Christians and Poverty (social justice)

During the previous election cycle, I spoke with many people about voting for Christian values and unfortunately, many no longer consider pro life and pro traditional marriage as “the most important” or “only issues”. When confronted with what the Bible teaches on the subject, the most frequently used argument is some form of social justice. Are Christians not supposed to take care of the poor and needy of society? Did Jesus not do that when He ministered on this earth? Does Saint James not speak about taking care of widows and orphans? The answer is yes, but a qualified yes. Let me explain. Usually, when a person speaks of social justice in a modern setting, he or she refers to economic justice which has this Marxist slant. The poor people are poor because of the rich people stealing from them and keeping them poor. Therefore, those who are better off are obligated to give their money (which they worked to earn) to those who do not have the same “opportunities” and therefore have less wealth. By doing this, we can eradicate poverty, or so they say. In fact, one of our US presidents declared “War on Poverty“, which is also known as The Great Society. This move greatly expanded the welfare system, creating more dependency upon the government. Instead of individuals independently practicing Biblical charity, people were forced to give to the government who in turn would be charitable to the less fortunate. This is the mentality behind the social justice movement of today. So, after 60 something years, the war should be over right? Or at least, almost over and heading to the end, so you would think. According to wikipedia, here are the facts:

In 2004, more than 35.9 million, or 12% of Americans including 12.1 million children, were considered to be living in poverty with an average growth of almost 1 million per year. According to the CATO institute, since the Johnson Administration almost $15 trillion has been spent on welfare, with poverty rates being about the same as during the Johnson Administration.[8]

Can we say failure? Yes of course and here is the reason why. God has given us teachings on how to deal with poverty yet we insist on not listening to Him, claiming that His Book is just too old fashioned. The “modern” way is not working so maybe, if we are as enlightened as we claim to be in the 21st Century, we can try it God’s way and see how the two systems compare. Here is what God has to teach on the subject of poverty as found in the Bible.

1. You cannot wipe out poverty

Jesus explained this to His disciples who appealed to social justice, probably led by Judas Iscariot although he really did not care about the poor. He just loved money and used the poor as an excuse to cover up his greed. His true character is revealed in the Gospels, along with his true motives. In the midst of a rebuke given to the disciples, Jesus explains that we will never wipe out poverty so creating a ‘War on Poverty” is senseless, unless you have alternative motives behind your actions other than helping the poor 🙂 .

1 Now the Passover and Unleavened Bread were two days away ; and the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to seize Him by stealth and kill Him; 2 for they were saying, “Not during the festival, otherwise there might be a riot of the people.” 3 While He was in Bethany at the home of Simon the leper, and reclining at the table, there came a woman with an alabaster vial of very costly perfume of pure nard ; and she broke the vial and poured it over His head. 4 But some were indignantly remarking to one another, “Why has this perfume been wasted ? 5 “For this perfume might have been sold for over three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor.” And they were scolding her. 6 But Jesus said, “Let her alone ; why do you bother her? She has done a good deed to Me. 7 “For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you wish you can do good to them; but you do not always have Me. 8 “She has done what she could ; she has anointed My body beforehand for the burial. 9 “Truly I say to you, wherever the gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be spoken of in memory of her.” 10 Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went off to the chief priests in order to betray Him to them. (Mark 14)

There are actually two very important teachings here. One of which I would like to cover in the next paragraph. Here we see Jesus plainly teach that the poor will always be around so placing all of your effort into defeating poverty is a waste of time.

2. Charity must be a choice, not forced upon you

Social justice forces you to give to government, even if you do not want to do this. This is a teaching contrary to the Word of God. Jesus told His disciples in the previous passage in Mark 14, “whenever you wish, you can do good to [the poor]”. You give out of the goodness of your heart, not based on a mandate from the government. Does this mean that Christians should not help the poor? No. Christians are to help the poor but just giving out money is not the Biblical solution. Throwing money at poverty is not the answer. We see that clearly through the government’s “War on Poverty” over the past 60 something years. In fact, when people are forced to give, they become hypocrites because they are not giving out of the goodness of their own heart and they have ulterior motives. Jesus confronted the hypocrites of His day, people who were forced to give, not by the government but because of their religion. They did not give out of the goodness of their heart. They were forced to give to put up a front before others because of their religion. If you are forced to give for any other reason other than the goodness of your own heart then you will become a hypocrite.

2 “So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. 3 “But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving will be in secret ; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.

Social justice is a form of forced giving. There are two reasons that this is wrong. The first is that it is forced giving and the other is that throwing money at problems does not fix them. St. James also teaches on this subject and he adds some good insight especially about not just throwing money at the problem of poverty.

