The Christian responsibility to the poor is clear. Over 300 times in scripture, God commands his followers to care for the poor. His eye is on the poor who cry out to him day and night for justice.
The life of the poor person is stressful, and highly uncertain from day to day. God has compassion on the poor. He understands poverty intimately, as He came to walk the earth in the form of a poor man named Jesus. Jesus was so poor that he did not even have a home, or a place to lay His head (Luke 9:58). Jesus still walks the earth through the poor who are close to his heart.
Jesus Teaches Us Responsibility Through Lazarus
In the parable of Lazarus and the rich man (Luke 16:19-31), God heard the prayers of Lazarus the beggar. In response, God sent him to the rich man’s doorstep to ask for help.
Yet day after day the rich man walked by Lazarus. Ignored him. Told Lazarus it was his own fault that he was poor. Told Lazarus that he simply needed to think more positive thoughts. Told Lazarus that he would not “enable” him by giving him money. Told Lazarus that he should just get with the times and start a business, find a job, stop being lazy.
The rich man never stopped to ask Lazarus why he was having a hard time or how he could help him. He rich man just made excuses about not being responsible for poverty.
The rich man also never bothered to ask God about Lazarus. We know the end of the story. When both men died, God welcomed Lazarus to heaven, a place of endless love and comfort. Lazarus never had another need after that. No more hunger. No more pain. No more shame from people walking by and blaming Lazarus for his problems.
But when the rich man died, he found himself with a one-way ticket to hell, do not pass go, with no get out of jail free card. He begged and pleaded for a second chance, but he had shown his true heart on earth. God judged fairly.
And what was his crime? Simply not caring for the poor.
Interesting that the rich man has no name in the story. Was Jesus saying that, by his actions toward the poor, he showed a dark heart unworthy of even a name?
Jesus stated clearly that the rich man had a responsibility to Lazarus, a responsibility to the poor.
The Christian Responsibility to the Poor
Jesus’ story should give pause to the average American Christian today. We live in our nice houses, with our nice picket fences, and walk to our nice churches, ignoring all the Lazaruses around us.
As a matter of fact, the story of Lazarus and the rich man is the ONLY specific picture of hell in the entire Bible. So what do you think is foremost in the mind of Jesus? Is it homosexuality? Is it abortion? Is it sexual immorality? No! The church says these are the foremost things, but, clearly, not caring for the poor is the number one sin of the church.
The church should have learned from history. Every time the Israelites were sent into captivity, it was foremost because they broke the command to care for the poor. Social justice was the cry of every ancient prophet.
Through His prophets, God called his bride Israel a whore who cared more for other lovers. Who were her other lovers? Money, money, money!
Baal is the number one false god which Israel worshiped. Baal is the god of money. Baal-worship started with Aaron’s golden calf, and it continued to the famous showdown of Elijah and the prophets of Baal. How much more evidence do we need? Don’t you know that Baal was represented by a bull? And what is the emblem of Wall Street? A bull!
Give Up Your Stuff, Gain the Kingdom
Now I will let you in on a little secret which I learned from Jesus. Giving up your stuff is vitally important for your heart.
The fallen condition of the human heart is that of greed and selfishness. No matter how good a race that you start in the faith, you must finish that race (Hebrews 11, 12:1-2). Many, many Christians have started the race by calling on Jesus in their darkest hour of need. He answers them, but then how quickly they forget the healing and turn back to their ways of greed and selfishness.
Jesus talked about this in the parable of the sower.
Mark 4:3-8 (NIV)
3 “Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4 As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, some multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times.”
Most Christians receive the seed, and they rejoice, but the seed never takes root. They are the seed choked by thorns. Jesus explained it this way.
Mark 4:18-19 (NIV)
18Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; 19 but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.
Did you catch that? The “deceitfulness of wealth” chokes the seed. Most Christians refuse to sell out for the gospel and to take up their own cross. They see the needs around them, but they say it is too inconvenient, too risky, too messy, or a million other excuses. They keep their big houses full of pretty things, and they give little or nothing away. The seed dies inside of them, choked by the greed of their fallen heart.
You have to understand that when you give something up to care for your poor brother or sister, you gain even more than they do. The seed of joy sprouts and grows. You learn to overcome your fallen nature, and you become a new creature. This is a lesson that must be repeated often so the newly born you can grow and mature.
God cares greatly for the poor, and He cares greatly for your heart. In His perfect system, when you give, you do plant a seed, and the return is 10 or 100 fold. It is not the return of finances in this life, as so many false prophets and televangelists will tell you. It is the return of spiritual rewards in this life and the next, and it is the return of a renewed heart. You will learn to truly keep your treasure in heaven. You will follow God’s law, and you will Jesus’ kingdom on earth, just by giving up your stuff.
Christian Responsibility Goes Beyond the Tithe
Some people say that the Christian responsibility to the poor is fulfilled by the tithe. This is wrong. Simply tithing 10% to your church does not let you off the hook.
You are called to give everything, not just 10%. Jesus did not tell the rich young ruler to only give 10%. No. You are to give your very life as a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1).
Also, tithing, as it explained in today’s church has a problem. Churches most often mismanage the tithe and put it into staff salaries and building funds, not into helping the poor. The 10% which the church talks about has been divorced from its Biblical context. God told the Israelites to bring the first-fruits of their crops to be distributed to the poor. The Malachi 3:10 passage they so often quote, about bringing the tithe to the storehouse, comes directly after God chastises the Israelites for not helping the poor.
The American church today pulls this passage out of context and steals the10% from God. The tithe was never intended to give some pastor a lavish lifestyle or to build a lavish church. The church is apostate and does not deserve your money, unless they can prove where every penny goes and how it is helping the needs of the poor and least of these in the surrounding community.
Bypass the church and bring your tithe and all your abundance to lay at the feet of the poor around you.
Turn from your greed and apathy, and go out and give today. Take your first step toward bearing your cross, losing your life, and gaining the kingdom of heaven. This is the Christian responsibility to the poor.