Bible: Caring for and serving the poor

Poverty: Caring for the oppressed, marginalized, and disadvantaged

The biblical mandate for reaching out in love to the needy

"If you mistreat the poor, you insult your Creator" — Proverbs 14:31, Contemporary English Version

Passing The Buck

by Peter Maurin

1. In the first centuries of Christianity
   the poor were fed, clothed, and sheltered
   at a personal sacrifice
   and the Pagans
   said about the Christians:
   "See how they love each other."

2. Today the poor are fed, clothed, and sheltered
   by the politicians
   at the expense
   of the taxpayers.

3. And because the poor
   are no longer
   fed, clothed, and sheltered
   at a personal sacrifice
   but at the expense
   of taxpayers
   Pagans say about Christians:
   "See how they pass the buck."

Christian service: serving others and seeking social justice

"Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world." -- James 1:27, The Message

What does Sacred Scripture have to say about helping needy people — the poor, the homeless, the orphans, and the widows? Are there Bible passages that clearly say we must have compassion for those who are poverty-stricken and that we should be giving to the less fortunate? What biblical foundations are there for service to the vulnerable, to those who are marginalized, and to the oppressed?

How to care for the poor? How are we to provide for the hungry? What are we do to about the marginalized who are treated unjustly? Here are instructions from the Bible. Looking for a slogan for a promotion about helping the less fortunate, feeding the poor and ministering to those on the street asking for money? Use a phrase from one of the following Scripture verses as a slogan to promote helping others.

It's clear from these passages that God cares about our attitudes toward and actions regarding the hungry, the oppressed, the widows, the strangers, and the orphans. There are verses here that speak of God's people being chastised for not treating poverty survivors as equals.

Sometimes people ask, "What is the relationship between social action and evangelism?" Perhaps these Bible passages will help us answer that question

Unless otherwise specified, the wording in the biblical passages is from the English language The New International Version.

Old Testament passages

New Testament passages

"This compilation of verses on the poor, oppression, and justice has been a great help as I try to write a theological response to the problem of tuberculosis in the midst of poverty." -- Davy C.

Discussion questions

  1. What are some specific examples in the Bible where individuals or communities were called to care for the poor and needy? What can we learn from those examples about our own responsibility towards the poor today?
  2. Which Bible passage or passages most clearly speak to you about our responsibility to care for the poor and disadvantaged? How can we apply this message to our own lives and communities today?
  3. Which Bible passages do you think best challenge the biases and assumptions that impede God's people from becoming advocates for justice and fairness for the poor?

Summary Afterword

This lengthy list of Bible verses indicates God's concern that we take care of the poor and needy. The principles underlying Christian compassion include:

Overall, the Bible presents caring for the poor and needy as a central aspect of living out one's faith, reflecting God's character and embodying the principles of love, compassion, and justice.

More for you on the poor

Cycle of despair in which the poor are trapped

The cycle trapping the poor in many less-developed nations

Cycle of

This cycle of despair often traps the poor in less-developed nations. This cycle -- malnutrition lower resistance to disease often sick little energy to work less food produced not enough to eat malnutrition -- is not an empty excuse. For people in extreme poverty, this cycle is simply the way life is.

"Rulers who mistreat the poor are like a hard rain that destroys the crops." -- Proverbs 28:3 (New Century version)

Top Ten poorest countries

By one measuring stick, here are the Top Ten poorest countries in the world:

Another Top Teen Poor Countries that uses slightly different criteria to rank the level of poverty in a country:

Haitian offerings for the poor?

Haiti is poor. Incredibly poor.

Most Haitian believers come from those poor masses.

Their joyous worship includes tithing their meager incomes. That usually happens when ushers pass offering plates in the middle of the service. Sunday morning worship services often begin, however, with another offering: an offering for the poor. That jolted me. An offering for the poor?

The annual per-capita income in Haiti averages about $350 per person. They're probably the poorest people in the Western Hemisphere. Asking them to give an "offering for the poor" sounds absurd. Nonetheless, that's what they do, and do so joyfully. Haitian believers may be unbelievably poverty-stricken. But they see the widow, the orphan, the one who is too sick to work his tiny plot of ground. Divinely-inspired compassion prompts them to help. Hence, their weekly offerings for the poor.

This offering for the poor is usually a "march offering." Those with something to give leave their seats. Considering it a blessed privilege, with great delight they march down front and put their offering in a basket on the altar. The pastor and church board use these funds to help the most desperate cases in the congregation.

This money may not be much in comparison with what the Nazarene Hunger and Disaster fund pours into Haiti. That fund has helped Haitians hit by hurricanes. It's kept alive those suffering from crop-failure and famine. Hunger and Disaster Funds work to alleviate chronic poverty and malnutrition with pig farms, nutrition centers, vocational schools, and pure water supplies. Thousands of dollars given by fellow Nazarenes are making both short- and long-term differences in the lives of Haitian believers.

What Haitian believers give is not much compared to Hunger and Disaster fund help coming to their country. Still, each week those Haitian believers give their offering to the poor. Their response humbles me. It challenges me. It reminds me of the widow in the Temple and her two little copper coins.

I hope God is pleased with my giving to Nazarene Compassionate Ministries. I know He is with the Haitians' "offering for the poor."

    -- Howard Culbertson,

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