Being poor is a situation not a station
The first time the word poor shows up in the NIV version of the bible is in Exodus 23. This is the chapter where Moses is giving instruction to the Hebrews that he received from God, and the chapter where he says, in verse 11, “but during the seventh year let the land lie unplowed and unused. Then the poor among your people may get food from it.” In other words, the same dialogue we are studying today in Leviticus.
Even in the promised land, the land flowing with milk and honey, there would be poor people. These people would likely be believers in God. Some of them were clearly from the ranks of Hebrews. There was no indication that they were poor because these people were being punished, nor that they were inferior. They were just poor.
As we read these chapter of Leviticus, it is easy to fall into a “prosperity gospel” mindset. God, the creator of everything, has unimaginable abundance and a love to pour that out upon His people in grace and great bounty. And, all of that is actually true. But, there will still be people who are economically poor.
However, the other thing we see from this is that being poor, at least as used here, is not a station, it is not a position in society or a caste, it is just a situation. During someone’s life, there may be times when they are economically wealthy and other times where they are economically poor. Again, they have not “earned” either situation and both situations can bring us closer to God. We can be on the right path of faith and still experience highs and lows, both spiritually and economically. God can use these times to teach us and help us grow.
On one hand, this is refreshing and encouraging. On the other, it can really challenge us, too. For example: understanding poverty in this way draws us to approach helping the poor in a different way. We are called to give and help the poor in what they need rather than in what we have in abundance. Stop and read that last sentence again.
This is not “drive-by charity”. This is a lot more challenging, it means interacting with and getting to know people who are experiencing a time of poverty. This means not only giving stuff, but giving of ourselves so that we can give the message of a relationship with God. It is a lot, lot, lot messier. It is a whole lot easier to just load up a basket of food or clothes and drop them off at some collection center. We can still do those things, they are good, just not sufficient. Mostly because they provide a hand-out, but not a hand-up. If these are the only approaches to charity and the poor that we take, then we need to ask “are we giving to help others or because it makes us feel better about ourselves?”
The fact is, drive-by charity is not how God approaches me or you. God listens. God knows us. God shows compassion. God gives us what we need. Sometimes what we need and what He provides is an easy road. Sometimes, however, it means being bent over picking up the left-overs of the field. Both are compassionate, because, in both situations, God knows us well enough to know this is where we need to be to have the opportunity to become spiritually rich. God is compassionate enough to allow us to be economically poor at times if it will help us to become eternally spiritually wealthy. He is also compassionate enough to allow us to be economically wealthy to test our commitment to our faith walk. “it is far easier for…”
When you are thinking this week about how God’s treatment of you can influence your treatment of others, think first about God’s patience and how many times He has heard you repent the same thing and how many times He has held your hand and been with you even when you were not paying attention to the fact that He was there. Food, money, shelter, clothing, are all things we should give, but the greater gift we can give is the present of actually being present. Through this relationship, others can see a true relationship with God. Even in these chapters in Leviticus, God isn’t just discussing providing for the people, He is talking about dwelling among them.
Do not treat outsiders better than your own, help them, provide for them without interest, Do not withold food for profit.
38. I am the Lord, 42 the Israelites are my servants…, fear your God 55. they belong to God as servants, He brought them out of Egypt. “I am the LORD your God.”
Today – safety, shelter, food, fellowship, a ministry, love, family, care for family, provision, a church, the bible, a relationship with Him
My help to others should reflect God’s love. I belong to Him. They belong to Him.