Did Christ command us to “Feed the poor”?

A couple of weeks ago I shared a quote on social media that stirred some emotions… and got people thinking.  And prompted a few people to let me know what they really thought of me.

I don’t utilize social media to post politically- or religiously-charged diatribes.  I don’t blog with the intention of using this venue to shame others.  I don’t like to argue my side of a disagreement here and then try to avoid talking about it in person.  I am not hiding behind a screen when I write.  I don’t use my writing in a passive-aggressive manner.  If you want to know how I feel about a certain topic… let’s have coffee, or gelato… or both.  Let’s talk it over.

Merely reading words on a screen (email, blog, social media, etc) leaves so much room for misunderstanding, bad interpretations and quick judgments.

I do not believe that the internet is the right place to hash out an argument.  And yet so many of us do it all the time.  We read something on a screen and because we didn’t have the luxury of also reading that individual’s body language we find ourselves thinking internally:  Did she say that out of anger?  Sarcasm?  Frustration?  Or was it just said in a factual way? 

We’ve all done it.  We’ve all misinterpreted something and thought the worst of someone.  We’ve all read something and twisted it out of context, or been offended by it or even worse allowed a relationship to be damaged.

The quote that stirred the pot is from one of my favorite historical figures, Benjamin Franklin.  I have since received emails and responses and have even seen other individuals post their own opinions on this topic… some of those comments and opinions being political, some being religious, some being just downright judgmental.  Some of them directed at me, some of them merely addressing the topic itself.

So, let’s “unpack” it and line it up with the Bible, as my Pastor likes to say.  What does the Lord require of us on this one?  What does Jesus’ example show us?

Here’s the quote I posted, that brought up such strong emotions from a number of people…

I am for doing good to the poor, but I differ in opinion of the means.  I think the best way of doing good to the poor, is not making them easy in poverty, but leading or driving them out of it.  In my youth I traveled much, and I observed in many countries, that the more public provisions were made for the poor, the less they provided for themselves, and of course became poorer.  And, on the contrary, the less was done for them, the more they did for themselves, and became richer.  – Ben Franklin

For posting this popular quote I’ve now received messages and emails where I have been called “unChrist-like” and that I “… should be ashamed…” of myself.  Meaning, I was not given the opportunity to respond for myself before these individuals had made up their mind about me as a human being.

Within a day of receiving those messages and emails I also happened upon a post, not directed to me but I’m going to guess it was referring to my post…  “He said we are to feed the poor…” and so on.  I presume by “He” they meant Jesus?  And this is where I stopped to consider a number of things.

  •  I believe the people blowing up my inbox are not aware of my heart for outreach.
  • They probably don’t know about the ache in my heart when I walk by homeless people sleeping on benches.
  • These people haven’t seen the tears streaming down my face when handing a sandwich to a guy and watching him split it in half to share with another homeless guy down the block.
  • These people have not known me long enough or well enough to know that my heart longs to be in Romania or that my heart aches for those I visited with in other third-world countries.

These people haven’t been with me in times of ministry.  They don’t know my heart…

And I’m not faulting them for not knowing these things … it’s just that I take THIS scriptural warning very seriously:

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”  Matthew 6:1-4

These words are from Jesus’ lips.

Red text in the Bible indicates the voice of Jesus
The voice of Jesus, indicated by red text.

So, if it’s ok with you all… I’d like to share a bit of what I’ve learned from our Heavenly Father…

 

I’m a literal person.  When someone says “He said we are to feed the poor” I think:  “I should go read that verse.”  Because I want to know the context behind the statement.   I want to find the reference.  I want to know more about what He instructed us to do when He uttered those words.

So, I dove into the scripture to find that verse.

And maybe I’ve missed it… but I cannot find scripture where Jesus says those words.  Maybe I’m splitting hairs here… or maybe I have misunderstood what that individual meant to say and/or made an incorrect assumption that they were referring to Jesus.  But, like I said, I’m a literal person.  So I kept digging… nothing…

I do, however, find scriptures about extending grace and being generous with all of humanity, the poor and the rich, the Christian and the unsaved… as we are all in need of grace and forgiveness.

But may I propose this:

Extending grace and being generous is more than just feeding people.

I’m a practical girl.  So when I think about helping someone I tend to want to do so in a practical way.  When I am in need I would love your prayers… I will welcome financial support any day of the week… but really when I need help it’s because I need practical help.

