Defending The Poor
As I am visiting Europe this time for a longer period after moving to the United States more than 12 years ago, many memories has been triggered in me. Especially, memories about mission trips that I made with teams of fellow Christians to countries like Poland and Albania right at the end of their communistic and dictatorial governmental regime era, comes to mind. We were warmly welcomed by often times very poor Christians, who were living under deplorable conditions, with no hot water or heater and primitive sanitary conditions to name a few.
Yet, all these wonderful poor Christians were willing to happily take care of us in every possible way they could. They gave us shelter in their very small homes, and gathered food daily from each other in order to feed us. Besides all of that they loved to pray.
I also remember visiting, at that same time, an American missionary couple in Albania that in contrast to the poor Albanian Christians seemed to have it all. They had a nice large home in a prominent area of the city, with all the comfort imaginable, including air conditioning, satellite television, and the big double door fridge filled to the brim with groceries. I clearly remember how it struck me that this missionary couple in their fifties was very distant and unfriendly. I did not feel welcome at all. They did not seem to be interested or love the poor people of Albania that they were supposed to reach out to with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I was dumbfounded.
Then when I moved to America, all I heard was how Christians were supposed to be rich and have stuff. Many of them said they had the desire to have a ministry in order to be a blessing to the poor. They would, and still will, do anything to achieve that goal, like sowing financial seeds expecting to become wealthy in return, or follow teachings that tell them that God’s blessings are being bestowed upon them in accordance with how well they manage to keep a pure and unselfish motive for having and desiring riches. I also heard many well known preachers and pastors teach on how to unlock the secrets to financial success, making you believe that being rich has to be seen as a sign of God’s favor, and that being poor is basically a curse.
Down the road, many believers get disillusioned and discouraged because their dream of becoming rich ultimately did not come to pass. I started asking myself the question; “Why do we attribute so much importance to wealth, and give so much honor to those who possess them?” Do Christians who want to become wealthy really desire to help the poor while waiting for their fortune to come through? It is interesting to me, that for the five years that I worked to give out food and clothing to the poor and the needy in Los Angeles on a daily basis, I only encountered less than a handful of people who were doing the same thing, where only one of them was a Christian. I concluded that wealth, power, and status does not mean anything to God, and that being rich or poor has nothing to do with whether you are favored by God or not.
Let me now show you, from a biblical standpoint, how I came to this conclusion, and what God says about those who are poor.
The prophet Isaiah prophesied the following about Jesus Christ the Messiah:
He will never judge by appearance, false evidence, or hearsay. He will defend the poor and the exploited. Isaiah 11:3-4 NLT
These verses clearly explain Jesus’ attitude toward the poor:
Jesus went over to the collection box in the Temple and sat and watched as the crowds dropped in their money. Many rich people put in large amounts. Then a poor widow came and dropped in two pennies. He called his disciples to him and said, “I assure you, this poor widow has given more than all the others have given. For they gave a tiny part of their surplus, but she, poor as she is, has given everything she has. Mark 12:41-44 NLT
Note here, that Jesus did not condemn this woman for being poor, or teach her the “ten keys” for unlocking divine prosperity in her life, so she would become a “better” giver. But instead Jesus praised and honored this poor widow in front of His disciples for her generous gift, even though it was by far the smallest. That is why it also says in the book of James:
Christians who are poor should be glad, for God has honored them. And those who are rich should be glad, for God has humbled them. They will fade away like a flower in the field. The hot sun rises and dries up the grass; the flower withers, and its beauty fades away. So also, wealthy people will fade away with all of their achievements. James 1:9-11 NLT
In other words, the poor Christian should be glad that riches do not mean anything to God, otherwise the poor will be considered unworthy. In the same way, the rich should be glad too, because again, money doesn’t mean anything to God and money is easily lost. Instead, we need to pursue true spiritual wealth!
Yet true religion with contentment is great wealth. After all, we didn’t bring anything with us when we came into the world, and we certainly cannot carry anything with us when we die. So if we have enough food and clothing, let us be content. But people who long to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is at the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows. 1. Timothy 6:6-10 NLT
This means we should honor God and center our desires around Him. And we should be content with what we have, and for what God is doing in our lives. Or, as the apostle Paul wrote to the Philippian and Corinthian churches:
How grateful I am, and how I praise the Lord that you are concerned about me again. I know you have always been concerned for me, but for a while you didn’t have the chance to help me. Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to get along happily whether I have much or little. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything with the help of Christ who gives me the strength I need. But even so, you have done well to share with me in my present difficulty.
