Follow Jesus’ Example and Show Concern for the Poor
POVERTY and oppression are almost as old as mankind. While God’s Law to Israel sought to protect the poor and mitigate their suffering, that Law was often disregarded. (Amos 2:6) The prophet Ezekiel denounced the way the poor were being treated. He said: “The people of the land themselves have carried on a scheme of defrauding and have done a tearing away in robbery, and the afflicted one and the poor one they have maltreated, and the alien resident they have defrauded without justice.”—Ezekiel 22:29.
The situation was no different when Jesus was on earth. The religious leaders showed a complete lack of concern for the poor and needy. The religious leaders were described as “money lovers” who ‘devoured the houses of the widows’ and who were more concerned about keeping their traditions than caring for the aged and the needy. (Luke 16:14; 20:47; Matthew 15:5, 6) It is of interest that in Jesus’ parable of the good Samaritan, a priest and a Levite on seeing an injured man walked past him on the opposite side of the road rather than turn aside to help him.—Luke 10:30-37.
Jesus Showed Concern for the Poor
The Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life show that he fully comprehended the difficulties of the poor and was extremely sensitive to their needs. Although Jesus had lived in heaven, he emptied himself, took up human life, and ‘became poor for our sakes.’ (2 Corinthians 8:9) On seeing the crowds, Jesus “felt pity for them, because they were skinned and thrown about like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matthew 9:36) The account of the needy widow shows that Jesus was impressed, not by the large gifts of the rich, who gave “out of their surplus,” but by the poor widow’s tiny contribution. What she did touched his heart because she “out of her want dropped in all the means of living she had.”—Luke 21:4.
Not only did Jesus feel compassion for the poor but he also took a personal interest in their needs. He and his apostles had a common fund from which they gave to needy Israelites. (Matthew 26:6-9; John 12:5-8; 13:29) Jesus encouraged those who wanted to be his followers to recognize their obligation to assist needy ones. He told a rich young ruler: “Sell all the things you have and distribute to poor people, and you will have treasure in the heavens; and come be my follower.” The fact that the man was unwilling to part with his possessions showed that his love for riches was greater than his love for God and fellowman. Thus, he did not have the qualities required to be a disciple of Jesus.—Luke 18:22, 23.
Christ’s Followers Are Concerned About the Poor
After Jesus’ death, the apostles and other followers of Christ continued to show concern for the poor among them. In about 49 C.E., the apostle Paul met with James, Peter, and John and discussed the commission he had received from the Lord Jesus Christ to preach the good news. They agreed that Paul and Barnabas should go to “the nations,” concentrating on the Gentiles in their preaching. However, James and his companions urged Paul and Barnabas to “keep the poor in mind.” And that is what Paul “earnestly endeavored to do.”—Galatians 2:7-10.
During Emperor Claudius’ reign, a severe famine came upon various parts of the Roman Empire. In response, Christians in Antioch “determined, each of them according as anyone could afford it, to send a relief ministration to the brothers dwelling in Judea; and this they did, dispatching it to the older men by the hand of Barnabas and Saul.”—Acts 11:28-30.
True Christians today also recognize that followers of Jesus must show concern for the poor and needy, especially among fellow believers. (Galatians 6:10) Therefore, they manifest real concern for the material needs of deprived ones. In 1998, for example, a severe drought ravaged much of northeastern Brazil. The drought destroyed the rice, bean, and maize crops, leading to widespread famine—the worst in 15 years. In some places, even drinking water came to be in short supply. Jehovah’s Witnesses in other parts of the country immediately organized relief committees, and in a short time, they had gathered tons of food and had paid the cost of transporting the supplies.
Witnesses supporting the relief efforts wrote: “We are very happy to have been able to help our brothers, especially because we are sure that we have made Jehovah’s heart rejoice. We never forget the words of James 2:15, 16.” Those Bible verses state: “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?”
