The Poor: Always With Us
“For the poor always ye have with you.” John 12:8 KJV
God’s Or Man’s Plan To Help?
Our clumsy and inefficient British government legislation, designed to help the afflicted and the poverty- stricken, all too often enables the idle, the scrounger and the criminal to live at the taxpayers’ expense. In our legitimate desire to provide for the poor we fail to deal with the problem of the increasing number of those who take but do not give anything to the society which cares for them. Having first neglected and then rejected the principles of God’s Word, we miss the wise advice that “if any would not work, neither should he eat” (2 Th. 3:10).
This would seem wrong if there were no work for the unemployed to do. However God shows us certain principles which, if followed in the present day, might solve the whole set of problems associated with welfare provision. Here is what the Bible says: “Thou shalt not wholly reap the corners of thy field, neither shalt thou gather the gleanings of thy harvest. And thou shalt not glean thy vineyard, neither shalt thou gather every grape of thy vineyard; thou shalt leave them for the poor and the stranger” (Lev. 19:10-11).
Leviticus 19 goes on to show that all people ought to be treated with equal respect. The poor ought never be treated with contempt, nor the rich and powerful with servility. All may be equal before the Lord and His laws, but not all are equal in responsibility because to us are given differing gifts and differing degrees of gift. It is how we exercise these that God will judge. The rich man ought not to think himself better than his poor neighbor, nor ought the poor be stopped in the exercise of his gifts whether in the secular realm or in the Church. There is no shame in poverty, the shame lies in the failure of a man to avoid it. It is for the rich also to see to it that employment is provided for the indigent so that both may profit in every way.
Ruth’s Story: An Example
The Book of Ruth demonstrates, through its story of love and devotion, these principles in action. Ruth, taking responsibility for her widowed mother-in-law and having no source of income, went out according to the guidance from Leviticus 19:10-11, to glean in the fields after the harvesters. God rewarded her with the notice of Boaz, a near relative who according to the Law had to take responsibility for the poor of his family and in particular for a widow (Dt. 25:5-10). As the Bible tells us, Boaz was not the nearest kinsman, but he took Ruth as his wife, both of them being free to abide by this arrangement or not as they wished. In the duties of kinsman redeemer we see pictured the true redeemer who paid the price in His Blood to make us His Bride (Eph. 5:25).
To sum up, there are three main principles of responsibility here. First, it is the responsibility of the extended family to care for its own. Second, it is the responsibility of the rich to care for the poor. Third, it is the responsibility of the poor to seek work and take it when it is offered.
In his letter James confirms these principles. Had Boaz simply offered to give Ruth money he would have insulted her and would have diminished her in her own and everyone else’s eyes. He may, in his own estimation, have elevated his own status but it would have been at the expense of another which is certainly not according to God’s will, as James explains (Jas. 2:1-9).
Welfare Vs. Workfare
Critics may argue against this, saying that the Book of Ruth and the injunctions in the books of Moses were for an agricultural society and not an industrial one. Leaving aside the question of the evils of capitalism, we must look at the ideal world of village communities, small market towns and a society with little difference between the rich and the poor. Where money-making as opposed to making a living is what life is all about, we may expect to find any system breaking down. The British system of unemployment benefits, pensions for the elderly, and a national health service has many faults though there was a sincere attempt to deal with poverty at first. As has already been pointed out, this system failed because God’s instructions were unheeded.
On the other hand, though of late it has been fashionable to belittle the work of America’s President F. D. Roosevelt’s “New Deal,” that remarkable president did make it a major policy to provide work for the thousands of unemployed living in destitution and misery during the Great Depression. His plans succeeded to a degree which few other government initiatives have come close to. Moreover the New Deal shows that even in a capitalist society it is possible to provide work instead of welfare and so give the poor their self-respect.
What Can We Do?
But that’s government. Our concern should be, “Lord what wilt Thou have me to do?” (Acts 9:6). Some already seek out the homeless who sleep in shop doorways, and take nourishing food to them. Others provide sleeping bags for them, as cold is a worse killer than starvation. This, however, is not enough. There are some who provide training, work and medical assistance. But much aid money gets siphoned off during the bureaucratic process and never gets to where it is really needed. Christian agencies are much more efficient for they are run by dedicated volunteers who fear God and are also concerned with the individual’s spiritual needs and not just the physical.
However little we may earn, we can dedicate a portion of our resources to the Lord’s work abroad or at home to help the poor, the ignorant, and those lacking skills. Christians have always been active in these areas of relief, education and medical provision. As the need increases so should our giving. God will always provide. It is also encouraging to see Christians going out, even if only for a short while, to work in poorer countries helping to build schools, hospitals and children’s homes. One young lady, training to be a physician, took a year off from her studies to work in a poor country before returning to medical school. Perhaps more young people might think of using their energy and skills in these ways. The need always exceeds the supply.
Lastly, the local church should take part in the care for its own poor. We are warned however to be sensitive and discerning in so doing. “Honor widows that are widows indeed. But if any widow have children or grandchildren let them first learn to show piety at home and to repay their parents” (1 Tim. 5:3-4). The family is the first line of help, but the local church should help too.
The Lord’s concern for the poor and His earnest desire that people earn for themselves true riches is shown in His words to the rich young ruler. “Sell all you have and give to the poor and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come follow Me” (Mt. 19:21). There is a solemn warning in this, for eventually the rich who have not been generous with their wealth will be judged. Psalm 72 tells us how God remembers the poor but will judge the rich. And Mary’s song of praise to the Lord includes these words: “He hath filled the hungry with good things and the rich He hath sent empty away” (Lk. 1:53).
By Roger Penney
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org