Deuteronomy 15:1-15 says, "There should be no poor among you." How do you think the word poor should be defined in the modern church? Deep question I know...any random thoughts are valued. -- John Mahagan

First, this passage refers to ancient Israel, where church and state were one. In other words, all members in society stood in a national covenant with their God. If they obeyed the law, he would bless them. And yet even then the passages suggests (v.7) there would still be poor people! So we must be careful not to read the passage too strictly.

Next, “the poor” is to be defined culturally, I think, since no absolute definition is offered in scripture. Yet I think we can begin to take a stab at it. Jesus says in Matthew 6 that when we seek first, God will (generally, I think) provide our basic needs: food, drink, clothing. That’s a subsistence level, day-to-day – like the prayer for daily bread earlier in the chapter.

This view is confirmed by Proverbs 30:7-9, where "poor" is equated with lacking one's daily bread. That is, subsistence (hand-to-mouth) living is not poverty; poverty is having less. Many of us would like to have more; but unless we are going hungry on a regular basis, it is highly doubtful we are "poor" in any meaningful sense of the word.

The poor of America are generally considered to be quite well-off by the rest of the world. They often receive welfare, and they usually have televisions! They are seldom underfed--even if some are prone to eat unhealthily. And this description could apply to the poor of many nations, especially as unhealthy western diets go global.

There is a different level of poverty I have seen in my travels. Families have no clean water, no electricity, unsafe accommodation, and no protection from the elements or from crime. They wake up hungry and go to bed hungry. In the West, we are too often inured to such suffering.

In short, though there is no global standard for poverty or affluence, Christians should be involved in meeting others' basic needs, including basic medical needs. Jesus insisted on it (e.g. Matthew 25). Yet we should beware a false egalitarianism. The meeting of basic needs is the goal, not homogenizing the standard of living of the entire planet.

Keeping our hearts soft while finding a balanced lifestyle (Proverbs 30:7-9; Philippians 4:11-12) is not easy, but it is a biblical imperative.