God has consistently used a body or a body of people to address the needs of the poor. There are admittedly numerous conditions that must be addressed in our city, state, nation and world. At your age you have the freedom and zeal to take on the world. But these endeavors are not easy. These are endeavors that if you are truly serious about them, will cause you to reexamine why you are at school, how you will use your career and ultimately, “What will you be willing to give up to bind up the wounds of others?”
A discussion on God, Gospel and Poverty has to begin where I believe as a Christian, all things have their origin; God. I have to begin with God because without an acknowledgment of God, Christianity makes no cognitive sense. “What does God have to say about poverty?” I will be arriving at my answers from two distinct sources.
Let me first say that my conclusions about poverty and more importantly about God are derived from Scripture. So when we speak of the Scriptures, I am speaking of the body of texts that make up both the Old and New Testaments. These texts in their original form are without error and are inspired by God. Secondly, we can gain our understanding about who God is by looking at the words and acts of Jesus Christ himself. Jesus gives us the full revelation of God. He says of him, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” Therefore how can we gain an understanding of God and our subject of poverty? We gain an understanding of the Scriptures and by understanding Christ Jesus.
So these two streams will be run through our discussion because we have to have a starting point. We must possess a foundation on which the rest of our discussion will stand or we run the risk of taking important matters and trivializing not only God but also those who are residing in impoverished conditions.
So back to my first question, “What is God’s involvement in poverty?”
A long life leads to solid reflection. We will get to the end of our life and reflect on all that we have done and those experiences that have significantly impacted our lives. David is at the end of his reign as king over Israel. Solomon his son is about to assume throne and David through prayer reflects on God who has overseen his reign. In 1Chronicles 29:10 David says this,
“Blessed are you, O LORD, the God of Israel our father, forever and ever. Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O LORD, and you are exalted as head above all. Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might, and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all”
What I want us to zero in on is the truth that God who is the Lord, possesses everything in heaven and earth and by virtue of whom he is as head above all, God gives to mankind. Secondly, we learn that God not only gives possessions to mankind but that He also determines the time and locations in which men live. So let’s travel a few thousand years forward to Athens.
Paul is a converted a Christian. The resurrected Christ interrupts the life of Paul and charges Paul to expand the Gospel message. So Paul is moving beyond Jerusalem and Judea and we find him in Athens in a discussion with some of the leading philosophers in Athens. Paul is actually prompted to present his message because he sees an altar with an inscription that says, “To the unknown god.” Paul takes this opportunity to be a springboard to talk about the very same God David praised at the end of his own reign.
What will be important to our discussion here are the actions Paul attributes to God in Acts 17:22-28:
Here is the “so what” of both David’s praise about God in relation to giving wealth and Paul’s explanation that God has created us, given us life, determined our times, and where we live. The “so what” is that it is no accident that you possess what you possess, live in the 21st century and live in America. This also has to be applied as well to those who live in the ghettos of Little Rock and South Central, LA. It is no accident for the people who live in conditions like Haiti, India, the troubled Sudan or Eastern Europe.
Here is the commonality. Regardless of time, location or boundary, conditions that are hard lead people to ask “Why?” Hard conditions lead people and families to evaluate themselves and their entire context to put forth the very strong questions of “Why?” and “Is there someone who willing and capable to aid me?”
We are a people made in the image and likeness of God who have received the breath of life. We can all agree that we did not determine our time of existence or where we would be born. It is a commonality that unites the college student at UCA and the high school dropout of Southside Chicago. It is the commonality that unites illegal immigrant of Oakwood and the child still living in a make shift tent in Port Au Prince Haiti. God who created heaven and earth and who is the giver of all things must be our first consideration.
God has always used a body to accomplish his purposes here on the earth. Consider the following. In Genesis, the first book of the Bible and the first book of the Old Testament, God creates Adam and Eve “to rule, have dominion and to be fruitful and multiply.” These bodies, these living breathing men and women were created to care for God’s creation. Consider the second book of the Bible, Exodus. The Hebrews’ are enslaved under the tyranny of Egypt and Pharaoh. They have experienced a holocaust, losing many of their first born males. Their work conditions are so dire that they are required to produce the same measure of product with less material. God sees and hears the groans of the people, he comes down and calls Moses to go, deliver the good news of deliverance and take the Hebrew slaves to a land flowing with milk and honey.
I could go on and on with such men and women as Joshua, Ruth, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ruth, and John Baptist. These were men and women whom God used to accomplish his purposes of deliverance, hope, reconciliation and peace in the lives of people.
This idea that I put forward of God always using a body to accomplish his purposes is most pronounced in Jesus Christ. It is said of Jesus Christ that God was pleased to fully dwell in him. That in Jesus Christ, his own witness said, they beheld the glory of God. Now we do not have the time to address how Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man, but what we can see is that God gave his son body in order that he would deliver and reconcile people that where completely different than himself.
What do I mean? Jesus tells a parable about a Jew who is headed down a dangerous road. This man is assaulted and left for dead. Two religious Jews, who knew the word of God, saw their fellow brother in his distress and kept on. But then comes along a Samaritan. The Samaritan comes by on his horse, dismounts, assists the Jew and takes care of him. Right here people, I want you to see the answer to the question about “Who is my neighbor.” Jesus places the socially accepted as that person who is the injured Jew and the outcast is the one who is despised by the Jew, bringing deliverance, hope and peace.
The good news is not only that God in Christ reconciles us to himself but also he takes us through a journey of reconciling with men and women who do not look like us. The Christian is God’s body here on earth, meant to carry on the delivering and reconciling work of Jesus Christ. Have you not heard it said, “You are the body of Christ?”
Tim Keller said, “If you grasp substitutionary atonement in both your head and your heart, you will be profoundly generous to the poor. Think it out! The only way for Jesus to get us out of our spiritual poverty and into spiritual riches was to get out of his spiritual riches into spiritual poverty. This should now be the pattern of your life. Give your resources away and enter into need so that those in need will be resourced.”
So what does this mean for poverty and our involvement? God is over everything. He made all of us. He gives how chooses. We understand that the world is broken. God sends his Son Christ to address the heart of men through the Gospel.
Only when men and women discover God, will they powerfully move to assist those in need from a place of love and not seeking to sin against those made in the image of God. The Gospel of Christ puts us into the position of the man robbed and left on the dangerous road. Jesus is the Good Samaritan who gives of his riches to rescue the poor, robbed and oppressed and brings relief, development and restoration.
See, the brokenness in our world because of sin has impacted us in four relationships: God, Self, Creation and others. These broken relationships then interact within religious systems, economic systems, political systems and social systems. I need you to understand that all of us exist in some type of poverty condition.
Answer these questions for yourself:
1. What was the manifestation of an impoverished social system in the south during the 1950’s?
2. If I have Anita make jeans for 12 hours per day, pay her $2 per day and charge $75 for the jeans in retail, what system is
3. Lucky is a attempting to reestablish his life after being paroled, yet he cannot because he is a felon. What system is
4. The typical American local church spends 80% of its finances on infrastructure and less than 1% on the needs of the poor?
What system is impoverished?
Poverty and all of its associated circumstances can be addressed. The persons involved, the contexts in which they live and those who are called to assist are interconnected because God has created them all and governs the times, places and resources of all involved. Furthermore, we as Christians possess the unique ability and privilege to address poverty because we act from heart of grace. We move into the circumstance of the least seeking to live out the reconciliation that has powerfully occurred in our own lives. What is our hope? Our hope is that as we are on the road of life, God would lead us on a journey in which we are willing to humble ourselves and bind the wounds of the hurting, at the cost of our own lives.