The Bible describes a wide range of cultures and lifestyles. The time from Abraham to the time of the early church spans a period of about two thousand years. How people made a living varied depending on when and where they lived. Some people were nomads, living in small groups, keeping flocks of sheep and goats, and traveling from place to place in order to feed and protect their animals. Others lived more settled lives, growing crops or providing services to people in towns and urban areas.
There are many places in scripture we are encouraged to give and help the poor. Helping those in need is one of the major themes of the Bible and of Jesus’ ministry. As far back as the thirteenth century B.C., the Hebrews’ law institutionalized assistance to the poor:
“When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the LORD your God.” (NRSV, Leviticus 19:9-10)
Through service, we give others the things they lack, and we find meaning and fulfillment to our own lives. Both the Old and New Testament writings give many examples of the importance of service and charity:
“He who despises his neighbor sins, but happy is he who is gracious to the poor.” (NAS, Proverbs 14:21)
“Feed the hungry! Help those in trouble! Then your light will shine out from the darkness, and the darkness around you shall be as bright as day. And the Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy you with all good things, and keep you healthy too; and you will be like a well-watered garden, like an ever-flowing spring. (TLB, Isaiah 58:10-11)
“And the crowds asked [John the Baptist], “What then should we do?” In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” (NRSV, Luke 3:10-11)
“But whoever has the world’s goods, and beholds his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?” (NAS, 1 John 3:17)
The Bible tells us to share generously with those in need, and good things will come to us in turn. We are not meant to live hard-hearted or self-centered lives. A greedy, miserly life leaves us devoid of anything but an empty craving for more possessions, more power or more status.
“He who gives to the poor will never want, but he who shuts his eyes will have many curses.” (NAS, Proverbs 28:27)
Another side of this is charity starts at home. This is difficult for many because of the familiarity we have with our families and their personal issues. We many times do not get the same rewarding feeling helping out our family members as we do the man holding a sign on the street corner because we know all their personal problems and most like how they became in need to start with. We forget that the homeless man may have made the same wrong choices that our son did we do not know. (To be continued)