Have many of us been neglecting the responsibility of helping the poor — God's way?
IN these crisis times — with unemployment at a critical level — many of God's people are having to endure financial hardship. Many families find themselves without the bare necessities of life. Some are unable to adequately feed and clothe their little children. Even in times of prosperity and great abundance in the nation, there are still those in God's Church who, because of unusual circumstances and local conditions, are in critical need. How are these "poor" among us to be provided for? Have they been over-looked in God's plan, or is there a responsibility that perhaps many of us have not understood? Jesus Christ knew the poor would always be among us — regardless of the times (Mat. 26:11). Even in ancient Israel that same Christ said: "For the poor shall never cease out of the land" (Deut. 15:11). Christ did not OVERLOOK the poor and needy. Rather, he gave definite COMMANDS concerning their care. We need to understand this VITAL point — and to comprehend OUR PART in Christ's planning.
Many have inadvertently assumed the poor were to be cared for out of tithes and offerings sent to the work, or from the special THIRD tithe commanded by God. However, when closely examined, there is no mention of the POOR in ANY of the tithe commands. Let's notice them! God ordained the FIRST tithe originally for the Levitical Priesthood. "And, behold, I have given the children of LEVI all the tenth [tithe] in Israel for an inheritance, for their service which they serve, even the service of the tabernacle of the congregation" (Num. 18:21). The Levites were occupied solely with the service of the tabernacle and therefore had no time to care for cattle, raise crops or indulge in a trade. God gave them the FIRST tenth of all the increase in the land. They were able to treat this tithe as if it were their own corn and wine (verse 27). These same tithes today are utilized similarly to pay all those serving DIRECTLY in the service of God's people; and also to pay for services rendered to carry this Gospel to the world as a witness and to feed the flock (compare I Cor. 9:13-15 and Heb. 7:12). No mention of helping the poor is included in this FIRST TITHE.
Second Tithe — Its Use
God mentions another tithe — the SECOND tithe. Notice Deuteronomy 14 beginning in verse 22. This tithe is to be used before the Eternal in the place which HE shall choose (verse 23). This tithe is a specific command for all to come and rejoice before God on His annual Feast days — especially the Feast of Tabernacles. Included in this tithe — THE SECOND TITHE — are also the Levite — because his life is devoted solely to the service of the people (verse 27). Again there is no mention of the POOR in this specific SECOND tithe command.
The Third Tithe
The Eternal further commands a THIRD tithe to be kept and utilized right in the area — "within thy gates." This tithe is to be saved every THIRD year — or twice in seven years (Deut. 14:28). This special third tithe is to be used for designated purposes. Notice, "... and the LEVITE, (because he hath no part nor inheritance with thee,) and the STRANGER, and the FATHERLESS, and the WIDOW, which are WITHIN THY GATES, shall come and shall eat and be satisfied" (Deut. 14:29; also compare Deut. 26:12-13). Under certain emergency situations, the LEVITE needed additional third tithe help from time to time. Occasionally a STRANGER (sojourner, wayfarer or foreigner) entering the community needed temporary help until he got his feet on the ground. Special THIRD tithe help was REGULARLY given to support FATHERLESS children and widows whose husbands had either died or deserted them. Again, no specific mention of help for the POOR and NEEDY.
Direct Command for Poor
In all three of God's tithing commands we find no direct mention of helping the poor. Yet God HAS given a direct command concerning helping the poor. Let's notice it! "If there be among you a poor man of one of thy BRETHREN WITHIN ANY OF THY GATES... thou shalt NOT harden thine heart nor shut thine hand from thy poor brother" (Deut. 15:7). Here, in the 15th chapter of Deuteronomy — after having just reviewed the use of the SECOND and THIRD tithes — the Eternal now shows how the poor among us are to be helped. He continued, "But thou shalt open thine hand wide unto him, and shall surely LEND him sufficient for his need in that which he wanteth (Vs. 8). Continuing in verse 9, the Eternal shows — even though the year of release be near, (Vs. 1) our hand should be OPEN to the poor among us. Because of our willingness to GIVE to the poor among us, God promises us a blessing, "... because that for this thing the Eternal thy God shall BLESS thee in all thy works, and in all that thou puttest thine hand to do" (Vs. 10). This is not an INVOLUNTARY choice, but it is a COMMAND! "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" (verse 11).
