Are Christian’s attitudes toward the poor being influenced by
Politics or God's Word?
"IF you’re lookin’ for a handout you’re in the wrong end of town. Nothin’ for free over here, you have to work for everything you get!”
A group of irate people, who were part of a tea party rally, had gathered before a disheveled man sitting on the curb holding a cardboard plea for help. The message that was scrawled on the little sign also declared that its bearer had Parkinson’s disease. Apparently the man had seen this tea party rally as an opportunity to gather some support in his affliction. Instead he became the target of a vicious and humiliating tirade.
As I watched this sickening display I couldn’t help thinking about Jesus’ parable of Lazarus and the rich man (Luke 16:20-31), and Jesus’ statement “If you have done it to the least of these, you have done it to Me” (Matthew 25:40).
Because so many Christians have aligned themselves with the Tea Party movement and its ultra conservative agenda, I think we have to ask ourselves as believers this question – Are we allowing a political ideology to shape our view of the poor instead of the God’s word? And do those who profess faith in Jesus know what God’s word actually has to say about God’s care for the poor and how we are to respond to them?
I have discovered in conversations with believers on the subject that most of them parrot the same political rhetoric. These people also listen to conservative media. There is nothing wrong with that, as long as what they are hearing lines up with the word of God.
In a casual conversation with a friend I innocently mentioned the need for the church and the government to help take care of the poor. Her immediate response was a vehement, “I work!” She had been implanted with a stereotyped perception that all people who are poor do not work. This is a myth. Because of my own experiences with poverty and homelessness, I had a bit more experience than she had. I could relate to the woman I had met who had a stroke from working so many jobs just trying to keep a roof over her head. Because of her stroke she was finally able to qualify for low income housing, and thank God it was there for her. Poor people can work very hard and still not be able to afford medical care and some basic necessities.
As we progress into the future described for us in the book of Revelation, a picture is painted for us in chapter six of an imbalanced economy represented by a set of scales. Inflation renders the basic necessities of life unaffordable. A day’s wage only buys a handful of wheat while the luxury items that are always affordable to the rich are unaffected – “Hurt not the oil and the wine.” Thus we are shown a prophetic portrait of -“the generation, whose teeth are as swords, and their jaw teeth as knives to devour the poor from off the earth, and the needy from among men – Proverbs 30:14. Christians need to be working very hard not to be part of that “generation.”
This generation can advance when the rich are favored and there are not enough safeguards to protect the poor. We are told very specifically throughout God’s word that it is His desire that the poor be defended.
Open thy mouth, judge righteously, and plead the cause of the poor and needy. - Proverbs 31:9.
For the poor shall never cease out of the land: therefore I command thee, saying, Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto thy brother, to thy poor, and to thy needy, in thy land. - Deut. 15:11
There are hundreds of Scriptures in God’s word that deal with His care for the poor and the needy. As it is a major issue in the scriptures so it should be a major issue in our hearts.
I would like to address some of the frequent responses I have received from Christians and answer these view points with a Biblical perspective. I am not a member of any political party and this is not an endorsement of any political ideology. My only concern is that God's people operate according to God's word, so they may ultimately pass our final exam found in Matthew 25:31-46 - "If you have done it to the least of these My brethren, you have done it to Me."
It’s not the government’s responsibility to take care of the poor.
The Bible tells us what God requires in a leader, any leader –
He shall judge Thy people with righteousness, and Thy poor with judgment. He shall judge the poor of the people, he shall save the children of the needy, and shall break in pieces the oppressor. For he shall deliver the needy when he cries; the poor also, and him that has no helper. –Psalm 72: 2,3,12.
The king that faithfully judges the poor, his throne shall be established for ever. - Proverbs 29:14 -
In Jeremiah 22:16, we are told that King Josiah “pled the cause of the afflicted and needy. Then it was well. Is not that what it means to know me?"
God’s laws apply to everyone, not just believers. Therefore it is also a government’s responsibility to provide for its poor and not just the responsibility of the church as many have mistakenly assumed. -
Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.- Proverbs 14.34.
If God’s laws did not apply to all, then he would not have sent Jonah to warn Nineveh, nor would He have given prophecies to Jeremiah about God’s coming judgment on all the nations in the latter days-
But the LORD is the true God, He is the living God, and an everlasting king: at His wrath the earth shall tremble, and the nations shall not be able to abide His indignation - Jeremiah 10:10.
Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will punish all them which are circumcised with the uncircumcised; - Jeremiah 9:25.
Therefore prophesy thou against them all these words, and say unto them, The LORD shall roar from on high, and utter His voice from his holy habitation; He shall mightily roar upon his habitation; He shall give a shout, as they that tread the grapes, against all the inhabitants of the earth.
A noise shall come even to the ends of the earth; for the LORD hath a controversy with the nations, he will plead with all flesh; he will give them that are wicked to the sword, saith the LORD. - Jeremiah 25:30,31, Rev. 14.
And I will bring upon that land all My words which I have pronounced against it, even all that is written in this book, which Jeremiah hath prophesied against all the nations - Jeremiah -25:13.
The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God - Psalm 9:17.
If it was not God's will for secular nations to operate according to His principles, then why are the people of the secular nations that God is judging in the New Testament book of Revelation being told to repent? By what standard are they being judged? God's word, of course, it is eternal - And the rest of the men which were not killed by these plagues yet repented not of the works of their hands, that they should not worship devils, and idols of gold, and silver, and brass, and stone, and of wood: which neither can see, nor hear, nor walk: Neither repented they of their murders, nor of their sorceries, nor of their fornication, nor of their thefts. - Revelation 9:20,21.
When the pagan king Nebuchadnezzar fell under God’s judgment, the prophet Daniel told him to break off his sins by righteousness and take care of the poor and perhaps God would prolong his prosperity (Daniel 4:27); - because God promises protection to those who care for the poor, whether it is an individual or a government. - Blessed is he that considers the poor: the LORD will deliver him in time of trouble. The LORD will preserve him, and keep him alive; and he shall be blessed upon the earth: and thou wilt not deliver him unto the will of his enemies –Psalm 41: 1,2.
We cannot mistakenly assume that if we cut benefits for the poor that the money we spend on our defense will avail us anything, because -Except the LORD build the house, they labor in vain that build it: except the LORD keep the city, the watchman wakes but in vain. (Psalm 127:1). In other words, whether we are building a house or an army, it will benefit us nothing if we do not have His favor. And if we violate His commands to care for the poor, we cannot expect that our own efforts no matter how mighty we think they are will be sufficient to protect us. The United States has sinned greatly and violated God’s word in many ways. If we continue to follow policies that eliminate or severely cut back on the poor, we remove the “charity that covers a multitude of sins” (I Peter 4:8) and our defenses will come tumbling down.
In the prophetic book of Zechariah, God shows through the prophet what sins caused His people to be brought into the captivity and the prophet’s words also apply to us at this hour in our nation’s history – “Execute true judgment, and show mercy and compassions every man to this brother and oppress not the widow, nor the fatherless, the stranger (alien), nor the poor, and let none of you imagine evil against his brother in your heart,” (Zechariah 7:9-11). God’s people refused to listen and hardened their hearts, so God refused to listen to them (verse 13). God came with a “whirlwind” and scattered them among the nations (verse 14).
Like ancient Israel, the leadership of the United States professes knowledge of God. When the Republicans or Democrats who agree to vote for policies that favor the rich and at the same time cause affliction to the poor by cutting food stamps and other benefits as our country has been doing, it is mimicking the very same behavior that caused Israel to fall before her enemies.
Christians also need to recognize that God operates through secular agencies as well as His own people. God operated through a secular king to instigate the re-building of the temple in Jerusalem after the captivity and He used secular kings to provide for Jesus’ family so they could flee to Egypt to escape Herod (Matthew 2:11). If it was not for that provision through secular means, we might not have our Messiah Jesus.
While some Christians are vehemently protesting the government’s being involved with charity, at the same time they will also agree that if a secular government decided to follow Biblical principles that would be a good thing.
One of those principles is illustrated in Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan. In this parable, the Samaritan sees a man in need, has compassion on him, takes him to an inn and agrees to pay for his care for as long as needed (Luke 10:30-35). When the individuals that comprise the leadership of any government recognizes that the citizens under their jurisdiction are not having their medical needs met and responds by paying for their care, this government is operating according to a Biblical principle. At the same time the “Innkeepers,” the hospitals, nursing homes, etc. are receiving payment they would not otherwise have received and in turn the health service businesses and caregivers are paying taxes on that income contributing back into the system.
We can’t insist that the government follow Biblical principles in regard to the abortion and homosexual issues and then insist that it not follow Biblical principles in regard to the poor. This is nothing less than hypocrisy.
