After God delivered his people from Egypt, he prepared them to enter the Promised Land. In all his instructions, God told them, “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'” (Deut. 15:11). In the New Testament, Jesus said a similar thing, “The poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me” (John 12:8). God said he would deliver the poor (Psalm 72:12), that he would bless the one who is generous to the poor (Prov. 14:20), that he will not answer the one who closes his ear to the poor (Prov. 21:13), and that men should not oppress or rob the poor (Prov. 22:16, 22).
God made provisions for all able-bodied poor. He instructed landowners, “but the seventh year you shall let it [land] rest and lie fallow, that the poor of your people may eat; and what they leave the beasts of the field may eat. You shall do likewise with your vineyard, and with your olive orchard (Exodus 23:11). Also, God said, “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” (Lev.19:10). For those landowners with fields God said, “And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, nor shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the Lord your God” (Lev. 23:22).
The landowners were not to harvest their vineyards or fields themselves and give the produce to the poor, but to let the able-bodied poor go into the vineyards and fields and do the work themselves. God made the provisions, but the able-bodied poor had to work or they would starve. In the case of justice, it was the government’s responsibility to make sure the poor were not abused. In the case of providing food, it was the individual landowner’s responsibility to make provisions for the able-bodied poor, not the government’s. If a poor person was not able-bodied, he was dependent on his or her family to provide for needs.It is clear that God does not want the poor to be neglected, and that he wants the able-bodied poor to work to meet their needs. Before the fall of man, work was a blessing given by God to man, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and keep it” (Gen. 2:15). After the fall, work became burdensome, but necessary for survival (Gen. 3:17-19). Paul, to the Thessalonians who quit working because they thought the return of Christ was imminent, comments on able-bodied work, “For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat (2 Thess. 3:10).
The poor in America can either be self-inflicted poor, i.e., drugs, alcohol, gambling, unwise decisions, or get-rich-quick-schemes — or, poor by no fault of their own, i.e., disasters, or unfavorable circumstances not based on unwise decisions. For the sake of this discussion I am not going to differentiate between the two. Instead, I contend that the current system of American, governmental welfare is unhealthy for the poor and society as a whole.
It is not healthy for the poor to receive money or goods from the government without any responsibility to the public from which the money or goods came. It is dehumanizing and a form of slavery. If a poor person is able-bodied, he or she should have work provided by society for the good of society. Since money or goods are provided by society to the poor, able-bodied poor should work for society and earn the money. Therefore, the money will be earned through work and not provided without any responsibility to the public from which it came. It would be irresponsible of the government to simply stop all welfare payments immediately. My suggestion would be an alternative.
An argument could be made that it is not the government’s responsibility to give welfare to able-bodied people anyway. The revenue the government receives is through taxation. The government should not take tax money intended to fund the government and give it out in the form of welfare. There must be another way to help the poor. Perhaps the Old Testament practice of individuals being generous with the poor and the poor’s responsibility to work to meet their needs could be employed in America?
Mark Hudson has been pastor of Medical Lake Community Church since 2001. Before that he served as a missionary in Germany, where he spent a decade planting churches.