In one of the congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the city of São Paulo, a humble and zealous Witness who is poor materially often struggles to make ends meet. She says: “Even though I live in poverty, the Bible’s message has given real meaning to my life. I do not know what would have happened to me if I had not received help from my fellow Witnesses.” Some time ago, this hardworking Christian woman needed surgery but was unable to pay the hospital bill. In this particular instance, Christian brothers and sisters in the congregation were in a position to cover the cost of the surgery. Giving help to fellow believers in need is practiced by true Christians worldwide.
No matter how heartwarming such experiences may be, however, it is clear that such sincere efforts will not eradicate poverty. Even powerful governments and large international relief agencies, while having had some success, have not been able to eliminate the age-old problem of poverty. Therefore, the question arises, What will be the definitive solution to poverty and other problems that plague mankind?
Bible Teachings Provide Lasting Help
The Gospel accounts relate that Jesus Christ regularly performed good deeds for those who were poor or who had other needs. (Matthew 14:14-21) To what activity, though, did he give priority? On one occasion, after having spent some time helping those in need, Jesus told his disciples: “Let us go somewhere else, into the village towns nearby, that I may preach there also.” Why did Jesus interrupt his work in behalf of the sick and needy in order to resume his preaching activity? He explained by saying: “It is for this purpose [that is, to preach] I have gone out.” (Mark 1:38, 39; Luke 4:43) Although doing good deeds for people in need was important to Jesus, preaching about God’s Kingdom was his primary mission.—Mark 1:14.
Since the Bible urges Christians “to follow [Jesus’] steps closely,” Christians today have clear guidance when it comes to setting priorities in their efforts to help others. (1 Peter 2:21) Like Jesus, they help people in need. However, also like Jesus, they make the work of teaching the Bible’s message about the good news of God’s Kingdom their top priority. (Matthew 5:14-16; 24:14; 28:19, 20) Why, though, should preaching the message found in God’s Word take priority over other forms of helping others?
Real-life experiences from around the world demonstrate that when people understand and follow the Bible’s practical counsel, they are better equipped to deal with the daily problems of life, including poverty. Moreover, the Bible’s message of God’s Kingdom that is preached by Jehovah’s Witnesses today gives people a hope for the future—a hope that makes life worth living, even under the most trying circumstances. (1 Timothy 4:8) What hope is that?
God’s Word assures us regarding our future: “There are new heavens and a new earth that we are awaiting according to [God’s] promise, and in these righteousness is to dwell.” (2 Peter 3:13) When the Bible speaks of “the earth,” it is at times referring to the people who live on the earth. (Genesis 11:1) So the righteous “new earth” that is promised to come is a society of people who have God’s approval. God’s Word further promises that under the rule of Christ, those approved by God will receive the gift of everlasting life and will live a satisfying life in an earthly paradise. (Mark 10:30) That wonderful future is available to all, including the poor. In that “new earth,” the problem of poverty will be solved forever.
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HOW WILL JESUS “DELIVER THE POOR ONE”?—Psalm 72:12
JUSTICE: “Let him judge the afflicted ones of the people, let him save the sons of the poor one, and let him crush the defrauder.” (Psalm 72:4) During Christ’s reign over the earth, there will be justice for all. There will be no place for corruption, a scourge that reduces many potentially rich countries to poverty.
PEACE: “In his days the righteous one will sprout, and the abundance of peace until the moon is no more.” (Psalm 72:7) Much of the poverty in the world results from human conflicts and war. Christ will bring perfect peace to the earth, thereby eliminating one of the main causes of poverty.
COMPASSION: “He will feel sorry for the lowly one and the poor one, and the souls of the poor ones he will save. From oppression and from violence he will redeem their soul, and their blood will be precious in his eyes.” (Psalm 72:12-14) The lowly, poor, and oppressed will become part of one happy human family, unified under the leadership of the King Jesus Christ.
PROSPERITY: “There will come to be plenty of grain on the earth.” (Psalm 72:16) During the reign of Christ, there will be material prosperity and plenty. People will not suffer from the food shortages and famines that are frequent causes of poverty today.
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Jesus took a personal interest in the needs of the poor
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The Bible’s message brings real hope