As with all the issues we will deal with in our Elephant in the Church series, we recognize poverty and the “solutions” are complex. Below you will find scripture passages we have referred to in our message, along with a few brief comments. We acknowledge with you the response of “Yeah, but what about…”. Our desire is to help convey the heart of Jesus as reflected in these passages.
"ON GIVING RELIEF" - Material or Financial Aid
Proverbs 14:31 "Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors Him."
Material relief to the poor is one way to honor their, and our, Maker. It’s just that important.
Matthew 25:37-40 “Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You drink? And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? And when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’”
Jesus’ own words and heart clearly reflect that Jesus identified with and has an affinity with the oppressed.
The previous verses in Matthew 25 have a much harsher tone to those who do NOT provide relief.
Acts 4:34-35 "For all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales, and lay them at the apostles’ feet; ad they would be distributed to each, as any had need."
While these gifts were not a commanded action, they do reveal the heart of the early church.
This passage is not a call for communal living. We understand from the tone of the NT that people did not liquidate all of their assets and give it to the church. Paul frequently mentioned churches that met in people’s houses, thus they still retained ownership of those assets.
1 John 3:17 "If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?”
John’s words here, as in the previous passages, illustrate a high priority the church had for bringing relief to those who needed it.
Acts 6:1-6 "Now at this time while the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint arose on the part of the Hellenistic Jews against the native Hebrews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily serving of food. 2 So the twelve summoned the congregation of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables. 3 Therefore, brethren, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task. 4 But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” 5 The statement found approval with the whole congregation; and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch. 6 And these they brought before the apostles; and after praying, they laid their hands on them."
This is a simple example on the importance of relief as an active part of the church’s ministry. They tasked godly men with carrying it out.
The questions that often arise surrounding the giving of relief pertain to whether relief should be ongoing or repeated. Should we continue to give material relief to people on an ongoing basis. Steve Corbett’s and Brian Fikkert’s book, When Helping Hurts, is a valuable resource in thinking through the often negative unintended consequences of relief. Poverty is simply not merely material. It goes much deeper than that. So in addition to, and sometimes in place of “relief”, we are called to give “restoration.”
"ON GIVING RESTORATION" - Assistance to put “back on their feet”
1 Corinthians 16:1-4 "Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I directed the churches of Galatia, so do you also. On the first day of every week let each one of you put aside and save, as he may prosper, that no collections be made when I come. And when I arrive, whomever you may approve, I shall send them with letters to carry your gift to Jerusalem; and if it is fitting for me to go also, they will go with me."
This reference, as a few other NT references, to the church taking up a collection for the church in Jerusalem is in regard to a drought that afflicted the Judean area. Much like a modern natural disaster, this drought brought economic devastation and upheaval, as well as immediate needs. It wasn’t that they were materially poor, they needed help to just get back on their feet. This would have been a more short-term assistance package.
And in some situations, what is primarily needed is training and equipping. It’s a helping so that people can work to earn their livelihood.
"ON BRINGING DEVELOPMENT" - Training and equipping to bring out of poverty
Galatians 2:10 "Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do."
We know this was more than relief because the early church’s and Paul’s Jewish mindset would have brought the following thoughts with them:
Leviticus 19:9-10 (and seen in book of Ruth) “Now when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field, neither shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. Nor shall you glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the needy and for the stranger. I am the Lord your God.”
THE CALL FOR FAMILY TO STEP IN
1 Timothy 5:3-4 "Honor widows who are widows indeed; but if any widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to practice piety in regard to their own family, and to make some return to their parents; for this is acceptable in the sight of God."
Often, the most difficult insight needed is what to provide: relief, restoration, and/or development.
A GOOD BALANCED PERSPECTIVE
2 Thessalonians 3:10-13 "For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: if anyone will not work, neither let him eat. For we hear that some among you are leading an undisciplined life, doing no work at all, but acting like busybodies. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to work in quiet fashion and eat their own bread. But as for you, brethren, do not grow weary of doing good."
It’s interesting that in the very same breath that Paul stipulates that relief is not to be given to those who don’t work (that is, those who don’t work but could), he then challenges the brethren to not grow weary of doing good. We suspect that we could paraphrase Paul in this way here, “This can be an exhausting exercise, but don’t give up!”
Proverbs 22:2 "The poor and the rich have this in common; the Lord is the maker of them all."
All our souls have equal value. Both the man who has millions of social media followers, and the man who has but only a few people who know he exists – they ALL have been made in the image of God.