A Loan to God
Failing to loan to or help the poor and needy in this way is a failure to TRUST GOD, because God PROMISES: "He that hath pity upon the poor LENDETH UNTO THE LORD: and that which he hath given will HE [God] pay him again" (Prov. 19:17). God shows that when we withhold our hand from helping the poor, we, in actuality, are withholding our hand from Him since He considers every loan to the poor as a direct loan to Him, and God, himself promises to repay us.
A Basic Principle
Now, let's notice a basic principle that many of us have NOT been applying. Since the Eternal knew the poor would always be present, He gave a living principle that would constantly remind the people to CONSIDER the poor. That principal is mentioned in Leviticus 19:9-10. "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 [wayfarer]: I AM THE LORD YOUR GOD." Let's CONSIDER this principle a moment! The Eternal is showing — by command — that it is actually WRONG for us to use every last cent of our income or increase on ourselves. How inconsiderate many of us have been! Every harvest season, when the children of Israel reaped their INCREASE, they remembered they had a responsibility to the poor. They remembered God had said not to take the very last head of grain and ripe grape for themselves — but to consider the poor and needy in the land — to leave a little for them. Many of us — payday after payday — reap our increase and have no thought or consideration for the poor. The Eternal, knowing the poor would always be among us and need OUR help, gave this living command. Today we still have the poor, yet God's command is too often neglected.
A Missed Blessing
God promises direct blessings for obeying this command. "BLESSED is he that considers the poor: the Lord will DELIVER HIM in time of trouble. The Lord will PRESERVE HIM and KEEP HIM ALIVE; and he shall be BLESSED upon the earth: and Thou will not deliver him into the will of his enemies. The Lord will STRENGTHEN HIM upon the bed of languishing: Thou wilt make all his bed in his SICKNESS" (Ps. 41:1-3). Think of the blessings many of us have been missing because of not applying this command!
Jesus Christ, in the 6th chapter of Matthew, taught His disciples to help the poor. "Take heed that ye do not your ALMS [gifts to poor] before men... But when thou doest ALMS [give gifts to poor] let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: that thy ALMS may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret shall REWARD THEE openly" (verses 1, 3 and 4). This was one of Christ's primary teachings, mentioned in the SAME chapter in which He taught the disciples to PRAY and FAST. Yet, many of us are letting down in this responsibility — and place no stress upon it. Because of the diligent prayer and ALMS of Cornelius, a Gentile, God sent an APOSTLE to baptize him and his family. "There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius... a devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, which gave much ALMS to the people and prayed to God alway." An angel of God appeared to him and said, "... Thy prayers and ALMS are come up for a MEMORIAL before God" (Acts 10:1-4). Yes, God takes NOTE when we obey this law. God is very concerned with our diligence in helping the poor.
Each one of us personally should make it our responsibility to help those among us who — although diligent — are poor and in need because of special circumstances. We should be eager to fulfill this command of God. Perhaps we may not know of any family or individual in need. Then, we should tactfully inquire of the minister or one of the deacons or leaders in the Church who may know of a special case, or anonymously give to a special POOR FUND that your minister may use for this purpose. There are always poor among us. There will always be this need — God says so. It is OUR responsibility to do our part. With your support and obedience every Church area can have a reserve to help the poor. Used clothing and shoes are always in need and also a very welcome gift. If you do not have a local church, send them to headquarters in Pasadena. Remember, Brethren, although this is our responsibility, it is also a blessing to help the poor. "If ye know these things, HAPPY are ye if ye DO them" (John 13:17).