The Poor that Live Among Us

This week’s scripture reading, Matthew 6:1-4,

Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise  ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven. Therefore when thou doest [thine] alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly. * (heed – attend to carefully) * (alms – gifts to the poor, charitable acts) * (verily – in very truth)

Reality of Poverty

What does the Bible say about helping poverty? Well, during an earlier Bible study in the blessed series, Jesus spoke of people being poor in spirit however in this week’s scripture reading he is referring to the poor among society who are impoverished with limited means in which to survive daily life. Alms is an older word for giving to the poor and such charitable acts originate from all walks of life across both secular and religious people for the poor that live among us exists in every corner of our world.

Does the Bible say you have to be poor? The poor have probably existed since the fall of mankind and will most likely continue indefinitely as noted in Deut. 15:11, For the poor shall never cease out of the land: therefore I command thee, saying, Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto thy brother, to thy poor, and to thy needy, in thy land. In the New Testament, Jesus also made reference of this fact in Mark 14:7,  For ye have the poor with you always, and whensoever ye will ye may do them good: but me ye have not always. 

Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto thy brother, to thy poor, and to thy needy,

Deuteronomy 15:11b

Treatment of the Poor

In acknowledgement of the poor, the Lord God provided guidance on fair and equitable treatment toward them among society. For example, when money was loaned to them, there was to be no interest charged (usury) for such a loan as shown in Ex. 22:25, If thou lend money to [any of] my people [that is] poor by thee, thou shalt not be to him as an usurer, neither shalt thou lay upon him usury. Similarly, in judicial practice, both rich and poor were to be treated equally as noted in Lev. 19:15, Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment: thou shalt not respect the person of the poor, nor honour the person of the mighty: [but] in righteousness shalt thou judge thy neighbour.

In addition, since agriculture formed a large part of early community life, people were instructed by the Lord to leave some provision for the poor that live among us with crops grown as noted in Lev. 19:9-10, And when ye reap the harvest of your land, thou shalt not wholly reap the corners of thy field, neither shalt thou gather the gleanings of thy harvest. And thou shalt not glean thy vineyard, neither shalt thou gather [every] grape of thy vineyard; thou shalt leave them for the poor and stranger: I [am] the LORD your God. 

Poverty Exploited

All of the above actions were acts of compassion, justice and mercy, reflective of godly attributes. This has not always been the case however since the poor were often ostracized even within their own community and social circle as shown in Prov. 14:20, The poor is hated even of his own neighbour: but the rich [hath] many friends. The wicked also seek out opportunities to plunder the poor that live among us as noted in Ps. 10:8, He sitteth in the lurking places of the villages: in the secret places doth he murder the innocent: his eyes are privily set against the poor. * (privily – secretly)

Poverty Blessed

As with the Lord though, he is always observant upon people who show compassion and kindness to the poor that live among us as expressed in Ps. 41:1, Blessed [is] he that considereth the poor: the LORD will deliver him in time of trouble. Further to this, the poor are seen in a very different light with the Lord in comparison to typical portrayals from humanity as described in Prov. 19:1, Better [is] the poor that walketh in his integrity, than [he that is] perverse in his lips, and is a fool.

Blessed [is] he that considereth the poor: the LORD will deliver him in time of trouble.

Psalm 41:1

Additional comments were noted by the prophet, further aligning with some of Jesus’ earlier teaching on meekness as compared to Is. 29:19, The meek also shall increase [their] joy in the LORD, and the poor among men shall rejoice in the Holy One of Israel. It is also important to remember that God made all people, both the rich and the poor as mentioned in Prov. 22:2, The rich and poor meet together: the LORD [is] the maker of them all. 

Poor in Scripture

The poor that live among us in scripture has been the subject of some incredible figurative examples of integrity, honesty and judgement. One of the best known cases occurred in the Old Testament when Nathan approached King David and laid out the following scenario. This ultimately drew strong conviction for David’s sin of adultery with Bathsheba and the death of her husband Uriah as recorded in a lengthy discourse in 2 Sam. 12:1-6.

