Thursday, April 21, 2011


I have often heard (or read) mantras similar to the following spoken by Christians – often by those who themselves are giving people, who take seriously the passages about caring for the poor:
·        “It’s not the government’s responsibility to feed the poor.”
·        “If the church was taking care of its responsibility of feeding the poor, the government wouldn’t have to.” 

But are these sayings true?  Is it even the church’s responsibility to feed all the poor?  And if it is, do we even have the resources to do so?  It would seem to me that with the number of poor increasing, the mathematics would demonstrate that it is an impossible task for the church alone to fulfill.  So then whose responsibility are the poor? 

The New Testament seems clear that we believers have a responsibility to provide for the material needs of our families and of our brothers and sisters in Christ, as well as others.  (See:  POOR PEOPLE.) 

“But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially those of his own household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:8). 

“If a brother or sister is naked and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ but you don’t give them their daily bodily needs, what use is that?’” (James 2:15, 16). 

And Jesus spoke also of giving to the poor – the poor in general, without a qualifier.  In fact, He seems to make that a requirement for discipleship (Matthew 19:21).  An examination of both the Old and New Testaments show that God is concerned about the poor. 

In the Torah – the Old Testament books of the Law, God made numerous provisions for the care of the poor and needy:
·        The release of debt every seventh (sabbath) year as well as the 50th (Jubilee) year (Deuteronomy 15:1-11; Leviticus 25:1-55).
·        During the seventh year the land was to “rest and lie fallow” and be left for the needy to eat (Exodus 23:10, 11).
·        The ‘gleaning’ laws.  The Israelites were not to harvest their fields or vineyards clean, but were to leave some for “the poor and the alien” ((Leviticus 19:9, 10; Deuteronomy 25:19-22).
·        Fair lending practices (Exodus 22:24-26; Deuteronomy 24:10-13).
·        Fair wages, paid every day (Leviticus 19:13; Deuteronomy 24:14, 15).
·        A full tithe (10%) of their produce was to be set aside every third year for the Levite … the alien, the orphan and the widow” (Deuteronomy 14:28, 29; 26:12, 13).  This was considered a “second tithe,” apparently over and above the regular tithe.  We should also remember that the tithe was a requirement, more like a tax.  It was not a freewill offering.
Solomon’s prayer for himself and his kingdom in Psalm 72, while it contains many requests for prosperity and expansion, also contains requests for himself as a benefactor of the poor and an administrator of social justice.  Many scholars regard this as a Messianic Psalm, in which Solomon’s reign prefigures that of the coming Messiah.  Nevertheless it gives us a picture of what God expects of the king over His people. 

Psalm 72:
“Of Solomon
O God, give Your judgments to the king,
And Your righteousness to the King’s son. (1)
May he judge Your people with righteousness,
And Your lowly ones with justice. (2)
May he give justice to the lowly of the people,
Save the children of the needy,
And crush their oppressors. (4)
For he rescues the needy who cries out,
And the lowly and the one who has no helper. (12)
He has compassion on the poor and needy
And saves the lives of the needy. (13)
He redeems them from fraud and violence,
And their blood is precious in his eyes.” (14) 

It would seem that, while God had given laws to His people regarding social justice, it was the king’s responsibility to see that these laws were carried out. 

The situation is different today.  In Moses’ and even in Solomon’s day, the government was a theocracy.  We might say that “church” and “state” were one.  We – God’s people, the church – live under a different dispensation.  The government under which we live is a secular government.  So we might ask if God’s requirements of care for the poor have changed.  In other words, does the government of the United States of America have any responsibility toward the poor?  Or are the statements in the first lines of this post correct? 

I contend that God holds human governments accountable for what is known as “social justice.”  Our government is responsible for the poor and needy, for their provision and protection.
According to Romans 13:1-5 and 1 Peter 2:14, God has established human government to punish evil and reward good, or in other words, to promote justice.  (See:  WHAT ABOUT ROMANS 13? and THE TWO KINGDOMS.)  Because the New Testament gives little detail as to the various aspects of justice, I believe we can legitimately infer that social justice is one very important aspect.
If this is so, then we who are citizens of a representative democracy are members of that government and are responsible to cast our votes and make our thoughts known as to our government’s care for the poor and underprivileged.
More later.


Elise said...

Thanks, Bill. Very thought provoking. I will take it to heart.

KenMullins said...

I have struggled with this for years. I don't have the answer, but we as a society and church must provide opportunities (i.e. jobs) for the able "poor" to be able care for themselves. Giving folks money without strings is often needed in the short-term; but is a disaster when done long-term.

Bill Ball said...

Ken: The Old Testament passages I cited seem to provide for the poor in three areas: giving without strings, provision of work opportunity, and legal protection from those who would take advantage of them. I believe that all three would be required for true social justice.

Sherry said...

Jesus said that clothing & feeding the poor is the same as clothing & feeding him - nothing said about checking their ability to work. He divided the loaves and fishes because they were hungry - He didn't ask them why they weren't at work.

The problem with thinking "no strings" is that there are so many people who cannot work (children, elderly, physically and/or mentally disabled, veterans) and many who can't afford to work (think minimum wage single moms and the cost of daycare). Not to mention the severe shortage of jobs these days that keeps several unemployed that want to work and could if they could find a job.

I think the "no strings" is really a judgment - we think they should be able to support themselves so why should we support them?

We have totally reversed how it should work: We should be influencing the government to be FOR the orphan, the widow, the alien and the oppressed. Instead we've let polical ideas influence the church to be for the wealthy. Certainly not a Biblical idea. ( Trust me, I'd like to be wealthier too so I clearly do not have this down.)

If we are a "Christian" nation as so many Christians like to claim, then our government should do the job that God tells Christians to do. And since it's a democracy we should vote to make sure it does.

Trust me, I'd like to be wealthier too so I clearly do not have this down.

Sherry said...

I know I already wrote a lengthy comment but since have had another thought.

The church gives somewhere between 2 & 3% - if we gave the full 10% for the poor, we probably could feed a lot of the world and really promote social justice. Even if it was only believers giving. Imagine what could be done if all who claimed to be Christians gave 10%.