The Bible says we are to care for the poor, which involves feeding the hungry. God is pictured as feeding the hungry. “He has filled the hungry with good things,” Mary sings (Luke 1:53). “He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry,” the psalmist sings (Psalm 146:7). If we are to be godly people, then, we must also seek to feed the hungry.
God told the nation of Israel that feeding the hungry was an important part of true religion: “Spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed” (Isaiah 58:10). John the Baptist told the Jews who came to him, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same” (Luke 3:11).
The early church made a point of distributing food every day to the needy widows in the church (Acts 6:1). In fact, overseeing the food distribution was the task of the very first deacons. Stephen and the other deacons had the job of feeding the hungry in the church. In 1 Timothy 5 Paul details the requirements a widow must meet in order to receive help from the church. A widow’s family bears the primary responsibility to care for her daily needs; godly, older widows without a family become the responsibility of the church.
James has some things to say about feeding the hungry in his practical epistle. “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27). Part of looking after the orphans and widows “in their distress” surely includes making sure they have food to eat. James later makes the point that our words have to be supported by action: “Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?” (James 2:15–16).
We have a constant opportunity to feed the hungry in our needy world (see Mark 14:7), and we should do what we can to relieve the suffering of others. The New Testament consistently directs us to focus our resources on fellow believers. “As we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (Galatians 6:10). Our church family is the priority; we must feed the hungry in our midst.
The only miracle repeated in all four Gospels is the feeding of 5,000—an example of Jesus feeding the hungry. John 6 records Jesus’ teaching of salvation the day after He performed the miracle. The people had been hungry, so He had fed them; however, Jesus teaches that humanity’s greater need is for spiritual food. He explains in verse 27, “Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.” The crowd then asked Him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” (verse 28). Jesus brought the conversation back to faith: “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent” (verse 29). He then declared Himself to be the Bread of Life (verse 35). He pointed the crowd to Himself, saying that physical food will only satisfy temporarily, but salvation through Him is forever.
Should we be feeding the hungry? Yes, “as it is written, ‘He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever’” (2 Corinthians 9:9; cf. Psalm 112:9). Jesus said that it is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35). We should give people what they need, and as we meet the physical needs we must not ignore the spiritual need for the gospel. “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4; cf. Deuteronomy 8:3).