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What Does the Bible Say About Generosity and Duty to the Poor?

Frequently Asked Questions

Introduction

The apostle Paul wrote:

We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man's gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully. (NIV, Romans 12:6-8)

Each of us has something to offer. We can give our money and our time to charity, be a friend to someone who is sick or lonely, do volunteer work, or be a peacemaker, teacher or minister. We may give unselfishly of our time to our spouse, children or parents. We may choose a service-oriented occupation, or we may just do our everyday jobs with integrity and respect for others.

It would seem that the more we give to others, the poorer we become, but just the opposite is true! Service to others brings meaning and fulfillment to our lives in a way that wealth, power, possessions and self-centered pursuits can never match. As Jesus said,

For if you give, you will get! Your gift will return to you in full and overflowing measure, pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, and running over. Whatever measure you use to give -- large or small -- will be used to measure what is given back to you." (TLB, Luke 6:38)

Obligation to Those in Need

Helping those in need is one of the major themes of the Bible and of Jesus' ministry. As far back as the thirteenth century B.C., the Hebrews' law institutionalized assistance to the poor:

When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the LORD your God. (NRSV, Leviticus 19:9-10)

Through service, we give others the things they lack, and we find meaning and fulfillment to our own lives. Both the Old and New Testament writings give many examples of the importance of service and charity:

He who despises his neighbor sins, but happy is he who is gracious to the poor. (NAS, Proverbs 14:21)

"Feed the hungry! Help those in trouble! Then your light will shine out from the darkness, and the darkness around you shall be as bright as day. And the Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy you with all good things, and keep you healthy too; and you will be like a well-watered garden, like an ever-flowing spring. (TLB, Isaiah 58:10-11)

And the crowds asked [John the Baptist], "What then should we do?" In reply he said to them, "Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise." (NRSV, Luke 3:10-11)

But whoever has the world's goods, and beholds his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? (NAS, 1 John 3:17)

The Bible tells us to share generously with those in need, and good things will come to us in turn. We are not meant to live hard-hearted or self-centered lives. This is never made clearer than in Matthew 25:31-46. A greedy, miserly life leaves us devoid of anything but an empty craving for more possessions, more power or more status.

He who gives to the poor will never want, but he who shuts his eyes will have many curses. (NAS, Proverbs 28:27)

It is not necessary to be a wealthy philanthropist or a full-time volunteer to make a meaningful contribution. Rather, we should give generously of whatever wealth and abilities we have, no matter how small the amount.

And [Jesus] looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury. And He saw a certain poor widow putting in two small copper coins. And He said, "Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all of them; for they all out of their surplus put into the offering; but she out of her poverty put in all that she had to live on." (NAS, Luke 21:1-4)

Sincere Motives

Our good deeds should be motivated by a sincere desire to help others. Public recognition should not be the goal.

"Be careful not to do your 'acts of righteousness' before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. "So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. (NIV, Matthew 6:1-2)

Exploitation

A frequent question concerns an adult child, sibling or other relative who is always asking for money. People wonder if Bible teachings require them to keep supporting that person. We have a solemn obligation to help people who are in genuine need, especially family members (1 Timothy 5:8). However, there is no obligation to support a person who is just being lazy or exploiting kind-hearted relatives (2 Thessalonians 3:10-12). Such a person may benefit more from training and counseling aimed at helping him or her get and keep a job. Most communities have agencies that can help.

Conclusion

Each of us has something to give. Some have wealth, some have talents, some have time. Whatever gifts we have been given -- large or small -- we should share generously. When we do, we make the world better for someone else and find true meaning and satisfaction in our own lives.

Related verses: Leviticus 25:35, Deuteronomy 14:28-29, Deuteronomy 15:7-11, Isaiah 58:6-7, Psalms 41:1-3, Proverbs 11:25, 19:17, 22:9, Matthew 5:42, 6:1-4, 19:21, 25:31-46, Luke 6:38, 11:41, 12:33-34, Acts 20:35, 1 Corinthians 12:4-11, 12:27-31, 13:1-13, 2 Corinthians 9:6-7, Galatians 2:10, Ephesians 4:7-12, 1 Timothy 5:16, 6:17-19, Hebrews 13:3, 13:16, James 1:27, 2:2-9, 2:15-16, 1 John 3:17-18

Related articles:
What Does the Bible Say About Using Time, Talents and Wealth?
What does the Bible say about Money and Wealth?
Matthew 25:31-46 - The Judgment of the Nations

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