Who Should Take the Lead in Helping the Poor?

by Jason on May 11, 2010

It would be a very rare thing to find a Christian that does not think that we should help the poor.

However, there are many different opinions amongst Christians about whose responsibility it is to help the poor.

Yes, all Christians have a responsibility to be compassionate, caring, and always ready to help those in need but from an administrative or corporate standpoint is it the government’s responsibility to help the poor?  Is it the church’s responsibility?  What about businesses?  Do employers have a responsibility to help the poor?

Let’s take a look at some different Bible verses that illustrate some of the roles that God has designed for helping the poor and then please chime in via the comments below.

The Proper Motivation for Helping the Poor

Christian’s should have the attitude of wanting to help everyone as much as they are able to.

Philippians 2:3 states that Christians should, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves;” (NASB) Two things stand out to me:

A) Proper Perspective – We should esteem others as being better than ourselves. This is not something that we can apply selectively (James 2).

When we see someone holding a sign on the side of the road asking for money do we immediately think to ourselves that we are better than them?

How would we wish to be treated if that was us on the side of the road holding the sign?

B) Proper Attitude – No doubt many people make charitable contributions of very substantial amounts and their motivation for doing so is not to sincerely help others or to be obedient to Christ’s commands but rather to puff themselves up in a selfish or conceited manner.

Prioritizing Helping the Poor

Given that Christian’s should help the poor as much as they are able to – in fact, Proverbs 21:13 says that, “Whoever stops his ears at the cry of the poor, he also shall cry himself, but shall not be heard.” (NKJV), we are also faced with the fact that we will always have the poor with us (Mark 14:7) and given that we also have limited resources which we are to use wisely as good stewards of all that God has entrusted to us (as illustrated in Jesus’ “Parable of the Talents” in Matthew 25:14-30; Luke 19:12-28) the question becomes who should we help and how?

There are people all around us that could use help but where do we start?

Apart from our individual responsibility to help the poor how should we corporately set initiatives to help the poor as efficiently as possible?

The Employer’s Biblical Responsibility to Help the Poor

In Leviticus 23:22 the Bible has a command directed specifically to employers/land owners/business owners concerning how the poor should be treated:

And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not make clean riddance of the corners of your field when you reap, neither shall you gather any gleaning of your harvest: you shall leave them to the poor, and to the stranger: I am the LORD your God. (NKJV)

Some important thoughts about this verse:

A) God did not command employers to harvest the entire field and then give a certain percentage to the poor – rather He commanded that land owners would purposefully leave some of the land unharvested (i.e. the corners) and leave some of the spillovers still on the ground (i.e. the “gleanings”) so that any of the poor that wished to could come and harvest the extras for themselves (i.e. they had to work for it themselves).

This is an important distinction because where many social programs go awry is that things are given to the poor without requiring any work from the poor.

This is in accordance with II Thessalonians 3:10 that states, “For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either.” (NASB)

Notice that the phrase “willing to work” is used which I believe shows that of course some people are physically unable to work and we should show charity on them and give to them regardless.

B) God did not command the government or even the church to step in and force the employers to pay a certain percentage of money to the government (i.e. a tax) or to the church (i.e. an offering) so that the church or the government could then take that money and turn around and redistribute that many however they deemed best.

God specifically commanded employers to take the responsibility for allowing those who are poor and willing to work an opportunity to work for food.

The Church’s Biblical Responsibility to Help the Poor

In James 1:27 the Bible gives the definition of what true “religion” looks like: “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.” (NKJV)

Granted many religious groups get this right but mistake religion as something that saves while ignoring Ephesians 2:8,9 which states that,

For by grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. (NKJV)

Clearly salvation is not something that can be earned but is rather a free gift of God that can be received by faith in Jesus Christ.

Once saved by faith should Christians simply ignore the poor?

No!

This is when Christians are commanded to demonstrate what this”pure religion” looks like.

The Government’s Biblical Responsibility to Help the Poor

In Romans 13:1-6 the Bible clearly demonstrates how Christians should be obedient to the government and that it is God that has put the government in place (and that God directs the heart of the King just like the rivers of water in whatever direction that God wills – Proverbs 21:1).

Punishing bad behavior like murdering and condoning good behavior like helping the poor is the Biblical role of government.

However, is it possible for the government to steal from it’s people? Can the government overreach it’s God given role over it’s people or is the government freely able to take what it pleases and act as if “The State is the march of God through the world…” (Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel in Hegel’s Philosophy of Right: The State)?

According to the story of Naboth’s vineyard in I Kings 21 when King Ahab could not get the property that he wanted from Naboth then he unjustly accused Naboth, had him killed, and then took his property the government can commit theft and murder – even when a government’s action is in full accordance with it’s own laws.

Hegel’s philosophy of the government’s role is diametrically opposed to the true and right Biblical role of government.

God moves the hearts of government officials as He sees fit but God has not designed for government the role of taking from it’s citizens and redistributing back to it’s citizens as the government sees fit – even when it is for worthy causes such as helping the poor.

A trap that is easy to fall into for many Christians with their hearts in the right place is to immediately back any government program that is marketed as being designed to help the poor when in fact the Biblical role of government is not to take the lead in helping the poor but rather it is the responsibility of Christians individually, Christians corporately through their church and other parachurch organizations, and employers.

What do YOU Think?

Are employer’s today fulfilling their Biblical role in helping the poor?

What should the government’s Biblical role be in helping the poor?

Is the church fulfilling their Biblical role in helping the poor?

Are you fulfilling your Biblical role in helping the poor?

Author Bio:Joel Ohman is a Christian Certified Financial Planner™ and the founder of 4 different companies that have a focus on consumer personal finance websites including a website for comparing credit cards, doing car insurance comparisons, and searching for insurance quotes.

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