Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven. Therefore when thou doest [thine] alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.Matt. 6:1-4
Reality of Poverty
While this passage of scripture speaks about the giving of alms or more commonly known today as donations, we will look at the underlying premise for such giving. In this instance, it is aptly called the poor that live among us. In a previous study, Jesus spoke of people being poor in spirit however in this week’s scripture reading he is referring to the poor among society ; those who are impoverished with limited means in which to survive daily life. Alms is an older word for giving to the poor and such charitable acts originate from all walks of life across both secular and religious people since the poor that live among us exists in every corner of our world.
The poor have existed presumably since the fall of mankind and will continue indefinitely as the scriptures say, “For the poor shall never cease out of the land: therefore I command thee, saying, Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto thy brother, to thy poor, and to thy needy, in thy land.” [Deut. 15:11] In the New Testament, Jesus also made reference of the enduring presence of the poor when he said, “For ye have the poor with you always, and whensoever ye will ye may do them good: but me ye have not always.” [Mark 14:7]
Treatment of the Poor
In acknowledgement of the poor, the God provided guidance on fair and equitable treatment toward them among society. For example, when money was loaned to them, there was to be no interest charged (usury) for such a loan in that, “If thou lend money to [any of] my people [that is] poor by thee, thou shalt not be to him as an usurer, neither shalt thou lay upon him usury.” [Ex. 22:25] in judicial practice, both rich and poor were to be treated equally for it was stated that, “Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment: thou shalt not respect the person of the poor, nor honour the person of the mighty: [but] in righteousness shalt thou judge thy neighbour.” [Lev. 19:15]
In addition, since agriculture formed a large part of early community life, people were instructed by the Lord to leave some provision for the poor that live among us with crops grown when he told the Israelites, “And when ye reap the harvest of your land, thou shalt not wholly reap the corners of thy field, neither shalt thou gather the gleanings of thy harvest. And thou shalt not glean thy vineyard, neither shalt thou gather [every] grape of thy vineyard; thou shalt leave them for the poor and stranger: I [am] the LORD your God.” [Lev. 19:9-10]
All of the above actions were acts of compassion, justice and mercy, reflective of godly attributes. This has not always been the case however since the poor were often ostracized even within their own community and social circle as recorded in this scripture,”The poor is hated even of his own neighbour: but the rich [hath] many friends.” [Prov. 14:20] Further to this, wicked people tended to seek out opportunities to plunder the poor that live among us as shown in the Psalms, “He sitteth in the lurking places of the villages: in the secret places doth he murder the innocent: his eyes are privily set against the poor.” [Ps. 10:8]
The scriptures tell us though with the Lord that he is always observant upon people who show compassion and kindness to the poor that live among us as expressed also in the Psalms, “Blessed [is] he that considereth the poor: the LORD will deliver him in time of trouble.” [Ps. 41:1] Further to this, the poor are seen in a very different light with the Lord in comparison to typical portrayals from humanity as described in Proverbs, “Better [is] the poor that walketh in his integrity, than [he that is] perverse in his lips, and is a fool.” [Prov. 19:1] It is also important to remember that God made all people, both the rich and poor as mentioned in this scripture, “The rich and poor meet together: the LORD [is] the maker of them all.” [Prov. 22:2]
Poor in Scripture
The poor that live among us in scripture has been the subject of some incredible figurative examples of integrity, honesty and judgement. One of the best known cases occurred in the Old Testament when Nathan approached King David and laid out the following scenario. This ultimately drew strong conviction for David’s sin of adultery with Bathsheba and the death of her husband Uriah as recorded in this lengthy discourse.
“And the LORD sent Nathan unto David. And he came unto him, and said unto him, There were two men in one city; the one rich, and the other poor. The rich [man] had exceeding many flocks and herds: But the poor [man] had nothing, save one little ewe lamb, which he had bought and nourished up: and it grew up together with him, and with his children; it did eat of his own meat, and drank of his own cup, and lay in his bosom, and was unto the rich man, and he spared to take of his own flock and of his own herd, to dress for the wayfaring man that was come unto him; but took the poor man’s lamb, and dressed it for the man that was come to him. And David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man; and he said to Nathan, As the LORD liveth, the man that hath done this [thing] shall surely die: And he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.”2 Sam. 12:1-6
Readers are encouraged to source out the remainder of this story as recorded in 2 Sam. 12:7-14 to gain the full context, but suffice to say, while David initially responded with an honourable answer he failed to realize the story was in conviction of his own sin. He would now reap the painful consequences from his actions as he came to acknowledge his sin before the Lord.
There is one other exceptional example in reference to the poor that live among us from the New Testament as recorded by Jesus. While a bit long in length it serves as a most striking illustration of compassion, kindness and mercy upon our fellow mankind. It is worth the read.
Caring for the Poor
“When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth [his] sheep from the goats: And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed [thee?] or thirsty, and gave [thee] drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took [thee] in? or naked, and clothed [thee? ] Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done [it] unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done [it] unto me.
Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not. Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee? Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did [it] not to one of the least of these, ye did [it] not to me. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.”Matt. 25:31-46.
Clearly, this is an illustration of compassion, kindness and mercy that comes with both rewards and consequences for the people in the story. Such compassionate acts are in most cases likely done unbeknownst to the individuals who did them, making them even more honourable to the Lord.
There were evidences of such increased generosity to the poor as a sign of Christian conversion. Consider how this played out with a person who was converted before Jesus as shown in scripture, “And Zacchaeus stood, and said unto the Lord; Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore [him] fourfold.” [Luke 19:8] This mark of compassion, giving and mercy also continued throughout the disciples ministry toward the poor that live among us, “For it hath pleased them of Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor saints which are at Jerusalem.” [Rom. 15:26]
Christ, our Example
These are all mere examples though of the greatest compassion, love and mercy shown upon mankind as expressed through the gospel of grace, “For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich.” [2 Cor. 8:9]
To close off this study on the poor that live among us, it should be heartwarming for believers from all walks of life to read this message, “Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him? ” [Jam. 2:5] This is the most compelling contrast for the poor of this world to be rich in faith, for therein dwells a far more important and eternal gift in Christ. This is more than anything this world will ever offer anyone from wealth, riches or material possessions.
Bible Study Questions
- In contemplating the poor that live among us, why do you think poor have always existed in society?
- In the section Treatment of the Poor, God instructs us to lend money to the poor without interest, true or false?
- In Prov. 19:1, fill in the blanks, Better [is] the poor that walketh in his ____________, than [he that is] __________ in his lips, and is a fool.
- In the section Caring for the Poor, can you name the four examples of caring that Jesus shared?
- Who in scripture was described as being rich but became poor for our sakes, setting the ultimate example of the poor that live among us?
- While we may not always be able to give financially to the poor, what are other things we could do to help them out?
- Is there someone you know that could benefit from a show of kindness, compassion and charity in their situation today?
WORD GUIDE – * (heed – attend to carefully) * (alms – gifts to the poor, charitable acts) * (verily – in very truth) * (privily – secretly) * (wayfaring – a traveler) * (ewe – female sheep) * (bosom – breast of a person)
For reference, here are some frequently asked questions that are answered in this Bible Study. It is with sincere prayer that they have been answered through carefully researched and written commentary for seekers of faith. The absence of answers in the study is perhaps indicative that the events and circumstances were deemed less worthy of documentation in the overall importance of biblical scripture. Will we always have the poor among us? What is the meaning of Matthew 6:1-4? Matthew 6 KJV. Matthew 6:1-4 explanation. What does the Bible say about poor? What does the Bible say about poverty? What does being poor mean in the Bible? Bible verses on poverty.