Those who know me well are aware that helping the poor is something that’s very close to my heart. When I cut my teeth on organic church life over 20 years ago, our church began a ministry to the homeless. It was an enlightening experience for all involved, and God used it to teach me many lessons.
Beyond the lessons I learned about the nuts-and-bolts of working with street people, three other lessons come to mind:
* One was that church outreach projects (just like in-reach projects) are seasonal. If they are done out of season, they will bear little fruit. (I discuss the seasons that a Christ-governed, Spirit-led church passes through in Finding Organic Church.)
* Another lesson has to do with following our spiritual instincts versus trying to follow an external command. From the beginning, my ministry has been centered on learning how to live by the indwelling Life of Christ. We know the indwelling Life of Christ by spiritual instinct. The nature of that Life is love . . . treating others the same way we would want to be treated if we were standing in their shoes. Love, therefore, is how the Life of Christ operates and functions in and through us (see 1 John).
If you are hungry, you want to be fed. If you are thirsty, you wish to be given a drink. If you are being attacked or oppressed, you want someone to stand for you, etc. Therefore, do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
Like everything else in the Christian life, helping the poor is a response to Divine life. It’s an organic outflow of following Jesus rather than a self-directed, self-energized adherence to an external command.
Unfortunately, bad teaching can cause us to ignore and suppress our spiritual instincts. This is why sound teaching is so vitally important. Sound teaching is designed to awaken us to the Life of Christ within by the Spirit and help us to recognize and yield to our spiritual instincts.
One of the things that separates the Old Covenant from the New Covenant . . . and Old Covenant living from New Covenant living . . . is that those under the New Covenant have the Spirit of God within them. Consequently, Christians follow the Lord’s indwelling Life (which will always be in harmony with Scripture and will always embody love) rather than trying to keep the letter of the Law. This is the central teaching of 2 Corinthians 3, Romans 7-8, and Hebrews 8-11. In fact, it’s the central teaching of the New Testament.
“The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”
If we follow the Spirit, we will fulfill the Scriptures. The Spirit and the Scriptures will never contradict one another. Jesus within the believer is the same Jesus who taught what’s contained in the Gospels.
* A closely related lesson to the above is how important the poor are to the heart of God. More on that in a minute.
Relevant Magazine interviewed me on the subject of Christians helping the poor. Here’s the interview with some Scripture texts on God’s heart for the poor added at the end. I hope you find it of help and encouragement. There’s a question for my blog readers at the very end.
Frank Viola really astounded me with how he kept bringing the conversation back to Jesus. It wasn’t about the trendiness of social justice or even re-inventing cool, new ways to do church. It was all about loving God and allowing our love for neighbor to flow from that. He really made it sound pretty simple, and maybe that’s what makes following Jesus sometimes so hard. He doesn’t fit into any of our boxes; it was a pleasure to glean some wisdom from Mr. Viola, a seasoned follower of Christ.
Here’s the interview with Mr. Viola:
In your opinion, is the Church doing an adequate job of responding to the problem of poverty?
I think some churches are, and some aren’t. Equally so, I think that some Christians are, while some aren’t.
Generally speaking, do Christians in American care about the poor, needy and oppressed? Should they?
I think they certainly should, as this is one of the Magna Cartas of the Church of Jesus Christ as she continues the ministry of Jesus on earth (Luke 4:18–19). Scripture, both Old Testament and New Testament, make clear that this is very much on God’s heart.
Perhaps the man to ask regarding if Christians in America care about the poor, needy and oppressed is George Barna, since he’s an expert in crunching numbers like that. The believers and churches that I associate with certainly do, but I can’t speak for the rest of the Christian world.
In Pagan Christianity, you and George Barna talk about what Christian “revolutionaries” are doing to spread the message of Jesus in a seemingly unconventional yet effective way. Does this include ministering to the poor-the widows, orphans and beggars of the world?
Absolutely. We dedicate several chapters to exposing the huge overhead costs of religious (“church”) buildings and clergy salaries. For instance, we point out that Christians in America spend over $10 billion a year on church buildings. And in the United States alone, real estate owned by institutional churches is worth over $230 billion.
