“Most people have heard of Jesus Christ; few people have seen him,” said Robert M. Odom, President, Love INC on a Point Of View Radio interview Tuesday. Love In the Name of Christ is a non-profit organization who unites churches to meet the needs of the poor in more than 155 communities across the United States. The organization reported record growth during the first two quarters of this year, with 15 new affiliates opening their doors across the country to serve the needs of the poor, bringing the number of affiliates to 156 in 30 states.
This report was in response to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Report on Poverty released earlier this month, which showed the income gap between the richest and poorest Americans widened last year to its greatest disparity on record. Those making more than $100,000 annually earned 49.4 percent of all income generated in the U.S., while those below the poverty line generated only 3.4 percent. The international Gini index found U.S. income inequality at its highest level since the Census Bureau began tracking household income in 1967, and reported that the U.S. has the highest disparity among Westernized countries.
The 2009 Census findings also reflected record high poverty, with the percentage of Americans below half the poverty line ($10,977 for a family of four) rising from 5.7 percent in 2008 to 6.3 percent last year. The Bible confirms that we will always have the poor. Jesus stated this in Mark 14:7. As such, we will also always have those who, by comparison, have plenty. So what’s the Christian to do?
Jesus taught us, “Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them…. Do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High…. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:30-36).
Seems easy and direct, doesn’t it? But a Christian worldview requires a commitment to the whole of Scripture, not just one or two lines in isolation. Yes, we are to be merciful. But does God want Christians to give away everything to the poor? Jesus words in Mark 10:21 without a larger context might make one think so: “And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”” But here, Jesus is responding to a man’s question – “What must I do to receive eternal life?” Jesus takes this opportunity to reveal the reality of our selfish natures, and demonstrate the great need we all have for His grace. 1Timothy 5:8 tells us: “If anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” Clearly one should not give to the detriment of caring for his family. Moreover, this verse tells us that caring for one’s family is ideal.
Paul urged the Thessalonians: “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you, so that you will behave properly toward outsiders and not be in any need” (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12). Surely many of our poor today want to live in this manner and need only the opportunity. Others need the accountability.
So how do we know what to give…to whom…and when? This requires a careful study of God’s Word and a continual life of prayer, so that we will be driven by the Holy Spirit as we respond to the needs. Last year, I wrote an article considering the difference between the lazy, the timid and the weak and our response to each, referencing 1 Thessalonians 5:14. But this, too, is just one verse of many to guide us as we prayerfully determine our charitable actions.
Perhaps one of the most important verses in Luke 6 is verse 31. Jesus said, “As you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.” I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be someone’s forever charity case. I don’t want to sit around and receive while giving nothing back to the world. I would hope that others would not enable me to live this way, but would help me live a life of purpose to the best of my ability.
In our hearts, God has placed a desire for purposeful living. Our best responses to the issues of poverty are those that promote meaningful, valuable living. Such a response may be a financial intervention, especially in these difficult times. But it may also mean opportunity and/or accountability. Ultimately our responses should advance independence and purpose, not dependence and apathy. To further a non-caring attitude about one’s value and personal responsibilities surely reinforces a non-biblical worldview.
We certainly should partner with quality organizations such as Love INC to provide for the needs of the poor. This organization, like others, recognizes that the needs of the poor are more than monetary. Their website states: “Poverty is experienced not just as lack of money, jobs, or material things, but the lack of choices, mobility, improvement, participation, and self-esteem.” Lifting people out of poverty is a multi-faceted effort. As such, we must work with our churches, communities, organizations, and government to increase the income level of the least and reverse the current trends. If not, we may one day find ourselves an impoverished nation. And who then, will provide for the poor?