And the LORD sent Nathan unto David. And he came unto him, and said unto him, There were two men in one city; the one rich, and the other poor. The rich [man] had exceeding many flocks and herds: But the poor [man] had nothing, save one little ewe lamb, which he had bought and nourished up: and it grew up together with him, and with his children; it did eat of his own meat, and drank of his own cup, and lay in his bosom, and was unto the rich man, and he spared to take of his own flock and of his own herd, to dress for the wayfaring man that was come unto him; but took the poor man’s lamb, and dressed it for the man that was come to him. And David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man; and he said to Nathan, As the LORD liveth, the man that hath done this [thing] shall surely die: And he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity. * (wayfaring – a traveler) * (ewe – female sheep) * (bosom – breast of a person)

And Nathan said to David, Thou [art] the man.

2 Samuel 12:7

Readers are encouraged to source the remainder of this story as recorded in 2 Sam. 12:7-14 to gain the full context, but suffice to say, while David initially responded with an honourable answer he failed to realize the story was in conviction of his own sin. He would now reap the painful consequences from his actions as he came to acknowledge them before the Lord.

One other exceptional example in reference to the poor that live among us, albeit lengthy, is from the New Testament as recorded by Jesus. It serves as a most striking illustration of compassion, kindness and mercy upon our fellow mankind in Matt. 25:31-46.

Caring for the Poor

When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth [his] sheep from the goats: And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed [thee?] or thirsty, and gave [thee] drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took [thee] in? or naked, and clothed [thee? ] Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done [it] unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done [it] unto me.

Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not. Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee? Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did [it] not to one of the least of these, ye did [it] not to me. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.

Clearly, this long example of showing compassion, kindness and mercy came with rewards or consequences for the people in the story and such compassionate acts were in most cases likely done unbeknownst to the individuals who did them, making them more honourable to the Lord.

but she of her want did cast in all that she had, [even] all her living.

Mark 12:44b

Jesus also highlighted the unique generosity of the poor in comparison to the rich as shown in Mark 12:42-44, And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing. And he called [unto him] his disciples, and saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury: For all [they] did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, [even] all her living. * (mites, farthing – something of very small value) * (of her want – literally what she needed to live on)

Hypocritical Care

For the same individuals who were not generous Jesus was also quick to chastise them over their greed and hypocrisy as noted in Luke 11:42, But woe unto you, Pharisees! for ye tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass over judgment and the love of God: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. * ( rue – to feel sorry)

Jesus also took opportunities to provide examples to people who were desirous of righteousness in their lives but for some it indeed came at a price as recorded in Mark 10:21, Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me.

Poor in Prophecy

Interestingly, at the onset of Jesus’ ministry, he read from one of the ancient prophet’s writings while in the synagogue. Here he emphasized that the gospel was being preached to the poor in Luke 4:18, The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised.

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor;

Luke 4:18a

In the New Testament, there were also evidences of increased generosity to the poor as a sign of Christian conversion as noted in Luke 19:8, And Zacchaeus stood, and said unto the Lord; Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore [him] fourfold.

This mark of compassion, giving and mercy was also extended throughout the disciples ministry toward the poor that live among us, as recorded in Rom. 15:26, For it hath pleased them of Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor saints which are at Jerusalem.

Christ, our Example

These are all mere examples though of the greatest compassion, love and mercy shown upon mankind as expressed through the gospel in 2 Cor. 8:9, For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich. 

To close off this study on the poor that live among us, it should be heartwarming for believers from all walks of life to read this message from James in Jam. 2:5, Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him? This is the most compelling contrast for the poor, to be truly the ones who are rich in faith, for therein dwells a far more important and eternal gift in Christ. This is more than anything this world will ever offer anyone from wealth, riches or material possessions. 

For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich. 

2 Corinthians 8:9

Bible Study Questions

  1. In contemplating the poor that live among us, why do you think poor have always existed in society?
  2. In the section Treatment of the Poor, God instructs us to lend money to the poor without interest, true or false?
  3. In Prov. 19:1, fill in the blanks, Better [is] the poor that walketh in his ____________, than [he that is] __________ in his lips, and is a fool.
  4. In the section Caring for the Poor, can you name the four examples of caring that Jesus shared?
  5. Who in scripture was described as being rich but became poor for our sakes, setting the ultimate example of the poor that live among us?
  6. While we may not always be able to give financially to the poor, what are other things we could do to help them out?
  7. Is there someone you know that could benefit from a show of kindness, compassion and charity in their situation today?

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