During this month of February we are being asked to consider two services to the poor. The deacons are asking us to contribute to the "Help for the Homeless" hygiene drive and the elders have encouraged that special offerings be made to supply the deacons' benevolence fund.

What are your first thoughts when you hear about the poor?

Do you think of the poor as only those who are lazy and refuse to take initiative and so suffer the consequences of their own sloth? Or do you think of the poor as only those who are victims of the powerful and the strong, victims of those who know how to work the system at the expense of the weak?

The biblical portrait of the poor is not easily isolated to one side or the other of these two options. There are, it appears, four categories of the poor revealed in scripture.

First, some people are poor because of sin and laziness.  Proverbs 6:10 makes a common observation about men: "A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man." In 2 Thessalonians 3:10 Paul makes clear the apostolic rule for all the churches: "If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat." Paul even expected that some in the visible church would become even poorer as the church righteously withheld aid from the idle. In John 5 Jesus engages a man who had been lying around the pool of Bethesda for many years waiting for a miracle. He was an invalid but also a sinner stuck under a pile of self-pity and unwillingness. Jesus healed him of all these things saying, "Take up your bed, and walk." And then later, "See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you."

Second, some people are poor because of adversity. The scriptures say that the man Job was "the greatest of all the people of the east" (Job 1:3). He possessed 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, and 500 female donkeys and very many servants. Yet, in just a matter of days, by the hand of God, Job lost everything and became the poorest of the poor. He would have looked like the Lazarus of Luke 16, lying on the street having his sores licked by dogs. In Mark 5 we learn of a woman who "suffered from a discharge of blood for twelve years." It goes on to say she spent all she had on physicians but had not been healed (Mark 5:26). In his letter to the Romans Paul commends the financial giving of the churches in Macedonia and Achcaia who relieved "the poor among the saints at Jerusalem" (Romans 15:26). Either a famine in Jerusalem or an intensification of persecution or both left many of the believers there numbered among the poor.

Poverty then often befalls a man or woman or family because of some kind of adversity. A wife suddenly becomes a widow. Infidelity and divorce suddenly leave a family without steady income. Expenses from failing health or sudden injury exhaust rainy day funds. War drives families away from all their property and savings. Legal expenses for a moment of criminal foolishness drain the bank. Large-scale economic doom drains the entire harbor of small boats falling precipitously, almost as quickly as they rose at bounty's high tide.

Third, some people are poor because they are exploited. Throughout the Mosaic legislation the Lord frequently addresses the temptation to exploit the poor.  Deuteronomy 24:14 says, "You shall not oppress a hired worker who is poor and needy, whether he is one of your brothers or one of the sojourners who are in your land within your towns. You shall give him his wages on the same day, before the sun sets (for he is poor and counts on it), lest he cry against you to the LORD, and you be guilty of sin."

The prophet Amos was raised up by to God largely to deal with the oppression of the poor in Israel by Israel. He says God will make poor those who oppress the poor: "Therefore because you trample on the poor and you exact taxes of grain from him, you have built houses of hewn stone, but you shall not dwell in them; you have planted pleasant vineyards, but you shall not drink their wine" (Amos 5:11). Jesus said during his time in Jerusalem, "Beware of the scribes...who devour widows' houses" (Luke 20:47). The apostle James also addresses the "fraud," "luxury" and "self-indulgence" that has injured the poor (James 5:1-5).

The poor are an easy target. They usually do not have friends in positions of power and they do not have the money to pay for skilled advocates. They are often lied to by wicked schemers who know their poor victims will not be able to prosecute their exploitation. Just think what your life would be like if you had been born in East Los Angeles to a single mother addicted to crack. In a climate where sinners aggressively exploit others sinners there is a strong headwind against reaching prosperity.

Fourth, some people are poor for the sake of righteousness. This is really a subcategory of the third point and this is where Christ dwells most dearly among God's elect children. To seek first Christ's kingdom and righteousness will put many believers near last in the world of prosperity and riches (see Sproul's short article below). The roads to riches are rare and few for those putting off greed, lust, hoarding and all manner of theft and cheating while also putting on kingdom generosity and love for others. "How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!" Jesus says in Matthew 10:23. Only God's grace can shrink the over-sized rich to fit through the eye of the needle (Mark 10:25-27).

Overwhelmingly the vast majority of the scriptures about the poor speak to their exploitation and their righteousness.

Who shall rescue the righteous poor from injustice? This question is raised again and again in scripture and answered most clearly: "May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the children of the needy, and crush the oppressor!" (Psalm 72:4). The Psalm is speaking of God's King. The divinely appointed King will defend the poor - the Lord Jesus Christ!

King Jesus does this by exercising authority on behalf of the poor, issuing holy commandments to all who serve under him: "Thus the Lord says to all courts: 'You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor'" (Leviticus 19:15).

King Jesus also defends the poor by raising up, through the Holy Spirit, children who have his wisdom, wealth and compassion to help the poor: "But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just" (Luke 14:13-14).

King Jesus also defends his poor believing family by promising to return and deliver them from exploitation forever: "With righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked" (Isaiah 11:4). "Be patient, therefore, brothers," James says directly to the exploited poor, "until the coming of the Lord" (James 5:7). King Jesus will right all wrongs and crown the faithful poor with eternal honor.

King Jesus has no little interest in the poor and so no wonder the first apostles (James, Peter, John) charged the last (Paul) with one thing: “Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do” (Galatians 2:10). Remember the poor and you will remember the very ones whom the Lord will not forget.