“Keep the Poor in Mind”
THE central body of elders at Jerusalem gave the apostle Paul, along with Barnabas, the “right hand of sharing together” when Paul was at a council meeting there, and they also entrusted these two men with an authoritative letter to the congregations in Asia. This letter had the effect of breaking down the national barrier between Jews and Gentiles. However, important as this mission was, there was another matter of such concern that the elders felt impelled to impress it deeply upon Paul and Barnabas. This special counsel was that they should “keep the poor in mind.”—Gal. 2:9, 10; Acts 15:22-29.
Paul reports that he earnestly endeavored to do this, in addition to his strenuous preaching work. He strove constantly to instill this generous spirit into the congregations. When the Christians in Jerusalem came into need, Paul encouraged the congregations in Europe to share material things to the extent of their ability with their needy brothers in Jerusalem.—Rom. 15:26; 2 Cor. 8:1-8; 9:1-5.
CHRISTIANS GENEROUS TOWARD ALL
Consideration for the poor is strongly emphasized throughout the Christian Scriptures. The apostle John said: “Whoever has this world’s means for supporting life and beholds his brother having need and yet shuts the door of his tender compassions upon him, in what way does the love of God remain in him?” (1 John 3:17) James the half brother of Jesus wrote similarly: “If a brother or a sister is in a naked state and lacking the food sufficient for the day, yet a certain one of you says to them: ‘Go in peace, keep warm and well fed,’ but you do not give them the necessities for their body, of what benefit is it?” James pointed out that “the form of worship that is clean and undefiled from the standpoint of our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their tribulation, and to keep oneself without spot from the world.”—Jas. 2:15, 16; 1:27.
Paul counseled Timothy, whom he had left in Ephesus, to keep before the minds of wealthy persons in the congregation the need to “be rich in fine works, to be liberal, ready to share,” and he told the Christians at Rome: “Share with the holy ones according to their needs. Follow the course of hospitality.” These qualities of generosity and hospitality are essential features of the “fine works” that enable the Christian to “get a firm hold on the real life.”—1 Tim. 6:18, 19; Rom. 12:13.
In connection with giving material help, most of the Bible’s exhortations are with regard to sharing with other Christians. But the generosity of true Christians does not stop there. Rather, generosity should be a constant, characteristic quality of the Christian personality, the person’s heart going out to those in need.
Of course, a Christian does not have the resources to give toward helping every needy person. How, then, can he best govern his giving? The apostle said on this point: “Let us work what is good toward all, but especially toward those related to us in the faith.” (Gal. 6:10) Christians should, first of all, be sensitive to the needs of their brothers. At the same time, however, they should not fail to be conscious of others who are suffering.
Christians often have little in a material way that they can give. But they can provide loving services that may be more appropriate. A neighbor may be sick—he or she may be a person who never showed any interest in the good news when the Christian spoke about it. Nevertheless, the Christian is interested in seeing what can be done—what help he can give. Perhaps a housewife is too ill to cook her meals or do her shopping. Or a sick person may need transportation to the doctor’s office. To one who is sick, only a friendly visit, perhaps with a bowl of hot soup, may be greatly appreciated. Older or handicapped persons may be assisted in many ways.
Such acts are a part of the “fine works” for which all Christians should be zealous. (Titus 2:14) Note that the Bible highly commends Dorcas, the Christian disciple of the city of Joppa, because “she abounded in good deeds and gifts of mercy.” Doubtless she had little in a material way, but she provided the loving service of making garments for poor widows.—Acts 9:36-40.
So, when it comes to material aid the Christian should be generous, but should also use discernment and good sense. He should not give to others to the extent that he seriously jeopardizes the economy and well-being of his own household. Too, a person would be unwise to give money to someone who would merely squander it or, worse, spend it to perpetuate a bad habit. Also, to help a lazy person could actually be harmful to the individual, contributing to further idleness and leading, perhaps, to other derelictions on his part. To the Christian congregation at Thessalonica, Paul had to write: “‘If anyone does not want to work, neither let him eat.’ For we hear certain ones are walking disorderly among you, not working at all but meddling with what does not concern them. To such persons we give the order and exhortation in the Lord Jesus Christ that by working with quietness they should eat food they themselves earn.”—2 Thess. 3:10-12; compare Ephesians 4:28.
