Taking Care of the Poor: The Most Ignored Command in the Bible?

By Tyler Huckabee

From cover to cover, a few consistent themes arise in the Bible. The idea of a creator God, the Messiah, and the afterlife are just a few of the Bible’s more frequently revisited topics. But any list of the Bible’s most commonly discussed subject must include this: the persistent, passionate, unwavering stance on the poor.

Whatever else the Bible may remain mysterious on — whatever its other intricacies and tensions — it could not be clearer on how to treat those in poverty. God loves the poor and commands us to give to them. It is as simple as that.

This is true of both Testaments.

“If there is a poor man among you, one of your brothers, in any of the towns of the land which the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart, nor close your hand to your poor brother; but you shall freely open your hand to him, and generously lend him sufficient for his need in whatever he lacks.” (Deut. 15:7-8)

“He who is gracious to a poor man lends to the LORD, and He will repay him for his good deed.” (Prov. 19:17)

“But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you.” (Luke 14:13-14)

“If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” (1 John 3:17-18)

Here’s the thing. I doubt many people reading this are terribly surprised by this. Chances are, you’re well aware of what the Bible says about the poor. You know the Bible says we should be generous in how we treat them. Very few Christians would argue that God wants us to be stingy around poor people or suspicious of them.

So here’s the question: why don’t we obey?



A study last year by the Kaiser Institute and the Washington Post found that 46 percent of Christians are likely to blame poor people for their own poverty, as compared to just 29 percent of non-Christians. The divide is even stronger when you single out white evangelicals, 53 percent of whom blame poverty on “a lack of effort.”

In contrast, atheists, agnostics and “unaffiliated” persons are more likely to say difficult circumstances are to blame for poverty by a margin of nearly two to one.

So what gives? Why are Christians, whose own Bible is stuffed to the binding with instructions to care for and be gracious to the poor, so much likelier to consider them lazy?

Helen Rhee, a historian who studies wealth and poverty in Christianity, told the Washington Post that she thinks it has something to do with Christian eschatology. That is, as premillennialism — the theology that holds that Jesus could return at any moment — became the dominant end times theory in American evangelicalism, Christians grew less concerned with making the world a better place. From this perspective, Rhee told the Post, “the world is already lost. Things are going to get worse and worse …You’ve got to just focus on what is important – that is, salvation of the soul.”

This has led to an attitude that implicitly ties poverty to morality. Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, described this attitude to the Post this way: “There’s a rightful Christian impulse to consider poverty a moral issue …[but] I think conservative Christians often have a very inadequate understanding of the structural dimension of sin.”

In other words, sin is the cause of all poverty, but not all poverty is because of individual sin. There is also communal sin that results in widespread poverty: greed and corruption that leave innocent people poor.

You can see this in the Bible, where the authors – far from condemning the poor — repeatedly identify them as blessed, even Christlike. Beyond Jesus’ famous “Blessed are the poor,” there are verses like Proverbs 19:17, which says, “He who is gracious to a poor man lends to the LORD, and He will repay him for his good deed.”

And then Matthew 25, where Jesus says that “the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”

In these verses and many more, it’s entirely clear that God Himself identifies with the poor. Far from holding them responsible for their current state, He Himself is manifested in them.


“They did this to themselves.”

“If I give to them, how do I know they won’t abuse it?”

“I’m going to wait until a better time to give.”

These are the excuses we often use for not being generous with the poor, but the more you look at the Bible, the lamer they sound. What if God dispensed His grace with the same cautious frugality we use in giving our money? “She did this to herself. If I’m gracious to him, how do I know he won’t abuse it?”

No. In God, we have a perfect picture of what generosity looks like, and it’s one we ought to follow. Perhaps there is some wisdom in making sure we’re not using our money to enable unhealthy addictions, but at this point, many of us have poisoned our generous spirit with so much suspicion that we tend to assume anyone who’s poor is just going to misuse whatever money we give instead of being giving to them the way God told us to: as if we were giving to God Himself. Do we really want to spend our lives suspecting God of being someone who will misuse our money on drugs and alcohol?

The Bible is clear. The need is clear. The mission is clear. And it’s also clear that the excuses Christians have invented to protect themselves from financial generosity don’t stand up to the slightest bit of scrutiny. Commands about the poor may not be the most discussed subject in the Bible, but they could very well be the most ignored. It’s time to turn that around.

This article was originally published at: Relevant Magazine

What is Luther’s Legacy?

