What Does the Bible Say About Giving to the Poor?

Most of us know that the bible instructs us to share our wealth with those who don’t have as much.  But beyond that, there’s no shortage of disagreement on the particulars.  How much are we supposed to give?  Do we give directly, or through a local (or international) church or charity?  Who even qualifies as the “rich” and “poor,” or maybe more bluntly, who is to be doing the giving and who can just expect to receive?  What about people on the street, where we can’t know for sure that they actually need the money or that they’ll use it responsibly?  Should we give them cash knowing they could just go buy drugs or something else we don’t agree with?  Lots of questions there, and if we’d look, the answers to most of them can be found in the very same bible.

Why Should We Give?

Why is giving even important?  We work hard for our money, why can’t we just keep it?  This question is probably the hardest to condense down to a paragraph in a blog post, but the simplest answer is because God first gave to us.  We all know the familiar verse:

  •  For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. – John 3:16 (ESV)

God’s direct response to our sin problem, which resulted in a rift between us and Him, was to give us something – His Son.  It wasn’t to tell us to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and encourage us as we worked towards reconciliation.  Beyond the gift of His righteousness that He allows us to call our own, He gives us untold amounts of gifts every day.  A sun that comes up every morning, air that we can breathe, muscles and organs that keep our bodies functioning, jobs that we can earn money from, food that we can eat, relationships that allow us to flourish as expressive humans; it’s all from Him, because He owns it all.

  • The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein. – Psalm 24:1

Our response, then, should be to realize that we are simply managers of God’s money, therefore He gets to tell us what to do with it.  That should be a huge relief for us!  We don’t have to worry about making sure the money is coming in every month, God promises us He’ll provide for our needs!  All we have to do is use it wisely, and allow God to use us to bless other people in the process!  Pretty cool stuff, if you ask me.  God also promises rewards to those who are generous with the money they’ve been entrusted to manage.

  • You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. – 2 Corinthians 9:11 (ESV)

The more generous we are, the more we’ll have to be generous with!  Please don’t read this as the prosperity gospel, which claims that if you just give money to a (usually mega)church, you’ll get a check in the mail for a million dollars.  That’s not what we’re promised.  What we are promised is a faithfulness produces rewards, which in turn should produce more faithfulness.

Who Should Give?

In short, everyone.  That means me, the guy that’s $70k in debt and working two jobs to try and pay our bills every month.  And that means you, no matter what your situation in life.

  • Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the Lord your God that he has given you. – Deuteronomy 16:17, ESV

No matter what we have, or what we lack, there is always someone that can benefit from something you have.  In fact, if we claim that we don’t have enough to give something to someone else, we’re claiming that God has not provided for us, since He expects us to give.  If He expects us to give, wouldn’t He provide us with something to give?

What Should We Give?

  • On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come. – 1 Corinthians 16:12 (ESV)

I’m sure you’ve heard of the “rule” that Christians are supposed to give a tithe, or 10% of their income, to their local church.  I don’t believe believers today are under that law, but I do think it’s a great place to start.  We weren’t able to give that much when we first started out, but as we gave more, curiously we had more room in our budget for giving.  God has a funny way of blessing those who are faithful to Him.  Paul tells the Corinthians to give “something.”  He doesn’t give a set amount, but rather bases it on however much each family may have prospered.  The bible acknowledges that some of us have more material blessing than others, and it wouldn’t be fair to expect my family to give the same amount that the Gates family gives.  In fact, there is a limit on giving: only give to the extent that your own family isn’t suffering as a result.

  • But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. – 1 Timothy 5:8 (ESV)

So, we know we’re supposed to give, but maybe you’re in some serious financial trouble.  Maybe it’s to the point where any monetary donation at all would mean your lights get turned off that month, or you won’t be able to buy food past this week.  What do you do?  You get creative.

  • And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.” – Luke 3:11 (ESV)
  • Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it.  – Proverbs 3:27 (ESV)

Our clothing, our time, and even the contents of our fridge are all fair game to be given as well.  Remember, regardless of how deep of a hole you’re in, there is always someone that could benefit from your sacrifice.  What’s more generous: someone giving away money that they didn’t even know they had to begin with, or someone choosing to give one of their only two pairs of jeans to someone who doesn’t have anything at all to wear?

