I heard a speaker say recently that the Bible has around 3000 references to caring for the poor. I haven’t personally counted them but I know there are certainly a lot of them. For many believers the few passages in the Old Testament, primarily in Proverbs, which indicate that wealth is a blessing from God somehow gives them warrent to ignore the overwhelming amount of biblical teaching that wealth is not a good thing unless it is being shared with the poor. Or they will take Jesus’ statement that there will always be poor people as an excuse for not doing anything about it. They ignore the fact that Jesus is quoting a familiar passage from Deuteronomy 15 which says:
Give generously to him (your poor brother) and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. 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.
There is no place that this teaching is more clear than in Jesus’ dealing the the so-called Rich Young Ruler. After accepting the young man’s statement that he had kept the commandments, Jesus said:
“If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” Matthew 19:21
To a man who is self-satisfied and content with his wealth (sometimes referred to as Bigger Barns), he said:
“But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.”
Later in that same passage he talks about treasure saying:
“Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Other teachings on wealth and poverty are:
“I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything — all she had to live on.” Mark 12:43-44
“I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” Matthew 19:23-24
No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money (mammon). Matthew 6:24
Many like to point to the passage where it says that it is “the love of money” not money itself that is evil. And somehow that relieves them of the clear biblical mandate to care for the poor and needy. I challenge anyone to try and find a single time when Jesus had anything good to say about someone who was rich.
We live in a country that is richer than any other country in history and somehow miss it that Jesus’ teaching apply to us. Just in case there are some out there who don’t think they are wealthy, I encourage you to go to the Global Rich List and enter your income to find out where you rank in relation to the rest of the world. Just as a warnig, I entered the current poverty level in the US which is $22,200 for a family of four. At the level you are in the top 11% of the world’s wealthy. That means there are over 600 million people richer than you but there are 6.2 billion people poorer.
I don’t say all this to send anyone on a guilt trip, but to show you that if you want to demonstrate your love for God by your obedience to his commands, there is no command that shows up with more frequency in the Bible than the command care for the poor. I will end with the clearest definition of religion that can be found anywhere in the scriptures. James 1:27 says “Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.”