We talk about the poor – about the homeless. How do we treat them? Do we give them money when they ask? Should we give them money? I mean, they’ll probably miss-use it, and buy drugs or something! And besides, most of the homeless WANT to be homeless – we live in America, if someone wants a job, they can find one if they try hard enough, right?
I’ve had these reactions before – but the thing I want to ask is this: Are these reactions Biblical? Is it really bad stewardship to straight-up give a homeless person $5?
Jesus said, “Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.” (Matthew 5:42)
So why do we (myself included) not give?
There really isn’t much else to do, I think, than to look through the Bible as a whole and see what God says about the poor and how we should interact with them. The list is a bit long, but that fact alone should tell us something.
Here we go:
Commands Regarding the Poor:
Deut. 15:7. If there is a poor man among you, one of your brothers, in any of the towns of the land which the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart, nor close your hand to your poor brother; but you shall freely open your hand to him, and generously lend him sufficient for his need in whatever he lacks.
Deut. 26:12. When you have finished paying the complete tithe of your increase in the third year, the year of tithing, then you shall give it to the Levite, to the stranger, to the orphan and the widow, that they may eat in your towns, and be satisfied.
Lev. 19:19ff. Now when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field, neither shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. Nor shall you glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the needy and for the stranger. I am the LORD your God.
Prov. 31:8ff. Open your mouth for the dumb, for the rights of all the unfortunate. Open your mouth, judge righteously, and defend the rights of the afflicted and needy.
Is. 58:66ff. Is this not the fast which I choose, to loosen the bonds of wickedness, to undo the bands of the yoke, and to let the oppressed go free, and break every yoke? Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into the house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
Jer. 22:3. Do justice and righteousness, and deliver the one who has been robbed from the power of his oppressor. Also do not mistreat or do violence to the stranger, the orphan, or the widow; and do not shed innocent blood in this place.
Luke 12:33. “Sell your possessions and give to charity; make yourselves purses which do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near, nor moth destroys.”
Luke 3:11. And [John the Baptist] would answer and say to them, “Let the man with two tunics share with him who has none, and let him who has food do likewise.”
Mt. 5:42. Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.
Blessings God promises to those who care for the poor:
Prov. 22:9 He who is generous will be blessed, for he gives some of his food to the poor.
Jer. 22:16 “Did not your father eat and drink, and do justice and righteousness? Then it was well with him. He pled the cause of the afflicted and needy; then it was well. Is that not what it means to know Me?” declares the LORD.
Deut. 15:10. You shall give generously to [your poor brother], and your heart shall not be grieved when you give to him, because for this thing the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in all your undertakings.
Prov. 19:17. He who is gracious to a poor man lends to the LORD, and He will repay him for his good deed.
Jer. 7:5-7. “For, if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly practice justice between a man and his neighbor, if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, and the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place, nor walk after other gods to your own ruin, then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave to your fathers forever and ever.”
Is. 58:10. “And if you give yourself to the hungry, and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then your light will rise in darkness, and your gloom will become like midday. And the LORD will continually guide you, and satisfy your desire in scorched places, and give strength to your bones; and you will be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water whose waters do not fail.”
Luke 14:12-14. “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return, and repayment come to you. But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
Luke 12:44. “Sell your possessions and give alms; make yourselves purses which do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near, nor moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”
Mt. 19:20ff. The young man said to Him, “All these commands I have kept; what am I still lacking?” Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”
Curses promised to those who do not help the needy and/or oppress them:
Ezek. 16:49ff. “Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had arrogance, abundant food, and careless ease, but she did not help the poor and needy. Thus they were haughty and committed abominations before Me. Therefore I removed them when I saw it.”
Is. 10:1-3. “Woe to those who enact evil statutes, and to those who continually record unjust decisions, so as to deprive the needy of justice, and rob the poor of My people of their rights… Now what will you do in the day of punishment, and in the devastation which will come from afar?”
Ezek. 22:29,31. “The people of the land have practiced oppression and committed robbery, and they have wronged the poor and needy and have oppressed the sojourner without justice… Thus I have poured out My indignation on them; I have consumed them with the fire of My wrath; their way I have brought upon their heads,” declares the Lord GOD.
Jer. 5:28f. “[The wicked] do not plead the cause, the cause of the orphan, that they may prosper; and they do not defend the rights of the poor. Shall I not punish these people?” declares the LORD. “On such a nation as this, shall I not avenge myself?”
