The causes leading to poverty in Bible times (and even now) 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!
"If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, 'Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,' but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?" (James 2:15 - 16)
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."
How should they be treated?
The Bible offers principles and examples concerning how the poor and impoverished are to treated. For example, although God does not show partiality because someone is needy (Exodus 23:3, 30:15, Leviticus 19:15, Deuteronomy 10:17, 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, take advantage of, plunder, crush, or deprive the needy of justice, as many have done (Isaiah 3:14-15, 10:2, Jeremiah 5:28, Ezekiel 22:29, Amos 4:1, 5:11-12, Zechariah 7:10). In fact, God considers even mocking the less fortunate (even in our hearts) as mocking HIM: "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. According to the Bible, 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).
Notice from the above quote that it DOES NOT command the owner of a field to harvest all his crops then leave a portion of what was gathered in a pile or basket for the less fortunate to come and get. God required the needy to do at least a little work in helping themselves - or they did not eat! The book of Proverbs warns us that some of those impoverished are in such a state primarily due to their own choices.
"A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep - So shall your poverty come on you like a prowler, and your need like an armed man." (Proverbs 6:10-11)
4 Being lazy will make you poor, but hard work will make you rich. (Proverbs 10:4)
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, see also Deuteronomy 15:7 - 8).