A Generous People

Jesus says it is more blessed to give than to receive. Do we believe Him?

The poor you will always have with you,” Jesus famously tells His disciples in Mark 14:7 (NIV). Some have misunderstood this, thinking it means Jesus doesn’t care about the poor and is saying, Oh, they’ll always be around. Don’t worry about it! But this betrays God’s powerful concern for the poor, evidenced throughout the Bible and Jesus’ own ministry, when He fed the hungry, healed the hurting, welcomed the outcast, and died on a cross—naked, broken, and despised.

Let’s take a closer look at “the poor” in the Bible to better understand Jesus’ words here and to get a window into the heart of God.

 

An Indictment, Not an Affirmation

Jesus’ famous statement here is alluding to Deuteronomy 15, where Israel is told, “There will be no poor among you … if only you listen obediently to the voice of the Lord your God [and obey the Law]” (Deut. 15:4-5). Whoa, wait a minute—Jesus says there will always be the poor; the Law says there will be no poor. That’s quite the contrast. Is Jesus contradicting the Old Testament? No, keep reading. The passage continues:

“It might at times be better to give to organizations on the frontlines—groups that provide food, shelter, and employment for those who are on the edge of survival.”

“If there is a poor man with you, one of your brothers, in any of your towns in your land which the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart, nor close your hand from your poor brother; but you shall freely open your hand to him, and shall generously lend him sufficient for his need in whatever he lacks” (Deut. 15:7-8).

That’s strong language: Be generous to those in need; don’t harden your heart or close your hand toward them. They’re not outsiders or charity projects but “your brothers.” That’s family language. And it’s the heart of our heavenly Father for His children.

But God knows His people won’t fulfill this command, so He gives a realistic assessment of what will happen: “The poor will never cease to be in the land” (Deut. 15:11). There will always be the poor this side of kingdom come, God is saying, because there will always be disobedience.

Jesus is indicting His people, not affirming them. He isn’t stating an eternal truth about the unchangeable nature of reality but implicitly acknowledges they haven’t been faithful to God’s Law. When He alludes to Deuteronomy, He’s subtly calling out their callousness, even as He welcomes the dignity of a woman who in this moment is anointing Him for burial, generously bringing Him the greatest gift she has to offer (Mark 14:8).

 

Protecting the Poor

Israel’s Law was designed to protect people in need. For example, they had the right to glean the fields, which meant landowners had to leave space in their fields for the poor to gather crops (Lev. 19:9-10; Deut. 24:19-21). This was not a handout, but the equivalent of job creation. The poor had to work to gather crops, but they got to keep what they gathered and were ensured a means of sustenance.

Their wages were to be paid by the close of each day (Lev. 19:13). During the Sabbath year (every seven years), impoverished people were entitled to their share of the produce from the fields and vineyards (Ex. 23:11; Lev. 25:6). And during the Jubilee year (every 50 years), land was to be returned to poor families who had lost their property due to hard circumstances (Lev. 25:25-30). During both the Sabbath and Jubilee years, bond-servants were to go free (Deut. 15:12-15; Lev. 25:39-54).

Israel’s Law was designed to protect people in need.

Likewise, the poor were included in the national life of Israel. They were to share in the holiday feasts (Deut. 16:11-14; Neh. 8:10) and received portions from the tithes (Deut. 14:28-29; Deut. 26:12-13). Usury was forbidden—there was to be no lending at high interest rates—and any clothing taken as a pledge was to be returned by sunset (Ex. 22:25-27; Deut. 24:10-13). All these examples from the Old Testament law display a vital truth: The poor are close to the heart of God, and He is deeply interested in personally seeing to their needs.

 

The Predicament of Poverty

Multiple Hebrew words for “the poor” give us different pictures for the predicament of poverty. The term ani comes from a root that means “to bend” or “to bow down,” which gives the impression of a person bent over, brought low by hard or oppressive circumstances. The word rush means “to be in want,” which speaks to the fear and desperation associated with such conditions.

Ebyon is the most prominent Hebrew term used to refer to the poor, and it means “needy” or “in want,” both of which highlight lack, hunger, and a dependency on others for survival. And the word dal means “lean” or “weaker,” emphasizing how the vulnerable are impacted by the situations surrounding them.

The poor are close to the heart of God, and He is deeply interested in personally seeing to their needs.

In the New Testament, the primary term is ptóchos, a Greek word that means “poor” or “beggar.” When Jesus steps on the scene, God’s concern for the poor is not only reaffirmed but intensified. Jesus launches His ministry by saying He came to preach “good news to the poor” (Luke 4:18 NIV) and invite them to the feast (Luke 14:16-24).

And Jesus practices what He preaches. Our Savior left the glory of heaven, Paul reminds us, to identify with us in our low estate: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9). He gave it all for us.

