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June 11, 2014
Column #1,711
The Gospel’s Answer to Poverty
By Mike McManus

At the beginning of his ministry, Jesus visited his home town synagogue in Nazareth and read from Isaiah: “The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind…Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

His care for the poor was “evidence that his mission originated with God,” argues an important new book, For The LEAST of These: a Biblical Answer to Poverty, edited by Drs. Anne Bradley and Art Lindsley.

A chapter by David Kotter argues persuasively that much poverty is caused by sin.

First, some poverty is caused by oppression by the rich who take advantage of the poor, by paying substandard wages. A second cause occurs when an individual “is sinfully lazy or morally foolish,” and fails to create wealth by honest work.

A third cause is sudden disaster like drought that destroys wealth. Finally, there are problems associated with living in a fallen world – such as old age or a husband’s death.

James attacks the rich: “The wages of the laborers who mowed your field, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you.”

Jesus told the parable of a rich man living self-indulgently, telling himself to “relax, eat, drink, be merry.” God ended his life that very night, prompting Jesus to warn that a similar fate would befall “the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”

The book asserts that death is a result of sin and leaves widows and orphans destitute. Yet Jesus came to “preach good news to the poor.” What good news? Jesus encouraged the poor not to worry about “what you are to eat and what you are to drink…The Father knows that you need these things” and they “shall be added to you” (Luke 12:29-31).

The gospel prompts laziness to be replaced by diligent work. Paul wrote to the Colossians, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men,” because you are not only serving an employer or a customer, but “you are serving the Lord Christ” (3:23-24).

“Poverty is primarily alleviated by wealth created through diligent work,” which is intended to top provide more than subsistence living,” but to “generate a surplus,” writes Kotter. Those blessed with wealth are to share. Here is how Paul put it in I Timothy 6:18:

“Do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share.” The Gospel transforms, moving the self-indulgent to be generous.

In Ephesians 4:28, the Apostle urges believers to do “honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.”

Jesus taught, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroys and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.”

Jesus also warns, “You cannot serve God and money” (Luke 16:13).

What about the government redistribution of wealth, such as the food stamp program which has grown from serving 27 million people in 2007 to 47 million people in 2012 – one of seven Americans. Unemployment has fallen from 10% to 6.3%, but there has been no reduction of food stamp recipients. Why not? In fact, costs have soared 135% in four years to $78 billion in 2011.

In an interview, Anne Bradley said, “We have to give the poor food and medical care. But we must also look at the long term and ask, `How do we elevate them out of poverty while helping them keep their dignity?’ Food stamps have a good intention, but they are not elevating them out of poverty. They are cultivating dependency.”

First, help should be provided voluntarily, not through coercion. Paul writes, “Everyone must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver (II Cor. 9:7).

Second, Bradley says, “We think the church can do a lot to help the poor.” Assistance to the poor can be organized by local churches who provide relief, voluntarily offered and personally administered. Food banks and thrift shops are examples.

Kotter concludes, “The gospel breaks the power of sin, which is the root cause of poverty on earth. The gospel not only saves people, it transforms them in ways that increase wealth creation and develop gracious hearts to share with others in need.”

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