What Does the Bible Say About Poverty?
The Bible is the authoritative source for knowing God’s heart, his will, and our purpose as Christians. This is true also for how God calls us to serve the poor and those in poverty. At Food for the Hungry, our first value is “We follow Jesus.” We are ambassadors of Jesus in our thoughts, words, and deeds. So what does the Bible say about poverty? How are Christians instructed to care for the poor? There are over 2000 references in the Bible to the poor. Here is a “SparkNotes” version or list of Bible verses that inform our work, and tell us what the Bible says about poverty. We pray they help you discover God’s heart for our global brothers and sisters living in poverty.
Bible Verses of Encouragement for the Poor
In the Bible, it is clear that those in poverty are close to God’s heart. Jesus himself was born into poverty and gave up his heavenly riches when he came down to earth. Constantly, the poor are said to be “blessed” and we are instructed to value integrity over riches. God has not forgotten the poor and instead calls all believers to join in his restorative work to bring hope and opportunity to them.
“Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?” — James 2:5
You would shame the plans of the poor, but the Lord is his refuge.
Better is a poor man who walks in his integrity than a rich man who is crooked in his ways.
For he delivers the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper.
He has pity on the weak and the needy and saves the lives of the needy.
From oppression and violence, he redeems their life; precious is their blood in his sight.
2 Corinthians 8:9
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.
The rich and the poor meet together; the Lord is the maker of them all.
Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Bible Verses About God’s Justice for the Poor
FH’s founder Larry Ward read the following verses in Psalm 146, when he was inspired to start Food for the Hungry. It’s clear that poverty is a result of brokenness in our world, but the Bible says that the Lord will bring justice for the poor in due time.
Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God. He is the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them—he remains faithful forever. He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets prisoners free. —Psalm 146:5-7
The Lord works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed.
But the Egyptians mistreated us and made us suffer, subjecting us to harsh labor. Then we cried out to the Lord, the God of our ancestors, and the Lord heard our voice and saw our misery, toil, and oppression. So the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great terror and with signs and wonders. He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.
Download the free eBook, Is it Possible to End Poverty? to get 10 creative ideas for how to follow the Bible’s call to help the poor. You can also find other free devotionals and resources here.
I know that the Lord will maintain the cause of the afflicted, and will execute justice for the needy.
[Jesus] went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath Day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he read:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
He saves the needy from the sword in their mouth; he saves them from the clutches of the powerful. So the poor have hope, and injustice shuts its mouth.
1 Samuel 2:8
He raises up the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor. For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s, and on them he has set the world.
Bible Verses About Laws Regarding the Poor
In the Old Testament, God gives a set of special laws through Leviticus that show how he set up systems to care for the poor and the foreigner. Those who owned land were told to leave the edges of their fields for those on the fringes of society to benefit from. In addition, every seventh year in the “year of Jubilee,” the Israelites followed God’s laws by forgiving any outstanding debts to prevent overwhelming poverty. What a great way to not only bless others who are less fortunate, but also protect our hearts from greed! Take a look at what the Bible says about poverty and how God set up laws and systems to support the poor.
“When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the Lord your God.” –Leviticus 19:9-10
The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.
At the end of every seven years, you must cancel debts. This is how it is to be done: Every creditor shall cancel any loan they have made to a fellow Israelite. They shall not require payment from anyone among their own people, because the Lord’s time for canceling debts has been proclaimed…there need be no poor people among you, for in the land the Lord your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you, if only you fully obey the Lord your God and are careful to follow all these commands I am giving you today.
If your brother becomes poor and cannot maintain himself with you, you shall support him as though he were a stranger and a sojourner, and he shall live with you.
Bible Verses About Defending the Rights of the Poor
It’s clear in the Bible that one aspect of poverty is the oppression that vulnerable communities face. Time and time again, God demonstrates his justice, commanding his people to defend the oppressed. The Bible calls us to speak up. This is why FH engages leaders in the community and uses advocacy as an avenue for change. We walk with public servants in order to speak into legislation, policies, systems, and attitudes that impact global poverty. Through these relationships and influence, we seek justice and renewal in vulnerable communities. We won’t stop until God’s purpose shines bright in each person we serve.
“Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.” —Isaiah 1:17
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.
Do not rob the poor, because he is poor, or crush the afflicted at the gate, for the Lord will plead their cause and rob of life those who rob them.
This is what the Lord says: Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place.
Those who shut their ears to the cries of the poor will be ignored in their own time of need.
Do not oppress the widow, the orphan, the alien, or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another.
Bible Verses About Helping the Poor
Poverty is complex and ever-changing, but how does God command us to help those in poverty? First of all, the Bible calls us to give generously and “open wide your hand to your brother.” He wants us to be kind and have a joyful heart while giving, whether that’s through a one-time commitment or sponsoring a child. Ultimately, the important part is that we act out of an overflow of blessing in our own lives!
Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you. –James 1:27
Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
A righteous man knows the rights of the poor; a wicked man does not understand such knowledge.
For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’
Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due,
when it is in your power to do it.
Do not say to your neighbor, “Go, and come again,
tomorrow I will give it”—when you have it with you.
1 John 3:17
But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?
Those who despise their neighbors are sinners, but happy are those who are kind to the poor.
How to Help
What the Bible says about poverty is convicting! Partner with Food for the Hungry’s work to end all forms of human poverty worldwide, through the love of Christ. By sponsoring a child or giving the gift of a Bible or children’s Bible, you can be part of creating an eternal impact on the lives of children worldwide. Will you join us?
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