This entire month we have been celebrating the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.  Tomorrow will be 500 years to the day when Martin Luther sparked the Reformation by posting his Ninety-Five Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany.  Many of us know him for that epic act. Yet, what is the lasting legacy of Luther’s life and ministry five centuries later? Dr. Stephen Nichols see at least five main points of Luther’s legacy:


  1. The solas. When we remember Luther, we cannot forget these foundational tenets of his theology. There is sola Scriptura, the doctrine that Scripture alone has final authority, and that Scripture guides and governs us. Then there’s sola gratia, sola fide, and solus Christus, in which we learn that salvation indeed is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Finally, Luther teaches of soli Deo gloria, that all is for the glory of God alone.
  2. Reform of church practice. Although we talk about his reforming of theology, we also must acknowledge Luther’s reformation of church “methodology.” Imagine showing up at church and feeling the desire welling up within you to sing praises to God. But you can’t—you have no hymns in your language, and there is no congregational singing in the service. Before Luther, this was the norm. So, when you stand up and sing a hymn and you join your voice with the other voices of the congregation in lifting praise to God, you can thank Martin Luther for restoring congregational singing and hymns to the life of the church.
  3. Preaching. Before Luther, the church service consisted mostly of the Mass, that is, the Lord’s Supper. There was an occasional homily during Advent or Lent, but preaching of the Word was not of central importance. Luther introduced the weekly sermon, where the pastor studies the Word of God and then brings that teaching to the people of God so they can be nourished and can grow as Christians. Sounds familiar, right? But what is widely accepted as obvious now was not 500 years ago.
  4. Family. Before the Reformation, there was not a high view of the family within the church, and Luther helped to redeem marriage and the family and helped to bring marriage and the family to a prominent place. Through his own family, his relationship with his wife, Katie, and to his children, he modeled what a Christian family looks like.
  5. Vocation. Luther had what we would call a “high theology” of vocation. He believed that whether you have some high church office or you have the lowest menial job, every kind of work can be viewed as a calling. Before Luther, it was only the monks, the nuns, and the priests who had a calling; everyone else simply worked in apparently “unholy” jobs. Luther helped us realize that all that we do can be for the glory of God as we serve Him through our vocations.

Those are the five points of Luther’s legacy that Nichols outlines. However, he says that there is really one, true, fundamental, and underlying point to Luther’s legacy, and that concerns the Word of God. He says, “There is a statue in Eisenach of Luther holding a Bible and pointing to it. I think Luther would prefer that the statue be of the Bible holding Luther, pointing us beyond him to pay attention to the Word of God. That is Luther’s legacy, because it is the Word of God that abides forever.”

Luther and the Bible

From 5 Minutes in Church History by Dr. Stephen Nichols

When it comes to the Reformation, one of the most important topics to discuss is Martin Luther on Scripture. There are a number of things that we could say about this topic, but let’s look at just a few.

The first is the authority of Scripture. We see this in Luther at the Leipzig Debate in 1519. One of the monuments to Luther, in Eisleben, has an etching on the side of a very angry-looking Roman Catholic official. That angry-looking official is Johann Eck. On the other side of Eck is Luther, and Eck is holding in his hand some bound-up documents, while Luther is holding a book—the Bible—and that tells it all. Eck at Leipzig appealed to the teachings of the councils, the teachings of the church, and those rolled-up documents represent that. He came at Luther and the Wittenberg Reformers from the context of the church and the church’s authority. And Luther said to Eck, “I have an authority that is older than yours,” and, of course, this astounded Eck and he said, “Name them.” Luther said, “Paul and Peter and John.”


Luther appealed directly to the authority of Scripture at Leipzig and, of course, he did the same thing at Worms. So, at Worms he said, “My conscience is captive to the Word of God.” When he said, “Here I stand,” he was standing on Scripture and standing firm on the foundation of Scripture. And because Scripture is authoritative, we should read it and we should study it.

Among the many things Luther said about the Bible, he offered a lot of counsel about how to read it and study it. One text in particular that helps us is a preface to a collection of his writings in German. He gives three steps for reading and studying the Bible. The first step is oratio, or “prayer.” The Psalms are especially helpful here. Luther was very familiar with the Psalms. As a monk, he would have been in the Psalms seven times a day. They took Psalm 119:164 very literally: “Seven times in the day I will praise Thee,” that text says. So Luther and his fellow monks would take seven periods out of their day to spend in the Psalms.

Luther loved the Psalms. Some contend that Luther had the Psalter memorized. This was a book he lived in, and it was a book that taught him not only that he should learn Scripture but that he should pray Scripture. So, the Psalms can be very helpful for us as we think about Scripture and as we seek to approach it prayerfully.

The second step is meditatio. Luther says the temptation is to push on, to rush on, to just simply read the text. Luther cautions us, he counsels us, he encourages us to simply pause, to meditate on God’s Word. Again, the Psalms are helpful here because the psalmists often call on us to meditate on God’s Word.

The third step in studying the Bible is tentatio, or “struggle.” Just as Jacob wrestled with the angel, we wrestle and struggle with Scripture. The struggle, Luther says, comes from our unbelief, our doubt, our stubbornness; ultimately, it comes from our sin, and the Word of God confronts it all.

