You won’t spend much time in the scriptures before you begin to see passage after passage that concerns how we should treat and feel about the poor. Throughout our body of scriptures there is ample evidence that the poor hold a special place in our Savior’s heart. But what does His love of the poor have to do with my personal salvation? What does caring for the poor, the refugee, the downtrodden, the marginalized, the wounded have to do with me? What is the connection between what I think of these people, how I treat them, and my Savior’s atoning sacrifice for me?
Note: This will be a little longer than normal because I have included full scriptural passages so you can read them as you go along. If you want the shorter version just skip the actual passages and read the explanations on either side of them. That’s kind of cheating, but it gets the job done.
Unity is key
This foray into the topic of unity may seem like a diversion, but it is key to the lessons that follow. You will see the topic of unity and the need for it among God’s children all throughout the scriptures I will be quoting below.
The whole plan of salvation, as presented by our Father in Heaven, is focused on divine unity. There are blessings available to those who are unified in what they do and how they feel about things that are not available to anyone else. Let’s look for a moment at some parts of the plan of salvation that require unity for the whole plan to work.
First of all, every soul who enters mortality united in the premortal realm under the Father’s plan for our salvation, which provided us with a Savior. If we hadn’t been unified in that decision we would currently be with the one third of the children of God who serve as Satan’s devils.
The conditions of the atonement were that every soul would receive equal/equitable treatment by the Christ. He came and suffered as much as was needed to pay for each and every person’s sins. No matter how little we sin in this life or how much we sin, He paid the price that would redeem each and every one of us. In paying for our sins he came to know us each in a very intimate way, as He was made to suffer for each of our particular brand of sins.
No one was exempt from receiving His complete and undivided attention in this process. It is kind of frightening to think that in order for Him to pay for my sins he had to come to know each and every sin I have and will ever commit, and he still willingly paid for each of my rebellious acts and transgressions.
In the latter days those who were reserved to come forth and prepare the earth for the Savior’s second coming covenanted that they would participate in the saving ordinances for all of God’s children, both past and present. When we do family history work and go to the temple we are fulfilling our covenant to participate with Christ in offering salvation to our brothers and sisters. Temple service is a selfless act, and requires a degree of charity to perform such service year after year.
In this way we are becoming one with each other, and with our Savior in helping to bring the promised saving ordinances to all of God’s children.
The Savior’s work will not be complete until every last child of God has had this work done for them in the temples by those of us in mortality. This is what will drive the Lord’s kingdom during the millennial reign. Temples will be in operation 24/7 to get the work done for all who will need it. The work we have begun here is just the tip of the iceberg of what still needs to be accomplished.
The call for physical unity
In the Doctrine and Covenants the Savior has a lot to say about our need to become unified in all things. For example, in Doctrine and Covenants 70:14 we are told that the manifestations of the Spirit will be withheld from us if we are not equal in physical things.
14 Nevertheless, in your temporal things you shall be equal, and this not grudgingly, otherwise the abundance of the manifestations of the Spirit shall be withheld.
Ouch! The spiritual blessings I seek are tied to my treatment of the poor and the needy. If I have set myself apart from them, or continue to keep myself apart from their sufferings, the Lord will withhold spiritual blessings from me.
The Lord requires that I make their physical distress my business. I am required to do all in my power to relieve their needs and help them in wisdom to care for themselves or I will not be worthy of the spiritual manifestations He has in store for those who are faithful in caring for the poor and the needy.
Again, in Doctrine and Covenants 51:9 he commands that every man be and receive alike, that we may be one.
9 And let every man deal honestly, and be alike among this people, and receive alike, that ye may be one, even as I have commanded you.
Further lessons in temporal unity
In Doctrine and Covenants 82:15–19 the Lord tells us that here is wisdom from God, that we be equal in all things “with an eye single to the glory of God.” By becoming equal we will improve upon the talents we already have, and gain a hundred fold of other talents.
15 Therefore, I give unto you this commandment, that ye bind yourselves by this covenant, and it shall be done according to the laws of the Lord.