For the first 300 years of its existence, the Christian Church did just fine turning the Roman Empire on its ear without the help-or hindrance-of church buildings. Just think about how much God’s people could help the poor, the needy and the oppressed if all the money we pour into church buildings (let alone clergy salaries) was redirected to help them. For that reason, the organic churches I’ve worked with and been a part of over the last 20 years have helped the poor and needy in some incredible ways.
Glimpses of God’s Heart for the Poor in the New Testament
Matt 19:21 Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go [and] sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come [and] follow me.
Mark 10:20-21 And he said to Him, “Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up.” Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”
Luke 4:18 The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free.
Luke 6:20 Looking at his disciples, he said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
Luke 7:20-22 When the men were come unto him, they said, “John Baptist hath sent us unto thee, saying, Are you he that should come? Or should we look for another?” … So he [Jesus] replied to the messengers, “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.
Luke 11:41 But now as for what is inside you—be generous to the poor, and everything will be clean for you.
Luke 12:33 Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.
Luke 14:13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind,
Luke 18:22 When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
John 13:27-29 And after the sop Satan entered into him [Judas]. Then said Jesus unto him, What you are going to do, do quickly. Now no man at the table knew for what intent he spoke this unto him. For some of them thought, because Judas had the bag, that Jesus had said unto him, “Buy those things that we have need of against the feast; or, that he should give something to the poor.” [The fact that the disciples assumed that Jesus wanted to give to the poor here reveals that giving to the poor was a habit for Jesus.]
Gal 2:10 They only asked us to remember the poor–the very thing I also was eager to do.
Gal 6:10 Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.
1 Cor. 16:1-4 Now about the collection for the Lord’s people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. 2 On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made. 3 Then, when I arrive, I will give letters of introduction to the men you approve and send them with your gift to Jerusalem [a church struggling with poverty]. 4 If it seems advisable for me to go also, they will accompany me.
2 Cor. 8:1-5 Now, brethren, we wish to make known to you the grace of God which has been given in the churches of Macedonia, that in a great ordeal of affliction their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of their liberality. For I testify that according to their ability, and beyond their ability, they gave of their own accord, 4 begging us with much urging for the favor of participation in the support of the saints, 5and this, not as we had expected, but they first gave themselves to the Lord and to us by the will of God.
2 Cor. 9:9-11 As it is written, “HE SCATTERED ABROAD, HE GAVE TO THE POOR, HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS ENDURES FOREVER.”10Now He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness; 11you will be enriched in everything for all liberality, which through us is producing thanksgiving to God.
Philippians 2:4 do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.
James 1:27 Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.
James 2:5-7 Listen, my beloved brethren: Has God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? 6 But you have dishonored the poor man. Do not the rich oppress you and drag you into the courts? 7 Do they not blaspheme that noble name by which you are called?
James 2:15-17 If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? 17 Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
Glimpses of God’s Heart for the Poor in the Old Testament
Psalm 9:9-10,12,18 The Lord also will be a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble; 10 And those who know Your name will put their trust in You, for You, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek You. 12 For He who requires blood remembers them; He does not forget the cry of the afflicted. 18 For the needy will not always be forgotten, nor the hope of the afflicted perish forever.
Psalm 10:12 Arise, O Lord; O God, lift up Your hand. Do not forget the afflicted.
Psalm 12:5 Because of the devastation of the afflicted, because of the groaning of the needy, now I will arise,” says the Lord; “I will set him in the safety for which he longs.
Psalm 22:24, 26 For He has not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; nor has He hidden His face from him; 26 The afflicted will eat and be satisfied; those who seek Him will praise the Lord. Let your heart live forever!
Psalm 68:5-6, 19-20 A father of the fatherless and a judge for the widows, is God in His holy habitation. 6 God makes a home for the lonely; He leads out the prisoners into prosperity, only the rebellious dwell in a parched land. 19 Blessed be the Lord, who daily bears our burden, the God who is our salvation. Selah. 20 God is to us a God of deliverances; and to God the Lord belong escapes from death.
Psalm 69:33 For the Lord hears the needy and does not despise His who are prisoners.