As you know, you Philippians were the only ones who gave me financial help when I brought you the Good News and then traveled on from Macedonia. No other church did this.
Philippians 4:10-15 NLT
We try to live in such a way that no one will be hindered from finding the Lord by the way we act, and so no one can find fault with our ministry. In everything we do we try to show that we are true ministers of God. We patiently endure troubles and hardships and calamities of every kind. We have been beaten, been put in jail, faced angry mobs, worked to exhaustion, endured sleepless nights, and gone without food. We have proved ourselves by our purity, our understanding, our patience, our kindness, our sincere love, and the power of the Holy Spirit. We have faithfully preached the truth. God’s power has been working in us. We have righteousness as our weapon, both to attack and to defend ourselves. We serve God whether people honor us or despise us, whether they slander us or praise us. We are honest, but they call us impostors. We are well known, but we are treated as unknown. We live close to death, but here we are, still alive. We have been beaten within an inch of our lives. Our hearts ache, but we always have joy. We are poor, but we give spiritual riches to others. We own nothing, and yet we have everything. 2. Corinthians 6:3-10 NLT
Paul knew how to be content whether he had plenty or whether he was in need. He knew the secret of drawing on Christ’s power for strength, knowing that God was able to supply all his needs, and therefore he was able to encourage others by saying to them:
And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:19-20 NLT
This is also why Paul could easily identify with the poor Christians as he taught the Corinthian church about giving, by telling and giving them the example of the churches in Macedonia, on how they joyfully gave money to God even through their deep poverty.
Now I want to tell you, dear brothers and sisters, what God in his kindness has done for the churches in Macedonia. Though they have been going through much trouble and hard times, their wonderful joy and deep poverty have overflowed in rich generosity. For I can testify that they gave not only what they could afford but far more. And they did it of their own free will.They begged us again and again for the gracious privilege of sharing in the gift for the Christians in Jerusalem. Best of all, they went beyond our highest hopes, for their first action was to dedicate themselves to the Lord and to us for whatever directions God might give them. 2. Corinthians 8:1-5 NLT
If you are really eager to give, it isn’t important how much you are able to give. God wants you to give what you have, not what you don’t have. Of course, I don’t mean you should give so much that you suffer from having too little. I only mean that there should be some equality. Right now you have plenty and can help them. Then at some other time they can share with you when you need it. In this way, everyone’s needs will be met. 2. Corinthians 8:12-15 NLT
The poor Christians in Poland and Albania that I met on my mission trip understood these Biblical principles that say not to worry about everyday life.
So I tell you, don’t worry about everyday life — whether you have enough food, drink, and clothes. Doesn’t life consist of more than food and clothing? Look at the birds. They don’t need to plant or harvest or put food in barns because your heavenly Father feeds them.
And you are far more valuable to him than they are. Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? Of course not.
And why worry about your clothes? Look at the lilies and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. And if God cares so wonderfully for flowers that are here today and gone tomorrow, won’t he more surely care for you? You have so little faith!
So don’t worry about having enough food or drink or clothing. Why be like the pagans who are so deeply concerned about these things? Your heavenly Father already knows all your needs, and he will give you all you need from day to day if you live for him and make the Kingdom of God your primary concern.
So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.
Matthew 6:25-7:1 NLT
Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again — rejoice! Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do. Remember, the Lord is coming soon.
Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. If you do this, you will experience God’s peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:4-7 NLT
Yes, Jesus comes up for the poor and defends them by saying to us Christians that we should treat all people we encounter as if they were Jesus by helping and taking care of them, including the poor. Acting like this will separate us from those who pretend and say that they want to help the poor, but never do.
But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit upon his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered in his presence, and he will separate them as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left. Then the King will say to those on the right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’
Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison, and visit you?’ And the King will tell them, ‘I assure you, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’
Then the King will turn to those on the left and say, ‘Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the Devil and his demons! For I was hungry, and you didn’t feed me. I was thirsty, and you didn’t give me anything to drink. I was a stranger, and you didn’t invite me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me no clothing. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.’
Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?’ And he will answer, ‘I assure you, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.’ And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous will go into eternal life.
Matthew 25:31-46 NLT
In other words; our actions should speak louder than our words. God sees through false humility and attitudes derived from empty religious rhetoric and deeds. Yes, even when we fast for the wrong reasons. God is raising up prophetic voices like Isaiah to warn His people in these last days to walk according to His word with acts of kindness, charity, justice, and generosity, because that is what really pleases God.