Accordingly, Christians will extend material help primarily to persons who love God and who manifest sincere interest in the good news, and who have a genuine need for such help. But when they can they also help others who have a real need, always, of course, offering spiritual assistance to all. They have the spirit of Jesus. The apostle Matthew, who accompanied Jesus as he went from village to village doing good works, wrote: “On seeing the crowds he felt pity for them, because they were skinned and thrown about like sheep without a shepherd.”—Matt. 9:36.
GOD LOVES THE GENEROUS PERSON
God is not unmindful of those who give consideration and help to needy ones. He counts it as though done to him. Says the Bible: “He who is gracious to the poor is lending to the LORD; He will repay him for his benevolent action.” (Prov. 19:17, New Berkeley Version) The truly generous person does not need to fear that his freehearted giving, sometimes even beyond his actual financial ability, will bring him to poverty. The inspired apostle writes: “God loves a cheerful giver. God, moreover, is able to make all his undeserved kindness abound toward you, that, while you always have full self-sufficiency in everything, you may have plenty for every good work. (Just as it is written: ‘He has distributed widely, he has given to the poor ones, his righteousness continues forever.’)” (2 Cor. 9:7-9; Ps. 112:9) The Christian giving, when motivated by love, brings glory to God and to the good news that he preaches, for “the one showing favor to the poor one is glorifying [his Maker].”—Prov. 14:31.
In describing a good wife the Bible says that along with her fine qualities of industriousness and trustworthiness, “she reaches out her hands to the poor, and extends her arms to the needy. . . . Her husband is prominent at the city gates [her actions bring respect for him in the community]. . . . Her children rise up and praise her; her husband, too, extols her.”—Prov. 31:20-28, New American Bible.
POVERTY TO BE ELIMINATED
At the present time, even among Christians, Jesus’ words apply: “You always have the poor with you.” (Matt. 26:11) This is because of the world’s ever-changing economic condition and also due to sickness and persecution. But the Bible promises: “Not always will the poor one be forgotten, nor will the hope of the meek ones ever perish.” (Ps. 9:18) Under the Kingdom rule of God’s Son, those who exploit the people and oppress the poor and lowly ones will be gone. “He shall defend the afflicted among the people, save the children of the poor, and crush the oppressor.”—Ps. 72:4, NA.
Just as it would have been in ancient Israel, if they had obeyed God’s perfect law, so under Christ’s rule over the earth there will be no poor people. God told Israel just before they entered the Promised Land: “No one should come to be poor among you, because Jehovah will without fail bless you in the land that Jehovah your God is giving you as an inheritance.” (Deut. 15:4) Instead of a mere written law, people under the Kingdom’s righteous guidance will have the law of God written in their hearts, for “when there are judgments from [God] for the earth, righteousness is what the inhabitants of the productive land will certainly learn.” (Isa. 26:9) Of such a time, the prophet wrote: “Love and fidelity have come together; justice and peace join hands. Fidelity springs up from earth and justice looks down from heaven. The LORD will add prosperity, and our land shall yield its harvest.”—Ps. 85:10-12, New English Bible.
How fine it will be when poverty is stamped out forever! Yet this will not eliminate generosity, for everyone will be able to share his abilities and talents and the products of his industrious work for the benefit and enrichment of the entire community. Until that time, let us all engage in an interchange of encouragement, sharing both material and spiritual things, ‘considering one another to incite to love and fine works,’ among which “works” is to “keep the poor in mind.”—Heb. 10:24; Gal. 2:10; Rom. 1:12; Acts 2:42.