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Realizing the presence, promise, and power of the Kingdom of God.

With Us Always

And we must always care.

Caring for the Poor (1)

“For the poor will never cease from the land; therefore I command you, saying, ‘You shall open your hand wide to your brother, to your poor and your needy, in your land.’” Deuteronomy 15.11

The goal of public policy
The goal of a good society and, thus, of public policy, is to pursue and maintain justice.

Justice, as we have seen, is not defined in terms of material wealth or political advantage, but of love for God and neighbors. It is not the goal of a good society to ensure equal material prosperity, but equal justice for all its members. In the divine economy, outlined in the Law of God, what people need above all else is the security of love, not of wealth, much less of political power.

This being so, the ideal of material equality being unattainable at any rate, every society must expect that there will be a certain amount of inequality of income and wealth among its members. Such a situation is not inherently evil, although it can be, if justice is compromised. A society can be just and still contain inequalities of wealth. The fact that such inequalities will exist, which means that there will always be a presence of poor people in society, must not be allowed to be a cause for complacency, indifference, scorn, or neglect toward the problem of poverty and the needs of our fellow citizens.

We turn now, in our consideration of the ways God’s Law can speak to public policy issues of our day, to consider the question of the poor, and of society’s responsibility toward those who struggle to sustain themselves materially. Are we our neighbors’ keeper?

The answer offered in the Law of God is both Yes and No.

Justice for all
No society can be good where inequality of justice is accepted as normal. God reaches to all people with His grace, and we must reflect that same consideration for the people in our communities. Members of a good society will not be content for their neighbors to be deprived of the respect and care they deserve as image-bearers of God simply because they are poor. They will take care to ensure that neighbor-love is extended to all members, according to their situation and need.

Justice will thus require that communities give due concern to helping to alleviate the material want of those of their members who, for various reasons, are not able to provide sufficiently for themselves. While merely being poor does not qualify one for a broad range of entitlements at the expense of one’s neighbors, the needs of the poor should be a concern of all members of a good society.

Justice, according to the Law of God, entails certain specific obligations on the part of a good society toward the poor in their midst, whether they are temporarily or chronically in need. 

“For you have the poor with you always,” Jesus explained, thus affirming the teaching of God’s Law (Mk. 14.7). Jesus went on to insist that, as often as we have opportunities, we should address the needs of the poor. He understood that the Law of God had outlined specific approaches to this situation, and He seems to have regarded these as sufficient. The apostle Paul likewise indicated that caring for the poor (Gal. 2.6-10) was high on his list of priorities, as it was with the rest of the apostles.

Concern for the poor is an essential component of pure and undefiled religion (Jms. 1.27) and a good society.

“War” on poverty
It will thus not be a goal of a just society to eliminate poverty. Declaring a “war on poverty”, and other such virtue-signaling rhetoric, is impractical and self-serving. It assigns poverty to the class of things evil, things to be eliminated, when, in fact, the Scriptures teach no such thing. Such bold and high-sounding aims play well in political campaigns, but they fly in the face of what God has plainly revealed. To undertake a “war on poverty” is to deny the authority of God’s Word and the teaching of Jesus Christ. To care for those entangled in poverty is just and loving and fulfills an important aspect of the divine economy.

Our aim is not to wage war on poverty, as though poverty were some sort of enemy which we might isolate, attack, and destroy. Poverty is no such thing, but a condition inherent in the human situation through which we must work to discover ways of loving our neighbors as ourselves.

No society can be just in which indifference to, scorn toward, or neglect of the poor is considered acceptable, or where people are encouraged to remain in poverty when escaping it is possible. The poor in any community are the neighbors of all members of the community, and all the members of any community thus are responsible to “open wide” their hands to meet the needs of the poor. Rather than warring against the poverty of the poor, the members of a just society accept the condition of poverty as a call to serve their neighbors in love.

Let us take it as a matter of public policy, therefore, to discover the Biblical teaching concerning the poor and to adopt policies that will enable us to fulfill the responsibilities of neighbor-love toward them. To its credit, the Church has consistently demonstrated a concern for the poor, because it has believed the teaching of Jesus and the Law of God that neighbor-love demands it. That is, Christians, operating from within the divine economy, have taken it on themselves to embrace public policies of caring for the poor, irrespective of what any other institutions or governments have done.

And this is a record that we can build on in our day.

For reflection
1. Does your church provide any ministry or services for the poor in your community? What?

2. Are all poor people truly poor? Explain.

3. Besides your church, what other Christian entities exist in your community to help care for the needs of the poor?

Next steps—Preparation: Compile a list of Christian agencies in your community that serve the needs of the poor. Create a prayer list to pray for these groups regularly.

T. M. Moore

What is the place of the Law of God in the Christian’s life? Our book, The Ground for Christian Ethics, answers this question and shows us again why Jesus taught us that keeping the Law is an indispensable part of our calling in God’s Kingdom. Order your free copy of The Ground for Christian Ethics by clicking here. To gain a better understanding of how the Law of God applies in daily life, order a free copy of our book, A Kingdom Catechism, by clicking here.

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ReVision comes from our faithful and generous God, who moves our readers to share financially in our work. If this article was helpful, please give Him thanks and praise.

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Except as indicated, all Scriptures are taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in the Champlain Valley of Vermont.
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