16 Behold, here is wisdom also in me for your good.
17 And you are to be equal, or in other words, you are to have equal claims on the properties, for the benefit of managing the concerns of your stewardships, every man according to his wants and his needs, inasmuch as his wants are just—
18 And all this for the benefit of the church of the living God, that every man may improve upon his talent, that every man may gain other talents, yea, even an hundred fold, to be cast into the Lord’s storehouse, to become the common property of the whole church—
19 Every man seeking the interest of his neighbor, and doing all things with an eye single to the glory of God.
The Lord wants us to be equal in heavenly things, which is reasonable, since we have to be united for His greatest blessings to become available to us. In Doctrine and Covenants 78:3–7 He tells us that in order to advance the cause of the salvation of man, and to glorify God, our Father, we need to be equal in earthly things. He goes on to assert that if we want a place in the celestial kingdom we are required to become equal in earthly things so we can share equally in the heavenly things.
3 For verily I say unto you, the time has come, and is now at hand; and behold, and lo, it must needs be that there be an organization of my people, in regulating and establishing the affairs of the storehouse for the poor of my people, both in this place and in the land of Zion—
4 For a permanent and everlasting establishment and order unto my church, to advance the cause, which ye have espoused, to the salvation of man, and to the glory of your Father who is in heaven;
5 That you may be equal in the bonds of heavenly things, yea, and earthly things also, for the obtaining of heavenly things.
6 For if ye are not equal in earthly things ye cannot be equal in obtaining heavenly things;
7 For if you will that I give unto you a place in the celestial world, you must prepare yourselves by doing the things which I have commanded you and required of you.
Jesus takes this personally
I haven’t completely caught the vision of this yet, but it is clear that the Savior takes our treatment of the poor and needy very personally. To ignore the poor is treated as ignoring Him. To elevate the poor and care for them is to do the same for Christ. He has told us that if we love Him we will keep His commandments. And His commandment is that we care for the poor and the needy.
Our need to care for those who cannot adequately care for themselves is so important that our Savior has put near the top of the list for judgment day a review of how we have treated those who need our help. Here is the complete passage from Matthew 25:31–46.
31 ¶ When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory:
32 And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats:
33 And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.
34 Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:
35 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:
36 Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.
37 Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?
38 When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?
39 Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
41 Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:
42 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink:
43 I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.
44 Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?
45 Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.
46 And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.
Those are strong words! If we can help someone who needs help, and we choose, for whatever reason, not to help, in the day of judgment the Lord will respond in kind as though it was He we were rejecting and refusing. He really does require that we learn to love our fellow man with that same love we claim to have for Christ himself. Now that I think of it, that means he really is serious about us keeping the second great commandment.
Again, here is a modern day reference that how we treat the poor and the needy is how we feel about Christ. This is in D&C 42:34, 37–38.
34 Therefore, the residue shall be kept in my storehouse, to administer to the poor and the needy, as shall be appointed by the high council of the church, and the bishop and his council; …
37 And it shall come to pass, that he that sinneth and repenteth not shall be cast out of the church, and shall not receive again that which he has consecrated unto the poor and the needy of my church, or in other words, unto me—
38 For inasmuch as ye do it unto the least of these, ye do it unto me.
The answer to the question
Everything the Lord does leads us to become unified. A unified people (a Zion people) are demonstrated through the functioning of unified families, unified wards and stakes, and a willingness to treat all of humanity with the same care, grace, and concern as if we were treating the Savior Himself.
The Savior lived the two great laws perfectly. He did all things for the glory of God, our Father, and He loved his neighbor (me and you) equally. He was willing to sacrifice and serve each of us with unreserved care and concern. He put our welfare above His own. So why shouldn’t He require us to do the same if we expect the same reward? If we can’t learn to have genuine compassion for those who suffer most, how can we expect to become like God? How can we expect to live with God and be happy if the poor are still an irritant to us?
The long and the short of the answer to the question asked in the title of this article (Why does the Lord care so much how I treat the poor?), is this; we cannot be exalted unless we learn to love our neighbor as ourselves. This is the second great commandment. And we cannot love God with all our heart, soul, and mind unless we can first learn to love our neighbor as ourselves. Matthew 22:36–40 says it clearly.
36 Master, which is the great commandment in the law?
37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
38 This is the first and great commandment.
39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
This is why the Savior is so keen on us learning to care for one another. How we care for one another demonstrates how much we have caught the vision of what it means to become like God. Our love must become as universal as His. We will be blessed by this love. We will be judged by this love. We will be exalted because of this love.