27 Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this : to visit orphans and widows in their distress, . . .  . (James 1)

The word that is translated “visit” in English comes from the Greek word “episkeptomai” and it literally means “viewing with the eyes in order to see how he is”. It means to research the situation to see how you can best help. It does not mean that you just throw money at the problem hoping that it will go away. When you are forced to give to the government who will then distribute to the poor then you do not see with your own eyes. Funds can be used and abused and they are. We need to think about being charitable according to God’s plan.

3. God’s plan of provision for the poor among us

When God brought His people out of slavery in Egypt, before leading them into the Promised Land, He explained how they were to live in the land, step by step. One of those teachings was how to care for the poor among them.

9 ‘Now when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. 10 ‘Nor shall you glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard ; you shall leave them for the needy and for the stranger. I am the LORD your God. (Leviticus 19)

1 Now Naomi had a kinsman of her husband, a man of great wealth, of the family of Elimelech, whose name was Boaz. 2 And Ruth the Moabitess said to Naomi, “Please let me go to the field and glean among the ears of grain after one in whose sight I may find favor.” And she said to her, “Go, my daughter.” 3 So she departed and went and gleaned in the field after the reapers (Ruth 2)

God’s plan for caring for the poor involves work on both ends. God is not in favor of handouts. He wants to provide for the poor and needy but they have to do something too. They do not just lay up in the house getting checks from the government. If they are able to work, then they have to go and glean what is left over in the fields. Those who can work are to go and glean and share with those who cannot work. Those who produce learn to be generous and those who are poor learn to work and also be generous. Social justice teaches that those who produce are to give to the poor so there can be more equality in the system. The problem is, when people do not work for what they receive then they become dependent as well as lazy. The Bible clearly teaches Christians to work for what they get and if they do not want to work then they do not eat.

7 For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example, because we did not act in an undisciplined manner among you, 8 nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with labor and hardship we kept working night and day so that we would not be a burden to any of you; 9 not because we do not have the right to this, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you, so that you would follow our example. 10 For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order : if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either. 11 For we hear that some among you are leading an undisciplined life, doing no work at all, but acting like busybodies. 12 Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to work in quiet fashion and eat their own bread. (II Thessalonians 3)

When people just receive a handout, they learn to live an undisciplined lifestyle. As Christians we are not to support handouts because it does not help those who receive them. They do not work. Money does not fix the problem. They learn to live an undisciplined lifestyle. We are to provide a way for the poor to care for themselves so that they can learn to care for themselves. The old saying is still true. “If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. If you teach him how to fish then he can feed himself everyday.”

4. Giving is an open door to preach the Gospel

Many churches today are moving to a social Gospel claiming that we should give without trying to share the Gospel with the people to whom we show charity. That again is not found in the Bible. Jesus did good deeds for others and then once He had their attention, He shared spiritual truths with them. He knew that if the root of the problem were not discussed, their spiritual lives, then they really would not be helped by just having their physical needs met. There is a passage in the Gospel of John, after Jesus has fed the 5,000. The context is that many people are following Jesus, not so much for the spiritual teachings that He offered but because He could meet their physical needs. In Chapter 6, Jesus shares a hard message with them and they did not like its implications. They were told that they must enter into covenant with Him and be His disciples if they wanted to enter the kingdom of heaven. He basically tells them that there is only One way to heaven and He is that way. Many of them did not like the teaching and they stopped following Him. He did not chase after them because He knew their real reasons for following Him (what they could get from Him). Instead of pleading with them to stay or trying to do another act of kindness for them, He turned to His disciples and basically said, “didn’t you see what just happened? Don’t you want to go with them?” They chose to stay with Him because they were more interested in the spiritual aspects of Jesus and His ministry instead of the physical. If you just meet people’s physical needs and do not address their spiritual by sharing the Gospel with them then you are neglecting the teachings of Jesus Christ. His main goal was the spiritual and He used the physical to open the door to the spiritual. The apostles did the same as they planted and grew the 1st Century church.

So, in conclusion, have you bought into the lie of the “War on Poverty”? Have you bought into the lie of social justice and the social Gospel? Do you help the poor and needy around you the way that the Bible teaches? Do you believe that throwing money at the problem will fix it? Do you seek to examine the situation before giving to make sure that what you are doing and what you are giving is the best solution for the person? I pray that we will all be generous with the blessings of God but I pray that we all do it God’s way so that He will be glorified and the recipients will truly be helped. May God bless and help us daily.

4 comments on “Christians and Poverty (social justice)

  1. Pingback: Lear HOW to think instead of WHAT to think | Erik and Elena Brewer's Weblog

  2. Pingback: The right to life | Erik and Elena Brewer's Weblog

  3. Pastor Erik, once again you have “nailed” the problem. I have been a member of churches who preach the social gospel; churches that preach more on the way of living today by man’s standards rather than living by God’s. I’m sharing this because so, very, many people need to read this. Thanks again for your insight and for always speaking Biblical truth.

  4. Pingback: Coming under the protection of the Lord | Erik and Elena Brewer's Weblog

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s