While it certainly is the will of God for the church to take care of the poor also, at the same time God’s word admonishes His people to “count the cost” when they are contemplating entering into any new campaign (Luke 14:28). If all the government entitlement programs are removed and if the church is willing to accept the responsibility of caring for those who suddenly find themselves without medical care, we have to keep in mind that some cancer medications can cost eight thousand dollars a month and a two day stay in a hospital can cost almost twenty thousand dollars. Is the church willing to undertake the enormous expense of a paraplegic’s lifetime in a nursing home? Can the church really do it all?
God can provide miraculously, but at the same time when the cost is counted, benevolence funds that were previously just a hobby for the deacons, must become a central part of a church’s budget. According to the pattern we have in the Old Testament, the tithe was for the priest’s/pastor’s salary and the poor, (Deut. 14:28, 29). Building maintenance and everything else was provided by offerings.
Very few churches today operate according to this example. If the heart of the church matched God’s heart for the poor as exemplified in the scriptures, maybe the government’s role in caring for the poor might not have mushroomed to the degree it is now.
Taxes for benevolence is a violation of the constitution
There are those that argue that it is a violation of the constitution of the United States to forcefully take money from one people and give it to another. I have heard some Christians refer to taxes as “stealing,” “extortion” and “sin.” Jesus advocated voluntary giving, but at the same time the scriptures tell us that we have governments that are appointed by God to minister to those things that are required in this life, taxes are necessary and both Jesus and the Apostle Paul instructed us to pay them (Romans 13:1-7, Matt. 17:27). We are to “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's. (Matthew 22:17-21).
As Christians we must be careful to avoid a selfish “I’ve got mine, you’re on your own” attitude which can result from a legalistic interpretation of the wording in our constitution.
Actually, the concept of “limited government” which is used by some to justify the elimination of taxes to help the poor does not come from the Bible, but through the philosophers of “The Enlightenment.” The ideas of Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and most notably Baron de Montesquieu were the models upon which the majority of the United States government was based.
The Bible tells us the there is the letter of the law and the spirit of the law. Jesus violated the Pharisees “constitution” by healing on the Sabbath, because He was being compelled by His compassion to help someone in need. Jesus was operating in the spirit of the law and not the letter. If our government operated totally by the letter of the constitution, we would not be sending disaster relief to other countries and even our own people in the wake of national disasters.
We have to stop and ask ourselves, why is it okay to take tax money to build roads, but wrong to use tax money to care for our nation’s poor?
We must be careful not to place the constitution of the United States above God’s constitution, His Word, which has been summarized by our Lord to this – “Love God with all your heart mind and soul and your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-39).
He that gives unto the poor shall not lack: but he that hides his eyes shall have many a curse - Proverbs 28:27. When we show favor to the rich by not taxing them appropriately, or removing inappropriate credits and loopholes while at the same time cut back on the poor, we can actually bring a curse upon us from the Lord.
If you study the tax history from the Tax Policy Center, it reflects an interesting pattern. During the Regan-Bush era the highest tax rate was lowered and the economy went down. During Clinton's administration it was raised and the economy prospered. Then again during the next republican reign, the tax rate was again lowered for the wealthy and the economy responded by deflating accordily, at the same time cuts were being made to the poor.
As I write this there is legislation that has been proposed that will cut funding for the poor, children, the elderly and the handicapped while at the same time providing tax cuts for the wealthy totaling several trillion dollars. God has provided though the prosperity of others to be a provision for those who are in need – this is a vital Biblical truth that we ignore at our own peril. He that oppresses the poor to increase his riches, and he that gives to the rich, shall surely come to want. - Proverbs 22:16.
There are those who do not want to give tax money to a government they see as rebellious to God’s word and to those who have not worked, yet, if it was not for God’s unmerited compassion for the rebellious, none would have any hope, because - God commended His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. – Romans 5:8. We are told that while we were “without strength” or weak Jesus died for the ungodly - Romans 5:6. Therefore we are told in God’s word that those who are strong are to help the weak and not please ourselves, for the strong are also recipients of that same unmerited forgiveness.
The United States has sinned against God greatly in many ways, so again, for this very reason we must be careful not to remove the charity that covers a multitude of sins, (I Peter 4:8) because when the Lord hears the cries of the oppressed and the needy He will arise (Psalm 12:5). We need to carefully ponder the implications of what happens in the wake of God’s response to those cries from the victims of unjust economic policies.
