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What Does God Say About Poverty?

Updated: Feb 1, 2021

By Chenell Washington

During the service on Sunday, December 13, 2020, Pastor Nick spoke on the four myths about poverty.

Before we get started, let's go over some background: The book of James is a book in the Bible that talks a lot about this topic. James, the half brother of Jesus, wrote to the Jewish Christians, who were being persecuted for their faith and even dispersed from their homes. Since this was very early in the church, there wasn't a New Testament that the early church could look to for guidance. James wrote letters to them about conduct and practical ways they could live their lives in Christ. These letters subverted a lot of beliefs that they previously held about how to live their lives.

There are four themes in James that reflect or complement the four myths about poverty, they are as follows:

Theme #1: It's not all about the money.

It was a long held belief in the Jewish community that if God favored you he would bless you with material wealth and health. On the flip side, if you were under God’s curse, you would experience hardship. In John 9, when Jesus and his disciples encounter a blind man begging on the street. His disciples question whether the man sinned or his parents that he would be blind. Jesus replied, “This happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” James 1:9 says, “Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high positions.” A man that used to sit and beg for money is now spreading the Good News. He even declared that Jesus was a prophet to the religious leaders and believed the Lord when He said He was the Son of Man. This man, though from very humble circumstances, was put in a very high position of spreading the Gospel. Jesus opened his spiritual eyes as well as his physical eyes.

Trials and hardship is very much a part of life and God uses it to bring glory to himself. But he also uses it to mature us in our faith, “Because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:3-4)”

Theme #2: How we treat people is important.

One theme that I really thought was striking in James was favoritism; specifically toward the rich. In James 2:1-4 James calls out his fellow Believers (or gives them an example of how they may have shown favoritism). “My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. Then, he goes on to talk about two men and how they are treated based on their appearance. The wealthier man is given a more comfortable place to sit while the poor man either has to stand or sit on the floor at someone's feet. He then goes on to say, “Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?” Material things might not be given in this life but God promises believers that they will inherit the kingdom of God.

Money may seem like the most important thing on earth because the world around us has convinced us that it is a necessity to life. But James knows that God still cares what happens to us while we are on this Earth. Keep this in mind: it’s not like James doesn’t know what it is like to be without material things. He himself was persecuted and murdered for his faith. This is why God wants Believers to help the poor and less fortunate, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” God has made us to do good works and we can see all over the Bible that we are told what good works are. In James, it is how we should treat each other, those who God has called for us to help or the people that are marginalized. For instance: the blind man in John 9.

An ongoing question is "Why there is so much suffering, pain and hardship? There are many reasons for these things but for now, let's focus on what we are to do for others during that hardship. James 4:17 says, “If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.” Now what is "good?" Look to the Word of God. God tells us many times what is good and what he wants us to do. Now the question is: Will you do good?

Theme #3: It’s not all about the heart

The myth that I found most interesting in Pastor Nick’s sermon was “It’s all about the heart”. This myth is about evangelizing(or telling people about Jesus) but doing nothing of someone's physical needs.

James says,“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed, but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. (James 2:14-17)”

It can't just be about the heart but it has to include caring for the people's needs around you. James is saying that faith and works go together. If you are neglecting the people's needs around you then you are neglecting Jesus himself, “For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ [...] ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.(Matthew 25:41-43,45)” We need to be working and serving people as if we are doing it for the Lord himself.

Theme #4: If you are wise, you will think about the effects it will have on people.

The word wisdom meant something different to the Jewish Christians in the early church than it does to us today. The kind of wisdom that James is referring to is more practical in its application to day to day life, instead of just the common knowledge of moral reasoning.

This is why James primarily talks about faith with works, “Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds [...] You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone. (James 2:18-24)”

Wisdom wasn't just what you thought but how you lived.

“Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.(James 3:13)” Some versions say humility, meekness or gentleness. Wisdom is more than knowledge; it is knowledge applied. Humility is the beginning of wisdom but it also comes from wisdom. Gentleness is the action of meekness. Most verses say the meekness of wisdom. This is referring to the attitude or the heart of a person. James 4:6 says, “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.” If we humble ourselves and ask God he will give us wisdom and the condition of our heart will begin to change. Then, it will show through your actions. The same can be said when you ask Jesus into your life. As your desire to become more like Jesus the things that you want to receive from him become more specific; such as asking for wisdom.

James shows us what God thinks about poverty and practical ways we can live out our faith. Believers that are in humble circumstances should take pride in it. And God has equipped us, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.(Ephesians 1:3)” This life will not be forever and troubles won't last always. There will be a time where there is not mourning, crying or pain (Revelation 21:4).

We should all treat each other with kindness and humble ourselves to serve one another; especially the less fortunate. And see to each other's needs.

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