The Biblical Case for Helping the Homeless
Homelessness is a problem. It is conceivable that every city in the United States has an issue with people living on the street. The debate of how much responsibility the government should take for helping the homeless is heated. One side of the isle will claim that these people, who are mostly drug addicts and alcoholics, are responsible for themselves. The other side will argue that as a society it is the duty of the people to help others in need. What does the Bible say about the homeless and the poor? Does God have an opinion on whether or not the impoverished are society’s responsibility?
The word “poor” occurs 205 times in 197 verses in the KJV Bible. God’s view on the poor is very clear. Before we discuss God’s commandments on how we should treat the poor, let us first look at what God’s opinion of the poor is. Jesus is an excellent example of what a poor person was in his day. In fact, it is safe to say that Jesus was a homeless person at least some of the time (see Luke 9:58). The people that Jesus associated with were homeless and poor as well. Paul, who was a close follower of Jesus wrote “even until now weÃ¢Â?Â¦have no certain dwellingplace” (see 1 Corinthians 4:11). And finally, Paul writes that God’s only begotten Son became poor although he was rich for our sakes (see 2 Corinthians 8:9). It is very evident in just these three verses, that God loves poor people very much. If God made Jesus, his one and only Son, a poor and homeless person, then it is safe to say that God actually esteems the poor and glorifies them.
How does God want other people to view the poor and the homeless? The Bible states that God will deliver the poor from their affliction (see Psalms 107:41). Since Christians should look toward God as an example of how to live, the poor are the responsibility of the people. Most people see the poor and homeless as a burden and an eyesore. There are calls from the “nice” neighborhoods to “clean up the streets” by having the police “sweep” the street people away. When a homeless person asks a pedestrian for some spare change, a common response might be “get a job”. This is definitely not the attitude that God wants us to have toward the poor. In fact, as we will see a little later, these attitudes shall be punished. In Matthew 25 starting at verse 34, Jesus makes a very powerful statement. On judgment day in heaven, the goats shall be separated from the lambs. The goats are symbolic of the wicked and the lambs symbolize the righteous. The righteous shall reside with Jesus in heaven eternally and the wicked shall be condemned to everlasting punishment. Jesus explains that the reasoning for this is that whenever someone feeds someone who is hungry or gives drink to the thirsty, he is actually doing so unto Jesus himself (see Matthew 25:45). This verse alone makes a powerful statement of how people should treat those that are in need.
When a person gives unto the poor he is actually giving unto God. God is a great rewarder of those that help the poor. In the Old Testament God actually commanded his people to help if a brother was poor and had no place to live (see Deuteronomy 15:7). Solomon wrote that if we have mercy on the poor we honor God (see Proverbs 14:31). It pleases God when we give to the poor. If more people knew that every time we gave spare change to a homeless person on the street that we are actually lending money to God himself, I think it would happen more often (see Proverbs 19:17). God actually promises that all the money that a person gives to the poor will be given back to him. In this materialistic world, most people would do anything to be rich. It is very common to sacrifice morals for monetary gain. God’s view on this is plain. It is better to be poor and wise in the Lord, than rich and unrighteous (see Proverbs 28:6).
Not only will God reward those that help the poor and homeless, but he will punish those that oppress them. Many people have been taught that it’s okay to step on people in order to move up in the world. Taking advantage of the poor is an attitude that God will judge. Not surprisingly, God’s very first commandment regarding treatment of the poor deals with lending money. Poor people usually are the first to ask for a loan. Because they need the money so badly, they are willing to pay a higher interest rate on the money. Interest is also known as usury. God forbids the rich to charge any interest at all to his people if they be poor (see Exodus 22:25). It is also common to pay low wages to the poor because they are so desperate for money. The Bible calls this oppression and it is also forbidden by God as we read his commandments and laws (see Deuteronomy 24:14). It is frightful what God says would happen to the man that persecutes the poor. If a person knew that oil would come into his bones because he persecuted the poor, isn’t it possible that he might refrain from doing it (see Psalms 109:16)? Ignoring the “street people” when they ask for change is also a very common response. People sometimes do not even acknowledge that they are there. God is not fond of that attitude and says that when a person ignores the cries of the poor, he will cry also and not be heard (see Proverbs 21:13).
So as we can see, God’s attitude toward the homeless is one of mercy and love. It almost seems as if we should treat these people as we are one of them. This is not so far from the truth. Paul writes that the chosen people of God are the base of the world. It is the people that are despised of the world that are called to give glory to God and do his work (see 1 Corinthians 1:28). My prayer is that governmental leaders and all people view the homeless as precious souls that can improve our character and our relationship with God. The homeless are not people to be avoided; they are there to be loved. Let’s try to treat other people the way we would like to be treated by showing mercy in their time of need.