To Whom Should We Give?

If you live in a city of even moderate size, you’ve no doubt encountered homelessness at some point.  These people are very obviously deserving beneficiaries of our decision to give, but unfortunately, the sinful heart of man can be very crafty.  I’ve seen numerous news stories profiling people that assume the role of a homeless person, collect donations from passersby at busy intersections or on the sides of highways, and then go back to their warm homes at night and count their “earnings.”  I’ve also seen reports that money donated to actual homeless people doesn’t always go toward improving their long-term situation.  Sometimes it’s used on vices, which raises the question of whether or not we should donate to these people, knowing they may just use it to further destroy themselves.  You know what the bible says?  “That’s not your concern, you’re just supposed to give.”

  • Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. – Luke 6:30 (ESV)
  • Cheerfully share your home with those who need a meal or a place to stay. – 1 Peter 4:9 (NLT)
  • One gives freely, yet grows all the richer; another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want. – Proverbs 11:24 (ESV)
  • Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed. – Proverbs 19:17 (ESV)
  • Whoever gives to the poor will not want, but he who hides his eyes will get many a curse. – Proverbs 28:27 (ESV)

Those verses all have the common thread of giving freely, and that’s the end of our responsibility.  There’s nothing in them about making sure the recipient is worthy of our gift, or keeping tabs on them after we’ve given to them to make sure they use our gift correctly.  We should absolutely apply wisdom and stewardship principles in deciding what, where, and when to give, but I don’t see anything in the bible that allows us to close up our wallet because we fear that someone might buy a pack of cigarettes instead of the meal they claim they need.  If that’s truly our fear, why wouldn’t we take an evening and take them to dinner ourselves?

How Should We Give?

I hope you’ve seen the underlying attitude in these previous verses.  Give freely.  Give to everyone.  Cheerfully give.  Giving shouldn’t be something we do with a clenched fist.  Giving should be done with a heart that praises God for the ability to give in the first place.

  •  Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. – 2 Corinthians 9:7 (ESV)

God doesn’t give to us reluctantly or with strings attached, and neither should we give to others with that attitude.  Similarly, we should give genuinely, without worrying about what we might get out of the situation.

  • Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. – Matthew 6:1-4 (ESV)

Giving solely for the sake of reward, whether it’s man’s praise or God’s blessing, negates the entire purpose of the gift.  We should give to bless another person, not because it benefits us.  This is what God wants for us: that we selflessly, freely, and cheerfully give to others out of what He has first given us.

That’s by no means an exhaustive view on what the bible says about money, but hopefully it clears some questions up that you may have had.  If you’re looking for something more in-depth, look at this 9-part series on financial stewardship from Pastor Sid Litke I found during the research I did for this post.

What about you?  How have you used God’s blessings to benefit other people, even though you could really have used them yourself at times?  What are ways you give to others that don’t center on money?

6 thoughts on “What Does the Bible Say About Giving to the Poor?

  1. Wow! That’s a pretty comprehensive roundup of verses. And both challenging and encouraging at the same time! My pastor says his job is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. I think you did both.

    1. That’s a great motto for your pastor! Thanks as always for the encouragement, Dan!

  2. Awesome job Kyle!!! I definitely feel like I could give more of both my time and money. Everytime that I find myself giving until I feel like I can’t give anymore I feel the Lord’s blessing on my life and it’s something that I keep forgetting and know that I need to do a better job remembering. Thanks for the great reminder.

    1. Isn’t it crazy how that works? Every single one of our “we need to give more” conversations has been almost immediately followed by some event in our life that allows us to give more. It’s almost like God rewards us for being obedient or something 🙂

  3. I do believe we should be grateful every day for what we have. I know I am! I’m in good health, have a roof over my head and can afford to buy food.

    A few years ago, I was unemployed and it took a while until I found work. However, during the time I was looking for a job I thought, I have so much free time, I should do something useful with it… so my significant other and I joined the Red Cross. Fast forward 5 years later, we’re still active members. It’s nice to know there are ways to help others that don’t necessarily center on money.

    1. That’s awesome, Adriana! What a great way to turn what could have been a depressing time and help other people at the same time 😊

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