That’s Luther on Scripture, the authority of Scripture, and how to read and study and learn and labor in and even love this Word that God has given us.

Everywhere, With Everyone, All The Time

By Scott Armstrong

Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (Deut. 11:18-19).

(Read Deuteronomy 11:18-21, 26-28)

As a missionary—and sports fan—who lived in Guatemala several years ago, I discovered that Guatemala hasn’t really found out that there are many other sports outside of soccer.  They love their soccer, and players for the national team are heroes after a big win.  After an especially big victory over Costa Rica, I listened to the commentator on the radio excitedly praise the player who had scored both goals.  I can still hear him encourage the listeners in Spanish to “Bring Juan Carlos Plata into your home!  He deserves a place in the kitchen!  In the living room!  Talk about him in the morning, afternoon, and night!  Tell your kids what he just did for Guatemala!” 

Although that seems a little bit ridiculous, our verses for today point us in a similar direction.  This time, however, it is God’s Word that we should think about and talk about during the day.  His words and commands should be “fixed in our hearts and minds,” talked about “when you lie down and when you get up.”  Both parents and kids should live and breathe his Word 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  We should all be familiar with what he did for us and how his Word instructs us in our daily life.

Does this mean we can’t talk about anything else but the Bible? Are we just supposed to walk around high school and chant memory verses? Of course not.  But it does mean that we’re not just getting into God’s Word every day; it’s getting into you.  Sometimes we hurry through our two minutes of devotions and ten minutes later can’t remember what we read.  According to today’s passage, that is pretty far from what God wants for our lives!


Is God’s Word in you or are you barely getting into God’s word each day? Is it a part of you or is it the essence of who you are? With all of the pressures of being a teen, it might be hard to imagine yourself just soaking his word in like a sponge soaks in water.  But it will make a world of difference.  When Jesus experienced the toughest of times, God’s Word was so much inside him that he oozed Scripture (Luke 4:1-13).  What would happen if you took with you today the verses you just read and carried them in your mind and heart throughout all of the activities, stresses, and temptations of the next 24 hours? It might just change your attitudes, conversations, and the way you react to tough situations.  Why don’t we find out? Read those verses again and ask God to help put them under your skin and into your heart and life today.

Tell a Good Story When You Preach/Teach – Part 2 of 2

This is part two of the article published in the previous post.

Illustrations that Connect

This is why illustrations matter. Illustrations help to place us in the story. But illustrations that invite us in need to be something we can actually imagine. Most of us did not fight Nazis in World War II. If you ask us to place ourselves in that story, we will always imagine ourselves as the hero—hiding Jews in our basement and standing up to the SS or giving bread to the hungry soldier from the other side.

But many of us can more realistically imagine ourselves fighting with a sibling over the remote control, or, in later years, fighting about where the extended family will have the reunion, or who should tell Dad it’s time to stop driving, or who gets the dining room table when parents have died. We won’t imagine ourselves the hero in these stories because we probably haven’t been. What we need in a story about our siblings is some idea about what to do next—what it would really look like for us to be like Christ, not in some French village in 1942, but in the family room today or on the phone tomorrow.

Because we know that illustrations help our hearers place themselves in the story, we preachers and teachers can spend a great deal of time searching for the perfect illustration: the story that ties to the Scripture passage, is just the right length, and moves us easily to the next point. This is why there are books of illustrations available to buy and websites eager for you to subscribe to their ideas. But canned illustrations usually taste that way: the essence of a good story, but lacking in color and tang.

The strongest illustrations are drawn from the life of the church and ministry itself. If you start a sentence with “This week in the Bible study, Ben mentioned…” or “Nancy, the chair of our church board, invited me to join her on a benevolence visit this week, and…” heads are going to go up. People are going to pay attention. Ben said something interesting in Bible study? What happened on the benevolence visit? 

Suddenly the life of the church has made it into the sermon. Someone was paying attention to things that happen every week. This wasn’t a once-in-a-lifetime event. Bible study happens every week. Board members visit people all the time. This was regular life being called out as an example of kingdom living. The illustration wasn’t theoretical, distant, or abstract. It was personal, relatable, accessible, and relevant. That gets people’s attention.

This also means we need to pay attention. If you have read and studied your text early in the week, keep watch for the rest of that week: notice anything that could link this text to the lives of these people. An exchange with the server at lunch. A magazine article. A song on the radio. Another passage of Scripture. A great quote on social media. As the week goes on, write these things down. Even if it is only remotely connected to what you’re preaching or teaching about, record it. You never know how the Spirit may use it.


