I received the following question:

What are your thoughts regarding the poor in our day.  I mean Israel had to help the poor and care for them.  But what about us?

That is a very good question, and one that I cannot say that I have come personally to a very good conclusion on. There is no doubt but that God told the Israelites to care for their poor. Particularly their poor brother and sister Israelites were the focus. Yet the principle would still carry over to us. The poor should be our concern, and particularly poor believers.

Yet our country makes it difficult. We are not very connected in our neighborhoods. Most of us do not come in contact with anyone whom we would really consider “poor” much at all. When we do, it seems to be chance encounters with panhandlers begging for money. This does not seem to really be what the Bible expects. In a typical small town in Israel, you would know the poor and the poor would know you. You would know who in the town was handicapped, who had little goods, who was in need. The poor were right there, and you knew that it was your duty to help them. You also knew if they were wastrels, if they might just squander your aid, or if they were given to alcohol and would just use your gift to get more. Because you had knowledge of them, you would know how to help them.

Yet most of us, as I said, don’t really know any poor people, and if we come in contact with some, we know little about them. The solution for many is to give to certain organizations that are supposedly helping the poor. To me, this seems to run largely antithetical to the idea God had in mind. He wanted to teach us how to care for others less fortunate than us, not how to put money in an envelope to assuage our guilt for having so much wealth. Many of those who “give” in this way end up contributing to leftist groups that support abortion on demand or liberal politicians far more than they actually help any real poor. Even the best, most honest organization that is dedicated to helping real poor has the problem that it is not really “you” helping the poor but your money, which seems a somewhat nebulous concept. Yet I cannot be totally against this. Certainly the support the ekklesias of the Gentiles gave to the believers in Judea was largely a monetary one, and God honored it as an acceptable thing in His site. Therefore monetary gifts to poor believers in other parts of the world does seem to be in line with something that God would approve of. However, we cannot say that we can find a distributor so honest as Paul to see to it that our gift is used rightly. We can only do our best, I suppose.

Yet I cannot help but think that these donations that Paul solicited were also accompanied by these people caring for the poor in their own localities, as the Ephesians did for their widows. How are we to do something like this? Are there poor believers, or even poor in our neighborhoods and communities, that we can support personally and for the glory of God? If we could find such, it seems to me a good thing if we could do this.

Yet I have to admit that this is not something I have given a good deal of time to discovering myself, or put any time and effort into finding and helping the poor. That is probably an area I am falling short on.

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