One of the sharpest divisions between political liberals and conservatives is the issue of welfare. Liberals accuse conservatives of being hard-hearted and selfish for not supporting government anti-poverty programs, while conservatives accuse their opponents of being naïve and their ideas of being counterproductive when it comes to actually reducing poverty.
We need to be very careful about attaching God and his word to any specific political position, especially when the Bible doesn’t specifically address it. Nevertheless, there are some biblical values which I believe neither side will be perfectly happy with (which is sometimes a good thing). No matter one’s view on government welfare, here are some overarching principles which need to be present in all our debates about helping the poor.
1) God is very concerned about treating everyone fairly and with justice, especially the “underdogs” who have less of a voice than the rich and powerful. There are multiple passages such as Exodus 22:22-24 which warn against taking advantage of the helpless, and other passages like Deut. 10:17-19 which express God’s special concern for them.
2) The Lord has been incredibly generous with us, and we should follow his example in dealing with people less “fortunate” than us. 1 Timothy 6:17-19 is just one passage among many that addresses this.
3) Just because someone is in need doesn't necessarily mean that handing them money is the way to help them. 2 Thess. 3:10 is very clear: We're forbidden to give money to someone who refuses to work. One of the disadvantages of handouts is that they tend to dehumanize people. We were designed to work for our food (being made in his image), and handouts treat the recipients like pets, not humans. Human dignity needs to be respected.
Today’s passage is a wonderful illustration of God’s perfect balance in action. To those (like me) who have no idea how farming works, here’s a short primer. When harvest time comes, farmers have only a short period in which to gather all the crops they can. The usual method is to go through the fields and gather all you can with one sweep. You wouldn’t bother with any crops which are hard to reach or less than standard. Then, after the first sweep, you would glean, meaning you would go back a second, third, or fourth time, and gather up the crops which were hard to reach or not up to your usual standard. But God said no. Under the Torah, you would go through one time, gather what you can with one sweep, and leave the rest for the poor to collect on their own. In this way, richer people can be generous with God’s blessings, and the poor retain at least some of their dignity.
I don’t claim to know exactly how to deal with poverty in every situation, but if we abide by God’s principles, then we’ll avoid a lot of problems—imagine that!
Lord Jesus, thank you for giving up so much for me. Show me the people in need around me, and how I can be a tool in your hand to bless them.
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