Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Bible and relative poverty

Whoever shuts his ears to the cry of the poor
Will also cry himself and not be heard.
Proverbs 21:13

God expects us to heed poverty. The big question is, does that include relative poverty. Should Australians be paying just as much attention, and directing just as much concern, toward the inequities at home as they do to the absolute poverty (lack of basic needs) abroad? Should they care just as much about large numbers of Australians who live in "relative poverty" as they do about the needs of the fewer who are homeless on our streets?

I believe the Bible gives some answers . . .

For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. 1 Timothy 6: 7 - 8.

If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, "Depart in peace, be warmed and filled," but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. James 2: 15 - 17.

Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give to him who has need. Ephesians 4:28.

It seems that even from these few passages we can come to a few conclusions:

1. God cares about basic human needs.

2. God commands that Christians fulfill these needs through work and through giving.

3. Beyond basic human needs, we are to be content.

Of course, which needs are should be defined as basic could be an item of contention. It is easy to argue that they go beyond food and clothing. Anyone who has run inside from a gale here in Tasmania can vouch that housing should also make the list! I also think that human beings have social and psychological needs that the Bible also commands us to care about, which are separate from material poverty.

Based on what I understand of Biblical teaching, I think it could even be dangerous and confusing to label inequity poverty. Christians are free to seek to relieve inequity - but I don't think they are mandated to do so, or that this is what the Bible speaks of when it issues warnings against ignoring poverty.

What do you think?


  1. I think I agree with you. I tried putting it into words on your other post. :-)
    Thanks for sharing and stirring up the questions. I think it is good to dig into the scriptures and see what the Lord is expecting.
    "Love one another" :-)

  2. Love one another - that really sums it up, doesn't it! I think that loving others may lead us to want to give beyond basic needs, and that is good - but it may not be what the Bible primarily speaks of when it talks about helping the poor. We have to rely on the Holy Spirit, I think, situation by situation.