James 5:1-6. Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries which are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments have become moth-eaten. …Behold, the pay of the laborers who mowed your fields, and with you have withheld, cries out against you; and the outcry of the harvesters has reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth. You have lived luxuriously on the earth and led a life of wanton pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter.
Luke 6:24. “But woe to you who are rich, for you are receiving your comfort in full.”
Luke 16:19-25. “Now there was a certain rich man, and he habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, gaily living in splendor every day. And a certain poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate, covered with sores, and longing to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table; besides, even the dogs would come and lick his sores.
Now it came about that the poor man died and he was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried. And in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes, and saw Abraham far away, and Lazarus in his bosom.
And he cried out and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue; for I am in agony in this flame.’
But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony…'”
So that’s a bit of a picture on what God says about the poor. What do you believe God’s heart desires for us? To give? Or to judge the poor because of the fact that they are poor?
Sometimes we might hear the verse: “Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.” (Matthew 7:6) and hear it used to say that we shouldn’t give money to someone who will misuse it – but actually in context, Jesus isn’t talking about money, He is talking about confronting someone over their sin (right before this verse is the “take the log out of your own eye” passage). Now, I’m not saying that we should blindly give all our money away – because although Jesus did say, “Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.” (Matthew 5:42), He also said, “If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you” (Matthew 5:29a). So these things must be thought about in order to be understood in the context of the whole of Scripture. And yet – I would say, as American’s (and really most everybody else) we fall far from where Christ would have us be in regards to our heart’s attitude towards the poor.
If we are Christians – what should characterize our lives in regards to the poor? Well, we should be loving towards them for starters: “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.” (Ephesians 5:1-2). Think about God’s love for you – when did God love you? When you were a sinner! His love was not based on your actions – rather it was based on Himself! We misuse the gifts God has given to us everyday (and even more so, unbelievers), so why does God keep “casting pearls to swine”? Can we really say that we cannot give money, or food, or shelter to a homeless person because they won’t appreciate it or be thankful? Is it really about what the homeless person does with what we give them, or more that we DO something out of love towards them?
There is room for confrontation when it comes to the misuse of gifts – but, as was recently pointed out to me, Jesus never confronted Judas over his habitual stealing from the money bag that he carried for Christ. Jesus knew what Judas was doing, and yet he allowed him to do it. We so quickly condemn others, but is that really Christ-like?
What characterizes the life of a believer in regards to the poor?
Here’s some aspects that the Bible highlights:
Prov. 29:7. The righteous is concerned for the rights of the poor; the wicked does not understand such concern.
1 John 3:17. But whoever has the world’s goods, and beholds his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?
Luke 6:33ff. “And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, in order to receive back the same.”
2 Cor 9:7. Let each one do just as he has purposed in his heart; not grudgingly or under compulsion; for God loves a cheerful giver.
Mt. 6:2-4. “When therefore you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your alms may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will repay you.”
Mt. 6:24. “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will hold to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and Money.”
1 Tim. 6:10. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith, and pierced themselves with many a pang.
Gal. 2:9ff. Recognizing the grace that had been given to me, James and Cephas and John… gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we might go to the Gentiles, and they to the circumcised. They only asked us to remember the poor– the very thing I also was eager to do.
Lev. 19:15. “You shall do no injustice in judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor nor defer to the great, but you are to judge your neighbor fairly.”
Acts 2:44. All those who had believed were together, and had all things in common; and they began to sell their property and possessions, and share them with all, as anyone might have need.
Acts 4:32-35. And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul; and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them. And with great power the apostles were giving witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all. For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales and lay them at the apostles’ feet; and they would be distributed to each, as any had need.
Eph. 4:28. Let him who steals steal no longer; but rather let him labor, performing with his own hands what is good, in order that he may have something to share with him who has need.
“For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you wish you can do good to them; but you do not always have Me.” (Mark 14:7)
The poor will always be with us on this earth – so is it really about making sure they wisely use the money we give them, or the help we offer them? Or is it more that as Christians we should not be able to contain our love and care (both spiritually and physically) for those who are poor in our midst? What glorifies God more? Giving? Or holding on to the very thing that everyone else in this world is holding on to (i.e. money)? We can give freely because we have been freely given all things (Matt. 10:8). Are we lacking anything? Therefore, may God instill in us the “knee-jerk” reaction of love towards the poor, and the outflow of that love seen in our actions towards them in providing and caring for them.