Theology 101

What Does the Bible Say about the Righteous Poor?

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Name it and claim it. 

If you don’t have it, it’s because you haven’t prayed enough. 

If you were more faithful, you’d have more blessings. 

You’ve probably heard these sayings before. They’re just a few of the many errors made by the prosperity gospel.

In order to fully understand what the Bible says about the righteous rich, we’ll need to look at other categories found in Scripture: the unrighteous rich, and the righteous and unrighteous poor.

Today we’ll dive into the righteous poor, a category that, as we’ll see later, directly contradicts the health-and-wealth gospel.

Ruth

In Scripture, one famous example of the righteous poor is Ruth.

Ruth was a Moabite woman who married into an Israelite family. When her husband died, she was given the option to return to her family.

She chose to travel to Bethlehem with Naomi, her mother-in-law.

Ruth tells Naomi:

Where you go, I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. Thus may the LORD do to me and worse, if anything but death parts you and me.

– Ruth 1:16-17.

Ruth is an incredible example of self-sacrifice. She was also so poor she needed to glean from fields owned by Boaz.

You know the rest of the story. Ruth becomes part of the ancestral line of Jesus (Matthew 1:5).

The Poor Widow

Another classic example of the righteous poor in Scripture is the story of the widow’s offering found in the gospels.

This poor widow gives all she has into the temple treasury.

Jesus notices her, as Luke 21:1-4 recounts:

And he looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury. And he saw a certain poor widow putting in two small copper coins. And he said, “Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all of them, for they all out of their surplus put into the offering; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”

The rich gave much larger gifts than this widow did. But Jesus was touched by the spirit of giving that motivated her to give her all.

What Can We Learn from the Righteous Poor?

There are two important lessons for us to learn from what Scripture says about the righteous poor.

The first lesson is what we’ve already briefly touched on regarding the prosperity gospel.

If, as the health and wealth gospel maintains, righteousness always leads to riches, then there could be no such category as the righteous poor.

Yet we clearly see that there are people who are righteous and yet still very poor.

This is because some people are poor through no fault of their own. They are poor because of natural disasters, the death of loved ones, a business catastrophe, or a host of other reasons outside of their control.

The second lesson also gives us insight into the righteous and unrighteous rich.

Some people are poor because they have been treated wrongly by the unrighteous rich.

Remember the economics lesson about positive and zero sum games?

Positive sum games are where we both win as the result of mutual trade.

A zero sum game is where you win and I lose as a result of unjust practices or theft.

Some people are poor because of zero sum games.

Others are poor because of poor or unjust political and economic systems.

When I visited Russia in 1990 and 1991, people were poor because the Marxist/Socialist system did not work. There were long lines for food and discouragement on every face.

Although being poor does not make you righteous, Scripture does speak of the righteous poor.

However, Scripture also speaks of the unrighteous poor, which we will look at in a future post.

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