Take Care of the Poor and Needy
Put God first. That is one of the things God wants His people to do. He wants us to do that individually. He wants that to be taught to others.
Choose life. That is something God wants His people to do. Abundant life is what He has available. It is ours for the taking, the taking seen in obeying Him, loving him, and walking in His ways, including accepting Jesus as Savior.
Do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God. Those are three more things that are to describe those of us who claim to be His people. We are to treat others well. We are to be kind to others. We are to adhere to the teachings of God.
In this message, one more thing God wants us to do. It is to take care of the poor and the needy, which is a concept taught throughout the Bible, including in the four passages that will be part of this message, one passage from the Old Testament, the other three from the New Testament.
The Old Testament passage for this message is Deuteronomy 15:7-11. It explains what we are to do for those who are poor and needy, including the attitude we are to have when we help the poor and needy.
Verse 7. This is the word of God given to Moses to share with God’s people.
“If there is among you a poor man…” Later in this first passage is the comment that poor people will always be in the world. so the word “if” can be understood to mean “when” there is among you a poor man.
“One of your brethren…” That refers to a fellow believer in God. For us, a fellow believer in Jesus. It cannot be denied we are to help any who are poor and needy, but here the emphasis is on fellow people of God.
“If there is among you a poor man, one of your brethren in any of your towns within your land which the LORD your God gives you [the Promised Land to which the people of God were going when Moses spoke these words], you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother.” There is the word “brother again.” Again, this refers to a fellow believer.
“You shall not harden your heart or shut your hand.” According to what I studied, the giving being promoted in this verse can be either lending or giving. In the case of lending, there are other teachings in the Bible against charging interest from brothers, but whether lending or giving, “you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand.”
Instead - verse 8 - “you shall open your hand to him,” according to your ability to give or lend. You shall open your hand to him, which requires opening your heart as well. Lend or give to him “sufficient for his need, whatever it may be.”
“Whatever it may be.” Maybe it is money that is needed, or perhaps housing, or food. Maybe add friendship when giving or lending any of those things.
Open your hand - open your hand wide open - is the teaching. Give liberally, as much as you have means, as much as the poor man needs.
Do that, according to verse 9, no matter when the poor man has a need. That is an important thought because, as verse 9 refers to, there was a Jewish law that stated that every seventh year, all debts were to be forgive.
Do you sense the problem? Some who were able to help the poor and needy were often reluctant to help as every seventh year approached because the help given through loans, if not repaid before that seventh year, would be forgiven. Those who loaned money would never have to be paid back. Some did not want to risk not getting their money back. Those people shied away from helping the poor at certain times.
That of course made it especially difficult for the poor and needy to get the help they needed, which is why the teaching in verse 9 is to not be concerned whether you are paid back or not. As the verse continues, “do not let your eye be hostile to your poor brother.” The teaching is that if he needs help even right before the year of forgiving debts, lend anyway.
That, by the way, is not good banking theory. Banks get in real trouble if they do not get back the money they loan out. But spiritually, as brothers work with each other, being paid back is not to be the concern.
Why? Well, our first concern is to be helping those to whom we are spiritually joined. But second, listen to the rest of verse 9. “If you have the means to help and you do not, the poor or needy brother can cry to the LORD against you, and it will be sin in you.”
Let me share that, in my opinion, it can be difficult to determine whether someone I do not know has a legitimate need or if I am being duped. There are so many scams around today. Not knowing makes it difficult to know what to do.
For instance, a few years ago a couple stopped by the church on a Wednesday evening for Bible study. Their story was that they were on their way to St. Elizabeth Hospital, where the woman was to have some medical work done the next day. On their way to the hospital, they happened to notice our church and decided to join us for Bible study.
The story was suspicious since our church cannot be easily seen from 84th Street, but that is what they said. Then after Bible study, the couple shared they had nowhere to stay that night. Could we pay for their lodging? The woman was going to receive a check the next day from an aunt. As soon as she had the check, we would be reimbursed. That would be the end of it.
I led the couple to a motel on Cornhusker Highway. Fortunately, since it was already after 9:00 by then, the motel had one room left, which I paid for.
The couple was very appreciative. Especially so when, the next afternoon, I got a call from them. It seems the aunt’s check had not arrived. They needed one more night of lodging.
