Thursday, 13 May 2010 08:24

How God's Word Direct Us to Show Concern for the Poor and Needy?

Written by  Jason Watson
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I came across a great article by Greg Bahnsen titled, "Helping the Poor Without Feeding the Beast."  In it he shares ten means for caring for the poor and needy according to the Word of God.  I would encourage all to consider how your life lines up with God's call in this area.

Biblical Means to the End

God's word not only points us to the gracious end which we all should pursue (viz. relieving the needs of the poor), but it also has a great deal to say about the means by which the Christian graciously accomplishes that end. After all, not just any means-to-the-end carries divine approval. Robbing banks in order to give cash to the needy is one conceivable means of helping the poor that will incur the wrath and curse of God!

How, then, would God's word direct us to show concern for the poor and needy?  First, by not hiding from their needs -- isolating ourselves so that we need not encounter the cries of the poor. The Bible condemns "stopping the ears" and "hiding the eyes" (Proverbs 21:13; 28:27), not so subtle ways of remaining insensitive to the plight of the less fortunate around us. "The righteous takes knowledge of the cause of the poor" (Proverbs 29:7). Indeed, when he gives a dinner, he is acquainted with and able to invite the poor who cannot recompense him (Luke 14:12-14).

Second, and most obviously, we are urged to show neighborly pity to the poor (cf. Proverbs 14:21) by giving generously to relieve their specific needs -- making direct gifts to buy groceries or clothes, pay utility bills, underwrite medical treatment, etc. (Matthew 25:35-39; Luke 14:12-14). "The righteous gives and withholds not" (Proverbs 21:26; cf. 22:9).

Third, God's law protects and provides favorable social arrangements for the poor and needy, such as the prohibitions on taking the necessities of life as collateral (Exodus 22:26-27; Deuteronomy 24:22-13) or charging interest on loans made to them (Exodus 22:25; Leviticus 25:35-37; Deuteronomy 15:7-11; 23:19-20). It sometimes happens that a person cannot afford a donation to a brother in need, but can loan him some money for a time. It is a Christian virtue not to turn away those who would borrow from us (Matthew 5:42), expecting nothing in return (Luke 6:35). In such a case, it would be immoral to profit from your brother's distress: the loan may not carry interest charges. God Himself will pay back such a good deed (Proverbs 19:17), whereas the violation of this command from God will lead you to lose your financial gain to someone else more gracious (Proverbs 28:8).

Fourth, the law of God also provides for the poor through the favorable social arrangement of requiring us to allow gleaning (Leviticus 19:9-10; 23:22; Deuteronomy 24:19-20). The leftovers in our fields, the pickings which fall to the ground, and the unreaped corners of the fields are to be made available to those who are in need. The poor may hereby work to support themselves and may meet their families' needs with whatever they are able to carry away (thus placing natural requirements and restraints upon the scope of this provision). The application of this divine requirement outside of agricultural settings is not inconceivable (e.g., donation of our still-useable clothes, furniture, appliances, cash change from the market or restaurant, etc.).

Fifth, the word of God offers us wisdom to see that it is inappropriate and worthy of disapprobation for someone to use his advantage in the free market to drive up prices on items which are basic necessities of life. "He who withholds grain, the people shall curse him; but blessing shall be upon the head of him who sells it" (Proverbs 11:26). The greed which would corner the market on some commodity which is a staple of life, calculating to withhold it from sale in order to make people desperate and increase the profit on its sale later, will be cursed.

Sixth, the scriptures require us to protect the property rights of those in society who virtually have no voice, who are easiest to exploit, and who have the least political clout -- people like the orphans and widows (Deuteronomy 10:18; Psalm 68:5; Proverbs 15:25; 22:28; 23:10-11). Tampering with their boundaries or in other ways diminishing the use and value of their property and belongings -- whether through legislation or deceptive contracts or manipulative lawsuits -- provokes the vengeance of their Redeemer according to the Bible, and we should intercede to take their side as well. This is especially needful in a culture where it has become so costly (and tricky) in civil court to resolve disputes and guard one's rights.

Seventh, Christians who plead for the rights of the needy in lawsuits as well as those who are entrusted with judicial authority, such as judges in our courts, are especially commanded by God to relieve the easy social oppression of the needy and to guard against judicial prejudice toward them. God expects kings to "deliver the poor and needy" (Ps. 72:2-4, 12-14) -- which means, according to the Biblical text itself, that they are to "break their oppressors" by securing fairness in the courts and protecting them from "bribes," "fraud and violence" (Leviticus 19:15; Ex. 23:3, 6; Ps. 82:1-4; Amos 5:11-12; cf. Proverbs 22:22-23; 29:14).

Eighth, another way in which those in need are defrauded is when wealthy employers take advantage of them by delaying or holding back the wages of their workers (Leviticus 19:13; James 5:1-6). In such cases the Christian must come to the worker's defense and seek the fulfillment of obligations made to him, lest his economic condition be further worsened. Likewise, Christians ought to take a stand for protecting the freedom of the poor in the marketplace so that they are guaranteed an opportunity to compete for jobs (e.g., over against closed union shops, etc.; cf. Matthew 20:1-16) and to compete at a price that renders them more likely to be hired (e.g., over against wage requirements set by the state, etc.; cf. Revelation 13:17). To deny people the freedom to compete in the marketplace and thereby enjoy upward economic mobility violates the love we are to have for our neighbors and transgresses the golden rule.

Ninth, Christian families must make it a point to make provision for meeting the economic needs of their family members (1 Timothy 5:8), in particular those who fall upon hard times. This will call not only for industry and avoidance of sloth to take care of ordinary living expenses (e.g., Proverbs 6:6-11; 10:4; 19:15; 20:4; 23:21; 24:30-34), but also foresight and frugality to meet emergency needs which could not be predicted (cf. e.g., Leviticus 25:25, 49).

Tenth and very importantly, the Christian congregation should corporately minister to the needs of the poor. The office of deacon was specifically ordained as a ministry of mercy to the needy, for instance the daily assistance to widows (Acts 6:1-6). Tithes and offerings which God calls for are regularly to be used for the relief of the poor (Deuteronomy 14:28-29). And special offerings are to be taken by the church to take care of Christians suffering from special hardships or emergencies (e.g., I Corinthians 16:1-2; Romans 15:25-27; 2 Corinthians 8). The charitable agency of the church is one of the most enduring, powerful and efficient means of distributing financial aid to people in need. Such distribution of charity is motivated by voluntary and divinely sanctioned sacrifices and offerings from God's people. Its resources ought to be a ten-percent baseline of the earnings, however great or small, of all of God's people -- then further fueled by the freewill offerings of grateful believers who have been blessed with enough to meet their own needs. The oversight and administration are local, accountable to the congregation, and far less vulnerable to freeloading, fraud, and the expenses of a top-heavy bureaucracy.



Last modified on Friday, 14 May 2010 05:36
Jason Watson

Jason Watson

For nearly twenty years Jason has been discipling individuals and families across the River Region with the good news that Jesus has made a way for us to become fully human again - to live free from sin's curse now and one day to be fully restored in the New Heaven and Earth.  He served on the staff of Frazer UMC and Grace Presbyterian until he, together with his wife DeAnne, decided to devote themselves full-time to publishing River Region's Journey.  Jason now serves as an Elder in his church and publishes local faith and family magazines in several Alabama cities.

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