(Rev. 21:7 ESV) 7 The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son.
Now, I’m no expert on the check cashing business or its impact on the poor. I just know that if we had as many pizza parlors as check cashing businesses, we’d be a very unhealthy city. No one needs that much pizza. And so something is very wrong when we need a check cashing business every 50 feet.
In Alabama, many churches have made an effort to lobby against this industry, but the results have been weak. Evidently, the check cashing business hires better lobbyists — and many churches are not interested in being involved in lobbying for or against anything other than a lottery.
We have a long tradition of considering gambling anti-Christian, whereas check cashing has no such history and doesn’t carry the same emotional resonance — although both the lottery and the check cashing businesses take advantage of the poor.
The scriptural principles regarding our treatment of the poor are clear. In fact, the scriptures make it a very personal responsibility. It’s not that it’s wrong for the government to help with the poor, but that the command is given foremost to individuals.
(Lev. 25:35-37 ESV) “If your brother becomes poor and cannot maintain himself with you, you shall support him as though he were a stranger and a sojourner, and he shall live with you. 36 Take no interest from him or profit, but fear your God, that your brother may live beside you. 37 You shall not lend him your money at interest, nor give him your food for profit.”
(Deut. 24:14-15 ESV) 14 “You shall not oppress a hired worker who is poor and needy, whether he is one of your brothers or one of the sojourners who are in your land within your towns. 15 You shall give him his wages on the same day, before the sun sets (for he is poor and counts on it), lest he cry against you to the LORD, and you be guilty of sin.”
(Deut. 15:7-11 ESV) 7 “If among you, one of your brothers should become poor, in any of your towns within your land that the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, 8 but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be. 9 Take care lest there be an unworthy thought in your heart and you say, ‘The seventh year, the year of release is near,’ and your eye look grudgingly on your poor brother, and you give him nothing, and he cry to the LORD against you, and you be guilty of sin. 10 You shall give to him freely, and your heart shall not be grudging when you give to him, because for this the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. 11 For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.'”
Now, in addition to these instructions, Rev 21:7 teaches us to think like kings and queens. “Son of God” is language used of the king of Israel and the Messiah in Psa 2. As God’s royal children, already in some sense sitting with God and Jesus on the throne of heaven, we Christians are charged with doing what God as King does — serving those in need (Matt 5:43-48).
Notice how often Moses warns the Israelites that, if they don’t care for those in need, God will hear the cry of the needy. Well, we — like God — should hear the cry of the needy.
God is not at all opposed to a profit or interest — so long as we don’t profit at the expense of the poor. The poor are not to be taken advantage of in the name of free enterprise or capitalism. They are to be helped.
On the other hand, as we see in the commands regarding gleaning, the poor are expected to work for their money when and how they can. Gleaning — harvesting the leftover crops
— was hard, dirty work, followed by threshing or whatever else was required to turn the crop into food. Paul teaches,
(2 Thess. 3:7-10 ESV) 7 For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, 8 nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. 9 It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. 10 For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.
God encourages hard work.
Strikingly, however, what is condemned is not worklessness but the unwillingness to work. The verb thelō implies a deliberate choice, a conscious decision not to work (see disc. on 1 Thess. 5:14).
David J. Williams, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, Understanding the Bible Commentary Series, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2011), 146–147.
Now, applying all this at the level of the local congregation is no simple task, largely for reasons that ought to concern us deeply.
- Most of our leaders have so little contact with the poor that they don’t understand the problems the poor confront well enough to intelligently address them. Of course, the solution is often as easy as talking to the person who next to you in the pew about these kinds of issues. But in our society, the well off consider poverty so shameful that it’s something we just can’t discuss without embarrassing both parties to the conversation — leaving the well off (and most church leaders) ignorant of how to help.
- Americans are so politically polarized in their thinking that “helping the poor” sounds like a political platform for the Democrats rather than a command from God. It’s nearly offensive to Republican ears to suggest such a thing. We are predominately Republican, with a strong Libertarian strain, meaning we are against government welfare, and we assume welfare is the only solution (other than hard work), and so we decide there’s nothing we can do at all. It doesn’t occur to us that the church can make a difference beyond teaching personal responsibility and hard work (as it should also do).
- Just so, our Democrat members want to hear “government welfare” when the scriptures are urging us to love each other so much that we understand the real needs and are moved to address those needs ourselves. Government programs don’t bring people to Jesus or glory to God. They don’t build the Kingdom. Rather, they bring glory to the principalities and powers.
- Although the church is responsible for the founding of hospitals, sanitariums, humane prisons, free education for children, and countless other good social institutions, well, that was all over 100 years ago. Today, we think smaller — clothes and food giveaways, a $500 per year budget for the beggars who come to the church office door looking for handouts. We’ve lost the vision of the pre-Civil War Second Great Awakening and the Social Justice movement of the early 20th Century — handing our vision of a better society off to the government so that the church’s work could be supported by tax revenues (and yet done much more poorly and with no benefit for the Kingdom).
- The Christian church is so divided that most congregations barely have the resources to keep the doors open and pay staff. If we merged and worked together, we could make a huge difference. But we’d rather tie up our energies preserving our purity, while ignoring the needs of our brothers and sisters.
(Deut. 10:18-19 ESV) 18 [God] executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. 19 Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.
If we thought of ourselves as royalty, sons and daughters of the King of the Universe, we’d think bigger. Because the biggest barrier between us and accomplishing great things is a lack of vision. We don’t see ourselves as even capable of such things — much less charged as rulers to care for the needy in God’s world.
(Ps. 72:1-4 ESV) Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to the royal son! 2 May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice! 3 Let the mountains bear prosperity for the people, and the hills, in righteousness! 4 May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the children of the needy, and crush the oppressor!