Poor and Needy: The New Testament Response
Poor and Needy: New Testament Response
Sometime ago I had written a hub on the ‘Poor and Needy’, quoting David’s thrice-repeated cry in the Psalms: “But I am poor and needy; Lord, help me!” (That hub is at http://hubpages.com/hub/Poor-and-Needy)
What is the New Testament response to the Old Testament cry? Let us turn to the Apostle Paul. Read 2 Corinthians 6:4-10. In this passage, Paul says we may be fools for Christ, and despised and rejected; but we have the unsearchable, unfathomable riches of Christ. What are these riches? They are the riches of His grace, the riches of His goodness, the riches of His glory. So what Paul is saying in effect is: “Don’t say ‘I am poor and needy’! Every believer is rich with the riches that are available in Jesus Christ our Lord!” Are you availing of the riches of His grace and mercy? Or are you still crying out: “Lord, I am poor and needy, help me!”
What wonderful faith Paul the Apostle had! He understood clearly that every believer is ‘rich’ and ‘sufficient’ with the riches and resources found in Christ. Read 2 Corinthians 8:9. ‘Though the Lord Jesus Christ was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might be made rich.’ Here Paul is saying: ‘The Lord Jesus Christ emptied Himself on the cross to make you rich!’ Again in 2 Corinthians 9:8, he says: ‘God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound in every good work.’ Have you noticed the words ‘all’ and ‘every’ in that promise? It is so ‘sweeping’, it covers every situation in our life. Paul is saying: “Christ is sufficient for every situation in your life. His grace is not only sufficient for you in your weakness and infirmity, but it abounds toward you. You have to avail of it by faith, so that you may have an abundance for every good work. Remember: ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.’ Phil 4:13.” These promises are very great; we have unlimited resources in God’s heavenly bank! May we learn how to cash the cheques of God’s promises by faith!
If spiritually we are so rich in Christ, what about the social implications of our Christian life and walk? The Old Testament clearly shows God’s concern for the ‘poor and needy’, i.e. the socially depressed and deprived. But where the Old Testament warns against exploiting the poor, the New Testament goes much further. Here is what the Lord Jesus Christ Himself says: “When you make a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind!” Luke 14.13. This is not be interpreted merely on a spiritual level, but in a social context too. That is why over the centuries noble and compassionate Christians, as true practitioners of the faith, have set up institutions for the poor, the weak, the sick, the homeless, the disabled, the deprived.
The New Testament says: ‘Be concerned for the poor!’ Why? Hear James! ‘Has not God chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which He has promised to those who love Him?’ Jas 2:6. We have often seen in our gospel campaigns and street-preaching that the rich and powerful are indifferent to God’s call, and have hardened their hearts to the things of the Spirit; whereas, the poor and the weak and the base and the despised are those who respond positively to the message of salvation.
You might be familiar with the story of the rich young ruler in Luke chapter 18 and the story of Zaccheus in Luke 19. The rich young ruler, held on to his wealth, and lost salvation; whereas Zaccheus, found salvation and gave away his wealth. This is a warning to those who seek the wealth of this world, which soon perishes, and ignore the wealth of the kingdom above, which endures forever. You cannot serve God and Mammon. Listen to our Lord: “How hard it is for those who have riches to enter into the kingdom of God!” Mark 10:23.
Paul speaks of God ‘making known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had beforehand prepared for glory’, Rom 9:23. He knows how rich in mercy and grace and glory our God is. But many of us believers live like paupers, neither knowing nor appropriating the unsearchable riches of Christ. Many are content to have a ‘small corner in heaven’, without knowing that our Lord has gone to prepare a (glorious) place for us, John 14:2. God is not only ready to forgive, but He wants us to possess His awesome heavenly inheritance, 1 Cor 2:9.
Paul sees God as pouring out His love, His mercy, His grace, His goodness -- His abundant spiritual riches on His people, the chosen vessels of God. He speaks of ‘God who gives us richly all things to enjoy’, 1 Tim 6:17. One of the most powerfully inspiring passages is found in 2 Corinthians. Paul says, ‘Though we are poor, yet we make many rich; though we have nothing, yet we possess all things.’ 2 Cor 6:10. Even in prison, Paul is rejoicing in his God who supplies all our needs according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus, Phil 4.19. Even after 2000 years, we find very few Christians who have entered into the understanding and experience of Paul. Here is a man who is not crying that he is ‘poor and needy’; but rather, he is rejoicing in the ‘unsearchable riches of Christ’, Eph 3:8.
The concern for the ‘poor and needy’ is very great in the New Testament. We see the Lord observing the poor widow casting her two mites in the treasury of the Temple. And surely the Lord must be observing us in the matter of giving – giving not only to Him, but also to those in need. I think the majority of us (myself included) have failed in this regard, and failed miserably.
We hear James inveighing against the exploitation of the poor by the rich and powerful. His indictment of the rich, his concern for the fatherless and widows, his focus on ‘faith with works’ – is a warning to selfish and apathetic Christians who care little for the poor. Such Christians we have seen all over the world. The Lord says, “You say you are rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; but you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked.” Rev 3:17. What is the Lord telling us? You may be materially rich, but in reality you are spiritually bankrupt! I remember seeing many spiritually-bankrupt churches in America during my six-month stay there last year. But such churches cover most of the developed world.
We see the concern of the churches in Greece for the poor saints in Jerusalem, who were suffering in a terrible famine. Paul speaks of ‘how in a great trial of affliction and in deep poverty’ the churches of Macedonia ‘abounded in the riches of liberality’ towards the church in Jerusalem. 2 Cor 8.2. Those two chapters in Second Corinthians on the subject of giving are a reminder that faith without generosity is a barren faith. (Oh, how much we must learn to give, to share, to show kindness and compassion – and thereby glorify our ever-loving and giving God! Heb 13:16).
When God’s wrath and judgment are revealed, the world is going to bewail the fact that ‘in one hour the so great riches’ of Babylon (the present world-system) have come to nought, Rev 18:17. (It is good for the earthly-minded and those who seek material prosperity to read the whole of chapter 18 in the book of Revelation.)
In contrast, the writer to the Hebrews speaks of Moses ‘esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt’, Heb 11.26. What does he mean by that? The suffering, shame and reproach of the cross is going to add to the ‘weight of eternal glory’ that will be seen in the saints of God when they are manifested to the world.
© Roland N Oliver/ Pratonix
The first part of this hub is at http://hubpages.com/hub/Poor-and-Needy The first part or Part 1 talks about the Old Testament approach to the subject. The second part or Part 2 expounds the New Testament approach, which is far ahead of the Old Testament. Reading both parts together is always a blessing.