"That's not fair!"
From the time we're children, we struggle with the way things are. The world isn't fair, and it's incredibly frustrating. As we get older, we recognize that inequity is a bigger problem than we ever realized.
Fairness isn't merely a case of who got a larger portion of ice-cream or whose turn it is to use the PlayStation. Sometimes people end up struggling through no fault of their own. And sometimes the strong take advantage of the weak and the haves take advantage of the have-nots.
Throughout the Bible, God talks about finances a lot. One reason it comes up so much is that the way we use money reveals so much about our spiritual commitment. But the subject also comes up a lot because God loves the poor and wants His people to demonstrate a compassionate and sympathetic heart toward them.
To get a better understanding of God’s heart toward the needy, let's examine 20 of the many Bible verses about the poor.
1. Make provision for the poor (Leviticus 19:9–10)
"When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the Lord your God."
The Israelites weren't the only nation in the ancient near east that didn't harvest the edges of their fields. But those nations left their unharvested produce as a sacrifice for their gods. Yahweh's law was different.
God demanded that the outside of the field be left unpicked and that farmers didn't go over an area again to pick up with they missed. But this sacrifice was to ensure that the poor and the foreigners had enough food to eat, too.
2. Do not pervert justice (Leviticus 19:15)
"Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly."
The justice of the Israelites was to reflect God's impartiality. The fairness lacking in a broken world was to be relieved by the unbiased nature of the Hebrew legal system. The poor were to be cared for, but not in a way that showed prejudice against the rich. Likewise, the rich were not to receive special treatment when decisions were made.
3. Help the poor among you (Leviticus 25:35–36)
"If any of your fellow Israelites become poor and are unable to support themselves among you, help them as you would a foreigner and stranger, so they can continue to live among you. Do not take interest or any profit from them, but fear your God, so that they may continue to live among you."
Hospitality was nonnegotiable among the Israelites. As a light to the Gentiles, and all nations, actually (Isaiah 49:6), the Israelites were expected to treat the sojourners among them with dignity and respect. This same level of respect was to be shown to any Israelite who became poor—which even meant loaning money to them at no interest.
4. Help the poor among your fellow Israelites (Deuteronomy 15:7-8)
"If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. Rather, be openhanded and freely lend them whatever they need."
Throughout the Old Testament, God offers explicit instructions to His people about how to treat others. He instructs them to take care of one another, and He encourages them to take care of outsiders. He doesn't leave the issue open to interpretation. The Israelites should have everyone's good in mind.
This sentiment is echoed in the New Testament when Jesus instructs an expert in the law. He sums up the entire law as loving God and loving our neighbor. To justify himself, the lawyer asks, "And who is my neighbor?" That's when Jesus gives the Parable of the Good Samaritan, showing that we're all one another's neighbor.
5. There will always be poor among you (Deuteronomy 15:10–11)
"Give generously to them and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land."
As Paul reminds us, "God loves a cheerful giver" (2 Corinthians 9:6–7). God didn't want the Israelites to simply give generously to the poor; He wanted them to do so with grateful hearts. This command came with a promise. If they were unselfish and kind, God would bless them.
Jesus hearkens back to this passage when He tells the disciples "The poor you will always have with you" (Matthew 26:11). But this doesn't lessen the call to generosity—it increases it. Here God is saying, "The poor will always be among you, so you must always be prepared to give."
6. Uphold the cause of the poor (Psalm 82:3–4)
"Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked."
God is not naive. He knows that there's a tendency for the strong to exploit the weak. He demands that His people rule in a way that protects the vulnerable.
7. The Lord secures justice (Psalm 140:12)
"I know that the Lord secures justice for the poor and upholds the cause of the needy."
In Leviticus 25:35–36, God tells the Israelites that when it comes to dealing with the poor, they need to fear Him. Throughout Scripture, God encourages His people to be generous and fair to the poor, but He reminds them that justice is coming one way or another—and it's much better to choose to act justly than to experience God's justice.
8. Be kind to the needy (Proverbs 14:21)
"It is a sin to despise one's neighbor, but blessed is the one who is kind to the needy."
When Jesus commanded us to love our neighbor, it wasn't a commandment that came out of left field. The righteousness of the Israelite was demonstrated in how they treated others—particularly the poor.
9. Oppressing the poor shows contempt for their Maker (Proverbs 14:31)
"Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God."
It's critical to recognize that God takes our behavior toward the poor personally. When we're kind to those in need, we show respect for God. After all, He is their creator and loves them, too. But we need to remember that the opposite is true. When we mistreat the poor, we disregard the Lord.
10. Never gloat over disaster (Proverbs 17:5)
"Whoever mocks the poor shows contempt for their Maker; whoever gloats over disaster will not go unpunished."
God doesn't draw the line at oppressing the poor. Demonstrating scorn toward the needy or making light over situations that leave people destitute disrespects God. All people are created with infinite worth. God wants people to treat others in ways that reinforce that value—no matter what their portfolio looks like.
11. Kindness to the poor is like lending to God (Proverbs 19:17)
"Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward them for what they have done."
