“He that hath pity upon the poor lendeth unto the Lord; and that which he hath given will he pay him again.” Proverbs 19:17
In both the Old and New Testaments, we see God’s desire for His children to show compassion to the poor and needy. Jesus said that the poor would always be with us (Matthew 26:11; Mark 14:7). He also said that those who show mercy to the poor, the sick, and the needy are in effect ministering to Him personally (Matthew 25:35–40) and will be rewarded accordingly.
There is no doubt that poverty’s reach is both widespread and devastating. God’s people cannot be indifferent toward those in need, because His expectations for us in regard to taking care of the poor are woven throughout the entirety of Scripture. For example, look at the Lord’s words about the goodness of King Josiah in Jeremiah 22.
“He judged the cause of the poor and needy; then it was well with him: was not this to know me? saith the Lord.” Jeremiah 22:16
Moses instructed his people how to treat the poor and needy: “Thou shalt surely give him, and thine heart shall not be grieved when thou givest unto him: because that for this thing the Lord thy God shall bless thee in all thy works, and in all that thou puttest thine hand unto.” Deuteronomy 15:10
“He that oppresseth the poor reproacheth his Maker: but he that honoureth him hath mercy on the poor.” Proverbs 14:31
The first part of Proverbs 14:31 says, “He that oppresseth the poor reproacheth his Maker.” Proverbs is, in fact, filled with verses clearly showing that God loves the poor and is offended when His children neglect them. (Proverbs 17:5; 19:17; 22:2, 9, 16, 22–23; 28:8; 29:7; 31:8–9)
The consequences for ignoring the plight of the poor are also made clear in Proverbs: “Whoso stoppeth his ears at the cry of the poor, he also shall cry himself, but shall not be heard.” Proverbs 21:13.
Note the strong language in Proverbs 28 “He that giveth unto the poor shall not lack: but he that hideth his eyes shall have many a curse” Proverbs 28:27.
Among the many sins of Sodom described in Genesis 19, her people were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.
“Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, pride, fulness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy.” Ezekiel 16:49
The New Testament is equally clear as to how we are to take care of the poor. One verse that nicely summarizes our expected charity is found in the First Epistle of John: “But whoso hath this world's good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth. ” 1 John 3:17–18.
Equally important is Matthew 25:31–46. The judgment described here precedes Christ’s millennial reign and is often referred to as the “judgment of nations,” in which those assembled before Christ will be divided into two groups—the sheep on His right side and the goats on His left. Those on the left will be sent to the “eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (verse 41), whereas those on the right will receive their eternal inheritance (verse 34). Noteworthy, however, is the language Christ uses in addressing these separated groups. The sheep are basically commended for taking care of the poor, the sick, the imprisoned, and the vulnerable. The goats, on the other hand, are chastised for their lack of concern and action toward them. When the righteous ask Him when they did these things, Christ responds by saying, “And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (verse 40).
We are not to misconstrue this as meaning the good works of the sheep factored into their gaining salvation; rather, these good works were the “fruit” or evidence of their having been saved by grace (Ephesians 2:8–10), further evidencing that a commitment to Christ will be accompanied by undeniable evidence of a transformed life. Remember, we were created to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do, and the “good works” Christ speaks of in Matthew 25 include taking care of the poor and suffering.
"For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also." James 2:26
“But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.” James 1:22
“He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” 1 John 2:4
“He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked.” 1 John 2:6
And the words of Christ Himself: “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” John 14:15
God's Word gives us insight into His heart for the poor and instruction in how we are to care for them. If we truly have faith in Jesus, we must also share His concern for the poor. Jesus commanded us to love one another (John 13:34–35). And what better way to demonstrate the love and kindness and compassion of Jesus the Christ than by reaching out to the “least of these” among us?