by Stephanie Johnson
The scriptures are dripping with commands for those who walk with God to love and care for the poor;
“If someone has worldly possessions and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how can he be loving God? Children, let us love not with words and talk, but with actions and in reality!”1 John 3:17-18
At every turn of the page, God is reminding the believer how to honor him, and many times that includes how we treat those who have less than we do. For instance, “Do not take advantage of a widow or an orphan,” (Exodus 22:22). To take advantage of the less fortunate is seen as anti-God, for He has commanded His people to show love, not only to Him, but to their neighbors as well, “…you are to love ADONAI your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your understanding and with all your strength. ‘The second is this: `You are to love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other mitzvah greater than these…” (Mark 12:30-31). The entire law of God depends on how we love Him and how we love our neighbors (Matthew 22:40). We can try to do many things in life, but if it is done without love, it means nothing (1 Corinthians 13:2).
According to the The World Bank, there are 3 billion people in poverty, that is half the world’s population, and 31% of the world’s population are Christian (Pew Research). If God’s people are commanded to, “…open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land,” (Deuteronomy 15:7-11), why do we see so much poverty? God told His people before entering the land, “there should be no poor among you, for in the land the LORD your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you,” (Deuteronomy 15:4). If God’s people are so vast and His resources are so rich, again, why is there poverty? Are we loving God like we say we do? Like our worship reflects in our churches? Are we loving our neighbors like ourselves? If we were, scriptures says, “there should be no poor among you” (Deuteronomy 15:4), but there are poor among us. In almost every land on this earth, on every continent, there is someone going without. Is there a biblical solution to something that is everywhere and has always been present in our lives?
The story of the wasted oil is a very known one in scripture, which takes on an idea of poverty that is not rooted in material things. In Matthew 26, the disciples were aghast at the site of someone pouring very expensive oil onto the head of Jesus. The disciples stated, “Why this waste?” they asked. “This could have been sold for a lot of money and given to the poor,” (Matthew 26:8-9). Is this not the standard way in which we have always tried to address poverty? We take up collections in our churches, we hold can food drives, and drop off holiday boxes to try and address a small segment of poverty that seems to just always be there. In Bryant L. Meyers book, Walking with The Poor, he writes, “In the early days of development thinking, people defined poverty as a deficit, things that were missing. Poor people do not have enough to eat, a decent place to sleep, or clean water” (p.113). So we tried to address those tangible things, but here we are today, still with poverty, while sitting in one of the most giving nations. Meyers continues to say, “Lack of things, ideas, and access focuses on things we can see, hear, and touch. While true, this is incomplete. The spiritual is left out all together…” (p. 114).
Upon hearing what the disciples had to say about his guest pouring oil on his head, Jesus responds with something many have misunderstood, “The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me,” (Matthew 26:11). Many have taken this to mean that no matter how hard we try, the poor with always be here, and even in that thinking, God says, “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). Regardless, if we could never eradicate poverty, God still tells his people, give anyway. But, this verse is not that, this verse is not about poverty never having an ending, it is actually about how to end it. Just like the story of the wasted oil is very well known to us, Deuteronomy 15 would have been well known to the disciples, and they would have understood clearly what Jesus meant by saying, “The poor you will always have with you.”
Deuteronomy 15 covers the year of Jubilee, God expresses to His people, they are to cancel all debts. He goes on to express how His people will hold nothing back from the poor, and in this obedience (Deuteronomy 15:5), He states, “There shall be no needy among you,” (Deuteronomy 15:4). Also, in this chapter, there appears to be a correlation between canceling debt and no more poverty, “but you are to release your claim on whatever your brother owes you. In spite of this, there will be no one needy among you,” (Deuteronomy 11:3-4). As we look at our own nation, we see how much debt has burdened our society. Looking at it from a biblical perspective, things are no longer just black and white. The chapter continues on to talk about setting your slave free and making sure they, “don’t let him leave empty-handed”. The slaves were usually someone who had done something wrong. This passage correlates very well with the idea of prisoners being released from prison, and finding themselves without resources. This as well when looking through a biblical perspective, is not so black and white. A quote from Martin Luther King Jr. states, “True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.” The end to poverty that we see in scripture is grand and happens on a mass scale, but it is also accompanied by obedience to God. It is not small gestures of giving or loving;
“Now you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and evil…But give from what is within to the poor, and then everything is clean for you. “But woe to you Pharisees! You give a tenth of mint, rue, and every kind of herb, and you bypass justice and love for God. These things you should have done without neglecting the others”Luke 11:39-42
Have we done more outwardly empty giving that has seemingly produce no better outcomes for the poor, just like the Pharisees? Has it all been for show? In Acts, we find a church so in love with God and living the Deuteronomy 15 life so well that, “No one among them was poor” (Acts 4:34). It was in their act of following God’s command, “to love Adonai your God and serve him with all your heart,” that produce a community with no poverty. God told His people if they listened carefully to His commands and “love Adonai your God and serve him with all your heart and all your being”, he would meet their needs in abundance (Deuteronomy 11:13-15).
Love Affects Poverty
Without a shadow of a doubt, the two simplest solutions to solving poverty from a biblical perspective, is to love God and love your neighbor with all of one’s being. So what is love? “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs,” (1 Corinthians 13:4-5). When love has filled up every corner of our churches, “there should be no poor among you,” (Deuteronomy 15:4). Whether we believe we see an end to poverty or not, the command given to us is to always give and help those in need (Deuteronomy 15:11). We will see what happens when we focus on just this, “there were no needy persons among them,” (Acts 4:34).
Scan your congregations, seek out the poor, and LOVE them!
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of other authors at Cogent Christianity.