As I have been writing about the importance of Christ followers to be people who care about and help the poor, I wanted to take some time and give some practical advice on how we should respond. There is a lot of theology about why we should help those less fortunate, but throughout the Scriptures there is also a lot of guidance as to how we should respond. This list is not comprehensive, and I’m sure there is much more that could be added, but I hope this will be helpful.
1 John 4:7-12 says, “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.”
If we act without love, it is not the work of God. God is love. Mother Teresa is credited with saying, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” Love should be the foundation that all of our outreach to the poor is based on. Love of God should lead us to love one another, and to love the poor and unfortunate. Even the small ways that we reach out should be done with love, or not at all. For more reading from the Scriptures on this, also check out 1 Corinthians 13.
Leviticus 19:34 says, “The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.”
The Israelites are reminded about how they used to be foreigners, and as such, they should love foreigners in their midst as they love themselves. They should have compassion on them, especially because they have been there. Colossians 3:12 says, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”
No matter how you are helping the poor, remember to be compassionate. You may not have ever been homeless or in such dire physical need, but remember that you being born to the family you were born to, and in the country you were born in had nothing to do with you. If you are living in Canada or the US, chances are that on a global level you are among the world’s wealthiest. Other people are born every day in nations ravaged by war, in places where there is little access to education or even clean drinking water. So do not arrogantly think that your success is only the result of your own hard work, but be humble, and serve others compassionately. It could have been you in that situation.
Bonus: Check out this comic about the nature of privilege.
2 Corinthians 9:6-8 reads, “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. 7 Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. 9 As it is written: ‘They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor; their righteousness endures forever.’”
Jesus gives to us lavishly and not sparingly. We too, are to give generously and joyfully.
Proverbs 19:20 says, “Listen to advice and accept discipline, and at the end you will be counted among the wise.”
There are many instructions in the Proverbs on the importance of listening to advice and accepting discipline. When reaching out, do so wisely, and seek the counsel of others.
Many people say things like, “It might not be perfect, but it is better than doing nothing”. This can be true; we might not be able to fix all the world’s problems, and that should not be a reason for doing nothing at all. Small things done in love are valuable.
However, sometimes we can do more harm than good. There are scores of books and articles written on this topic, as sometimes our misguided or uninformed philanthropy, though done with the best of intentions, can sometimes cause as many problems as it prevents. In university, I had a professor illustrate this point by telling us a story of a ministry he had been a part of where they put a lot of work into helping reduce the infant mortality rate in a certain community. It is a good goal, to be sure, but as they worked very successfully in this endeavour, the poor families in the area became even poorer as they now had more mouths to feed. Does that mean their efforts were bad? Lives were saved, which is good, but because of the lack of a comprehensive plan, the success of their ministry created more needs of a different sort. Inadequate housing, a lack of job opportunities, and larger food and clothing demands were just some of the issues they now faced. It is a complex issue, to be sure, but that is why it is good to act wisely. Many of these issues can be avoided if we act wisely in the ways we help.
To use one more example, when we send bundles of clothing overseas to help the poor, there are instances where the sudden flood of free clothing puts the local tailors and seamstresses out of business, and while many were given free clothes, the local economy was stunted and the families working in the clothing industry were put into even greater poverty. This is not to belittle or to demean the intentions of those who have been involved in such endeavours, but rather to highlight the great need we have to act wisely.
In Numbers 16, a group of 250 Israelite community leaders approached Moses and wanted to take charge of Israel for themselves, instead of having Moses as their leader. Moses knew that God had called him to be the leader. If the response would have been democratic, Moses would have been out and the people would have strayed from the Lord’s plan for them. But Moses acted against the community of leaders in order to do what was right.
Even if our churches do not seek to help the poor, it does not mean that you cannot help as an individual. Just as Moses went against the majority to do what was right, we too can serve the Lord by serving the poor even if the rest of our church community does not.
Mahatma Gandhi is credited with saying, “Be the change you wish to see in the world”. So instead of complaining that nobody in your church is doing anything, you do something. You might not have a leadership position in your church, but you can lead by example. Your life can be a testament to what is possible if only you serve the Lord faithfully.
Micah 6:8 says, “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
Here the entire faith community is being addressed. We see in the Scriptures that Israel as a community was given the promised land, and their continued presence in that land was dependant upon their ability as a community to be obedient to the Lord. When they were exiled, there were some who were still faithful to God, but just as they were given the land as a collectively, it was also taken away collectively. When God addresses them in Micah 6:8, we are reminded that as a community, we collectively need to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God. That is, all of our actions should be just. Not just the actions of our priests (or pastors), but all of us. We all should also love mercy, and walk humbly with God.
In the first chapter of Isaiah, God is rebuking the nation of Israel. They have continued their pious religious traditions, but tolerated injustices in their midst. Isaiah 1:17 says, “Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.” We as a community need to do more than have our religious services. We, as a community, are to serve the poor.
Though just one person can make a difference, we will have a greater impact if we do so collectively.
John 1:14 tells us that “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” Jesus met our needs not from a distance, but by becoming one of us, spending time with us, and living as an example for us to follow. We too should not only meet needs at a distance, but get involved in the lives of those we seek to help. Throwing money at a problem might do some good, but if we are to follow the example of Christ, we need to do much more than that.
Do not just meet the need, also meet the person who has the need. Hear their story. Share their sorrow. Help meet their need, and offer them the hope that is available to all who call on the name of the Lord.
What else would you add to this list?