
          • Ed Sumner #

            Government is not here to take care of the poor. The Church is. Government’s role is threefold:

            1. Protect the citizenry
            2. Punish evil
            3. Promote righteousness through godly laws.

            That’s it.

            The Church was given the mandate to care for the needy. It is BECAUSE we’ve by and large failed to do so that government has stepped in to fill the vacuum.

            Your disagreement doesn’t make sense.

            October 11, 2013
            • Ed,

              You’re right about protection and punishment, but I’m not sure about “promote righteousness through godly laws.” What Paul says is:

              θεοῦ γὰρ διάκονός ἐστιν σοὶ εἰς τὸ ἀγαθόν.
              of God indeed a servant he is to you for the good.

              The purpose of government, according to Paul, is to protect and promote. Protect from the evil and promote the good, and we are even instructed to pay taxes for those purposes. Civil authority is designed to be “God’s servant for your good.” How is taking care of people not being a servant for good?

              I believe the governments work needs to include a distributive aspect. The church can not afford to take care of all of the poor. I think Brad Williams describes the problem well.

              Now, I can appreciate that you don’t agree with me. There was a long time when I felt the same way you do.

              October 11, 2013
            • Ed Sumner #

              Godly laws are how ‘the good’ is promoted.

              The Church can’t afford to take care of the poor? I don’t buy that. If the Church (especially us Protestants) would quit borrowing hundreds of thousands for huge buildings and instead build smaller meetinghouses like our predecessors used to, we’d have more than enough cash on hand to help feed and clothe the poor. Why pray tell does a local assembly need a $250,000 church building? It gets used for Sunday and Wednesday services, and for what else?

              October 11, 2013
            • Alright Ed. I’m not going to get into a debate.

              October 11, 2013
            • Ed Sumner #

              What debate? I think we agree in principle. The US government isn’t the only entity in the USA that needs to learn to live within its means. If the Church did that as well, I think there’d be more than enough to help the poor. Say what you will about George Bush, his idea of faith-based initiatives was a good one in principle. The Church could take a lot of stress off government by taking back the reigns of public assistance.

              October 11, 2013
            • You are right about some churches being terrible with their money. Mega-churches and their huge payrolls and facility budvets irritate me to no end.

              I agree that the church could be doing so much more to carry the weight of the poor.

              I just disagree that the church should do it all and the government shouldn’t be involved.

              October 11, 2013
            • Ed Sumner #

              IF, and I say IF, we had a Christ centered government/society as we once did, I could see a limited role for government. Perhaps government could fund faith-based initiatives for example. That wouldn’t violate the Constitution because no national denomination was being formed. Unfortunately, our corrupt and godless current government couldn’t be trusted to do much of anything but foul things up worse.

              Christians need to be involved in civil government, not running away from it as many Believers (usually, but not always, of the pre-millennial stripe) do.

              October 11, 2013
  11. James 5:1-6: “Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you.”

    I read this verse for the first time after the 2008 market crash. Can you say chills?

    October 15, 2013

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. 5 Verses about the Poor We Need to Take Seriously | Jayson D. Bradley « hankrules2011
  2. Wanderings of the Week 10/6/13 | My Life on the Balance Beam

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