What does the Bible
say about the poor?

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What does the Bible have to say about those who are poor? There are two kinds of poverty scripture discusses. The first kind affects people who are truly destitute and in need, many times through no fault of their own. The second kind who are poverty-stricken are able-bodied people that are lazy and will not work or simply refuse to work even for the help offered to them (see Proverbs 6:10 - 11, 10:4, etc.). They are poor more by choice than by chance.

The causes leading to poverty in Bible times are many and varied. Some end up being poor because of destruction of their harvest by a natural disaster. A large fire may cause the loss of a family's home and livelihood. After the death of her husband, a woman might find she has very little money and no family to help her. Without parents or other adults to take care of them, an orphaned child becomes destitute through circumstances beyond their control. Still others are poor because they are sick or are born with or acquire handicaps that prohibit them from making a living.

God's will is for us to develop a heart of compassion for the poor and distressed and to, when possible, supply them with the necessities of life. These necessities include food, shelter, and clothing. Jesus taught that even if our enemy is in need of life's basic essentials that we should still help him or her (Matthew 5:44 - 45).

The early New Testament church was eager to aid those less fortunate. The apostle Paul was not only encouraged to remember the poor (Galatians 2:10) he also encouraged others to do so as well: "Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith." (Galatians 6:10). The apostle James not only states it is our duty to help those in poverty, he also warns that offering them useless platitudes is not enough (James 2:15 - 16)!

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James also says "Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble . . ." (James 1:27). Proverbs 3:27 admonishes us, "Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in the power of your hand to do so."

Scripture offers us principles regarding treatment of the poor. For example, although God does not show partiality because someone is needy (Exodus 23:3, 30:15, Ephesians 6:9), He is very concerned for their rights. He does not want anyone, especially people in high-ranking positions of leadership, to oppress or otherwise take advantage of the needy as many have done (Isaiah 3:14 - 15, Jeremiah 5:28, Ezekiel 22:29, Zechariah 7:10). In fact, God considers even mocking the less fortunate as mocking HIM when he states, "He who mocks the poor reproaches his Maker" (Proverbs 17:5).

In the Old Testament, God commanded the children of Israel to not harvest the corners of their fields so that the poor, fatherless, widows, and strangers (travelers) could go in and gather (glean) food for themselves. This was one of the ways God was teaching the Israelites the importance of helping those in need and opening their hearts to the plight of those in want (see Leviticus 19:9-10, Deuteronomy 24:19-22).

God wants us to use wisdom in aiding the poor and not just simply give them whatever they ask for. Those in need DO have a responsibility when they seek help. Those receiving assistance should expect (as much as they are able) to work for it and not just get "something for nothing" (Leviticus 19:9 - 10). God requires the needy to do at least a little work in helping themselves or they should not eat! The New Testament reiterates the principle that those able to work yet refuse to do so should NOT be helped (2Thessalonians 3:10).

Clearly, according to the Bible, when we help those who are poor we should not do so grudgingly. We should also not do so because we think we have to in order to please God. We should offer our aid with a willing, generous heart (2Corinthians 9:7).

Additional Study Materials
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What does the Bible
say about the poor?

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