Caring for the Poor: A Mandate from Christ

Giving to the Poor

Perhaps we don’t talk about this enough in churches these days, but the mandate in scripture is clear: If we’re going to follow Christ on His terms, we’re going to have to take care of the poor.

When you begin to study the Bible to find out what it has to say about money, you learn all sorts of wise, useful and challenging things. God gives us a Master Plan for how we should handle the finances that He has entrusted us with. And one of the key pillars of that plan is giving generously. Because our giving is God’s principle plan for caring for the world’s poor.

There are many places in scripture that we can look to to learn about God’s desire for us to give to the needy. Today we’re going to examine one of the teachings of Jesus that makes it clear how giving to the poor benefits both them and us.

Today’s text comes from Luke 12:32-34, where Jesus is teaching His disciples about worry, provision and giving:

32 Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Many people are familiar with the final idea in this passage — where your treasure is, there your heart will be also — because it shows up in several other places throughout Jesus’ teaching. But I want to call your attention to the key principle that immediately precedes it: “Sell your possessions and give to the poor,” Jesus says. “Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail.”

It would be easy to see charity and compassion as entirely altruistic attitudes, or actions that we do primarily to benefit others. And our charity and compassion should absolutely motivate us to give to the poor. But Jesus takes the idea beyond these simple motivations to show us some of the beauty of His plan: Our charity helps not only the poor, but it helps us as well.

How does giving to the poor benefit us? It’s more than just the warm, fuzzy feeling that we get from helping someone in need (although that’s nice too). Giving transfers our wealth from one realm to another. The money and things that we have on this earth will never transcend the material world as long as we hold onto them for ourselves. But when we let them go and give them to someone in need, that gift is credited to our heavenly accounts. We trade treasure that is temporary for one that is eternal. Money comes and goes, and the possessions that we treasure in life will eventually wear out, break down or fade away. But the treasure that we store up in heaven endures forever.

Jesus also anticipated that this kind of teaching would make a lot of people nervous. After all, it’s not a natural feeling to give away the things that we treasure. But He addresses this worry with a promise. “Do not be afraid,” He tells us, “for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.”

God has always intended for His people to demonstrate His love and compassion. Jesus makes it clear that this is what we are called to do. But along with that mandate comes a promise. Though we give away temporary things, God Himself has given us the kingdom. And the material things that we surrender in this life will be far surpassed by the eternal things that we receive in the next.

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Photo by Chris Yarzab. Used under Creative Commons License.