One area in which it is evident that God is truly alive and well within the hearts of His people is in their attitude regarding the poor. Of course, it may be important to define what is meant by “poor”. For some, the word refers to diminished access to the wants and comforts that others enjoy. And while there is perhaps some room to debate the lack of fairness in a society where some can enjoy privileges that others do not, this is not really the idea captured in the Biblical usage of the word “poor”.
“Poor” in a Biblical context refers more implicitly to the condition of not having sufficient means or resources to survive. In that sense, the number of “poor” in the United States is relatively low compared to most of the populations around the world. This is not to say that the US does not have “poor” people, but there are perhaps a number of people in the US who regard themselves as “poor” who, compared to the average citizens in a typical undeveloped country, are blindingly rich. They have a roof over their heads, food in their refrigerators, and more than one change of clothes. Think of what a luxury a refrigerator is for most of the world’s people! But consider also that many of these “poor” additionally have a television, access to transportation, the opportunity to learn to read and write, and rudimentary health care services.
The truly “poor” among Americans are those who, for one reason or another, do not have access to such luxuries. For such as these there continues to be real need as well as real opportunity for the people of God to make a difference.
Should Christians be concerned? Should they somehow be mobilized to action with the attitudes of generosity and hospitality? Should they be conveyers of compassion and hope for those who are desperately cold, hungry and without shelter no matter that CEOs file bankruptcy while flying in their private jets from one of their many mansions to their board meetings at posh resorts?
Yes, they should. For as important as church attendance, prayer, worship, and tithing might be, among them in importance is the reaching out to those who are truly poor.
“They seek me daily and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that did righteousness and did not forsake the judgment of their God; they ask of me righteous judgments; they delight to draw near to God. 'Why have we fasted, and you see it not? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?' Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure, and oppress all your workers. Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to hit with a wicked fist. Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high. Is such the fast that I choose, a day for a person to humble himself? Is it to bow down his head like a reed, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Will you call this a fast, and a day acceptable to the LORD?6 "Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? (Isaiah 58:2-7 ESV).
It is not for a government to take on the burden of the poor (especially for a nation whose government is increasingly hostile to Biblical Christianity), but for the people of God to compassionately lead out in helping, sharing, and reaching the poor with not only resources but loving wisdom in the using of those resources.
The danger for Christians today in America is the perpetuation of apathy regarding the poor. Now that our government has made promises to undertake the cause of the poor and haphazardly executes laws that could arguably do more to promote poverty than alleviate it, the church is especially in danger of the temptation to relinquish its opportunity (and calling) to show the compassion of Jesus to those who are not only in physical need but in spiritual need as well.
And do not think for a moment that our government can do the job. If some can claim that “you can’t legislate morality,” I would most certainly argue that “you cannot legislate compassion.” But even if the government’s aims were actually practical (the redistribution of wealth from the wealthy to the poor), such action will never have the spirit of compassion of Jesus behind it. The poor will be quietly relegated to the shadowy and quiet lines of administrative bureaucracy, coldly served and satiated. Never unearthed and never met will be those deeper hungers that lie beneath the surface of their cry for food cards, clothing vouchers, and free healthcare.
Watch out! Don’t be one who waits on the government to solve the problems of the poor! That job is for you and for me! Besides, what about needs that lie beyond the soil of the “sovereignty” of the United States? They are not beyond God’s reach. And if you belong to Him, then they are not beyond yours! Ministry to the “poor” has been and continues to be a hallmark of Christian ministry.
“For he (God) who worked through Peter for his apostolic ministry to the circumcised (Jews) worked also through me for mine to the Gentiles (non-Jews)… When James and Cephas (Peter) and John… perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised (Jews). Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do” (Galatians 2:9-10 ESV).
Even as the Gospel has long since moved out from Jerusalem and the rest of Judea into the wider world, the admonition to “remember the poor” continues to be an essential component of genuine Christian faith. You and I can serve God by “remembering the poor” today. With God’s Spirit helping you, you can learn the joy of serving Him by helping those who suffer today from desperate need, in our towns, our county, our state and nation, and around the world.