What Does the Bible Say About Relief & Development?

April 10, 2018
7 min
Poverty & injustice
What Does the Bible Say About Relief & Development?

Christians know that the Bible is both a guide to life in this world and a defiant claim against what the world says we should be. Our source is—in my opinion—the most fascinating and, at the same time, challenging work ever written.

2nd Timothy 3:16 says,

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” - 2nd Timothy 3:16, English Standard Version

In other words, the Bible is significant and it has a significant amount to say about Relief and Development.

Some people may argue that the terminology we are using—that the semantics themselves are flawed. And, they might be right. The terms “Relief and Development” do reflect a secular non-profit sector’s verbiage. But, if we borrowed the words, they borrowed the ideas. Relief and Development are wholeheartedly a reflection of Christ’s intentions for the world and for the extension of His Kingdom. This is evident everywhere in the Bible.

Ronald J. Sider wrote,

“…simply on the basis of creation, Christians have an adequate theological reason for improving human well-being in society.” - Ronald J. Sider, Good News and Good Works, 161.

These are a selection of verses I found recently while researching for a seminar:

Looking at them, I don’t think anyone reading this blog could put up a reasonable argument that the Bible doesn’t support Relief and Development. No one with a sound mind can contend with the Bible’s support for the poor, the widow, the orphan, or the refugee. No one can resist the fact that it speaks out against injustice. There is just too much material there for it to be even a remote point of controversy. So, let’s look a bit closer.

I’ve split these verses into two categories:

1. How Relief & Development Relates to God

Job 42:1-2 reveals something incredible about God’s character. In a conversation, “Job answered the LORD and said: ‘I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted…’” In other words, what God plans to do; He will do. What He intends to do; He will do. His omnipotence and his intentions are inherently connected.

So, let’s look at what God intends:

God Cares about the Oppressed

When you read the Bible, it is obvious that God has a passion for helping those people who can’t help themselves. It's an inescapable part of His character. He's a protector by nature.

  • Additional References: Psalm 12:5, 35:10, 72:12-14, 109:30-31, 140:12–13; Isaiah 25:4; and Luke 4:18.

"The LORD is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble."

God Promises Their Needs will be Temporary

God offers hope to those who desperately need it. We can all take comfort in the fact that, even in the worst of times, suffering is only temporary.  Relief is coming and—in some cases—we can take part in providing that relief for others.

  • Additional References: Luke 6:21

"For the needy shall not always be forgotten, and the hope of the poor shall not perish forever." - Psalm 9:18

Ultimately God is Behind Every Act of Compassion

Just in case you ever forget it, let me remind you, God is in control. You are not the answer. You might get a front row seat to see God's grace at work but He always remains the driving force. Take joy in that thought. Relax, He's got this.

“…who executes justice for the oppressed,who gives food to the hungry? The Lord sets the prisoners free; the Lord opens the eyes of the blind. The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down; the Lord loves the righteous. The Lord watches over the sojourners; he upholds the widow and the fatherless, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.” - Psalm 146:7-9

2. How Relief and Development Relates to Humanity

After establishing God’s intentions, as they are revealed to us in scripture, we can now move on and assess how those intentions affect us. Perhaps the most used scripture—to incite social action—is the terrifying warning we find in Matthew 25:31-46. Ronald Sider sums up that passage like this,

“Matthew 25:31 [and following]. Draws the inevitable conclusion. Those who fail to feed the hungry and clothe the naked ‘go away to eternal punishment’ (v. 46). It is impossible to have a right relationship with God while persisting in neglecting or oppressing the needy neighbour.” - Ronald J. Sider, Good News and Good Works, 106.

Along that line, the verses we are going to look at illustrate just how our interactions with the poor and needy are connected to our relationship with God.

So, let’s look at what God intends for us:

We are Commanded to Stand Up for the Poor, Needy, Oppressed and Destitute

This language isn’t airy, it cuts right to the point. It is obvious that Relief and Development is not optional. If you are a Christian, you must make it a priority.

  • Additional References: Zechariah 7:10; Isaiah 1:17; Proverbs 3:27, 22:22, 23.

"Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy." - Proverbs 31:8–9

We Honor God When We Are Generous

Think about that one. Let it settle in. How do you honor God with your generosity? Do you prioritize His interests when you give away your time, energy, and finances?

"Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors him." - Proverbs 14:31

We are Blessed When We Engage in Social Action

You can’t get much more obvious than that. Blessing follows our generosity. Maybe not in this life, but if we trust the promises God makes, you can be certain: Blessing follows generosity.

  • Additional References: Proverbs 19:17, 22:9, 28:27; Luke 14:13-14.
"Whoever despises his neighbor is a sinner, but blessed is he who is generous to the poor." - Proverbs 14:21

We Should Thank and Praise God for His Compassion

Like the Psalmist, we should respond to God for His good work in the world. When God offers relief, when He provides homes, He deserves the Glory.

"He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes, with the princes of his people. He gives the barren woman a home, making her the joyous mother of children. Praise the Lord!" - Psalm 113:7-9

True Religion is God’s Work in the World

In other words, religion is not about where you go to Church, or what version of the Bible you read. It’s not about how many worship albums you own, or how often you do your devotions. It’s not even about political affiliation. Religion is how willing you are to help those who need your help and at the same time keeping a good relationship with God.

  • Additional References: Isaiah 58:6-11; and 1st John 3:17-18.
"Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world." - James 1:27

I'm sure we only scratched the surface. I'm sure there is much more to be said about God, the needy, and our relationship with both. Still, I hope this fuels the conversation (or at least your curiosity). Don’t take my word for it. Open your Bible and ask a tough question: What is God saying to me about Relief and Development?

Want to keep reading? Dan's blog, "Don't Just Stand There" continues the conversation and offers a brief self check up.