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Care for the Poor

(Proverbs 19:17; 22:1-4,8,9,16,22,23; 23:10,11)

Lesson 13 -- third quarter 2002
August 25, 2002

by Mark Roth
© Copyright 2002, Christian Light Publications

Who is poor?

Defining poverty likely challenges the thinking and integrity of most people who bother with the issue. By man's definitions, the threshold of poverty rises and falls according to geographical location and cost of living. As I recall, the US poverty line ten years ago hovered around $17,000 a year for a family of four. At the same time, the average wage for a field worker in northwest Mexico was less than $5 a day. That kind of income makes an American "poor" family seem incredibly rich. For the sake of perspective, though, we need to recognize that the cost of living is markedly different for the two families. Even so, the one is obviously terribly poor and the other quite well off.

Besides measuring according to location and living costs, poverty is often defined according to another factor: how others are doing. Using comparison as a means of determining poverty will always produce wildly varying results. The $17,000-a-year family in the US would be considered dirt poor by some and filthy rich by others.

Does the Bible provide a fixed standard of poverty? I don't know that it does; however, consider this challenge: "And having food and raiment let us be therewith content. But they that will be rich . . ." (1 Timothy 6:8,9). Notice that verse nine begins as a contrast to the statement in the previous verse. From that we could draw an amazing inference: Anyone who has more than food and clothing is rich! That would naturally lead us to another inference: Only those who don't have adequate supplies of clothing and food are genuinely poor.

Those inferences may make us uncomfortable; I hope they also make us do some objective contemplating about our own economic status. In any event, our human compassion and Christian stewardship both would be well-served if we lived by this verse: "But whoso hath this world's good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?" (1 John 3:17). Now there's a Godly use of comparison! If I have what someone else needs, I should give it to him. Oh my! What do you think -- is that what the verse really means?

How shall we help the poor?

I imagine that almost everyone reading this would not want to turn away from helping someone who is truly in need. Individuals, families, businesses, churches, organizations, and communities everywhere have programs, plans, and policies for giving aid to those "less fortunate" than they. But how shall we do it?

Generously. While our goal shouldn't be to move someone from destitute living to luxurious living, we should ensure that the need is satisfactorily met, even if we must sacrifice to make it happen. "He that hath a bountiful eye shall be blessed; for he giveth of his bread to the poor" (Proverbs 22:9). When God gives you the daily bread for which you prayed, don't forget He may want to use from your supply to provide the daily bread for which someone else is praying!

Considerately. Many well-intentioned givers end up assaulting the self-worth of the receivers. Believe me, it is wonderful to receive the help you so desperately need. But also believe me when I tell you that it can be a very demeaning experience. So much depends on how the giver gives. "Neither oppress the afflicted," says Proverbs 22:22. For example, would you like being photographed while being on the receiving end instead of the giving end?

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