In the church today, it seems that God’s concern for the poor and marginalized* is often overlooked. We give necessary attention to spiritual matters, but often completely neglect the physical. A reading of the Bible will clearly show that God exhorts His people to actively care for the poor while admonishing any mistreatment of – or indifference toward – the needy.
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.
Throughout God’s Word we see the care, provision and redemption of the poor and marginalized highlighted. We see God command His people to treat the poor and marginalized fairly, to make provisions for them. He also commands His people to give generously, not begrudgingly.
Proverbs – God’s declaration for wise and skillful living – repeatedly gives us instruction on how to respond to the reality of God’s concern for the poor and needy.
Notice the practices that are condemned: oppressing the poor, mocking the poor, gloating over disaster, shutting ours ears to the cry of the poor, exploiting the poor, crushing the needy in court, closing our eyes to the poor, and not being concerned about justice for the poor. Ignoring the poor shows just as much contempt for God as actively oppressing the poor.
Notice the practices that are blessed by the Lord: being kind to the needy, lending to the poor, being generous, sharing food with the poor, giving to the poor, caring about justice for the poor, speaking up for those who cannot speak for themselves, judging fairly, and defending the rights of the poor and needy. Being kind to the needy is even equated with honoring God, while oppressing the poor shows hatred for our Maker.
The early church modeled social concern. In Acts 6, seven godly men were designated by the leaders of the church to focus their attention on caring for the widows. (In this passage, widows represent marginalized people; people that have a difficult time or are unable to care for themselves.) In 1 Timothy 5, Paul gives specific instruction to the body of Christ on how to care for widows.
Also, James acknowledges our tendency, even as believers, to favor the rich and ignore the poor. He commands believers not to show favoritism because God has not “chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him”.
Who is My Neighbor?
An expert of the law asked Jesus this exact question in Luke 10:29. Jesus answered the man with the story of the Good Samaritan. In this story, Jesus teaches that His followers must be a neighbor. They must ask themselves, “Who can I be a neighbor to,” rather than, “Who exactly do I have to love and who can I not love?” Jesus was teaching that a person should be a neighbor to everyone in need. The ultimate neighbor was Jesus, whose compassion exposed the Jewish religious leaders’ lack of concern for those who were perishing. Jesus wrapped up His teaching with the command that His followers were to live like the true neighbor from the passage, showing mercy to those in need.
Why We Lack Concern for the Poor and Marginalized
Hopefully, the theological framework provided in the previous section has helped to build conviction in your heart concerning God’s desire for the Church to care for the poor and marginalized. Given the Biblical support surrounding this aspect of God’s kingdom, why do many Christians still fail to demonstrate significant concern?
We do not learn what the Scriptures say about caring for “social” issues in life.
Our tendencies towards selfishness and laziness tell us that it is just easier to ignore social issues. We tend to forget the poor, thinking that we cannot do anything about their poverty or we convince ourselves that they are not our problem. Instead, we concentrate
on the next church building project.
We are afraid that if we give too much attention to the social needs of the world we will be accused of preaching the “social gospel.” We need to stay the course in pursuing God’s kingdom agenda in both spiritual matters and social/physical matters.
Ways We Justify Our Neglect of the Poor
“I am Only Around Those Who Are Well Off.” Have you seriously considered these questions: why do you live where you live? Have you surrendered this decision to the Lord? Are you showing favoritism by avoiding poor people or low-income neighborhoods? Are you clinging to comfort or justifying your inaction? Often, the reason we do not care for the poor is because we do not know the poor. Are you putting yourself in a place where you can invest in relationships and truly love your neighbor as yourself?
“The Bible is Only Concerned with the Spiritually Poor.” On the contrary, the Bible encourages spiritual poverty, because it leads us to understand our spiritual need for Christ’s Lordship. Further, the Scriptures we have used in this document support the theological framework of caring for the physically poor.
“Do the Poor Really Experience Injustice and Exploitation?” Look around. Where are landfills placed? How is zoning done? Do the poor who live near you have opportunities to improve themselves or are they stuck in cycles of poverty? What government policies are keeping the poor in poverty, rather than helping them out of it? Are certain ethnic or other types of groups seemingly stuck in the cycle of poverty? If efforts are being made towards serving the poor near you, are they helping to alleviate poverty (empowering individuals) or are they quick fixes to the problem of poverty (band aids that enforce the cycle)?
The Bible is clear that Christ-followers are to advocate for the poor and the marginalized in the world, caring for their needs and pursuing justice on their behalf. We are not to neglect spiritual needs for social ones, nor social needs for those that are spiritual. The two areas of need are not in opposition. On the contrary, Christ demonstrated care for the whole person, body and spirit. As His followers, we must demonstrate the same, not allowing bad theology, laziness and poor excuses to keep us from addressing the social needs of our communities.
Do you have relationships with those who come from a background of poverty?If so, how are you involved with them?
Do you actively seek to understand the plight of the poor and marginalized?
Do you give generously?Are you mindful of whether your generosity is helping or hurting?
Plan for how you can better understand the plight of the poor and needy. Then, decide for how to better pursue justice for the poor and marginalized.
*Marginalized is a term that refers to those who are prevented from having attention, power or influence.