Imagine putting God in your debt. That's exactly what happens when you show kindness to the poor. The Lord could simply demand that we take care of the poor, but He doesn't. He's keeping track, and He promises to repay His children for every act of kindness.
12. Hearing the cries of the poor (Proverbs 21:13)
"Whoever shuts their ears to the cry of the poor will also cry out and not be answered."
It's easy to look at this verse and assume that it's saying that God doesn't answer the prayers of those who ignore the needs of the poor, but that's not really how God works. God doesn't ignore us because of our failures. But how we treat others is one factor that He considers when considering how to respond.
The author of Proverbs wants to communicate something simple but profound. The Hebrews lived in a community. By ignoring the cries of the poor, they would create a culture where it was easy to turn a blind eye toward needs. Unfortunately, they would eventually be the ones in need, and no one would answer when they cried out.
13. Do not exploit the poor in court (Proverbs 22:22–23)
"Do not exploit the poor because they are poor and do not crush the needy in court, for the Lord will take up their case and will exact life for life."
In God's eyes, the court was a place where the poor could go and receive justice. If the court system is corrupt and becomes a tool the rich can use to take advantage of the impoverished, where can they go for fairness?
When the courts abuse the most vulnerable people in society, God becomes their public defender—and they will get justice.
14. The righteous care about the poor (Proverbs 29:7)
"The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern."
In the end, the law is summed up in our love for God and for others. This means that our righteousness is seen in our regard for others—particularly those in need. The wicked are unconcerned about the poor because they are only focused on their own desires.
15. God does not want hollow worship (Isaiah 58:6–10)
"Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
"Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
"If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday."
God often had to remind Israel that He wasn't interested in rote disciplines. Their festivals and fasts didn't mean anything to Him if they didn't come from hearts that were compassionate, just, and generous.
It was God's intent that Israel would be a light to the nations. But that only worked if they were able to demonstrate His love to those in their midst. This is why He constantly reminded them of their responsibility to the vulnerable and oppressed.
16. Proclaiming good news to the poor (Isaiah 61:1)
"The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners."
Jesus would eventually kick off His ministry by standing up in the synagogue and claiming these words as a prophecy about His ministry. The fact that Jesus would choose these words from the whole Old Testament should tell us just how important this mission is to Him. God's love is demonstrated in His tender care toward those who are broken, struggling, and hurting.
17. Whatever you've done to the least of these (Matthew 25:40)
"The King will reply, 'Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.'"
In a powerful parable about God's judgment, people are separated based on the service they've provided to the most vulnerable including the hungry, sick, and imprisoned.
To everyone's complete surprise, Jesus so identifies with these vulnerable ones that He communicates that by serving them, we actually serve Him. Those that withheld care for the lowly are judged for withholding it from Jesus.
18. Serving those who cannot repay (Luke 14:12–14)
"Then Jesus said to his host,'When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.'"
It's completely natural to do nice things for the people you love or others who can return the favor. Jesus instructs His followers to go out of their way to do good to those who cannot reciprocate.
The beauty of this passage is that He's not just asking His followers to give them money or bring them food. He's asking them to do more than that. He's encouraging us to go out of our way to celebrate them, to include them, to give them an evening they'll never forget.
It's fairly easy to throw a couple extra dollars in the offering plate for benevolence. It's another thing entirely to go out of your way to make those on the outside feel like insiders.
19. Do not discriminate against the poor (James 2:2–4)
"Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, 'Here's a good seat for you,' but say to the poor man, 'You stand there' or 'Sit on the floor by my feet,' have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?"
What gives a person value? We really shouldn't need any other criteria beyond the fact that they were created in God's image and worth going to the cross to redeem. Unfortunately, we get caught up in the things the world values.
In the kingdom of God, a person of means shouldn't be more worthy of respect or regard than someone who is poor. James tells us that when we discriminate based on worldly values like wealth, we demonstrate evil thoughts.
20. Responding to the needs of others (1 John 3:17–18)
"If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth."
Jesus told us that "life does not consist in an abundance of possessions" (Luke 12:15). We should never be so caught up in our belongings that we're not willing to share them with those in need.
God could distribute the wealth of the world evenly, but He doesn't do that. He gives us all the opportunity to give and receive love. That means He blesses some so that they can experience the joy of generosity. But if we become greedy and covetous, then the blessings we’ve received become a curse. The goods we withhold from those in need testify against us.
Loving God by loving others
These are only a few of the scriptural admonishments about caring for the poor. The key takeaway here is that God is intimately invested in those that society tends to forget. When we recognize and respond to those on the fringes of society—the poor, the stranger, the foreigner, the imprisoned, we help bring His kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.
God doesn't turn a blind eye towards the poor. He sees them and knows them by name. If He provides for the lowly birds of the fields, He certainly cares for those who He created in His image (Matthew 6:26). For examples from the Bible, check out "5 Times Jesus Showed He Cared about the Poor" and "What Did Jesus Say About Serving the Poor?"
All Scripture references quote the New International Version unless otherwise noted.