Responsibility to the poor: Government or Church? Part I

What is the duty of the Church concerning poverty? This is one of those areas where the Church has unfortunately surrendered its influence by either adopting the mission of the government or embracing the worldview of the culture, neither of which is consistent with what the Bible teaches.

The Bible, in fact, speaks very plainly about the poor, and since the duty of the Church is to preserve knowledge of God, it is incumbent upon us to correct misunderstandings regarding the proper role of God’s people in this area, as with other subjects. In so doing, we preserve a free and civil society for all.

As Christians, we are commanded to obey the authorities when those authorities remain in God’s order. But when those authorities seek to emancipate themselves from the order that God designed by inserting themselves into all of life and making absolute claims on those it governs, it is the duty of the Church to stand athwart the usurpers.

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We provided proper context for Romans 13, that most misunderstood passage of the Bible employed by those who would suggest that we make no distinction between a good government and a government that serves itself, explaining how Paul, Peter, and all of the martyrs of the early Church surrendered their temporal lives to remain faithful to Christ in the face of demands that they render complete loyalty to Caesar.

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Remember: Jesus Christ was not run over by a chariot; He did not die of cancer, nor was He convicted of theft or murder. Our Lord was crucified for a political crime against the Roman State. The King of the Jews was deemed a threat to Caesar because Rome would not tolerate any rivals to its authority, even if (or perhaps especially when) that authority is “not of this world.”

Below are a few selected examples (and there are hundreds) to illustrate that the entire Bible, from Old Testament to New, is a thorough account of God’s people confronting kings, powers, rulers, and authorities, thereby providing evidence to support our conviction that while all authority comes from God, those charged with dispensing that authority do not possess the right to use that authority against God’s order.

And when governments abuse that power which comes from God alone, the Church must lead – not hide from – the resistance, because the Body of Christ is the only institution with the moral authority to distinguish between government in its proper sphere and government gone awry.

Turning our attention, then, to the subject of poverty, here is the problem: Everywhere we go, everything we watch, everything we hear, every television commercial, infomercial, you-tube clip, song, non-profit initiative, church missions project, and even from the pulpit, addresses the subject of poverty from what narrative? What is the spoken and unspoken premise of every initiative, comment, emotional appeal, and piece of legislation regarding poverty?

Is it not that “poverty must be eliminated?” Or, to use the words of U2’s Bono, to “Make Poverty History.”

Viewed uncritically, this is a noble goal indeed. In fact, to be critical of the effort to eradicate poverty may seem insensitive, or even cruel. But careful examination of what is true reveals why the elimination of poverty is the wrong objective – in fact, it completely misses the mark – and why God’s people should not be deceived into pursuing these ends.

Let’s begin with a look at what the Bible says about the poor and poverty:

Mark 14: 3-7 While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head. 4 Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? 5 It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly. 6 “Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 7 THE POOR YOU WILL ALWAYS HAVE WITH YOU, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me.

Proverbs 14:31 He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for his maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.

Deuteronomy 15:10 Give generously to them and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to.

Prov. 22:9 The generous will themselves be blessed, for they share their food with the poor.

Luke 14:13-14 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

2 Corinthians 9:7 Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

Ephesians 4:28 Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need.

1 John 3:17 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?

Jer. 22:16 He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?” declares the Lord.

Luke 6:33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that.

Proverbs 29:7 The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern.

Leviticus 19:15. ‘Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly.

Isaiah 10:1-3 Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees,2 to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless. 3 What will you do on the day of reckoning, when disaster comes from afar? To whom will you run for help? Where will you leave your riches?

Psalms 140:12 I know that the Lord secures justice for the poor and upholds the cause of the needy.

Isaiah 25:4 You have been a refuge for the poor, a refuge for the needy in their distress, a shelter from the storm and a shade from the heat.

This list is not intended to be exhaustive, of course. But do you notice a pattern? The verses on the poor generally fall into three (3) broad categories: 1.) Verses commanding that we care for the poor (and confirming that we shall be blessed and/or rewarded when we do); 2.) Verses requiring us to secure justice for the poor; and 3.) Verses that pronounce judgment on those who pervert justice by showing favoritism either for or against the poor.

Nowhere, however, do we find any hint or suggestion in Scripture that we seek the elimination of poverty, nor is there any support for the view that we ought to produce a society without any poor.

Why does this matter?  See the conclusion next week in Part II.

Kevin Kookogey spent more than two decades as an entertainment lawyer and music industry executive.  In an age of creeping socialism and intellectual neglect, he took on the responsibility of home-schooling his six children. He is the founder of The Advancing Church, “To Encourage the Church, to Warn the State, and to Support those who Pay the Price” For more info, visit 

The Language of Liberty series is a collaborative effort of the Center for Self Governance (CSG) Administrative Team. CSG is a non-profit, non-partisan educational organization, dedicated to training citizens in applied civics. The authors include administrative staff, selected students, and guest columnists. The views expressed by the authors are their own and may not reflect the views of CSG. Contact them at

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