Reasons for Poverty
“There will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land’” (Deut. 15:11).
Stewardship and economics takes into account Scripture’s view of wealth and poverty. Fundamentally, the Bible does not say it is inherently evil to be wealthy and inherently righteous to be poor. The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil, not money itself (1 Tim. 6:10). A person can have great riches and be a great saint if he does not love his money. Abraham, for example, was very wealthy (Gen. 13:2). Nevertheless, we learn from him how to live by faith (Heb. 11:8–19). Likewise, poor people can be great sinners. Judas was a disciple of Jesus and suffered poverty, at least on occasion. But he loved money and betrayed Jesus for silver (Matt. 26:14–16; John 12:1–8).
Poverty and wealth are determined by standards that change from place to place. For example, many Americans today live below what is called the “poverty line.” Yet all of these poor have a better standard of living than the impoverished in the rest of the world. Even the poorest in the United States today usually have access to clean water and electricity, unlike many of the world’s population.
Regardless of the standard for wealth and poverty, God does have a special concern for the poor, and our response to them is determined by the reasons for their poverty. Some people are poor because of a calamity and not through any fault of their own. The church must care for this group as we are told pure religion involves providing for orphans and widows whose impoverishment, by definition, is caused by tragedy (James 1:27). Others are poor because of criminal exploitation. Caring for these requires Christians to bring their influence to the justice system (Lev. 19:15).
A third group is poor due to sloth. Some people refuse to work, but this is not true of every needy man or woman. Paul tells the church not to help those who will not work (2 Thess. 3:10). Finally, some forego prime opportunities to earn wealth in order to serve the kingdom. A good example here might be a doctor who chooses to be a medical missionary. Of course, Jesus is our best model of this fourth type of poverty, having left the riches of heaven to minister where He had no place to lay His head (Matt 8:20; Phil. 2:1–11).
Consider your attitude toward the poor today. Do you assume all poor people are lazy? Are you sensitive to those who have become impoverished due to a calamity and then seek to meet their needs? Also consider where your chief concerns lie. Are you so concerned with earning a bigger paycheck that you neglect possibilities to use your gifts for the kingdom because you may suffer a loss in income? Give generously to the poor and eagerly serve the kingdom.
Passages for Further Study
- Prov. 18:9
- Ezek. 18:10–13
- Rom. 15:22–29
- 1 Tim. 5:3–16
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