A Word of Caution

One important note: Always ask permission. If Ben says something in Bible study that catches your attention, mention it to him afterward and see if he’s okay with you using it and if he wants credit. Say something like, “I loved what you said about verse 5. I may be able to use that on Sunday—would it be okay if I mentioned your name?” Don’t promise that you’re going to use the illustration. We all know that what looks perfect Wednesday morning may not fit when we are finishing the sermon or lesson on Saturday night.

We also know that some brilliant illustrations hit us at 6 a.m. Sunday morning, and we don’t always have time to check with the person before we preach or teach. But if they don’t know you are going to use them, don’t use them. The use of others in illustrations is an opportunity for us as pastors and teachers to care well for people. We want them to look good in illustrations, and we want them to feel safe at church. Respect their wishes if they do not want to be used, or offer to change their name or the details of the event if that makes them more amenable to the idea. But if they decline, honor that. Think of your use of illustrations as an opportunity to build trust with your congregation.

This article was originally posted at: Christianity Today

Tell a Good Story When You Preach/Teach – Parte 1 de 2

By Mary S. Hulst

How to teach in a way that connects, compels, and builds trust.


My stepsons come barging in the door after seeing a movie with their dad. They are laughing and talking and quoting lines from the movie as they scour the cupboards for snacks.

“How was the movie?”

“It was really good! So funny.”

Then I ask this question: “What was it about?”

I usually get a play-by-play of the story line, with one of them talking over the other to clarify a point in the plot. They tell me about the actors and the cars and the funny parts. They tell me who won in the end and if this one was better than the other one that was kind of like this one but starred that other guy. All of this is said through mouthfuls of cheddar and sour cream potato chips, of course.

Never, in all the times they have told me about movies, has either one ever looked at me and said, “I can’t remember. There was this guy, and maybe he was a detective or something, and he had a car. Something blew up. I don’t know.”

They always know. The can always remember. They can always tell me. That’s the power of a story. We can remember a movie because someone is telling us a story. The story begins with people who need something, or something happens to them, or there is the promise of love, the threat of global extinction, or an epic battle between good and evil. The story unfolds as the characters respond to whatever comes their way. A good story draws us in because we want to know how it turns out: Did the accused commit the crime? Do the aliens wipe out life on earth? Does the girl find love? 

Our challenge as preachers and teachers is that almost everyone who listens to us knows how the story turns out. God is in the still, small voice. The boy kills the giant. Jesus heals the blind man. Thomas professes faith. Paul, once again, tells people what to do. Yawn. Why should our people keep listening if they know how this is going to end? There is a problem. God solves it. Take the offering.

We need to create tension, or we need to acknowledge the tension that is already there. Because although most of our hearers know how the Bible stories turn out, they don’t know how their stories are turning out. They can’t read to the end of their books. All of us—preachers and pew sitters—listen to the words of the Bible and think, Is it true? Does it matter? Will it happen for me?

That’s the tension. Is this truth for me? Is this God really God for me? Are my sins really forgiven, and how would I know? Does a life of obedience really matter when it’s costing me so much?

And there is our hook. Everyone walks into church hoping, praying, begging for something to be said or sung that will help them, comfort them, assure them, and sometimes challenge them, convict them, or push them. To put it simply: they want to see themselves in the story.

This article will continue in the next post.


The Arrogance of Knowing

Richard Rohr

In Genesis 3, Adam and Eve are told there is one tree that they shall not eat of, with a most unusual name: the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  Now why would that be a bad thing to eat of? Isn’t it good to know the difference between good and bad?

Here’s the problem: notice that it says, “If you eat of this tree, you will be like God.”  Only God knows what’s really good and what’s really evil.  And the great pride and arrogance of religion…is to think that we know.
Resultado de imagen para religion palabra

The arrogance of knowing.  “I know who’s going to heaven.”  “I know who’s going to hell.”  “I know who’s right; I know who’s wrong.”  Let me tell you something: what characterizes evil is that evil is always absolutely certain.  Evil suffers no self-doubt.  It brooks no criticism.  “I am right and I know.”

We who are trying to live what we hope is a good life have to live in the hinterlands called faith, where we’re never absolutely sure we’re right.  Dang it!  Who wants that?!

And if you think of most religion that’s ever turned you off – and there’s a lot of it that should – it’s always lead by people who are absolutely sure that they’re right.  They suffer no self-doubt.  They have the whole truth.  They know who’s going to heaven and who’s going to hell.  They know who’s right and who’s wrong.  They’ve got the world neatly divided up.  And of course they’re always right and the rest of the world and the other religions are always wrong.

What a waste of time.

What stupidity.

And we’re warned against it in the very first chapters of the Bible.  

*This is an excerpt from a sermon preached by Richard Rohr at Holy Families Church in Albuquerque, New Mexico on the first Sunday of Lent: March 5, 2017.