“If any man does not work, he should not eat!”
Christians often quote from the scripture, “If a man does not work, he should not eat,” (II Thessalonians 3:10) as a justification for removing or cutting back on entitlement programs, but at the same time these same Christians forget that there are many on those programs who cannot work, or may not be physically able to work as hard as others to keep up with the escalating costs of life’s necessities.
The Bible tells of those in David’s day that had become so physically exhausted they could not keep up with the other warriors and had to remain behind while their brethren marched off to war. (I Samuel 30:10-25). When David and his men returned with the spoils of their victory, David commanded that the bounty be shared with those who had not partaken in the battle. This was seen as unfair by some of the other soldiers who had risked their lives and fought so hard to earn those rewards. Those who protested were called “wicked” men of Belial. The word wicked is used in the Scriptures to designate those who despise or neglect the poor (Proverbs 29:7, Psalm 10:2, 37:14, 82:4). But God through David had compassion on those who were not as physically strong, treated them equally, and giving to those who cannot “work” so to speak, became a statute in Israel. The New Testament reiterates - “Those who are strong should support the weak and not please ourselves” (Romans 15:1) and we are admonished to work so we will have money to give to those who have needs (Ephesians 4:28).
A friend of mine who worked as a nurse recounted this story to me of one of her coworkers. This woman’s husband left her with two small children and she was forced to move in with her parents. They encouraged her to get a career and she became a nurse and is now able to maintain herself and her children. My friend used this example to show that if that woman could do it so can anyone. My friend was not taking into consideration that the woman had a supportive family, a free place to live while she was attending classes, financial support and free babysitting. Many people do not have these advantages and they become trapped in their circumstances.
I think we have to be careful not to let the “If I can do it, so can they” attitude create a master economic race view of the poor that sees those who are not measuring up to someone’s preconceived standard become objects of persecution. God’s people must guard themselves from allowing a political ideology to create a destructive prejudice against the poor. Those who can work are required to do so, (11 Thess. 3:10), but at the same time it is also required that those who work are to provide for the needs of others (Ephesians 4:28). The Bible does not sanction hording wealth (Matthew 6:19).
“Trickle down” economics is the best economic policy
Many Christians endorse the “Trickle down” economic theory. The simplest way to describe it is basically that by giving the wealthy enormous tax breaks, it will cause them to put that money back into the economy and the benefits will “trickle down.” Because it is a “trickle” it usually evaporates before it reaches those on the bottom of the falls who need it the most.
Because of the basic depravity of human nature, the Bible and early church history attest that the “trickle down” theory does not always work. When the beggar Lazarus was laid at the rich man’s gate, none of the rich man’s wealth “trickled down” to Lazarus’ aid (Luke 16:20-30.)
In the early days of Christianity they would hold love feasts which today would be the equivalent of a pot luck supper. The rich and the poor were separated in different rooms. The wealthy would bring a sumptuous feast while the isolated poor would have little or nothing to eat. None of the abundance of the wealthy trickled down into that other room. This practice continued until the apostles got wind of what was happening and intervened. According to this example in Biblical history, some regulation was needed in order to make sure that the poor were fed.
God’s trickle down theory works this way; He promises that when the wealthy give to the poor, then God will prosper them even more, (Proverbs 19:17.) This will in turn prosper the nation because it is operating according to a Biblical principle contained in the word of God.
I assure you according to God’s word, that cutting back on the poor, while favoring the wealthy by not requiring them to help the needy through proportionate taxation, or by not removing tax credits and loopholes that the super rich use to keep them from paying their fair share, will not solve America’s financial problems it will only make them worse. Any economic policy that operates in opposition to the word of God is destined to fail.
I read the testimony of one corporate executive who said that his secretary paid more in taxes than he did, and he did not believe that was fair. It is not.
When King David sinned by having an affair with another man’s wife and then caused the woman’s husband to be killed to cover up the scandal, the prophet Nathan was sent by God to the king and gave him a prophetic illustration of the principle behind what David had done. –
And the LORD sent Nathan unto David. And he came unto him, and said unto him, There were two men in one city; the one rich, and the other poor. The rich man had exceedingly many flocks and herds: But the poor man had nothing, save one little ewe lamb, which he had bought and nourished up: and it grew up together with him, and with his children; it did eat of his own meat, and drank of his own cup, and lay in his bosom, and was unto him as a daughter. And there came a traveler unto the rich man, and he spared to take of his own flock and of his own herd, to dress for the wayfaring man that was come unto him; but took the poor man's lamb, and dressed it for the man that was come to him. – II Samuel 12:1-4.
