Deuteronomy 24:17-22

Most Christians would acknowledge, in word at least, that helping the poor is an important thing to do. Yet, very few are involved in the endeavor. Why is this?

 Perhaps one reason there seems to be a general sense of apathy in the church toward the poor is because there is a confusion about who the poor really are. Many kind-hearted people have become cynical and skeptical of those who are in need and asking for help. They ask, “How can we know if a person is in need or is just looking for a free ride?” When we look at the issue from one perspective we can observe that, compared to 2/3 of the world’s population, there are very few really poor people in our country. Even the most destitute of our citizens have more than the poor of those impoverished nations. Then there is the issue of the pan-handler. In the past decade the average urban commuter has become familiar with, and even jaded to the person standing on the street corner with a sign inscribed, “will work for food.” Is this legitimate need? Are we supposed to shell out cash to every person we see that is begging for money? How can we know? How can we truly help the poor?

One key to understanding this issue is to understand the truth of what the Bible says about the poor. Today’s passage is representative of the many passages that deal with helping the poor, both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament. In these passages there are typically three kinds of people identified as those in need: The alien, the fatherless, and the widow. What do these three types of people have in common? They don’t have any rights, because they don’t own land. Only Jewish men could own land at that time in history. The father of the house was the centerpiece of the culture. The woman and child was protected under the man’s estate, but if the man died, the woman and child were left in the cold. In the event of the man’s death, the wife and children would be transferred to a relative’s estate and would be cared for by that relative. If there were no relatives, then that woman and child would fall under the definition of today’s passage and be considered true widows and orphans.

The Alien “is one whose permanent residence is in another nation, in contrast with the foreigner whose stay is only temporary…The Israelites themselves were sojourners in Egypt (Gn. 15:13; Ex. 22:21; Dt 10:19; 23:7). Indeed, this fact was to govern their attitude to the sojourners in Israel.” 1

The key here is that the poor and needy that fell under the protection of the Law were those people who, in that culture, were not able to help themselves. The community of Israel was to always keep these people in mind. When they harvested their fields, they were to go through only once and leave the pieces they missed behind so that the needy could come and harvest the rest for themselves. What would that look like in our non-agricultural society? How are we to help those in need?

In our culture everyone has the opportunity to work. If a person can work, then they should. One way that the church can help is for business owners to provide opportunities to employ people and to train them in employable skills.

A church should set aside a majority of its financial resources to help those who are truly in need to have food and find shelter.

The biggest aspect of the Old Testament Law, and the indictment against Israel throughout its history was regarding justice for the needy. Society tends to look down upon the needy and abuse them or take advantage of them. One important way that the church can be involved is to be aware of the programs in the city that provide holistic care for the needy and to partner with those programs.

Christian lawyers can donate their time to be an advocate for the rights of the poor.

Within the church, there should be no one who is poor. Everyone who can work, should work. Everyone who can’t work, should be cared for by the community with food and shelter.

Poverty is a big issue in our world. Today, ask God to search your heart and expose to you a way that you could be more involved in providing care for the alien, the widow, and the orphan.

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