Who Are the Poor?

By Hope Martin | May 19, 2021

The poor. It’s a common phrase, and as often happens with common phrases, we use it without comprehending its meaning.

So, who are the poor? Generally, that phrase is used to refer to people making less than a specific income. If you asked people for some specific examples from day-to-day life, the homeless and people on welfare come to mind. But we need a broader definition, because even the rich are not satisfied with their wealth, but are always seeking more money or more things to fill their empty souls.

You can be poor in more ways than financially. You can be poor relationally, without people in your life to love you and guide you and support you. You can be poor emotionally, at the mercy of every change of thought and feeling. You can be poor spiritually; perhaps you’ve never heard of the good news of great joy, or you have known Christ and followed Him for years but have experienced very little growth. You can be poor familially; maybe your mom or dad, or both, was not around or not reliable in your life. You can be poor in priorities; holding your success and your pleasure as a higher priority than God or others. You can be poor in maturity; stubbornly insisting on your own way and believing you know best. (Oh, aren’t we all?) You can be poor in decision making; charging ahead without thought or plan, or paralyzed into inaction for fear that you’ll make the wrong decision. You can be poor in health; your mind and body wracked by illness and injury. You can be poor in identity; told you would never amount to anything, or maybe you were abused and you think it was your fault, or you’ve never found your place to belong.

Now that we have a working definition of the poor, what is God’s posture/heart towards them? There are over 2000 references to the poor in the Bible. Time and time again, God talks of His love for the poor and His promise to defend them and uphold their cause. One of the most defining characteristics of Jesus’ ministry was His presence with and care for the poor, sick, and outcasts of the day. In fact, He announced the start of his ministry with a passage that specifically mentions the poor.

“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound,” – Isaiah 61:1-2 

He touched the untouchable, talked to the ignored, healed the sick and despairing, and empowered the weak. He was the embodiment of His Father’s promise to answer and not forsake the poor and needy.

When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue is parched with thirst, I the Lord will answer them; I the god of Israel will not forsake them. - Isaiah 41:17

In John 4:13-14, Jesus told the Samaritan woman at the well that the water He gives living water that springs up into a well of eternal life. He is the living water that will forever quench the thirst of those who seek Him and find Him, providing the way for God to forever care for the poor.

So what are we to do about the poor, and how do we serve them? 

Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’ If you take the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday. And the Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail. - Isaiah 58:6-11

We need to love the poor, and we need to love them as ourselves. The two greatest commandments are to love God and love our neighbors as ourselves. Who are our neighbors? Our neighbors are: fellow believers, social outcasts, the oppressed, the homeless, the addicts, the people we theologically disagree with, the people we fundamentally disagree with, the people who hate us, unbelievers, the sick, the elderly. The list goes on. There is always someone to love and serve—just take a look around. 

How do we serve them? I’ll answer a question with a question. Where has God gifted you with talent and passion? Use these as indicators of how you can serve God and your neighbors. He gave us talents and passion for a reason, and we have three options of what we can do with them. First, we can squander them away, spending them for our pleasure and entertainment. Second, we can bury them, afraid to use them improperly and so, never using them at all. Lastly, we can invest them, working faithfully and trusting God to guide and use us to bless and witness to the world. (For further reading and study, see the parable of talents in Matthew 25:14-30.) Which will you choose?

We love and serve the poor, all the poor, by serving God through our talents that He was given us. It’s that simple. It’s that profound.