2. Dealing With the Impoverished

Poverty in the Body of Christ

Neil Girrard
Scriptures Referenced in This Article:
          (Follow the Scripture links if you want to study the Scriptures for yourself.)
Gen. 2:16-17 π Prov. 14:21 π Prov. 19:17 π Prov. 28:8 π Prov. 30:7-9 π Mt. 9:36 π Mt. 20:34 π Mt. 25:44-46 π Jn. 13:12-17 π Acts 11:29 π Rom. 13:8 π Gal. 6:7-10 π Gal. 6:10 π Eph. 2:10 π Eph. 4:16 π 1 Tim. 6:17-19 π Tit. 1:16 π Tit. 2:13-14 π Tit. 2:14 π Tit. 3:1 π Tit. 3:8 π Tit. 3:14 π Jas. 1:17 π Jas. 2:15-16 π Jas. 4:17; 2nd π 1 Pet. 1:7 π 1 Pet. 3:8 π 1 Jn. 3:16 π 1 Jn. 3:16-18 π 1 Jn. 3:17 π 1 Jn. 4:8 π 1 Jn. 4:8 π 1 Jn. 4:20-21

If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, "Depart in peace, be warmed and filled," but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? ( Jas. 2:15-16; top )

By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has this world's goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth. ( 1 Jn. 3:16-18; top )

Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life. And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith. ( Gal. 6:7-10; top )

So when He had washed their feet, taken His garments, and sat down again, He said to them, "Do you know what I have done to you? You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you. Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. If you know these things, happy are you if you do them." ( Jn. 13:12-17; top )

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. ( Eph. 2:10; top )

Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin. ( Jas. 4:17; top )

...our great God and Savior Jesus Christ...gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works. ( Tit. 2:13-14 - emphasis added; top)

Remind them to be...ready for every good work... This is a faithful saying, and these things I want you to affirm constantly, that those who have believed in God should be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable to men. And let our people also learn to maintain good works, to meet urgent needs, that they may not be unfruitful. ( Tit. 3:1 , 8 , 14; top )

Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy. Let them do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share, storing up for themselves a good foundation for the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life. ( 1 Tim. 6:17-19; top )

He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. If someone says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also. ( 1 Jn. 4:8 , 20-21; top )

In light of these Scriptures (and there are more), what is to be our mindset toward the poor, that is, those who have less of something than we do? I have observed believers who wait until the poor (or someone representing them) knocks on their door and (in "proper" humiliation) asks for assistance. Then these wealthier believers give cash or some article they own. They give it quite freely because it most often comes from their abundance, their excess and not from moneys or goods set aside for their own needs or wants.

But is this really the attitude we should have? That is, should we withhold all action until the Lord "puts someone on our hearts" or puts someone unavoidably in our faces? No, this is not the proper attitude at all. Rather we should have our eyes and hearts open for any and every opportunity to bear one another's burdens as we encounter each other in our daily lives. But because decades of commuter "church" and life has virtually removed us from each others' real lives, now we have to go far out of our normal circles of influence just to meet with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Then we call it "church" or "fellowship" and think that makes our neglect of one another - and our neighbors! - acceptable, even pleasing, to God! And even when we are at these types of meetings, unless those with needs volunteers information about their needs, we have no idea whether there are any needs or not. This is not shared life - this is deception.

If we were to phrase the proper attitude we should have toward those in need, it would go something like this: I will visit my brothers and sisters in their homes as God allows me so that I might know them in their needs and in truth. And if there is a need, a genuine need (and not just a cultural expectation), then, unless God interrupts me and stops me, I will give what is needed - even if I suffer for I know that God will take care of me as I attend to the least of His brothers. (see Mt. 25:44-46; top )

Too many people have the attitude, "Well, God hasn't told me to do anything for these people." And so they do nothing - not realizing that this only signifies that God's love has no place in their hearts. (see 1 Jn. 3:17 ; Tit. 1:16 ) Why should God have to say anything more? Even just the Scriptures we opened this article with show that there is a mandate, a standing order, to take care of those who are in genuine need. Paul's statement to the Galatians is the clearest: "...as we have opportunity, let us do good to all..." ( Gal. 6:10 - emphasis added; top) Not as we have some hyper-charismatic "word from the Lord" written on our walls by a supernatural hand followed by a visitation of angels to confirm what the "word" meant. If we need that sort of prompting to do good for others, our level of spiritual maturity is non-existent.

