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God's Money and You Part 9: Poverty

By Pastor Philip Howle
web posted October 11, 2012

RELIGION – We have election coming up and the economy is one of the chief issues. Each party has a different view on how best to ignite the economy and help the poor of our nation. Now I am not very political anymore, I am not saying that we should not be well informed on the issues or that we should not vote, but that sometimes we can place too much hope in an elected official and forget that our ultimate hope lies in Christ. But aside from that, the question of how to best care for the poor is an important question. One that Christians cannot ignore.

I am a white middle class Baptist pastor (if you thought you were reading an Aboriginal Unitarian then you are bummed out). I give this information to say that “my view” is colored by my background. Yours is as well. But if you profess to be a Christian, it does not matter your background or your views. The question becomes, what does the Bible say about the issue? 

We begin with a fundamental biblical assertion. Caring for the poor and the helpless is so basic to the Christian faith that those who don’t do it are not considered Christians at all. Jesus tells a story about the “sheep” and the “goats” in Matthew 25:32-46. This account of Jesus makes this issue clear. You need to read it if you think we can just ignore the poor and do nothing.
Jesus is making an account of the final judgment. The sin held against the “goats” is not that they did anything wrong to those in need but that they failed to do anything for them at all.  Theirs is a sin of omission. This means that we cannot wash our hands of responsibility to the poor by saying, “I’m not doing anything to hurt them.”  Or dismissing their need by saying “they just ought to get a job.” We must be seeking to do something for them. 

Randy Alcorn says that we should ask, “If Christ were on the other side of the street, or the city, or even the world, and he were hungry, thirsty, helpless, or imprisoned for his faith, would we help him?” John Wesley wrote, “Put yourself in the place of every poor man and deal with him as you would have God deal with you.” This is a challenge right?

As we look at helping the poor, the help needed will depend on why they are poor. First, the family unit has the first function to care for their own poor and needy. Paul explained this to Timothy: “Take care of any widow who has no one else to care for her. But if she has children or grandchildren, their first responsibility is to show godliness at home and repay their parents by taking care of them. This is something that pleases God” (1 Timothy 5:3-4). This was the norm prior to and through the Great Depression. Sadly, in most cases, this is no longer done or the effects of generational sin have lead to whole family’s inability to care for themselves. The role of the government has overtaken the responsibility of the family.

Second, some people may be poor because their homes and businesses have been wiped out in a flood or natural disaster. In this case the solution may be to give them money, materials, and assistance to rebuild their homes and reestablish their businesses.

Third, they could be poor because of insufficient natural resources or adverse climate (especially true in other nations). If this is the situation then we could share the knowledge, skills, and technology necessary to help them make the best of their situation.

Fourth and this is the case for many, a person may be poor because of self-indulgence. I would call this middle class poverty. “Those who love pleasure become poor” (Proverbs 21:17). Many today are materially wealthy, but financially poor. They have lots of toys, but can’t pay bills. This person needs to liquidate their assets to feed his family, and then learn to live within his means and not throw away his income.

Fifth, some poverty is due to laziness. Solomon addresses this in Proverbs 24:30-34 “I passed by the field of a sluggard, by the vineyard of a man lacking sense,  (31)  and behold, it was all overgrown with thorns; the ground was covered with nettles, and its stone wall was broken down.  (32)  Then I saw and considered it; I looked and received instruction.  (33)  A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest,  (34)  and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man.”  The lazy man is poor by choice. People who could work but chose not to work do not need financial support; they need incentives to no longer be lazy, but to work. 

Acts of well-meaning provision can remove their incentive to be responsible for themselves.  Paul explained this in no uncertain terms to the church in Thessalonica: “Even while we were with you, we gave you this command: ‘Those unwilling to work will not get to eat.’ Yet we hear that some of you are living idle lives, refusing to work and meddling in other people’s business. We command such people and urge them in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and work to earn their own living” (2 Thessalonians 3:10-12).

These incentives could be providing job skills and education that prepare them for the workforce. It could be governmental employment doing any task that would provide them income and serve others. This idea comes from the Old Testament practice of gleaning.  This was God’s way of helping to provide for the poor of the land (Leviticus 19:9-10).  The corners of the fields were left uncut so the poor could have food.  But the grain was not cut, bundled, processed, ground, bagged, transported, and delivered to the poor. The poor did the work themselves—and thereby were neither robbed of their dignity nor made irresponsible by a system requiring no work.(Randy Alcorn, Money)

On the other hand, there are many who are poor and desiring to work, but cannot find employment in our economy.  This is why, as voters, we must look and see which party promotes the creation of jobs. 1 Corinthains 10:31 implores people that in “whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” We need policies that allow men and women to create companies that in turn create employment for other men and women. We serve a God who creates and creating jobs and wealth for others glorifies Him greatly.

We need policies that deal with root causes of poverty and do not just thrown money at the issues and thereby remove incentives for people to strive to productive employment. Throwing money at problems can feel good for those who do so, but Paul says, “If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:3). So if doing nothing at all for the poor does not honor God and blindly giving does not honor God, then our solution to poverty comes by being men and women of God who are concerned about others and what they truly need. It is a complex issue.  I don’t pretend to have solved it or exhausted it from a Biblical perspective, but to give you some principals and ideals to help you frame a Christian perspective on the issues of wealth and poverty.
Pastor Phillip

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