God’s Heart for the Poor

The God of the Bible has always displayed a heart toward the outsider and the least of these. Before considering how the Church ought to care for the poor, it is necessary to remember God’s love for the impoverished. Why does God care about the poor and what actions does He take to love the poor well? I believe there are 4 primary aspects of God’s character that informs His heart for the poor.

  1. God is the creator of human flourishing.

Throughout the Biblical narrative, it is apparent that God desires for all people to experience flourishing, including being in right relationships. In the account where God creates the earth to be a place where humans might flourish and experience peace, to how He calls the nation of Israel to live, God’s desire is for all of creation to experience wholeness. God longs for all of His creation to experience the fullness of His peace and to experience life as He intended. God’s desire is that all people would live a life of flourishing. Human flourishing and poverty cannot be experienced together. Therefore, God’s hope is that all humans would flourish through right relationship with Him and one another

2. God is the perfect combination of justice and grace.

Because of God’s love for humanity and His desire for people to experience reconciliation, He deeply cares about the vulnerable. In the Old Testament, God calls Israel to show grace and justice toward the poor, widow, orphan, and sojourner.[1]  The laws He gave to Israel about their care for the vulnerable were meant to display God’s character. Psalm 146 sums up God as one “who executes justice for the oppressed, who gives food to the hungry… the LORD watches over the sojourners; he upholds the widow and the fatherless.”  In giving laws to Israel regarding how they were to love the poor and vulnerable, God wanted the world around them to see the justice and grace of Himself. God’s desire was that Israel would embody His grace, justice, and love through their treatment of the poor. In doing this, Israel would be a blessing to the nations through their display of God’s beauty and character.[2] However, throughout Israel’s history, they continually rebelled against God, causing their relationship with Him to be broken. Because of their need to be reconciled with God, it was impossible to represent His love for the poor as He intended. They were not only unable to love God, but they could not love other people either. The world needed someone greater who would come and love others through a right relationship with God Himself.

3. Jesus is the embodiment of peace.

Despite Israel’s breaking of the covenant through their lack of care toward the poor, Isaiah 9:1-7 gave hope of a coming Messiah who would bring forth justice and peace. When Jesus the Messiah came, He embodied what God had always intended for Israel to be. Jesus sat among the poor and broken, healed the sick, and loved the vulnerable. Jesus proclaimed good news to the poor. In His teachings, Jesus proclaimed that the way of the Kingdom is loving and honoring the poor.[3] Jesus commands His followers to love God fully and to love their neighbors as themselves.[4] The Messiah loved His neighbor through the ways He was relationally engaged with the poor. Though Jesus was preaching good news to all people, He specifically associated with the poor and socially ostracized.[5] He represented the Father’s heart through the ways He loved the least in society.

4. God is compassionate

After God delivered the Israelites out of Egypt, the Israelites made the huge mistake of worshipping the golden calf, claiming it was the god that had redeemed them from Egypt. God’s response toward His sinful people, whom He had just delivered from slavery and poverty, was astounding. God tells the Israelites who He is. we would expect that God describe Himself as angry because He is far more holy than the Israelites believed. However, God describes Himself this way:

“’The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.’”[6]

The first word God uses to describe Himself is “compassionate.” God shows kindness toward us, even in our deepest need, just as He showed kindness to the Israelites in their deepest need. The God of the Bible is the God of compassion. I believe this is huge in understanding God’s heart for the poor. God looks at the least in our society and longs for them to experience His kindness. God’s disposition toward the poor is one of compassion and grace. God is not an angry God, He is one who enters in to show kindness.

APPLICATION:

God’s heart for the poor must be central to how the Church cares for the poor. When you think of God’s heart for the poor, is that how you operate in your personal life and in your ministry? Do you lead the impoverished toward the God of the Bible, who is compassionate and gracious? Do you proclaim the Kingdom of God like Jesus? Do you lead them toward fullness and flourishing, or just a quick fix?

My desire in the upcoming posts is to help us consider how to help the poor in our churches and in our neighborhoods experience the true God through right relationships with His people and His world.


[1] Leviticus 25, Deuteronomy 15, Deuteronomy 24

[2] Timothy Keller. Generous Justice, 5-9.

[3] Matthew 19:21, Luke 14:7-24

[4] Mark 12:29-31

[5] Timothy Keller. Generous Justice, 44.

[6] Exodus 34:6-7

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