The message is clear that there is a great cost of being a disciple of Jesus. Christians are promised persecution and there is so much we need to sacrifice. One of the costs (and great blessings!) is taking care of the poor. With the cost comes reward. Jesus said, “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Luke 12:32-34 ESV).
The Bible is pregnant with references to caring for the poor–to those in desperate need. Those who are sojourners, poor, oppressed, and destitute, are described in the Bible as our neighbors. We are commanded to love and care for our neighbors, to lend to them and not expect anything in return.
Caring for the poor comes with a cost, but is not meant to be burdensome. In fact, over and over we are told to give joyfully and to lend with an open hand. When we store up treasure in heaven, we do so by helping those in need. Jesus took it so seriously that, in a scathing dialogue, he specifically mentioned the sorting of the sheep and goats by whether they cared for the poor and sick or not. These are not suggestions in the Bible.
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Giving to the poor is all through the Bible. God has a very special place in his heart for the poor. In Acts 2, the Christians sold possessions and gave liberally so that there were no needs. If someone was sick, Jesus and his disciples healed them so they could go back to work and provide.
Jesus told the rich man that, if he wanted to be perfect, he would go sell everything then come back and follow Christ. Poverty was just as real as it is today. There are many people who die of starvation each day. Our homeless population even in the US is out of control.
The idea of storing up treasures in heaven was not a new concept. Nor was Jesus the only one to say it. Paul told Timothy to tell the rich not to put their “hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy” (1 Tim. 6:17). “They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life” (1 Tim. 6:18-19).
The future is important. Jesus doesn’t propose throwing money out. Rather, we should take care of each others’ needs because we’ve been so richly blessed.
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When we think of caring for the poor we probably get a picture of taking up collections and distributing the proceeds to those in need. Certainly this is a biblical concept, as we see it throughout the Bible. Paul took up a collection for the people who were greatly impacted by a famine (1 Cor. 16:1-4, 2 Cor. 8:1-15, Rom. 15:14-32). In Acts 2, Christians were selling possessions and laying the money at the apostles’ feet so that nobody was with need. They broke bread together and ate in each others’ homes.
But there is a deeper aspect to caring for the poor that is often missed. The Bible instructs us to stay connected with one another, to help out, and to pursue justice. Isaiah 1:17 (ESV) says, “. . . learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widows cause.” It wasn’t just about open-fisted giving to the poor. It was about correcting oppressors and shielding the poor and oppressed from people who would wrong them.
Jesus said that the poor you will always have among you. This is not a descriptive statement telling us to resign ourselves to the idea that people will always be poor. No, he was quoting from Deuteronomy 15:11: “For there will never cease to be poor in the land.” In the context of Deuteronomy 15, there were poor because the Israelites were unfaithful in caring for the poor. In fact, the latter part of verse 11 says, “Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.'” Just a few verses before, God says, “But there will be no poor among you; for the Lord will bless you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance to possess” (Deut. 15:4).
But caring for the poor was not just giving handouts. In the context of justice, it was about giving people dignity. Israel was expected to provide jobs for people and let them use their skills to bless others. There are people who physically cannot work, and they were to be taken care of. But for the ones who were poor and could work, it was expected that they work. It’s interesting that Jesus never (to our knowledge) gave money to beggars. Instead, he healed them. Why? Because Jesus was just! He was restoring their dignity and their right, honor, and blessing to work. We often only view Jesus’ miracles as a demonstration of his power and revelation. But we’re completely missing the point. He healed people because of justice! He healed people so they could go back to work. He healed them so they could bless other people.
When this godly cycle happens, there are no poor in the land.
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