 

A Generous People

Jesus’ liberality should make us a generous people. The early church was known for giving to one another “as anyone might have need” (Acts 2:45; Acts 4:32), even making contributions to distant lands for “the poor among the saints” (Rom. 15:26). As the church, we should be known for joyful and sacrificial giving.

We can and should, of course, give with wisdom and discernment. Begging is discouraged for those who can work (1 Thess. 4:11; 2 Thess. 3:7-13; Eph. 4:28), so rather than give directly to people you meet on the street, it might at times be better to give to organizations on the frontlines—groups that provide food, shelter, and employment opportunities for those who are hurting and on the edge of survival.

Yet it would be wrong to harden our hearts or close our hands to the plight of people experiencing poverty. James rebukes Christians who dishonor the poor and show partiality to the rich (James 2:5-9), and John asks the penetrating question “[If anyone] has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?” (1 John 3:17).

If our heart feels cold toward people in need, our greatest resource to warm it is to turn toward the love of God. His is the divine fire that sparks generosity in us—the ones who are filled with His Spirit. When we experience the lavishness of God and the extravagant generosity of Jesus—who became poor that we might become rich—how can our heart not be changed to live generously for others? When we examine the sheer scope of what has been given for us, we can offer up everything to the One who provided so much.

 

Illustration by Adam Cruft

Related Topics:  Giving

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7 For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you wish you can do good to them; but you do not always have Me.

4 However, there will be no poor among you, since the LORD will surely bless you in the land which the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess,

5 if only you listen obediently to the voice of the LORD your God, to observe carefully all this commandment which I am commanding you today.

7 If there is a poor man with you, one of your brothers, in any of your towns in your land which the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart, nor close your hand from your poor brother;

8 but you shall freely open your hand to him, and shall generously lend him sufficient for his need in whatever he lacks.

11 For the poor will never cease to be in the land; therefore I command you, saying, `You shall freely open your hand to your brother, to your needy and poor in your land.'

8 She has done what she could; she has anointed My body beforehand for the burial.

13 You shall not oppress your neighbor, nor rob him. The wages of a hired man are not to remain with you all night until morning.

9 Now when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest.

10 Nor shall you glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the needy and for the stranger. I am the LORD your God.

19 When you reap your harvest in your field and have forgotten a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be for the alien, for the orphan, and for the widow, in order that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.

20 When you beat your olive tree, you shall not go over the boughs again; it shall be for the alien, for the orphan, and for the widow.

21 When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not go over it again; it shall be for the alien, for the orphan, and for the widow.

11 but on the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, so that the needy of your people may eat; and whatever they leave the beast of the field may eat. You are to do the same with your vineyard and your olive grove.

6 All of you shall have the sabbath products of the land for food; yourself, and your male and female slaves, and your hired man and your foreign resident, those who live as aliens with you.

25 If a fellow countryman of yours becomes so poor he has to sell part of his property, then his nearest kinsman is to come and buy back what his relative has sold.

26 Or in case a man has no kinsman, but so recovers his means as to find sufficient for its redemption,

27 then he shall calculate the years since its sale and refund the balance to the man to whom he sold it, and so return to his property.

28 But if he has not found sufficient means to get it back for himself, then what he has sold shall remain in the hands of its purchaser until the year of jubilee; but at the jubilee it shall revert, that he may return to his property.

29 Likewise, if a man sells a dwelling house in a walled city, then his redemption right remains valid until a full year from its sale; his right of redemption lasts a full year.

30 But if it is not bought back for him within the space of a full year, then the house that is in the walled city passes permanently to its purchaser throughout his generations; it does not revert in the jubilee.

12 If your kinsman, a Hebrew man or woman, is sold to you, then he shall serve you six years, but in the seventh year you shall set him free.

13 When you set him free, you shall not send him away empty-handed.

14 You shall furnish him liberally from your flock and from your threshing floor and from your wine vat; you shall give to him as the LORD your God has blessed you.

15 You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God redeemed you; therefore I command you this today.

39 If a countryman of yours becomes so poor with regard to you that he sells himself to you, you shall not subject him to a slave's service.

40 He shall be with you as a hired man, as if he were a sojourner; he shall serve with you until the year of jubilee.

41 He shall then go out from you, he and his sons with him, and shall go back to his family, that he may return to the property of his forefathers.

42 For they are My servants whom I brought out from the land of Egypt; they are not to be sold in a slave sale.

43 You shall not rule over him with severity, but are to revere your God.

44 As for your male and female slaves whom you may have--you may acquire male and female slaves from the pagan nations that are around you.

45 Then, too, it is out of the sons of the sojourners who live as aliens among you that you may gain acquisition, and out of their families who are with you, whom they will have produced in your land; they also may become your possession.

46 You may even bequeath them to your sons after you, to receive as a possession; you can use them as permanent slaves. But in respect to your countrymen, the sons of Israel, you shall not rule with severity over one another.

