We now approach the time of year when people begin to think about one another and give gifts and enjoy good cheer. While many times we think of providing gifts for those who are family and friends, brethren, and even perhaps business associates or such like, do we consider giving to those who are in need? Do we seek to follow God’s charge to provide for the poor and downtrodden?
Throughout His dealing with mankind, God has always sought to make sure that His people took care of those in need. We read in Deuteronomy 15:7-8 how God desired Israel to take care of the poor:
If there be with thee a poor man, one of thy brethren, within any of thy gates in thy land which YHWH thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not harden thy heart, nor shut thy hand from thy poor brother; but thou shalt surely open thy hand unto him, and shalt surely lend him sufficient for his need in that which he wanteth.
Israel, however, many times was faithless in following the command, and we can read how God through the prophets condemned them for it:
The poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue faileth for thirst; I, YHWH, will answer them, I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them (Isaiah 41:17).
The people of the land have used oppression, and exercised robbery; yea, they have vexed the poor and needy, and have oppressed the sojourner wrongfully (Ezekiel 22:29).
Forasmuch therefore as ye trample upon the poor, and take exactions from him of wheat: ye have built houses of hewn stone, but ye shall not dwell in them; ye have planted pleasant vineyards, but ye shall not drink the wine thereof (Amos 5:11).
It is clearly manifest that God’s concern for the poor was very great, and maltreatment of the poor was a constant grievance of God against Israel.
While we live under the new covenant between God and all mankind through the blood of Jesus Christ, concern for the poor is no less important. Consider the following:
And he said to him also that had bidden him,
“When thou makest a dinner or a supper, call not thy friends, nor thy brethren, nor thy kinsmen, nor rich neighbors; lest haply they also bid thee again, and a recompense be made thee. But when thou makest a feast, bid the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind: and thou shalt be blessed; because they have not wherewith to recompense thee: for thou shalt be recompensed in the resurrection of the just” (Luke 14:12-14).
So then, as we have opportunity, let us work that which is good toward all men, and especially toward them that are of the household of the faith (Galatians 6:10).
Pure religion and undefiled before our God and Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world (James 1:27).
Furthermore, consider Jesus’ presentation of the Judgment scene in Matthew 25:31-46:
“But when the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the angels with him, then shall he sit on the throne of his glory: and before him shall be gathered all the nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as the shepherd separateth the sheep from the goats; and he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand,
‘Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry, and ye gave me to eat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink; I was a stranger, and ye took me in; naked, and ye clothed me; I was sick, and ye visited me; I was in prison, and ye came unto me.’
Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when saw we thee hungry, and fed thee? or athirst, and gave thee drink? And when saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? And when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?’
And the King shall answer and say unto them, ‘Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it unto one of these my brethren, even these least, ye did it unto me.’
Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, ‘Depart from me, ye cursed, into the eternal fire which is prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was hungry, and ye did not give me to eat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink; I was a stranger, and ye took me not in; naked, and ye clothed me not; sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.’
Then shall they also answer, saying, ‘Lord, when saw we thee hungry, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?’
Then shall he answer them, saying, ‘Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not unto one of these least, ye did it not unto me.’
And these shall go away into eternal punishment: but the righteous into eternal life.”
Why would Jesus speak as if how we treated the least of those among us defines how we are judged? Granted, if we help our fellow man but do not obey God otherwise, we will not stand well in judgment (Matthew 12:36-37, Acts 17:30-31, Romans 2:6-10). And yet 1 Corinthians 13:1-8, 1 John 3:16-18: love must undergird all we think, say, and do, and if we say we love one another but do not give the world’s goods to those in need, our love is only in pretense, not truth. If we see Jesus in the least of those among us, we are most likely doing well in glorifying God; yet if we do not see Jesus in the least of those among us, our heart is most likely condemning us in our selfishness, fear, and insecurity. We do well to consider Luke 12:13-48 in terms of the connections among covetousness, hoarding of wealth, and impending judgment.
God loves those who cheerfully give to help others. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 9:6-11 regarding Christians giving to help the needy of Judea, but surely the principle applies to all giving done by Christians:
But this I say, He that soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he that soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully. Let each man do according as he hath purposed in his heart: not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound unto you; that ye, having always all sufficiency in everything, may abound unto every good work: as it is written,
“He hath scattered abroad, he hath given to the poor; His righteousness abideth for ever.”
And he that supplieth seed to the sower and bread for food, shall supply and multiply your seed for sowing, and increase the fruits of your righteousness: ye being enriched in everything unto all liberality, which worketh through us thanksgiving to God.
As we have been blessed greatly by God, so it should be a little thing for us to help those in need, both within and without the fold. We can trust His promise: if we give bountifully, we shall be bountifully blessed, spiritually if not physically; likewise, if we give sparingly, we should not expect to gain much of anything.
Our giving helps us to reflect the light of Christ in our lives. Matthew 5:13-16 illustrates how we are to be distinctive and a light to the world: going out and seeking to help those in need allows us to do so. We live in a society that is focused on “me”: what I want, what I need, what I want to do, etc. Focusing on the need of others is distinctive, and if we go out and help those who are in need, not for our own good but for their good, that will be noticed. Your work will never be in vain in the Lord (1 Corinthians 15:58), and perhaps your Christ-like example may lead some to the truth.
We recognize that the Scriptures indicate that providing for the poor among the world is the responsibility of the individual, not of the church (1 Timothy 5:16). It is right for us to make this distinction and that the church should not be burdened with assisting those who are not of the fold. On the other hand, we must make sure that we remember that helping the poor is an essential part of Christianity, and while it may not be the church’s responsibility, it does remain the responsibility of the individual! It is a great travesty if the poor are left wholly unsupported by those who recognize the distinction between the individual and the church in the Scriptures. It is best to help the poor as individuals precisely because it gives us the opportunity to touch individual lives with Christ’s love on a fully interactive basis: to not help the poor either as an individual or as a church is to fall prey to the same attitudes that led to the condemnation of Israel. No one wants that fate!
Instead, brethren, let us share Paul’s attitude in Galatians 2:10:
Only they would that we should remember the poor; which very thing I was also zealous to do.
Paul was zealous, or eager, to remember the poor. Do we share that enthusiasm? Do we seek out to help those in need, to take that opportunity to show the light of Christ and to touch lives with the Gospel lived? Are we truly cheerful givers? Or are we just like the rest of the world and consider our own needs more important than those of others, in direct contradiction to God’s will (Romans 15:2, 1 Corinthians 10:24, Philippians 2:3)?
Let us consider God’s message in the Scriptures and change our attitudes so that we may be eager to help the poor at all times.
Ethan R. Longhenry