There is a page on this site where readers can submit questions or suggest topics. Recently I received the following question:
Does the Bible encourage people who are poor to ask for help, or does it put the onus on the rich to provide for the poor?
The Bible gives a pretty nuanced view of provision for the poor, which includes both proactive provision for the poor, while still requiring action on the part of the recipient.
For example, in Leviticus 19:9-10, farmers were instructed to leave the corners of their fields unharvested so the poor could come and glean. So while the rich were called to sacrifice some of their profits to provide for the poor, the poor were still required to go and harvest the food for themselves. Rather than giving them flour, for example, those in need were required to harvest grain and grind it into flour themselves. If someone was unwilling to work, in this case, they would not eat – but provision was made for them, via sacrifice on the part of those who had enough, to be able to get what they needed to survive.
A similar sentiment is found in the Epistle to the Galatians, where in Galatians 6:2 it says, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ,” but a few verses later, it says, “Each person will have to bear his own load.” (Galatians 6:5). The difference is that the “burden” mentioned in 6:2 refers to a crushing burden, whereas “load” in 6:5 refers to an individual’s burden of responsibility. So, we are called to help those who are facing burdens they are unable to bear on their own, yet with the goal of helping those people to stand on their own two feet and take responsibility for themselves and their lives.
In 2 Thessalonians 3, we read an interesting passage:
If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.2 Thessalonians 3:10-12
For some reason, there were people in the Thessalonian church were unwilling to work, and were living off the generosity of others. Some believe that the reason for this attitude is because they believed it was more spiritual not to work, since they expected the imminent return of Jesus. While Paul encouraged them that Jesus could return at any time, they were encouraged to work in order to provide for themselves if they were able. Here again, we see the importance of providing for those in need while at the same time encouraging people to take initiative and responsibility to work if they are able.
So, to answer the question: The onus is first on those who have to help provide for the poor, no matter how or why they became poor. But this generosity is not to be done in order to create dependence, but rather to relieve a burden and encourage responsibility and independence.
Local Resource: Table of Hope Food Pantry
Table of Hope Food Pantry is a ministry which was born out of White Fields Community Church in Longmont, Colorado and serves Southwest Weld County, Longmont, and the surrounding communities by providing residents in need with nutritious food, the ability to become more self-sufficient, and hope for their future.
Table of Hope is open to anyone, no questions asked, and no ID required. For more information about Table of Hope, check out Table-of-Hope.com