The Church and Poverty

by Bryant Evans on September 14, 2011

Jesus confronted poverty and instructed his people to care for the poor (). The present economy highlights the need to help the less fortunate. More and more people are needing help and the church is positioned to help many meet physical needs while teaching them of deep and abiding spiritual needs. I guess there are plenty of reasons excuses for not helping but we cannot forget the instructions of our Lord and the example of the apostles (; ; ; ) who taught us to care for others.

I recently came across an article written by a person in need. I have to say that it was a real eye opener to me. Take a moment and see the impoverished world from the eyes of a person struggling.

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21 Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” (ESV)

42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. (ESV)

34 There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold 35 and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. (ESV)

6:1 Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them.

And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith. (ESV)

27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. (ESV)

{ 8 comments }

Dave September 14, 2011 at 11:28 am

I’m going to lovingly challenge you on two fronts:

1. You based this post on questionable exegesis. The command to the rich young ruler was given to expose the fact that he wasn’t a Christian because he loved money more than God. It was not a prescription for Christian practice.

That is not to say that your conclusion is wrong, but your support is lacking. The other support you provide is almost exclusively talking about providing for other believers, not the broader community. I’d recommend you read John Piper’s recent post on this very topic: http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/put-strong-pillars-under-your-case-for-the-unbelieving-poor

2. The absence of the gospel in this post is hard for me. We aren’t supposed to relieve poverty for the sake of relieving poverty. If we make people more comfortable but don’t proclaim the gospel we are just making them more comfortable on their way to Hell. The only truly good thing we can do for someone is to show them Jesus.

Is charity a good way to introduce them to Jesus? Absolutely! But our conversation should never end with “let’s be charitable.”

Again, I’m not trying to attack, but challenge. My guess is that you will agree with what I’ve already said and that these missteps weren’t malicious or anti-gospel. I think this post is well-intentioned but not well-thought-out.
In Christ,
Dave

elaine December 7, 2011 at 4:16 pm

Show them Jesus, and allow them to suffer? Poverty is man made. As is money, the dominance of knowledge and resources. The best thing you can do is ensure equality. But then again maybe you believe if there is no need, then there is no need for God. Good point, your right. Then man would simple admire the truth of God, without the dogma and manipulation, be continually thankful, have no need of priest or governments, nor kings…. wait,hmmmm, I thought that was exactly what Jesus wanted. Equality = The kingdom of God on earth (as it is in heaven???) Wake Up!

Dave December 7, 2011 at 4:19 pm

Elaine,
I’m sorry that the gospel is the same as monetary equality in your mind. Salvation must be such a small thing to you.

And thanks for putting words in my mouth I’d never utter.
Dave

elaine December 7, 2011 at 4:37 pm

You may wish to read again, I said the best thing you can do is ensure “equality” apparently money is on your mind. And, poverty is man made, and is a lack of financial resources “money” to obtain what is needed, and the dominant means to obtain resources. If you want to be right, become a better reader and listener, then made you will be able to teach. Per your statement “The only truly good thing we can do for someone is to show them Jesus.”

The 2nd covenant: Hebrew 10:16-18 “This is the covenant I will make with them…I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.”
Man already knows what is right and what is wrong it is tears and happiness, joy and pain, health and sickness this is how we know, ” + and (-)” read your covenant. the best thing you can do is ensure equality and spread knowledge (not your dogma). God is already in man, but arrogant men think they know it all, and need to spread “salvation”

Bryant Evans September 14, 2011 at 11:52 am

I do generally agree with you comments but I would note a couple of things. I was not trying to offer an extensive exegetical discussion but rather to introduce an article that I think offers a different perspective. Just because Jesus was primarily confronting the rich young man does not lessen what Jesus told him to do.

I agree that charity for the sake of charity is not very useful. That’s why I said what I did about being positioned to meet both physical and spiritual needs. Meeting spiritual needs is what the gospel does so there is no absence of the gospel in what I said. It is my personal practice to never offer financial assistance without the gospel.

I will read Piper’s post. I enjoy his writing.

I do not take this as an attack but it is a little confusing. I was simply pointing to an uncommon perspective on benevolence which I think is useful. Are you suggesting the church only help believers? (I haven’t yet read the Piper post so I don’t know if he deals with it. But would you not agree that we should assist those in need while using Godly wisdom in our efforts?

Thanks for your comment Dave. I appreciate your thoughts.

Dave September 14, 2011 at 4:45 pm

Bryant,
I’m glad that it didn’t come across as spiteful – it’s hard to convey tone and intention through text sometimes and it’s easy to misinterpret constructive advice as angry criticism.

A few thoughts:
Even though you didn’t intend to provide rich exegesis, you aren’t excused from utilizing poor exegesis. The command to the rich young ruler is not prescriptive to the Church because it would be promoting works-righteousness – since it was an answer to “What must I do to be saved?” There isn’t an excuse for the improper use of Scripture. Even in a casual setting.

I’m now sure that you actually did mean the gospel when you said “meeting spiritual needs” but you must understand that the ambiguity of such a statement isn’t helpful either. In today’s western lexicon that much more readily means something like compassion and friendship.

I absolutely believe that the Church has an obligation to serve the poor… as a method of evangelism.

In Christ,
Dave

Bryant Evans September 15, 2011 at 9:20 am

Dave,
After I posted my reply I read Piper’s post. It’s good and I think worthy of reading. But your charge of “poor exegesis” is a touch over the top.

Jesus instructed the man to care for others. The man was evidently in love with his material belongings. True care for others is a greed-breaker. Jesus would never have told the man to do something wrong or errant. He told the man to do a good thing (giving to the poor) as part of a larger teaching on materialism and love for wealth. That lesson remains true today.

Remember, the man in view was living under Judaism which was works-based. I think Paul makes that very clear. But the example here, via the instruction given, was to help others in need.

Now if it had been my intention to write more than an intro to another blog, I could have used many other verses but that was not my intent. I gues I am saying that one might say this was incomplete but not poor.

I am glad you concur that we should help others. I think that is a necessary component of the individual life and the corporate life of the church. You may think it odd, I know I do, but some people teach that the church can only help other believers. That’s a mistake.

Again thanks for you thoughts.

Dave September 15, 2011 at 6:46 pm

Bryant,
It’s “poor exegesis” because you turned a passage meant to tell us that we can’t earn salvation into a prescription for Christian practice. You’re asking a question Jesus wasn’t trying to answer. Again, I’m not in disagreement with your conclusion, but you simply can’t support it from this text.

Again, I don’t want to come across as harsh or spiteful. I just want to encourage you towards more responsible use of Scripture as bloggers with a public ministry need to be especially careful about how they demonstrate how to handle the Word. And writing an intro doesn’t excuse us from the responsibility to rightly handle the Bible.

In Christ’s love,
Dave

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