What Does the Bible Say About the Poor?

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What Does the Bible Say About the Poor?

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What Does the Bible Say About the Poor?

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Regarding the poor and poverty, God’s word says:

1. We should extend a helping hand to those who are poor or in need. God expects this from us on both the individual and social level (Deuteronomy 15:7-11 Deuteronomy 15:7-11 [7] If there be among you a poor man of one of your brothers within any of your gates in your land which the LORD your God gives you, you shall not harden your heart, nor shut your hand from your poor brother: [8] But you shall open your hand wide to him, and shall surely lend him sufficient for his need, in that which he wants. [9] Beware that there be not a thought in your wicked heart, saying, The seventh year, the year of release, is at hand; and your eye be evil against your poor brother, and you give him nothing; and he cry to the LORD against you, and it be sin to you. [10] You shall surely give him, and your heart shall not be grieved when you give to him: because that for this thing the LORD your God shall bless you in all your works, and in all that you put your hand to. [11] For the poor shall never cease out of the land: therefore I command you, saying, You shall open your hand wide to your brother, to your poor, and to your needy, in your land.
American King James Version×
).

2. Helping the poor is an act of righteousness God promises to reward in the age to come (Matthew 6:3-4 Matthew 6:3-4 [3] But when you do alms, let not your left hand know what your right hand does: [4] That your alms may be in secret: and your Father which sees in secret himself shall reward you openly.
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).

3. Helping the poor by providing them with opportunities to work and learn to provide for themselves is God’s preferred solution (Leviticus 23:22 Leviticus 23:22And 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.
American King James Version×
). If people are poor because they will not work they should not be taken care of (2 Thessalonians 3:10 2 Thessalonians 3:10For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat.
American King James Version×
).

4. We should not favor the legal rights of the poor over the rich, nor the rights of the rich over the poor (Exodus 23:3 Exodus 23:3Neither shall you countenance a poor man in his cause.
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; Leviticus 19:15 Leviticus 19:15You shall do no unrighteousness in judgment: you shall not respect the person of the poor, nor honor the person of the mighty: but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor.
American King James Version×
). Righteous judgment addresses all people equally.

5. Poverty will always be with us in the present evil age (Deuteronomy 15:11 Deuteronomy 15:11For the poor shall never cease out of the land: therefore I command you, saying, You shall open your hand wide to your brother, to your poor, and to your needy, in your land.
American King James Version×
).

6. Poverty will be properly addressed and eradicated in the age to come (Micah 4:1-4 Micah 4:1-4 [1] But in the last days it shall come to pass, that the mountain of the house of the LORD shall be established in the top of the mountains, and it shall be exalted above the hills; and people shall flow to it. [2] And many nations shall come, and say, Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, and to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for the law shall go forth of Zion, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. [3] And he shall judge among many people, and rebuke strong nations afar off; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up a sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. [4] But they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree; and none shall make them afraid: for the mouth of the LORD of hosts has spoken it.
American King James Version×
).

Jesus told His disciples, “The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me” (Mark 14:7 Mark 14:7For you have the poor with you always, and whenever you will you may do them good: but me you have not always.
American King James Version×
New International Version). Jesus said this to those disciples who thought that the primary goal of Jesus’ ministry was helping poor people. They were horrified that expensive perfume worth a year’s wages was used to anoint Jesus’ head rather than sold to help the needy (Mark 14:3-6 Mark 14:3-6 [3] And being in Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at meat, there came a woman having an alabaster box of ointment of spikenard very precious; and she broke the box, and poured it on his head. [4] And there were some that had indignation within themselves, and said, Why was this waste of the ointment made? [5] For it might have been sold for more than three hundred pence, and have been given to the poor. And they murmured against her. [6] And Jesus said, Let her alone; why trouble you her? she has worked a good work on me.
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).

This statement tells us a lot.

It is not God’s purpose or plan to eradicate poverty, or to remedy the unequal distribution of wealth in this present evil age, otherwise He would do so. God is all-powerful and He could eradicate poverty if He chose to. We must accept that He does not choose to do so at this time.

Even so, He expects us to help the poor.

Why would God choose to allow poverty and inequality?

To effectively eradicate poverty and inequality our Creator would have to drastically reduce freedom of choice for humanity. God’s purpose for this age is to set before us a choice between His way of living and our own way of living. One leads to life, the other to death; His desire is that we choose life.

God does not force His will upon us. Instead, in this present age, we are free to set up governments and cultural traditions apart and separate from God. He also allows each of us freedom to make personal choices about how we live our lives.

Poverty might come from bad personal choices, bad family choices, bad cultural norms, or even bad government policy. Some forms of poverty can be remedied by better personal decisions, some forms of poverty are beyond our control as individuals.

God has laid out principles and laws to deal with poverty in a meaningful and helpful way. Many of these laws and principles are found in the instructions God gave Israel, with additional clarifications in later writings, including the New Testament. When individuals or even governments choose to follow these principles good things happen.

However, the vast majority of humanity consistently rejects God’s instructions on such matters. Jesus’ observation that there will always be poor people is not cynical resignation, but a deep understanding of the human heart.

When Christ returns to establish the rule of God on earth, the necessary remedies for poverty will be applied to all humanity.

What does God want you to do?

God’s word tells us to work diligently to provide for ourselves and our families (1 Timothy 5:8 1 Timothy 5:8But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he has denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.
American King James Version×
). With what extra we have, we should offer assistance to people who are in need as we have opportunity (Ephesians 4:28 Ephesians 4:28Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labor, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needs.
American King James Version×
).

Our assistance to those in need begins by taking care of our families, then those close to us within the household of faith, but potentially extends to cover all people (Galatians 6:10 Galatians 6:10As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good to all men, especially to them who are of the household of faith.
American King James Version×
).

For now, the enduring presence of poverty in this present evil age serves God’s greater purpose of testing and training the human heart for eternal life. Will we act with generosity, and judge righteous judgment when it is in our power to do so? Or, will we act with indifference?

Leaving humanity free to act and think creates problems. Poverty is one of those problems. Yet, this freedom also provides the best possible environment for our Creator to see the truth about what is in your heart. And, if you are willing, to teach you valuable lessons about generosity, personal integrity and compassion.

Learning these lessons is part of what it means to be "in Christ." Those who are Christ’s at His return will be raised to life and assist Him in establishing the rule of God on earth. At that time the solution to humanity’s many problems—including poverty—will be put into effect as a demonstration of how God’s way of life produces better results than anything humanity has ever been able to think up on our own.

For a more in-depth look at human suffering in this present evil age please read our free Bible study aid: Why Does God Allow Suffering?

For a more in-depth look at the age to come when the rule of God is established on earth please read: Christ’s Reign on Earth: What Will It Be Like?