How To Neighbor
Poverty and the poor. When you hear those words, a predictable series of images probably flicker through your mind: A homeless woman living under an overpass in a major city. A shoeless child on the streets of Haiti. A jobless man in Kenya. But there are people in need closer to home than we may think. When we think of these people, we rightly want to help. But how? Good intentions are not enough. We tend to think of poverty as a lack of material things like money, food, or housing. So our first instinct is to give those things to people who are poor. While that may work in the short term, we have other avenues as a church and as individuals to help the poor in the world and in our backyards.
Bottom Line: Give in a way that helps, not in a way that hurts.
Something To Talk About:
We live in the richest time in human history. Even with all the strides we have made, we still have a lot of work to do. People around the world lack necessities of clean water, food, and shelter. As we seek to help the most vulnerable, we must first go to scripture to understand what to do and how to do it. The Bible gives us everything we need. The best way we can help the poor is by doing our job well. When we live as God created us to be, we experience joy, reinforce dignity, and serve other people. Here are some ways we can help rather than hurt:
- Serve others, not save others: It is not our job to save the poor. The gospel is the only tool that has the power to transform heart, mind, and soul. Jesus is the answer, we are to be His arms and legs to those in need. The question is how and where does Jesus want us to get involved? In other words, how does Jesus want me to serve? Caring about the poor is not only about adding to their income. It certainly is about money, but it is about so much more. When we engage in efforts to help the vulnerable, the gospel has to be at the heart of our efforts. We need to focus on Christ-inspired outcomes.
- Relate with people not rescue people: It’s much easier to hand the homeless man at church a few dollars or a plate of food than it is to hear his story and help him find shelter and a job. When we give quickly, we’re choosing to ignore the relational opportunity. If we believe the neighbor Jesus calls us to love is any and every person, then we should also believe that people deserve our time and attention, not just our dollars (Luke 10:27). Our goal is to instill not just help but hope. Get to know people; relate to and care for them. Those struggling are not projects you help—they are people you love.
- Reach out – not reach down: Reaching out because I care—not reaching down. I’m poor too. I’m in need too. I’m broken too. The world divides people into “those who need help” and “those who offer help”. The truth is we are both. Help poor people find their confidence in God’s love for them. Understand that people who are physically poor are not necessarily also poor in spirit. Don’t pity poor people; view them as equals who simply have less material goods than you do. Let the poor know that not only has God not forgotten them, but Jesus Himself identifies with them. Always respect the dignity of every person because they are extremely important and valuable to God.
- When you hear the word “poor,” who or what comes to mind? What does it mean to be poor today?
- Why do you think it’s hard to see ourselves as equal to people who are facing financial poverty?
- Read 1 John 3:17-18. What do you think it means to love with actions and truth?
- What type of poverty have you personally experienced: financial, spiritual, relational, other? What gets you through it?
- How do you think people can break cycles of poverty? What role should Christians play?
- What can we do to build meaningful relationships with people who are experiencing poverty?
Take One Thing Home with You:
We know, we know: Matthew 26 tells us, “You will always have the poor among you…” So it is easy to view the poor with tunnel vision – “out of sight, out of mind.” But can we as Christians sit on the sideline? Can we say, “I did nothing.” The Bible contains numerous verses that illustrate God’s concern for the poor. God sees the poor as His treasures.
1 Samuel 2:8 says, “He lifts the poor from the dust and the needy from the garbage dump. He sets them among princes, placing them in seats of honor. For all the earth is the Lord’s, and he has set the world in order.” Proverbs 19:17: “If you help the poor, you are lending to the Lord—and he will repay you!” And 1 John 3:17-18 adds: “If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion—how can God’s love be in that person? Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions”
When you study the Bible you clearly see God’s passion for the poor. Should we not have that same passion? I encourage you to figure out how you can get involved personally beyond writing a check. Money is needed, but so is involvement. You need to help people see they have value, see them face to face, let them know they are loved.