Justice and Generosity: The Teaching of the Bible Concerning the Poor

Kenneth R. Mitchell PublishAmerica, Baltimore October 6, 2008
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Mitchell has been a teaching pastor for twenty-nine years, and has served as an adjunct faculty member at William Tyndale College and Luther Rice Seminary. He earned a Th.M. degree from Dallas Theological Seminary, and a Th.D. degree from Louisiana Baptist Theological Seminary.

The editorial review begins, “Should the poverty that abounds in the world today be a concern for the average Christian, or is this a concern only for those with a special calling to minister to the poor?” (back cover). Mitchell’s twelve chapters conclude that it is a concern for all Christians. However, he begins with a disclaimer that this is not just another “guilt trip” (p. 11). “The purpose of this book,” Mitchell writes, “is to provide a better understanding of all the relevant passages in Scripture, in both the Old and New Testaments, which deal in a meaningful way with a concern for the poor” (p. 13). This statement is even more important since the book claims to be the only published work that deals with every passage of Scripture concerning the poor. However, the book is not just a list of biblical references; it is an exposition of the context and message of each passage. It challenges the reader “to respond to the moral imperative of ‘thus says the Lord’ concerning the poor” (p. 14). Its two themes, justice and generosity, summarize God’s attitude and concern toward the poor and the Christian’s responsibility to them.

Chapters 1–3 deal with the world’s need for justice and generosity, God’s special relationship to the poor, and the Mosaic Law as the foundation for justice and generosity. Chapters 4–6 focus on Job as a model of a just and generous person, the Psalms as prayers for God’s justice and generosity, and the Proverbs that describe a God-honoring life of justice and generosity. Chapters 7–9 address the writing prophets on the issue of the proper treatment of the poor, the ministry and teachings of Jesus regarding the poor, and the attitude of the early church toward justice and generosity to those in need. Chapters 10–12 provide a summary of principles and a list of questions and answers. Appendix A compiles all the passages of Scripture that speak of concern for the poor, followed by Appendix B, a discussion of the rich young ruler. Mitchell also provides a useful bibliography.

The author brings the reader to a realization that Scripture points to three basic causes for poverty: sin, unavoidable circumstances (war, famine, etc.), and oppression and injustice toward others. “The combination of these causes clearly indicate[s] a world in need of justice and generosity” (p. 31). Unlike any time in history, Christians need to be aware of the magnitude of the suffering and injustice in the world. God’s people are the only real and effective instruments of justice in an unjust world. Scripture indicates that God is on the side of the poor, hears their cries, executes justice on their behalf, defends and protects them, is angry with those who abuse and oppress the poor, and identifies with them. God sets Himself against those who practice injustice and are not generous toward those in need. Mitchell points out that the Pentateuch is packed with numerous laws and regulations directly relating to the care of the poor and needy. If these commands were obeyed, the utter “despair of poverty and servitude would be broken, and a new beginning offered by God” (p. 107).

Mitchell’s book is not about the cause of poverty, nor necessarily the solutions to poverty, but about what the Bible says about the poor and God’s desire for His people to share His concern by exercising generosity. The book is written primarily for a Christian audience. It is full of relevant passages that lead the reader to a concern for the poor as an aspect of the outworking of practical righteousness. The conclusion is overwhelming: Justice and generosity toward the poor is a high priority with God and therefore ought to be a high priority in the lives of His people.

—Larry J. Waters

January 1, 2011
 

Biblotheca Sacra

This review appeared in the Jan-Mar 2011 vol. 168 no. 1 issue of Biblotheca Sacra, DTS’s quarterly academic journal.

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