The Poor Ye Always Have with You

Question
With the current economic crisis poverty seems to be everywhere, even in the church. Why are there so many poor? Why are the poor not fed? Why are Christians losing their homes? Why do Christians and others have to file bankruptcy? Why is not the church doing anything? (Acts 2:44) Why aren't individual people who call themselves Christians doing anything? Why is the church so selfish? I understand that there should be good stewardship and accountability, but some seem to employ over-accountability when it comes to immediate needs? It is to these immediate needs I wish you to direct your answer.
Answer

Great questions, and they make GREAT sermon points. I will address some of your points briefly below.

Of course, there are several reasons for individuals being poor. We could simply say that some are in such a condition because of their individual sin(s). We could get more specific and say it was because of their selfishness, spending habits, and hedonistic lifestyle, etc. However, some have not sinned at all in this area; they are merely victims of the sinful world in which we live. Others are being tested like Job. Reasons will vary, but we should also be sure we aren't acting like Job's sinning friends in the midst of an economic downfall!

In my opinion, the examination of why people are in such and such a condition should sort of be put on the proverbial "shelf" for a time when it comes to immediate needs. There are many groups and helpful organizations to assist with the "why" (e.g. pastors, financial counselors). The underlying issues are important and need to be addressed with each individual (Gal 6:1-6). However, I mention the proverbial "shelf" because many are asking "why" for the wrong reason(s) with reference to immediate needs. (Long-term needs where other issues may come into play is not part of this answer). For some to sit back and say one deserves to feed their 2-year-old today and another one doesn't is not right! As you said in one of our other exchanges, seven board meetings to get a bag of groceries is not right!

In the case of immediate needs, should people have to go through a laundry list of accountability items before they get money from a church just to feed their families for a few days? Certainly churches do get taken advantage of at times, and churches should be good financial stewards. But some make it too difficult for the needy to qualify for funds in certain situations. People are suffering NOW and they need help NOW. The Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29ff) was not in bondage to committees when it came to immediate needs. He even helped his enemy when he was down and out!

Some people think their churches are taking care of the poor and then shrink in their own individual responsibilities to do the same. At the same time some churches are shrinking in this responsibility because their members are not "giving" and so churches come up short in meeting their budgets. Sometimes the poor they meet in their respective journeys are told to just go to a "Good Samaritan" organization by whatever name instead of being Good Samaritans themselves! Remember the Good Samaritan was a person NOT a group, NOT a committee, NOT a board. He was an individual. In this parable, even the owner of the inn helped out, and generosity seemed to be individually contagious. One has to ask if the church is merely passing by on the other side of the road.

The church should be concerned about helping both its members and the communities where they serve. People from every walk of life can be in immediate need of food, clothing, and shelter. The church needs to act with mercy while still being wise and responsible stewards.

What does Scripture say?

Deut. 15:7-8 If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. Rather, be openhanded and freely lend them whatever they need.

Prov. 17:5 He who mocks the poor shows contempt for their Maker; whoever gloats over disaster will not go unpunished.

Moses says in Deuteronomy 15:4 "...there should be no poor among you." This goal should be in the hearts of every individual Christian and of every church congregation.

But is there enough for everyone? Today it is a known fact that there is enough agricultural production to feed every person on the planet and still have a surplus. Yet throughout the world people are dying of hunger, and even people in our own churches are hungry. How did the early church in Acts respond? I will not address this particular question here, but we should contemplate that answer and be ready to act.

May God give us mercy and grace toward the poor among us.

Related Answers:

The Old Testament Tithe?
The New Testament Tithe?
Giving as a Part of Worship?
Cancelled the written code - Colossians 2:14

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (IIIM).