The righteous is concerned for the rights of the poor,
The wicked does not understand such concern. – Proverbs 29:7.
I live in Lagos, a bustling metropolis in Nigeria. Lagos really is a special place for many reasons. It is a city where the great divide between the rich and the poor is so clear for all to see. It is a city where an elite few live in homes more expensive than prime areas in the US whilst a vast majority struggle to get their hands on a couple of dollars a day.
One incident stands out in my mind. A few months back, when I had just relocated back home after 12 years in the UK, I met up with an old friend for lunch. Being a fresh returner, I naturally asked my friend to pick a spot where we would meet up. He chose an exquisite hotel where we could have our meal overlooking a serene lagoon. As we caught up and enjoyed our meal, we noticed an entourage making their way towards the hotel. They were arriving in luxurious speed boats and yachts. In the very same lagoon were elderly fishermen struggling to catch a few fish to probably feed their family with. The yachts and speed boats nearly capsized one fisherman’s canoe as they made their way to the hotel where I was having lunch with a friend. The elderly man was left drenched in foul lagoon water and without an apology too. The entourage arrived at the hotel and it turned out to be one of Nigeria’s youngest emerging dollar billionaires. He was surrounded by his friends and security. His arrival disturbed the formerly peaceful scene we were all enjoying. Suddenly everyone’s eyes returned to the lagoon as we heard the elderly fisherman shouting at the top of his voice and paddling furiously towards the hotel. The closer he got, the more I could make out his words. He was asking all of us if we had any compassion in us. He was asking if the young billionaire had any atom of respect or consideration for having almost drowned him in the lagoon earlier. He was asking if we thought he was a human being. He kept asking these hard-hitting questions at the top of his voice but to my amazement, no one cared enough to even look his way. The young billionaire simply made his way into the hotel, leaving his security detail to usher the elderly man away. The hotel management wouldn’t have him anywhere near the premises either. The man was left with no choice but to paddle away in anger. Life simply went on. He had no money. He had no voice. That is the sad reality of the city I live in.
On a more personal note, I struggled with what to do about the countless number of beggars on the streets of Lagos. You can hardly find yourself stuck in traffic without having a beggar come to your window and ask for monetary help. They are usually suffering from one physical ailment or the other and are left with few options. There is no functioning welfare system in Nigeria so most of these people really are on their own. At first I used to give every single beggar that approached my window. With time, I noticed that most people didn’t give these beggars anything and they had a lot of logical reasons behind their stance. Some said the money was used to commit evil acts. Others said it encouraged evil man to deliberately injure people and use them to generate income through begging. I too started to rationalise the issue and before long, my heart was hardened and I stopped giving completely. My spirit was never comfortable with this decision of mine so I turned to God for answers. What He showed me startled me! He whispered Proverbs 28:27 into my heart. It says, ‘ Whoever gives to the poor will lack nothing, but those who close their eyes to poverty will be cursed’. The words cannot be paraphrased in any other way as to avoid the central message here. I was staring this truth in the face and the fact was that I had closed my eyes to the suffering around me and opened myself up to be cursed. I’m not sure which part got me more. The fact I had chosen to ignore the suffering around me or the curse it exposes me to.
Christ gave me new life that I may die and have Him live through me. I doubt that Jesus would have ever walked past beggars and not care to do anything about their plight. He was always moved by compassion and studying His life led me to repent and go back to giving. The difference this time around is that I try to give as the Spirit of God instructs me. He knows better than I what each beggar needs at each point in time so I just trust in His wisdom and lean not on my limited understanding.
There are countless benefits to helping the poor. The scriptures are full of these benefits if we will take some time out to search them out. One of the most obvious is that loving and caring for the poor brings them face to face with Christ and opens up their otherwise closed hearts to receiving the gospel. You can never lose out in giving to the poor. There may be many people advising contrary to this based on worldly wisdom but this is what Solomon tells us in Proverbs 19:17, If you help the poor, you are lending to the Lord and he will repay you! I can’t think of a better Person to lend to than God Himself. He will surely pay back and with interest too.
Let us always remember that we are stewards of the resources He has given us. Those resources belong to our Master and we must yield ownership to Him. We are blessed to be a blessing to others and common sense will tell us that the poor should be on our priority list of those that God would have us blessed with our blessings. We must keep our attitude towards the poor in check. This is not just staying away from oppressing or despising them but also not being indifferent to their sufferings.
As though to show us how remembering the poor is central to the gospel, Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, explains in Galatians 2:10, how he and his coworkers resolved a dispute with Peter, James and John regarding how the gospel was to be presented to the Gentiles. The one thing both groups were unanimous about was their approach to the poor and that says a lot about how God feels on this issue.
They only [made one stipulation], that we were to remember the poor, which very thing I was also eager to do. – Galatians 2:10.