Nothing makes me more indignant than listening to people talk dismissively about the poor—especially when they’re Christians.
From your favorite coffee shop to your local church, speaking in harsh generalizations about poverty is accepted and even celebrated. You don’t have to go far to hear someone happily share their complete disdain for people who exist with the help of government subsidies. There are not many English words spoken with more contempt than “welfare.”
It’s no surprise really. Much of America has shares common ideas and skeptical misconceptions about poverty. In the 2012 Perceptions of Poverty report it was revealed that:
- 49% of Americans believe a good work ethic is all you need to escape poverty.
- 47% of Americans believe if we gave poor people more assistance, they would take advantage of it.
- 43% of Americans believe if poor people really want a job, they can always find one.
- 29% of Americans believe poor people usually have lower moral values.
- 27% of Americans believe people are poor because they are lazy.
Are some people poor because they make terrible choices? Of course. But life is full of complexities and even in the worst choices, many factors come in to play. Educational, cultural, parental, and institutional components can and do influence the decisions people make, but choice is not the only element affecting economic realities.
Christians are particularly called to be tenderhearted towards the poor—regardless of how they got that way. I pulled these five Old Testament verses out of the abundance of biblical admonitions about the poor:
1. When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the alien. I am the Lord your God.—Leviticus 19:9-11
Is this God-ordained Jewish law a form of old-school welfare? I think so. It amazes me how important it was for God to factor into Judaism’s social fabric care for the poor.
2. There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land.—Deuteronomy 15:11
This is the verse I think of when I hear mean-spirited stereotypes about the poor. The image of being openhanded means so much more than being willing to give; it’s being generous to a fault. It’s being tender and open to those with needs. And, make no mistake, there is nothing here about caring for only needy that deserve it.
3. Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed. Rescue the weak and needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.—Psalm 82:3–4
The Bible makes it clear that, left to their own devices, some of the rich will take advantage of the poor. People of God have the responsibility and expectation to advocate and maintain their rights.
4. He who is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward him for what he has done.—Proverbs 19:17
When it comes to the disadvantaged, God is taking care of them through us. He is coming to us to request a loan for his charitable endeavors. I can think of no one who I would rather have in my debt than the King of All Creation.
5. The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern.—Proverbs 29:7
Sure, the righteous care for the needs of the poor, but they do more than that. The righteous are concerned about equity and justice for them, too. The wicked are too self-absorbed to care about either.
Do you have a favorite verse about the poor? Leave a comment and share it with me.