Because I value that kind of help it makes sense that I’m drawn to help others in that way.  Helping someone else in a practical way encompasses so much more than just ‘feeding the poor’.  For instance, let’s teach them HOW TO MEET THEIR OWN NEEDS.  (I believe this is what good ol’ Ben was getting at.)  Let’s teach them skills they need to support themselves.  Let’s support them enough to show them they already have the skills to do what is needed.

Let’s show them that we were all created in the image of God, with specific strengths and desires and abilities … meant to reflect His glory.

Every day when we go to work we are using those practical gifts to glorify God and make a living.  And I firmly believe that in those moments we are being good stewards of what He gifted us with.

 

And still, I do not find the command straight from Jesus’ lips to feed the poor.  I find advice in scriptures on how to treat people, including the poor and oppressed.  These are proverbs, not commands, but wise guidance on how to treat others.

“Anyone who oppresses the poor is insulting God who made them. To help the poor is to honor God.” Proverbs 14:31

“Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed.”  Proverbs 19:17

“He who shuts his ears to the cries of the poor will be ignored in his own time of need.”  Proverbs 21:13

“Happy is the generous man, the one who feeds the poor.”  Proverbs 22:9

“If you give to the poor, your needs will be supplied! But a curse upon those who close their eyes to poverty.” Proverbs 28:27

 

I also find these New Testament scriptures… but again, they are not commands from Jesus…

“He lifts the poor from the dust– Yes, from a pile of ashes– And treats them as princes sitting in the seats of honor. For all the earth is the Lord’s and he has set the world in order.” 1 Samuel 2:8

“But if someone who is supposed to be a Christian has money enough to live well, and sees a brother in need, and won’t help him–how can God’s love be within him?  Little children, let us stop just saying we love people; let us really love them, and show it by our actions.  Then we will know for sure, by our actions, that we are on God’s side, and our consciences will be clear, even when we stand before the Lord.” 1 John 3:17-19

 

But may I suggest that we also take a look at these scriptures:

“A slack hand causes poverty, but the hand of the diligent makes rich. He who gathers in summer is a prudent son, but he who sleeps in harvest is a son who brings shame.”  Proverbs 10:4-5

“The desire of the sluggard kills him, for his hands refuse to labor.”  Proverbs 21:25

“Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.”  Ephesians 4:28

(Disclosure:  I don’t quote that lost verse to insinuate that any particular group of people are “thieves”, rather to point out a lesson in that verse.  And here it is: Even those who are “down on their luck” can put their hands to work and help others in need.)

In conclusion, I see our spiritual example and biblical commands this way:

We are called to walk side by side with each other.

Let’s love others like Christ loved them.  Sure, we can feed the poor, we can clothe the homeless.  But let’s also not forget to show grace to everyone.  Let’s pray for those who are hurting.  Let’s come alongside those who need a friend.  Let’s selflessly serve others out of love.  Let’s cry together, celebrate together and live life as brothers and sisters… together!

We don’t have to agree with each all the time…. we don’t have to have the same views on life… but we are called to love others.  Period.

And yet sometimes loving others often looks like EMPOWERING them (and not ENABLING them).  Sometimes it looks like BLESSING them.  All the time it should look like Christ.

When it boils down to it, we are called to follow the prompting of the Holy Spirit … and that’s not going to be the same prompting for everybody.

Let’s learn to more perfectly reflect God’s glory.

It’s a luminous place to live…

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4 thoughts on “Did Christ command us to “Feed the poor”?

  1. Lori,
    Did you consider this passage from Matthew 25?

    44 “Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?’
    45 “And he will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.’
    46 “And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous will go into eternal life.”
    Matthew 25:44–46 (NLT)

    It may not be a direct command to feed the poor, but it comes pretty close.

    • Thank you, Steve. In fact, I thought I had included that in my references. But you pointing it out made me realize I had neglected to do so. Still… maybe because I’m so literal… I still don’t read that as a command to actually FEED others. It IS an example of how to TREAT others, in my opinion. And that’s the point of my post… be obedient to what Christ is calling us to do. Take the religion out of it. Put the heart into it. Some people need an example, some people need the blessing of food, some people need to know how to use their talents. – Lori

  2. Lori,
    I loved every bit of this post. I did not read the first one and my heart was hurt by hearing that others said things without thinking them through. I needed to hear this once again sometimes as a dad trying to raise a family you get caught up in the everyday things and forget about others around you. This is something I need to show my boys first hand with the right heart, I must have flashed back to 20 different things over my life that God has allowed me to not only give but to teach someone how to do it for themselves. I heard this when I was young you can give a man a fish that will feed him for the day but if you teach him how to fish you will feed him for life…
    Thanks again Lori I really did need that.
    Sean

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