The father replies, "Son when I was your age we didn't have buses, we walked 3 miles to school no matter what the weather. I didn't even have my first car until I was out of college."
The somewhat senile grandfather decides he can top that story. "When I was kid," he exclaims, "we didn't have legs to get to school on."
With the approaching presidential elections, I have engaged a number of serious debates over how we might vote for biblical principals while electing the most powerful person on earth. Don't worry, this blog is not about politics. For more on that, click HERE. The latest discussion started off with typical partisan politics and their relative smears. However; it turned to a subject that I have never written about, poverty. So, I have done a little bit of study and here is what I discovered.
Jesus said, "The poor you will always have with you" Matthew 26:11 First, I believe that Jesus was talking to the church, not the welfare division of our, or any other, government. Second, I am asking myself what is the biblical definition of poor? According to both John McCain and Barack Obama, rich is making over $250K per year. Then I suppose there is a middle class, and below that are the poor. There is also something called the American dream, and a term called standard of living... neither of which are biblical regardless of what the government declares.
We often hear, (and I am guilty), "blessed are the poor." That is not exactly correct... the verse goes like this. Matthew 5:3 Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. You see, the compassion of Jesus will be with the sick, the lame and the blind, the widows, those in prison and the poor. And if that is true, then the church should be looking after the same group of folks!
Honestly, being poor is a curse. Being destitute may very well be a motivating factor in getting folks to turn to Jesus, which certainly is a blessing. But being poor is still a curse. I think that it is a misconception of scriptures to be truly poor on purpose. Low income does not always make one poor. It depends on how much it costs to eat where you live. There are some in the church that have made a vow of poverty and continue to live quite well within the church. I don't buy it. There are others that become unmotivated to take care of themselves and their families under the guise of being "poor for Jesus." Conversely, I am sure that God has called some to a life of ministry where things are tight and creature comforts are minimal. I know a few full-time missionaries that live this way, and they have for years. (If you'd like to bless them, let me know.)
So what is poor according to the Bible? It's poor, very poor. The biblical poor are the ones that their only hope is the Gospel of Jesus. (Matthew 11:5) They are the ones that are without funds for food. (Mark 14:5) They are the ones that are classified with cripples, the blind and the lame. In their own way they are also crippled. (Luke 14:21) They are the ones that need to be fed. (1 Cor 13:3) They don't own things, "yet for your sake He became poor," Paul said speaking of Jesus. I think it is easy to interpret many of these scriptures as "spiritual" and miss the point of poverty woven into the fabric of these verses. Poor people struggle to find food, they don't go shopping at the mall, own a computer or a cell phone.
As an American, had I never left this country, I would still think that the poor live on the wrong side of the tracks, in a run down tenement building, in some city in the US. I would also think that they live on welfare and that most don't get educated. I think this perspective is wrong, while I do think that is the case for some in the US.
In much of Caribbean, many poor folks live in huts or houses without windows, floors, plumbing and electricity. In Brazil, the "poor" do not have houses. They live in the "slums" which are nothing more than an abandon lot with lean-tos, cardboard boxes and folks in sleeping bags. In the Philippines the poor pick garbage from the dump to survive. In all cases food three times a day is not a guarantee.
In America, most likely due to our relevant prosperity, we see poor very differently then a lot of the world. And as a result there is a huge amount of pressure on the government to make sure that everyone has a home to own, a TV and car in addition to food, medical care, clean water, heat and electricity. These entitlements are supposedly God given. It is an interesting comparison to the biblical definition of poor for sure.
Many believe that being poor is a breeding ground for all kinds of social ills, don't they? That is not entirely true. In some places we pour money into education and it matters little. Teenage pregnancy is pretty much the same in the "ghetto" as it is in the "burbs." Drugs? Same answer. The real link to crime and culture seems to be in learning to read, not how much money we have. It is not even the amount of education but the ability to read that changes people. You can disagree with the studies and insulate yourself from the real issue at hand, what is poor?
In the end, we all need Jesus regardless of our lot in life. Therefore; it might just be a good idea to be without so much. But in order to be truly blessed we need to receive the riches of Christ regardless of how much money we have. We are to be thankful in all things and give generously. As the church, the poor are our responsibility, not someone elses. It might be good to volunteer at a soup kitchen or take on a child from a hunger organization. Better yet, let me give you a few addresses to go and visit. I promise, your definition of poor will never be the same.