47 Now if the means of a stranger or of a sojourner with you becomes sufficient, and a countryman of yours becomes so poor with regard to him as to sell himself to a stranger who is sojourning with you, or to the descendants of a stranger's family,

48 then he shall have redemption right after he has been sold. One of his brothers may redeem him,

49 or his uncle, or his uncle's son, may redeem him, or one of his blood relatives from his family may redeem him; or if he prospers, he may redeem himself.

50 He then with his purchaser shall calculate from the year when he sold himself to him up to the year of jubilee; and the price of his sale shall correspond to the number of years. It is like the days of a hired man that he shall be with him.

51 If there are still many years, he shall refund part of his purchase price in proportion to them for his own redemption;

52 and if few years remain until the year of jubilee, he shall so calculate with him. In proportion to his years he is to refund the amount for his redemption.

53 Like a man hired year by year he shall be with him; he shall not rule over him with severity in your sight.

54 Even if he is not redeemed by these means, he shall still go out in the year of jubilee, he and his sons with him.

11 and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God, you and your son and your daughter and your male and female servants and the Levite who is in your town, and the stranger and the orphan and the widow who are in your midst, in the place where the LORD your God chooses to establish His name.

12 You shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt, and you shall be careful to observe these statutes.

13 You shall celebrate the Feast of Booths seven days after you have gathered in from your threshing floor and your wine vat;

14 and you shall rejoice in your feast, you and your son and your daughter and your male and female servants and the Levite and the stranger and the orphan and the widow who are in your towns.

10 Then he said to them, Go, eat of the fat, drink of the sweet, and send portions to him who has nothing prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength."

28 At the end of every third year you shall bring out all the tithe of your produce in that year, and shall deposit it in your town.

29 The Levite, because he has no portion or inheritance among you, and the alien, the orphan and the widow who are in your town, shall come and eat and be satisfied, in order that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hand which you do.

12 When you have finished paying all the tithe of your increase in the third year, the year of tithing, then you shall give it to the Levite, to the stranger, to the orphan and to the widow, that they may eat in your towns and be satisfied.

13 You shall say before the LORD your God, `I have removed the sacred portion from my house, and also have given it to the Levite and the alien, the orphan and the widow, according to all Your commandments which You have commanded me; I have not transgressed or forgotten any of Your commandments.

25 If you lend money to My people, to the poor among you, you are not to act as a creditor to him; you shall not charge him interest.

26 If you ever take your neighbor's cloak as a pledge, you are to return it to him before the sun sets,

27 for that is his only covering; it is his cloak for his body. What else shall he sleep in? And it shall come about that when he cries out to Me, I will hear him, for I am gracious.

10 When you make your neighbor a loan of any sort, you shall not enter his house to take his pledge.

11 You shall remain outside, and the man to whom you make the loan shall bring the pledge out to you.

12 If he is a poor man, you shall not sleep with his pledge.

13 When the sun goes down you shall surely return the pledge to him, that he may sleep in his cloak and bless you; and it will be righteousness for you before the LORD your God.

18 THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD IS UPON ME, BECAUSE HE ANOINTED ME TO PREACH THE GOSPEL TO THE POOR. HE HAS SENT ME TO PROCLAIM RELEASE TO THE CAPTIVES, AND RECOVERY OF SIGHT TO THE BLIND, TO SET FREE THOSE WHO ARE OPPRESSED,

9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.

32 And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul; and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them.

26 For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem.

11 and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you,

7 For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example, because we did not act in an undisciplined manner among you,

8 nor did we eat anyone's bread without paying for it, but with labor and hardship we kept working night and day so that we would not be a burden to any of you;

9 not because we do not have the right to this, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you, so that you would follow our example.

10 For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either.

11 For we hear that some among you are leading an undisciplined life, doing no work at all, but acting like busybodies.

12 Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to work in quiet fashion and eat their own bread.

13 But as for you, brethren, do not grow weary of doing good.

28 He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need.

5 Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?

6 But you have dishonored the poor man. Is it not the rich who oppress you and personally drag you into court?

7 Do they not blaspheme the fair name by which you have been called?

8 If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF," you are doing well.

9 But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.

17 But whoever has the world's goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?

45 and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need.

16 But He said to him, A man was giving a big dinner, and he invited many;

17 and at the dinner hour he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, `Come; for everything is ready now.'

18 But they all alike began to make excuses. The first one said to him, `I have bought a piece of land and I need to go out and look at it; please consider me excused.'

19 Another one said, `I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please consider me excused.'

20 Another one said, `I have married a wife, and for that reason I cannot come.'

21 And the slave came back and reported this to his master. Then the head of the household became angry and said to his slave, `Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the city and bring in here the poor and crippled and blind and lame.'

22 And the slave said, `Master, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.'

23 And the master said to the slave, `Go out into the highways and along the hedges, and compel them to come in, so that my house may be filled.

24 For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste of my dinner.'"

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