We Like To Help Poor People, Right?

Homeless man with dog and sign

I’m sure that you are happy to help poor people and are willing to give generously to those in need. Personally, I’m motivated to help a certain kind of poor person more than another.

I like to help poor people who are very responsible and don’t overspend. It’s easy to help the poor person who doesn’t buy junk food and doesn’t own a flat screen television. I’m eager to help the person with financial struggles who works endless hours at a minimum wage job in order to support their family or if he doesn’t have a job fills out applications all day long. I don’t want to help poor people who have vices such as smoking or drinking. I expect that the people I help won’t have a car and walk everywhere to save bus fare, don’t make impulse purchases, and value education.

I think a lot of us are happy to help worthy poor people who deserve help because they are in need for “good” reasons.

Not many people, rich or poor, fit this description. I sure don’t. One reason that I like to help “worthy” poor people is because those people don’t really exist and my standards let’s me off the hook of helping the real poor people.

Thankfully, God didn’t wait until I was “worthy” of his help before he rescued me from my need.

Motivations To Help The Poor

We help poor people because they are made in the image of God.

Proverbs 14:31 Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.

A few summers ago, my family visited Mount Vernon, President George Washington’s home in Virginia. That house is special not because of it’s beauty but because of who lived there. In a similar way, we help people in need, not because they are worthy of help, but because they are made in the image of God. By helping them we honor God.

We also help poor people because it’s an incredibly wise investment strategy.

Proverbs 19:17 Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will reward them for what they have done.

Giving generously to meet the needs of the poor is lending our money to God and he promises an eternal reward. When I give Monopoly money away God rewards me with heavenly treasure. Any financial planner would tell you that’s a good deal.

Common Objections To Helping The Poor 

In 1733 Jonathan Edwards, the great New England pastor, preached a sermon entitled “The Duty of Charity to the Poor.” A significant part of that sermon consisted of common objections to helping the poor that Edwards encountered in his ministry. He patiently and pastorally answered each objection by pointing the congregation to the gospel of Christ.

Because the objections are common in our day and Edwards’ answers are so biblical and helpful, I thought it might be good to look at some of them. Of course I’m summarizing Edwards but I’d urge you to read the whole sermon yourself. When Helping Hurts and Generous Justice are both very helpful books to read on this topic.

Objection: Some object to helping the poor because although they are needy they are not absolutely destitute.

Answer: Edwards says that attitude violates Jesus’ command to love your neighbor as yourself. When it comes to our needs, we don’t wait till we are in utter misery before taking steps to alleviate our problems.

Objection: The person is a jerk who treats other people poorly.

Answer: Jesus helped us when we were in worse condition. Romans 5:8 “But while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

Objection: I don’t have any money to spare.

Answer: One of the main lessons from the Good Samaritan is that genuine love requires sacrifice. What our objection really means is that we can’t help others without sacrificing something ourselves.

Objection: What if they are in poverty due to their own laziness and unwise choices?

Answer: We are not excused from all obligation to help them unless they continue in their sin and foolishness. Jesus did not require us to get our act together before helping us.

Objection: What if a person continues to make foolish choices and refuses to work hard?

Answer: This is a difficult question but we have to take into consideration the rest of their family including their children.

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