I returned to the motel and paid for another night for them. The woman apologized for the mix up. She said the aunt’s check would surely arrive the next day.
Of course the problem, as I saw it, was that if I was paid back, the money from the aunt would just about be used up. The couple would then be in no better position than they were when I paid for the two nights of lodging.
What I did was tell the couple that I would make the lodging a gift. If they wanted to make a gift to me sometime, that would be fine, but the lodging was a gift, which released them from being beholden to me.
It is tough to know what to do, especially when I am face to face with the ones who say they have a need, like I was that evening. It is difficult, too, when I do not know if the ones needing help are spiritual brothers or sisters. But that is what I did in that case.
Interestingly, I never heard from that couple again, but maybe what I did was the right thing to do. Maybe the Lord was pleased.
But still the teaching, especially as it refers to brothers and sisters. Verse 10. “You shall give to the poor and needy freely. Your heart shall not be grudging when you give.” Why? “For this the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake.”
As already stated - verse 11 - “the poor will never cease out of the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor in the land.’”
That teaching is found in the Old Testament. It is found in the New Testament as well. For that, there are three passages I have selected for our consideration.
By the way, as I worked on this message, the phrase “a preponderance of the evidence” came to my mind. To prove a case, there needs to be both a lot of evidence and solid evidence. To prove the case that God wants us to take care of the poor and needy, there are a lot of passages that teach that. Solid evidence since it is the word of the God that is found in the Bible.
To continue to build a preponderance of the evidence, let’s consider a passage in Matthew 25, beginning with verse 34.
This part of Matthew 25 talks about how people will be judged.
First of all, the main question for judgment is and will be whether we have accepted Jesus as Savior. That and that alone determines Heaven or Hell. If you do not accept Jesus, your eternity will be in Hell. Accept Jesus, and Heaven will be your eternal resting place.
Accepting Jesus is the key. However, those who accept Jesus are expected to act in certain ways. We have talked about some of those ways recently - put God first, choose life, do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with God. According to today’s topic, another way Christians are to act is to take care of the poor and needy.
Matthew 25, beginning with verse 34. Again, these are words that will be spoken in judgment - in a good judgment - to those who take care of the poor and needy. “The King will say to those at His right hand [to those who will be honored by Him], ‘Come, o blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.’”
Wow. What a reward. For what? “For I was hungry and you gave Me food. I was thirsty and you gave Me drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed Me. I was naked and you clothed Me. I was sick and you visited Me. I was in prison and you came to Me.”
That list refers to helping the poor and needy - poor and needy physically, socially, mentally, economically. The list provides a good reminder of ways we are to help those who suffer.
But get this. The righteous - those who will have done any or all of the things on the list - will answer Him, “Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and welcome You or naked and clothe You? When did we see You sick or in prison and visit You.”
Whenever I consider those questions, I am amazed that those who had helped the poor and needy did not realize they were serving the Lord when they served others. Not so much that they did not realize it as they had no ulterior motives as they served others. They served the poor and needy simply because those they served were poor and needy. With their faith in Jesus they wanted to help others.
But listen to the last verse of the passage. “The King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’”
Another example of being asked for help popped into my mind as I worked on this message. There was a man who worshiped with us for a while a number of years ago . He had had many problems, but, he said, he was ready to turn his life around. Part of that was having a job. He had been hired, but he needed a uniform. Could I help?
I met the man at the uniform shop at Gateway. He chose a shirt, pants, and shoes. I paid for them. He took them with him.
I will admit to feeling kind of good that I had helped. I felt good until the next day, when I got a call from the owner of the uniform shop. The man had stopped by to return the shirt, pants, and shoes, asking for a refund of the money that had been spent the day before.
The owner told me she had not refunded the money. That she had explained to the man she could not give the money to him since he is not the one who had paid for the shirt, pants, and shoes. She added he had become pretty agitated before he had left the store.
The woman asked what I wanted to do. I said that if the man appeared again, she should take the shirt, pants, and shoes back and give him the refund. Her safety was more important than the money.
The man did return to the uniform shop. He did hand over the clothes in exchange for the refund. That is the last I ever heard from him.