Shout with the voice of a trumpet blast. Tell my people Israel of their sins! Yet they act so pious! They come to the Temple every day and seem delighted to hear my laws. You would almost think this was a righteous nation that would never abandon its God. They love to make a show of coming to me and asking me to take action on their behalf. ‘We have fasted before you!’ they say. ‘Why aren’t you impressed? We have done much penance, and you don’t even notice it!’
“I will tell you why! It’s because you are living for yourselves even while you are fasting. You keep right on oppressing your workers. What good is fasting when you keep on fighting and quarreling? This kind of fasting will never get you anywhere with me. You humble yourselves by going through the motions of penance, bowing your heads like a blade of grass in the wind. You dress in sackcloth and cover yourselves with ashes. Is this what you call fasting? Do you really think this will please the LORD?
No, the kind of fasting I want calls you to free those who are wrongly imprisoned and to stop oppressing those who work for you. Treat them fairly and give them what they earn. I want you to share your food with the hungry and to welcome poor wanderers into your homes. Give clothes to those who need them, and do not hide from relatives who need your help.
If you do these things, your salvation will come like the dawn. Yes, your healing will come quickly. Your godliness will lead you forward, and the glory of the LORD will protect you from behind. Then when you call, the LORD will answer. ‘Yes, I am here,’ he will quickly reply.
Stop oppressing the helpless and stop making false accusations and spreading vicious rumors! Feed the hungry and help those in trouble. Then your light will shine out from the darkness, and the darkness around you will be as bright as day. The LORD will guide you continually, watering your life when you are dry and keeping you healthy, too. You will be like a well-watered garden, like an ever-flowing spring.
Isaiah 58:1-11 NLT
The following scripture has been used by many so called prosperity preachers to bolster and promote their false teachings that Jesus became poor so we can become financially rich.
You know how full of love and kindness our Lord Jesus Christ was. Though he was very rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty he could make you rich. 2. Corinthians 8:9 NLT
No! The true meaning of this scripture is that Jesus became poor by giving up His rights as God and becoming human. Yet in doing so, He made us “rich” because we now received salvation and eternal life.
Therefore, do no let anybody talk down on you for not having enough, or make you feel guilty, or less worth, as if you have done something wrong, or don’t have enough faith, because you don’t have enough money. All God is asking of you is to trust Him, because He is indeed faithful, whenever we ask Him anything according to His will, to give it to us.
And we can be confident that he will listen to us whenever we ask him for anything in line with his will. And if we know he is listening when we make our requests, we can be sure that he will give us what we ask for.
1. John 5:14-15 NLT
Every word of God proves true. He defends all who come to him for protection. Do not add to his words, or he may rebuke you, and you will be found a liar. O God, I beg two favors from you before I die. First, help me never to tell a lie. Second, give me neither poverty nor riches! Give me just enough to satisfy my needs. For if I grow rich, I may deny you and say, “Who is the LORD?” And if I am too poor, I may steal and thus insult God’s holy name. Proverbs 30:5-9 NLT
Once I was young, and now I am old. Yet I have never seen the godly forsaken, nor seen their children begging for bread. Psalm 37:25 NLT
Our prayer is, that you do not end up wanting to become like the members of this very rich lukewarm church of Laodicea, who arrogantly said to themselves; ‘I am rich. I have everything I want. I don’t need a thing!’ yet not realizing that they are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked at the same time. See Revelation 3:14-22
Our prayer is also for those in the church who favored the rich above the poor, to be set free from this sin of injustice, which is in direct violation to God’s word.
Listen to me, dear brothers and sisters. Hasn’t God chosen the poor in this world to be rich in faith? Aren’t they the ones who will inherit the Kingdom he promised to those who love him? And yet, you insult the poor man! James 2:5-6 NLT
However, this does not mean that the poor will automatically go to heaven and the rich to hell. It simply means that poor people are usually more aware of their powerlessness. Therefore, it is often easier for them to acknowledge their need for salvation. One of the greatest barriers to salvation for the rich, is pride.
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “I tell you the truth, it is very hard for a rich person to get into the Kingdom of Heaven. I say it again — it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!” Matthew 19:23-24 NLT
Wealth, luxury, and ease can make people feel confident, satisfied, and complacent. But no matter how much you possess, or how much money you make, you really don’t have anything, if you don’t have a vital and rich relationship with Jesus Christ!
Copyright©2008 Edwin & Sophia Christiaan