As of 2020, about 37 million Americans are living below the poverty line. The government defines the poverty line as earning less than $12,880 per year for an individual. (For a family of four, it is $26,500.) That threshold is low, and there still are many more millions of Americans who are technically above the line but still struggle to provide for themselves and their families.
From those numbers alone, we can see that poverty isn’t just in third-world countries. It’s in our own backyards. In fact, during 2020, the number of people enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as “food stamps”) jumped 20 percent — from about 36 million to about 44 million — due to the economic strain of the pandemic. In 2018, more than 75 percent of people enrolled in the program had at least one working adult in their household, and about a third had two or more working adults in their household.
Poverty is therefore not limited to people who are not working. Many Americans are working long hours at multiple jobs and still struggle to pay the bills. It’s clear that no matter where we live — even in the wealthiest nation in the world — we are still surrounded by people in need.
Throughout the Bible, Christians are called to care for those in need. Whether it’s an Old Testament practice (Deut. 15:11, Lev. 25:35), the words of Jesus Himself (Luke 12:32-34, Matt. 25:34-40) or an encouragement to fellow believers (1 John 3:17, Rom. 12:11-13), it’s clear we are asked to be generous and compassionate toward those who have less than we do. But why?
Why is it so important to prioritize generosity toward the less fortunate? It would be simple enough to go about our day-to-day lives, concerned only with providing for our own families and preparing for our own futures. Why does God ask us to spend our time and money on those in need?
There are many reasons He calls us to this, but a few stand out above the rest:
To show His love to others.
Meeting physical needs is one of the most impactful ways we can live out the Gospel and show love to others. After all, it’s hard to listen to a sermon if you haven’t eaten all day or you’re stressed about the electricity being shut off. Whether you’re giving money, donating household items or simply buying someone a meal, you’re participating in a tangible expression of God’s love. You’re helping them feel seen and giving them the comfort and safety of knowing they’re being taken care of. Not only that, but you are glorifying Him. Jesus says whatever we do to “the least of these” — feeding the hungry, taking care of the sick — we do unto Him (Matt. 25:34-40).
To remind us of our own need.
Particularly in our culture, it’s easy to get caught up in our busy schedules and begin relying on ourselves to sustain our lives. The truth is, we’re completely reliant on God, and the more we embrace that, the fuller our lives will be. Giving generously allows us to not only avoid the temptation to hoard the blessings God gives us, but also to remember we are not immune to need. Stepping outside of the comfort of our own lives helps us cultivate gratitude and remember that we, too, are in desperate need. Relying on our own strength will not sustain us. We need God not only for salvation, but for daily grace, joy, peace and bravery. We cannot fully live as Christ followers without the Holy Spirit’s help, guiding us and shaping us. We can’t be transformed or live righteously apart from Him. Seeing need up close and allowing ourselves to be moved by it will soften our hearts toward others, foster humility and turn us toward God. It makes us more like Him.
To cultivate the fruits of the Spirit.
The fruits of the spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23). By putting the needs of others before our own, we force our sinful nature to take a back seat and focus on cultivating these qualities within our hearts. We can love others well, find joy in generosity, show kindness and goodness, be faithful with the resources God has given us, be gentle with those who may have made mistakes or fallen on hard times, and cultivate self-control by giving money to others we could have spent on ourselves. Helping people who have less than we do is a practical way to foster these characteristics in ourselves. The more we serve others and pray for our hearts to be changed, the more these characteristics of the Holy Spirit will be on display in our lives.
We should be living proof of a loving God to a watching world. As we choose daily to practice generosity and give to those in need, we remember that our lives are not our own and we bless others in the process.