How do we handle cases where the person’s poverty is not because of their own poor decisions or character?
Thou shalt neither vex a stranger, nor oppress him: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt. Ye shall not afflict any widow, or fatherless child. If thou afflict them in any wise, and they cry at all unto me, I will surely hear their cry; And my wrath shall wax hot, and I will kill you with the sword; and your wives shall be widows, and your children fatherless.Exodus 22:21-24
For the LORD your God is God of gods, and Lord of lords, a great God, a mighty, and a terrible, which regardeth not persons, nor taketh reward: He doth execute the judgment of the fatherless and widow, and loveth the stranger, in giving him food and raiment. Love ye therefore the stranger: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.Deuteronomy 10:17-19
Then said he also to him that bade him, When thou makest a dinner or a supper, call not thy friends, nor thy brethren, neither thy kinsmen, nor thy rich neighbours; lest they also bid thee again, and a recompence be made thee. But when thou makest a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind: And thou shalt be blessed; for they cannot recompense thee: for thou shalt be recompensed at the resurrection of the just.Luke 14:12-14
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.James 1:27
And when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the heathen, and they unto the circumcision. Only they would that we should remember the poor; the same which I also was forward to do.Galatians 2:9-10
God’s Word gives special consideration to those who are especially prone to poverty. He demands that His people care for widows, the fatherless (orphans), immigrants, and the disabled. To care for these people in their poverty is the very essence of the Christian religion and must accompany the preaching of the Gospel.
Honour widows that are widows indeed. But if any widow have children or nephews, let them learn first to shew piety at home, and to requite their parents: for that is good and acceptable before God. Now she that is a widow indeed, and desolate, trusteth in God, and continueth in supplications and prayers night and day. But she that liveth in pleasure is dead while she liveth. And these things give in charge, that they may be blameless. But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel. Let not a widow be taken into the number under threescore years old, having been the wife of one man, Well reported of for good works; if she have brought up children, if she have lodged strangers, if she have washed the saints’ feet, if she have relieved the afflicted, if she have diligently followed every good work. But the younger widows refuse: for when they have begun to wax wanton against Christ, they will marry; Having damnation, because they have cast off their first faith. And withal they learn to be idle, wandering about from house to house; and not only idle, but tattlers also and busybodies, speaking things which they ought not. I will therefore that the younger women marry, bear children, guide the house, give none occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully. For some are already turned aside after Satan. If any man or woman that believeth have widows, let them relieve them, and let not the church be charged; that it may relieve them that are widows indeed.1 Timothy 5:3-16
In 1 Timothy 5, Paul gives us a flow chart of sorts for caring for those who are poor. First and foremost, if a person is able to work, they should work. However, if for some reason they fall on hard times or are unable to work you should follow the progression of family first then church. Notice that the government is not involved anywhere in this process. This means that the alleviation of poverty is to take place in the realm of personal relationships. How do you know who is lazy and who is genuinely in need? You have an abiding relationship with them and personal knowledge of the situation. This personal knowledge gives you the opportunity to discern the real need. Most people do not need money or physical items. They need someone to come along side them and teach them how to provide for themselves.
Next week we will look at family involvement, and then we will look at the involvement of the church in alleviating poverty.