Archives for posts with tag: poor

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve taken a screenshot of Deuteronomy 24.17-22 so that you can see how often the word “sojourner” suddenly appears in the text.  The word can also be translated “alien, stranger, foreigner, or resident alien.”  It refers to the people living in Israel who were not Hebrew.  These were immigrants or aliens residing in the land and they were very often poor.  Notice how God’s heart and concern were for the alien, and he wanted the people to be for them also because they had once been foreigners themselves in the land of Egypt.

Notice also that they were grouped together with the fatherless and the widow.  The reason for this is that orphans and widows, along with resident foreigners, were often the most financially vulnerable in the country.  This was the position of Naomi and Ruth when they returned from Moab after the great famine.  Indeed, Ruth herself went out and gleaned grain left over from those who had harvested the crop so that she and Naomi could survive.

The point of all this is that the most vulnerable in society should be the ones that the people were most concerned about.  We see this same concern in the New Testament as well.  One of the instructions that we see again and again there is to remember the poor.

How we remember the poor and how we serve them is a matter for our own wisdom and creativity to figure out in our particular culture.  Tim Keller has written an excellent book on that particular subject that is well worth reading.  That we remember and serve the poor, is not a subject for debate because this is one of the clear commands of Scripture, and something we see practiced throughout the Bible.

 

Whoever closes his ear to the cry of the poor will himself call out and not be answered.” (Proverbs 21:13, ESV)

If there is one thing that we absolutely know from the Scriptures it is that we should have compassion for the poor and needy.  This is God’s heart and we see it in both the Old and New Testaments.

Here in Proverbs, Solomon writes that there is a truism about helping the poor with which we need to be aware.  The one who hears the cry of the poor and understands their need and ignores it, that one will call out and not be answered.  The Tyndale Commentary summarizes this truth as: “His turn will come.” And so it will.

Being compassionate with the poor does not mean that we throw discernment out the door–I rarely if ever will give cash to someone who is begging, understanding that more often than not they will head to the nearest liquor store with it.  If someone tells me that they need money for food, as has happened before in the major cities of the United States, then I offer to buy them food rather than give them cash.

However we decide to handle the difficult question of someone begging, the direction from the Scriptures is clear and repeated: Pay attention to the needs of the poor. In doing so we honor our Father in heaven.

For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’” (Deuteronomy 15:11, ESV)

God’s heart is for the poor and needy.  He tells the Israelites that there will always be poor in the land and in light of that fact his commandment is that his people open wide their hands to those who are in need, a clear instruction to pay attention to the plight of those who need help and then help them.

The application of this principle is where we run into difficulty.  Do we keep giving to those who act irresponsibly?  To those who are trolling for free cash and know that churches give to the poor?  To those who would waste money on thinks like alcohol and drugs?

Tim Keller lays out a really good principle here:  Let mercy limit mercy.  It is not wise to aid and abet an alcoholic so to refuse to give him money is an act of mercy, you are preventing him from continuing in sin (or at least attempting to do so), thereby allowing mercy to limit mercy.

Having said that, Keller also recommends that at first we be quick to be generous.  My own tendency is not to be quick being generous but to be slow to be generous.  I need work in this area to overcome this natural bent.

And you must not glean your vineyard, and you must not gather your vineyard’s fallen grapes; you must leave them behind for the needy and for the alien; I am Yahweh your God.” (Leviticus 19:10, LEB)

One of the recurring commands in the Scriptures–and this is not even controversial among Christians because it is so clear–is the necessity to be kind to the poor [needy] and the alien [sojourner/stranger/foreigner].  Here God calls the Israelites to leave something as they harvest, some grain that falls from their hands as they reap, and some grapes on the vines that they do not pluck, in order that the poor and the alien may have something to gather for themselves.

This isn’t a handout–the poor and the alien would have to do the work of gathering the leftovers, much as Ruth did [Ruth 2]–this is consideration for those who are less fortunate than us.  It is one of the clearest commands in all of the Scriptures.

If we are to be God’s people, then we are to have compassion for the poor and the alien/stranger/sojourner around us.  God leaves it up to our imagination as to what that will look like, but one of the sure signs of a true follower of Christ is that they take this command seriously.

“If anyone has this world’s goods and sees his brother in need but closes his eyes to his need—how can God’s love reside in him?”
(1 John 3:17 HCSB)

There is a lot about the Scriptures that is opaque, mysterious, and difficult to understand.  One thing that is not difficult to understand is the repeated scriptural admonition to help the poor and needy.  It is a common theme that runs through the Old and New Testament alike, virtues of both the Old Covenant and the New Covenant.

Here John puts it in the form of helping our brothers (in Christ).  Is a brother or sister in need in the body of Christ?  Surely that is an opportunity to help her/him.  Indeed, we can even call it a test of where our hearts are.  Give something to alleviate the need and God’s love resides in you, give nothing and “how can God’s love reside in” you?

Aiding the poor and needy is a true test of our heart.

 Isaiah 58:6-7 (HCSB)

Isn’t the fast I choose:
To break the chains of wickedness,
to untie the ropes of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free,
and to tear off every yoke?
 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
to bring the poor and homeless into your house,
to clothe the naked when you see him,
and not to ignore your own flesh and blood?

     God’s people were fasting, but it didn’t seem to do any good.  These verses are part of God’s response.  Rather than an outward fast, God calls them to the day-to-day obedience of faith. This obedience means having God’s heart of compassion on the homeless, sharing our bread with the hungry, and not ignoring our own flesh and blood as apparently they were.
     All of this seems easy, until one actually does it.  We don’t obey for the reward we get from the people to whom we minister.  Very often they are thankless.  God doesn’t call us to serve only those who are grateful.  He does call us to minister to physical needs wherever we find them.
     This is the “fast” that God wants here.
  2 Thessalonians 3:13 (HCSB)

Brothers, do not grow weary in doing good.

     Paul warns the Thessalonians/us about the all too human tendency of growing weary in doing good.  This comes as no surprise to anyone who is engaged in doing good.  There is always the pitfall of simply running out of steam and stopping work out of fatigue, or lack of motivation, or any other of a host of possibilities.
     “Be aware of these possibilities and avoid them,” says Paul.
     Press on faithfully in service, O Christian!’
     Calvin: Hence Paul admonishes us, that, although there are many that are undeserving, while others abuse our liberality, we must not on this account leave off helping those that need our aid.  Here we have a statement worthy of being observed—that however ingratitude, moroseness, pride, arrogance, and other unseemly dispositions on the part of the poor, may have a tendency to annoy us, or to dispirit us, from a feeling of weariness, we must strive, nevertheless, never to leave off aiming at doing good.