Oppression or Generosity

small__12328603084Recently I spent some time on the South side of Chicago. I came face to face with some of the poorest of the poor. I learned new terms like “food desert” and “structural violence.” I encountered suspicion, friendliness, despair, joy, community, and poverty. I have not gotten over my day in the hood. How do I consider the poor? What is my attitude? As a leader, what is my responsibility?


Proverbs 14:31 states, “Whoever oppresses a poor man insults His maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors him.”

Oppression and generosity, two completely antithetical notions.

The objects of both of these expressions are the poor, the needy.

These are the disenfranchised, the marginalized of our society–of any society. The problem is that the poor are made in the image of God too.

If you want to insult God, then certainly engage in oppression of the poor whom He created.

If you want to honor or glorify God then show generosity to the same. 

The Hebrew word for “oppress” can mean to press upon, defraud, violate, to drink up, to exploit, or to crush. Oppression usually results from one person despising another person. When you despise someone you hold them in contempt–you see them as insignificant. But the value of being created trumps the value the world places on a person. That is why the concept of creation matters–it gives inherent value.

The Hebrew word for “generosity” can mean to properly stoop in kindness to one in an inferior position, to favor, or to move to favor.

Are the poor and marginalized in an inferior position?


Are they insignificant?

No, they have created value!

Generosity is not primarily transactional.

It is relational.

It is advocational. 

I am still in process in my understanding of what it looks like to oppress or to be generous. Even my apathy might be a form of oppression. It certainly leads to ambivalence concerning my generosity.

The mandate is to show generosity–in my learning, my attitude, and through all of my resources.

What will you do?

(photo credit)

12 replies
  1. Scott Barr
    Scott Barr says:

    I love your heart and what you are sharing. I struggle knowing I could do more to help others if I was less self-centered.

    Helping the poor and the oppressed is not a one way street. We have much to learn from the poor. As one poet put it: “Speak truth to power. Learn truth from the powerless”. I am sorry but I do not know who to credit for this quote.

    • Gary Runn
      Gary Runn says:

      Thanks Scott for the comments. I really appreciate your perspective on what we can learn from the poor as well–I tried to find the source of your quote, but could not either. Powerful though, and very true.

  2. okumu ambrose
    okumu ambrose says:

    Thanks a lot for the heart you have for the poor , our lord too had great passion for the poor and in ma thew 5 He took much time praying for the poor , there are categories of the poor ranging from physical, financial / material to spiritual poverty. My position as a leader we have to show passion to the vulnerable group in our society, like the orphan, widows. elderly, street children and the disable persons knowing that they too are created in Gods divine purpose. When we present true Gospel to the poor in love then they can see the divine love of our heavenly father, who is thefather to the fatherless, and husband to the widow, provider to the needy

    • Gary Runn
      Gary Runn says:

      Thanks so much Okumu for taking the time to comment. You have made some great distinctions concerning how poverty expresses itself. You have added well to the discussion.

  3. Dennis Bradford
    Dennis Bradford says:

    Gary, your comments and those above remind me of James 1:27 where we are directed to “visit orphans and widows in their trouble (distress or affliction), and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.” As a leader, when I carve out time from my schedule to associate with widows and orphans (single parents and their children) as you did; I come face to face with their struggles. If I allow myself to be touched by their plight and not grow complacent with their situation, then compassion will move me to advocate or intervene on their behalf, to the degree that I am able at that moment.

  4. J Mark Jackson
    J Mark Jackson says:

    I spent a year living in one of the most abjectly poor nations in the world: Afghanistan. The nation was poor; but the people magnificent. They had fewer opportunities, but they also had fewer agendas and were patently less greedy. They had little, so their expectations of earthly possessions was dramatically diminished. I feel people are people, and except for the grace of God, I could have exchanged places with any of those people. I must say that I am a little put off with this line from the initial post above: “The problem is that the poor are made in the image of God too.” I realize the intentions are well-meaning, but it is perhaps a bit condescending. Perhaps it should say that the rich are made in the image of God too. The Afghans I led were loyal and eager to succeed. They were rich in common sense and life skills that the affluent are sometimes completely devoid. People are people and want competent leadership. The approach will be altered to match the strengths and backgrounds of any led team, but the basic tenets remain the same. At least, this is my experience. I believe our responsibility as a leader is to give people hope and enthusiams, regardless of their social background.

    • Gary Runn
      Gary Runn says:

      Thanks much Mark for sharing your experience. Thanks too for your honesty in how my comment came across to you–my actual intent was what you restated-that all are made in the image of God and cannot be ignored or oppressed. Great contribution.

  5. Mary K. Lawrence
    Mary K. Lawrence says:

    Thank you! I’m reminded of the common greeting that we share in Yoga: “Namaste – The Good in me honors the Good in you.” For, this, I believe is why we are all Here – on this sweet earth.
    With gratitude for your inspiration,

  6. Julie Bennett
    Julie Bennett says:

    I work every day with women who are poor and pregnant, homeless and pregnant, in stressed relationships and pregnant, you get the picture. People say to me all the time, “Why do they keep making one bad decision after another? Why don’t they see the value of education, work, involved parenting, etc. that will help them leave their bad situations?” A marvelous book, “Bridges out of Poverty”, by Philip DeVol, et. al., helps those of us from more fortunate backgrounds to understand why generational poverty can be so difficult to overcome. And on days when I feel like I have to have all of the answers, I am reminded of Micah 6:8: What am I called to? Only this: to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with my God.

    • Gary Runn
      Gary Runn says:

      Thanks Julie so much for your comments and for the book recommendation. I so appreciate too the inclusion of Micah 6:8–you have added so well to the conversation.


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