I wonder if I was given some credit by God for trying to help, in this case, helping a man who had claimed to be a Christian brother. I hope - I trust - such credit was not my goal. But the teaching of Jesus is that when we help others, we are serving God. And yes, we need to be careful. We need to be wise. But when we can help and then do help we are, according to Matthew 25, serving Jesus Himself. That should keep us interested in giving assistance to those who are poor and needy.
The importance of providing help is also explained in James 2:15-16.
“If a brother or sister…” That again refers to fellow Christians. And again, we know we are to help others, too, but help is especially expected among Christians. “If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food [if a brother or sister is poor or needy] and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit?”
What a reminder how easy it is to say the right thing, which is important. The words we say can be helpful. But how much better to go beyond words to, in this case, helping by giving clothes or sharing food so the one suffering will have more than your words to stay warm and filled.
That same scenario is taught in I John 3:17-19.
“If anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need [this once again refers to a fellow Christian and it once again gives a course of action to those who are able to help], yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him?”
How can our love for God be seen - be proved - without helping fellow Christians in need? “Little children, let us not love in word or speech [which is not wrong in and of itself since we need to express our love for one another in the words we speak, but let us not love only in word or speech]. Let’s also love in deed and in truth. By this we shall know that we are of the truth, and reassure our hearts before Him.”
I have in this message shared two attempts I have experienced to take care of the poor and needy. Two attempts that did not turn out very well. Let me share one that turned out better.
This was also many years ago. On a Friday evening we received a call from a woman who was in town, hoping to visit her husband the next day.
The husband was residing at the state penitentiary. The woman had made it to Lincoln. She needed a ride the next morning to the prison. She had someone arranged to pick her up from the prison later on Saturday. All she needed was a ride to the facility Saturday morning.
In a pathetic display of compassion, my response was, “Nope. Sorry. Can’t help you.” But Lynna Gene, who overheard the call, got my attention and said, tell her that yes, we will pick her up and get her to the penitentiary.
I corrected myself and set the time and place to pick her up.
Lynna Gene drove her car that Saturday morning. I rode in the back seat. we picked up the woman, who had dressed up for the visit. We got her to the penitentiary, where the woman could not say thank you enough. She was so appreciative someone had taken the time to help her.
We never heard from her again either, but that one left us feeling good. It was not a scam. We were not in any danger. It at least seemed to be a genuine case of taking care of someone who was poor and needy.
What about you? And one more time, we need to be careful. There are so many scams around. There are so many people out to take advantage of those who want to help. Because of those dangers, we need to be prayed up for guidance and protection.
But we are taught, especially for fellow Christians, to help. As it is taught in Deuteronomy 15, to do so with open hearts and hands. As taught by Jesus, by James, and by John, we are to help, not only with our words, but also by giving what we can, including food, water, clothing, welcomes, visits.
We need to help the poor and needy. For a moment, let’s have a time of silent prayer in which each of us will ask God to give the direction He has for us in how we can help.
I can of course come up with some ideas, including helping with the People’s City Mission. But God has a special message for each of us about that or others ways we can help the poor and needy, not only with our words, but also by what we might be able to give.
For a moment, a time of silent prayer. Listen for the message God has for you. After that, our closing song for this service. Let’s pray,
Today’s closing song is a reminder to know and do what God wants, including, as we have discussed today, to take care of the poor and needy. That is in the first verse we will sing, In the other verse we will sing, which is verse 4 of the hymn, we are reminded to look forward to the reward promised to those who know and do what God wants.
Trust and Obey. We will sing verses 1 and 4.
When we walk with the Lord
In the light of His Word,
What a glory He sheds on our way!
While we do His good will,
He abides in us still,
And with all who will trust and obey.
Trust and obey, for there’s no other way
To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.
Then in fellowship sweet
We will sit at His feet,
Or we’ll walk by His side in the way;
What He says we will do,
Where He sends we will go,
Never fear, only,trust and obey.
Trust and obey, for there’s no other way
To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.
Lord, please continue to direct us to help those who are poor and needy. To do so, not just with our words, but also by our actions and gifts.
Pleasing You must always be our main goal in obeying everything You teach, but thank You that when we trust You and obey You, we can be happy now and forever. Thank You. Amen.