Anything other than an attitude of zealousness for doing good (see Tit. 2:14; top ) is a lie that will keep us from reaching the fullness of Christ's intentions for our life. And if we won't serve the true needs of those around us in need, then let us, at the least, stop telling them we love them. Our words of love are also a lie that is only adding to the sins we've already committed against them.

This is not to say that we will never receive an intelligible "word from the Lord" instructing us to perform some act of love for the poor. Indeed we may - but it is not the only way in which we will be prompted by the Spirit. Self-sacrificing love ( 1 Jn. 3:16 ), compassion ( Mt. 9:36 ; 20:34 ; 1 Pet. 3:8 ), mercy ( Prov. 14:21 ), a sense of duty to one's brother ( Rom. 13:8 ) and even pity ( Prov. 19:17 ; 28:8; top ) might be the way the Spirit is leading, the "method" He is utilizing to stir our hearts in a certain direction in a given moment and circumstance. This is because the human spirit, like the human soul, consists of a mind, will and emotions and either of these may be the avenue of the Spirit's promptings.

What is lacking in those who wait upon specific words of instruction before meeting the needs of others is the liberty of the Spirit. Whereas Christ's love flows freely and liberally to all, these who require specific instructions have allowed their excessive possessions to stop up the flow of Christ's heart of compassion and routed it into their often-carnal intellect. It is no wonder then that the poor are neglected while these wealthy ones are grid-locked in a spiritual traffic jam. May God grant us all liberty to simply and freely give of all that He has given us.

But until this love is transacted on what we might think of as an "instinctive" or "sub-conscious" level, the good deeds the Lord has prepared beforehand for us to do will always be at risk of being mere lawlessness, doing what seems right and good in our own eyes. That's still eating of the wrong tree. (see Gen. 2:16-17; top ) Eating of the tree of life does not necessarily require the cooperation of our soulish intellect nor, in the case of doing good for others, does it require the agreement of our conscience - the conscience only knows good and evil and if we know we are already attempting to administer life, why is the conscience even consulted. The conscience only kicks in because, far too often, we have failed to do that thing which we know would bring life and goodness to others.

Both the unrenewed intellect and the conscience are areas of the soul which, although the soul may truly peer into the heavenly realms and it is being transformed over time into the likeness of Christ, it is also still mired with the slime of sin and self-centeredness. The soul is to be neither trusted nor obeyed - that is the sole proprietorship of the Lord Jesus Christ. He alone is the Head which we must obey and to which, alone, we must give account for all we do and fail to do.

God's priority is neither poverty nor wealth (see Prov. 30:7-9; top ) but He uses either as a tool to accomplish His purpose which is to bring forth our faith which is worth more to Him than the purest of gold.( 1 Pet. 1:7; top ) A better approach to understanding the working of God in this area is to look at people's situations only in terms of supply and need, removing the unnecessary connotations of the words "wealth" and "poverty." How does this help? Because the Lord puts people into needy situations just so that those who have supply can act out the love of Christ by meeting that need - unless He intervenes into our intentions and plans with a "veto."

Truly, the only word from the Lord we should look for when considering the needs of the poor before us is His, "No." Any need for which we have supply - especially when no real sacrifice is required on our part (it is only when we are being asked to "give beyond our means" - see Acts 11:29 for example - that we should seek confirmation from the Lord that this is indeed His will before we act) - we should move to meet the need. "Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin." ( Jas. 4:17 ) But we also know that God has a greater grasp of the whole situation than do we. Our good intentions might not be His best and highest - so we give Him opportunity for "veto." If no "veto" comes, then we can know that our good intentions are truly good and truly prompted by God from whom all good things - especially love - come. (see Jas. 1:17 ; 1 Jn. 4:8; top )

Obviously, the Lord has not blessed the poor, those in need, with financial and physical resources that they can dispense to any and all they see in need - though quite often the godly poor will share their meager resources with one another more quickly than will the wealthy "Christians" share from their excess! So what has God given to the poor that will meet the real needs of the rich? Physical and economic needs! Needs that are peculiarly tailor made to challenge the false paradigms which say that God's blessings are upon the rich but not the poor. Needs that, if those who have supply will make effort to meet those needs, will result in the body of Christ being knit and joined together and built up in its ability to truly love one another. (see Eph. 4:16; top ) Until those with supply stop relying on clergy, organizations and "ministries" to attend to the needs of the poor, the body of Christ cannot move into being spotless and blameless, without blemish or wrinkle. Are we who have supply going to share in love with those who have need or is it going to be cold, dead, formalized religion as usual?

1. Neglecting the Poor π 3. More Than Words
Poverty in the Body of Christ

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