We have a habit of sizing up others, especially when it comes to money and possessions. When we see someone wealthier and more comfortable than ourselves, we wonder, “What did they do that I didn’t do? What is wrong with me?” And if someone has less than us, we ask in our own way, “What did they do? What is wrong with them?”
So, I’d like to ask you this: What story have you written for that person who fell on hard times? “They’re probably feeding a habit.” “He should have saved before he lost his job.” “If they didn’t buy those cigarettes, they could afford more meals.”
This is why biblical literacy is so important. To avoid these two equally unbiblical thought-ditches and stay on the road of redemptive poverty work, one must examine all that the Bible has to say, implicitly and explicitly, about the condition of poverty. It turns out the Bible has a lot to say on this topic.
First, most biblical characters lived out their faith while in poverty. The whole book of Exodus is about how God delivered an impoverished nation of slaves, showing generosity by giving them a land of their own. Jesus—the perfect example of faithfulness—was born into poverty, lived while working among the poor, and condemned the abuse of wealth.
It’s hard for many to fathom this because the American prosperity gospel promotes the idea that those in poverty deserve to be there or don’t have enough faith. If we’re not careful, we can be influenced by the Protestant work ethic, which says if we are prepared, attentive, and thrifty enough, poverty will not come our way. Yet that is not the picture the Bible paints.
Certainly, poverty can be caused by unwise decisions. Yet it is not the only cause. Luke 16:19-31 points out a person could be poor because of neglect. It’s not hard to find examples where the citizens work hard but the people are exploited by corrupt leaders of industry and/or government.
Other causes of poverty found in Scripture are the weather, sickness, being old, unexpected loss of a spouse, and more—the list is lengthy. We all are affected by the Fall described in Genesis 3, and poverty is one of the results. The first step in empowering the poor is to realize the Bible positions poverty as a condition, not an identity.
Viewing poverty this way is essential because it is foundational to our philosophy of redemptive poverty work. We can work among the poor without toxicity because the kingdom of God is here. May this brief overview launch you into deeper study, renewing the ideas you may have about the poor and their neighborhoods.