Psalm 72:4, 12-14 May he vindicate the afflicted of the people, save the children of the needy and crush the oppressor.12 For he will deliver the needy when he cries for help, the afflicted also, and him who has no helper. 13 He will have compassion on the poor and needy, and the lives of the needy he will save. 14 He will rescue their life from oppression and violence, and their blood will be precious in his sight.
Psalm 73:8 They mock and wickedly speak of oppression; they speak from on high.
Psalm 74:21 Let not the oppressed return dishonored; let the afflicted and needy praise Your name.
Prov 14:21 He that despiseth his neighbour sinneth: but he that hath mercy on the poor, happy [is] he.
Prov 14:31 He that oppresseth the poor reproacheth his Maker: but he that honoureth him hath mercy on the poor.
Prov 17:5 Whoso mocketh the poor reproacheth his Maker: [and] he that is glad at calamities shall not be unpunished.
Prov 19:17 He that hath pity upon the poor lendeth unto the LORD; and that which he hath given will he pay him again.
Prov 21:13 Whoso stoppeth his ears at the cry of the poor, he also shall cry himself, but shall not be heard.
Prov 22:9 He that hath a bountiful eye shall be blessed; for he giveth of his bread to the poor.
Prov 22:16 He that oppresseth the poor to increase his [riches, and] he that giveth to the rich, [shall] surely [come] to want.
Prov 28:27 He that giveth unto the poor shall not lack: but he that hideth his eyes shall have many a curse.
Prov 29:7 The righteous considereth the cause of the poor: [but] the wicked regardeth not to know [it].
Prov 29:14 The king that faithfully judgeth the poor, his throne shall be established for ever.
Prov 31:9 Open thy mouth, judge righteously, and plead the cause of the poor and needy.
Prov 31:20 She stretcheth out her hand to the poor; yea, she reacheth forth her hands to the needy.
Exodus 23:10-11 Six years you shall sow your land and gather in its produce, 11 but the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, that the poor of your people may eat; and what they leave, the beasts of the field may eat. In like manner you shall do with your vineyard and your olive grove.
Exodus 22:22-24 You shall not afflict any widow or fatherless child. If you afflict them in any way, and they cry at all to Me, I will surely hear their cry; and My wrath will become hot, and I will kill you with the sword; your wives shall be widows, and your children fatherless.
Exodus 22:21 You shall neither mistreat a stranger nor oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.
Exodus 23:9 Also you shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the heart of a stranger, because you were strangers in the land of Egypt.
Leviticus 25:35 Now in case a countryman of yours becomes poor and his means with regard to you falter, then you are to sustain him, like a stranger or a sojourner, that he may live with you.
Leviticus 25:39-40 If a countryman of yours becomes so poor with regard to you that he sells himself to you, you shall not subject him to a slave’s service. 40He shall be with you as a hired man, as if he were a sojourner; he shall serve with you until the year of jubilee.
Leviticus 19:10 Now when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. 10Nor shall you glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the needy and for the stranger. I am the LORD your God.
Leviticus 23:22 When you reap the harvest of your land, moreover, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field nor gather the gleaning of your harvest; you are to leave them for the needy and the alien. I am the LORD your God.
Numbers 35:15 These six cities shall be for refuge for the children of Israel, for the stranger, and for the sojourner among them, that anyone who kills a person accidentally may flee there.
Deuteronomy 10:17-19 For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality nor takes a bribe. 18 He administers justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the stranger, giving him food and clothing. 19 Therefore love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.
Deuteronomy 14:28-29 At the end of every third year you shall bring out the tithe of your produce of that year and store it up within your gates. And the Levite, because he has no portion nor inheritance with you, and the stranger and the fatherless and the widow who are within your gates, may come and eat and be satisfied, that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hand which you do. (See also Deuteronomy 15:1-11; Deuteronomy 16:9-15; Deuteronomy 24:10-22.)
Deuteronomy 27:18-19 ‘Cursed is the one who makes the blind to wander off the road.’ “And all the people shall say, ‘Amen!’ ‘Cursed is the one who perverts the justice due the stranger, the fatherless, and widow.’ “And all the people shall say, ‘Amen!’
What are some other practical ways you know of or have been involved with in helping the poor?