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How to best help the poor


Helping the poor. Photo Fabian Bockholt/Flickr/Creative Commons

Helping the poor. Photo Fabian Bockholt/Flickr/Creative Commons

Michael Wooldridge of Muscatine, Iowa recently posted a message to Facebook about an incident that happened to his uncle referred to only as “Mike.”

Mike was at a Taco Bell when he saw two men with signs asking for financial help.

According to Wooldridge, Mike, who is also a businessman, decided instead of giving these two fellows financial assistance would provide them jobs. However, when he extended the offer the two men turned him down and continued to beg for money.

Mike was shocked by their response. So he left, created his own sign, returned and stood behind these two young men with his sign that read: “Offered these guys a job. They said no. Don’t give money.”

Angered the two men moved to a different location and Mike apparently joined them there. Eventually the two left.

Of course the Facebook comments predictably went one of two directions those who applauded Mike and others who felt sorry for the young men begging for money.

What is the Biblical response to this type of situation?

As the early church was getting established it became known as a place where people could receive financial help. When there is free money available all sorts of people show up, some legitimate, some not.

Uncle Mike with his sign. Photo Michael Wooldridge/Facebook

Uncle Mike with his sign. Photo Michael Wooldridge/Facebook

So the Apostle Paul gave the Thessalonian church this advice:

10 For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either. (2 Thessalonians 3:10 NASV)

As we take a closer look at this verse, we notice a couple of things. First, this was not the first time Paul had given these instructions to this church. He had told them this verbally and the church was struggling to follow through with his advice.

Apparently, they were feeling sorry for people and giving them help without any sense of the poor taking responsibility for their own lives.

Paul repeated what he told them earlier, those receiving aid must be “willing to work.” Notice Paul says they must be “willing” to work, not that they were required to work. It is all about attitude here.

There are some people who are willing to work but because of age and physical or mental disabilities are simply unable to. There could also be situational issues that prevent ‘willing’ people from working such as a mother with young children or even a sickness.

For the rest, there must be a willingness to work before the church provides financial help.

In many ways, Paul was basing this advice on the Old Testament law that provided financial assistance to the poor.

Since the Israeli culture was largely agricultural, farmers were told not to fully harvest their crops and to leave some for the needy who included among others the aliens, the orphans and widows:

  1. They were told not to harvest the edges and corners of the field. This was to be left for the poor to harvest (Leviticus 23:22).
  2. After harvest if a farmer accidentally left a sheaf of grain in the field, he was told not to go back and gather it (Deuteronomy 24:19).
  3. They were not to glean the fields, which meant they should not gather any grain heads that had fallen to the ground (Leviticus 23:22).
  4. When harvesting olives, as an example, they were told not to shake or hit the boughs a second time. What ever fell off the first time could be harvested and any olives still hanging because they hadn’t matured were left for the poor (Deuteronomy 24:20).
  5. The same applied to grapes. They could only harvest them once, any missed or unripened were left for the needy (Deuteronomy 24:21).
  6. Every seven years, they were told to rest the fields and not to plant a crop. Anything that grew during this Sabbath year from fallen grain was for anyone to harvest (Leviticus 25:4-7).

So in a sense it was a form of taxation as farmers were not to fully harvest their crops and they were to purposefully leave some for the poor.

But notice the government didn’t come in and gather the grain for them, the needy had to harvest their own food. They had to be willing to work for their living, like the farmer who owned the land.

For those unable to work family, friends and society were expected to help (Deuteronomy 15:7-11).

In the New Testament, Paul was simply repeating the same message help those genuinely in need, but don’t feed the freeloader and the lazy. You are not doing them any favors.

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