David became so enraged over the injustice of the situation he vehemently condemned the rich man in the prophet’s parable. So while this was an illustration to expose the injustice of David’s personal sin, again the principle behind it operates today when a government removes health care or provisions from the poor in order to spare taxing the wealthy who can abundantly afford to underwrite services for the needy.
When a government provides for the poor it is socialism
In the early days of the Christian church, the people would bring their surplus that was earned through a free enterprise system to the apostles for them to distribute to those who had needs. Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, and laid them down at the apostles’ feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need – Acts 4:34,35. And all that believed were together, and had all things common; and sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need – Acts 2:44,45.
Therefore the principle of having a central fund as a safety net for financial emergencies was established in the word of God. People were taught to look after the needs of others. The purpose of the Old Testament tithe was the same. “Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house” – Malachi 3:10.
Both communism and socialism were adapted from the early Christian communes and while these systems are flawed attempts at achieving some sort of ideal social system, which cannot be obtained without full submission to God, the basic principle of both ideologies originated from the Bible.
God blesses the individual, so in turn the individual can be a blessing to others. When everyone is operating according to this principle, you would have a social system that truly worked, but human beings are flawed and this system will never fully materialize until the return of Jesus Christ and we are once again operating in the same powerful anointing that prevailed in the first century and made the Christian community so effective in this area.
However, any government that chooses to model itself after the Biblical example by using a free enterprise system to provide a social safety net for the needy in its society is operating on a godly principle.
The scriptures recognize that human nature is depraved - "All have sinned and come short of the Glory of God" – Romans 3:23. And because human nature is basically selfish, those who are stronger will naturally take advantage of the weak. The book of Amos illustrates this principle explicitly and portrays God’s indignation on the oppressors and their abuse of the poor.
I will not turn away the punishment thereof; because they sold the righteous for silver, and the poor for a pair of shoes, that pant after the dust of the earth on the head of the poor, and turn aside the way of the meek” – Amos 2:7.
Hear this word, you cows of Bashan, which oppress the poor, which crush the needy” – Amos 4:1.
“Your treading is upon the poor – and you take from him burdens of wheat” – Amos 5:11.
“For I know your manifold transgressions and your mighty sins: they afflict the just, they take a bribe, and they turn aside the poor in the gate from their right." – Amos 5:12.
“Hear you this, O you that swallow up the needy, even to make the poor of the land to fail, saying when will the new moon be gone, that we may sell corn? And the Sabbath, that we may set forth wheat, making the ephah small, and the shekel great – and falsifying the balances by deceit? That we may buy the poor for silver, and the needy for a pair of shoes; yes, and sell the refuse of the wheat? – Amos 8:4-6.
In the New Testament the Apostle James reiterates. - "Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you. Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are moth eaten. Your gold and silver is cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire. Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days. Behold, the hire of the laborers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, cries: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of sabaoth. Ye have lived in pleasure on the earth, and been wanton; ye have nourished your hearts, as in a day of slaughter. Ye have condemned and killed the just; and he doth not resist you." - James 5:1-5
James certainly would not be all that popular in certain conservative political circles even though he is clearly expressing God’s perspectives.
When a government recognizes that there are abuses against the poor in its society and seeks to correct those abuses by regulating the abusers, it is operating according to the Biblical commandments to protect and defend the poor.
God loves the poor and His heart is with them. The devil hates what God loves. As Christians who profess knowledge and love for the one true God, we must be careful not to find ourselves emulating the enemy of our souls in regard to how we view the poor and their care – or allowing radio commentators and politicians to override what the scriptures actually instruct us concerning the needy, the handicapped, our seniors and other vulnerable members of our society.
It is a characteristic of an apostate church to not believe that God will respond to our actions, as was the attitude of ancient Israel prior to the captivity. Let us not make the same tragic mistake. We cannot continue to favor policies that fly in the face of God without reaping what we sow (Galatians 6:7); those who mocked God by declaring that even He could not sink the Titanic, tragically learned otherwise.
As we look at other countries that allow the poor who cannot afford food and medical care to die in the streets, I will conclude with this thought; – What distinguishes a nation from third world status is the level of care it bestows upon its poor. – H. D. Shively
copyright 2011 by H.D. Shively
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