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What is our responsibility toward the poor?

If you do a word study of poor as it appears in Scripture, you will find that four categories emerge.

The first group consists of people who are poor as a direct result of indolence; that is, these people are poor because they are irresponsible. They are lazy. They refuse to work. The response of God to that particular category of the poor is one of somewhat harsh judgment and admonition. "Consider the ant, thou sluggard." Go watch the ant and learn how to live. Paul takes a strong view in the New Testament: "If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat" (2 Thess. 3:10). So the basic posture toward that group of people is one of admonition and a call to repentance.

Sometimes, however, people will oversimplify it and say that the only reason people are poor is because they are lazy. That's just not true. There are a lot of people who are poor for reasons that have nothing to do with being sinful or lazy. So we come to the second group of the poor identified in Scripture, those who are poor as a direct result of calamity, disease, accident, and that sort of thing. Scripture tells us that it is the responsibility of the church and of Christian people to pour out their hearts in compassion and to give assistance to those who are suffering through no fault of their own, as a result of natural calamity.

The third group is comprised of those who are poor as a result of unfair exploitation or tyrannization by the powerful, those who are victims of corrupt governments or are the almost incidental casualties of war. In that situation, you see God thundering from heaven, calling for justice to be given to these people, and God pours out his indignation against those who would sell the poor for a pair of shoes and who would tyrannize them through illegitimate means. In that sense, we should be advocates of the poor and defenders of the poor.

The fourth and final group of the poor that we find in the Bible are those who are poor voluntarily; that is, they are poor for what the Bible calls "righteousness' sake," willingly sacrificing any worldly gain as a personal commitment on their part to devote their time to other matters. Those people are to receive our support and our approval.

Tough Questions with RC Sproul is excerpted from Now, That’s a Good Question! Copyright © 1996 by R. C. Sproul. All rights reserved.

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