For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me (Matthew 26:11).
This is one of the most quoted passages in scripture on poverty, but it is also one of the most misused.
Usually you’ll hear someone quote this verse when they think ending global poverty is unrealistic. The general attitude towards poverty in the church seems to be,
We should do what we can for the poor by tithing and donating to charity, but why channel so much energy into fighting poverty when Jesus basically said it’s a lost cause?
But what if I told you we are on the verge of eliminating extreme poverty in our lifetime?
The End of Extreme Poverty Is Near
The poor, as defined as living on less than $1.25 a day, do not always have to be with us.
Think about that. If one generation has more than cut extreme poverty in half, imagine what our generation can do.
These encouraging numbers show that we’re figuring out how to fight poverty better. We know more today than ever about what does and doesn’t work.
This progress is due to many factors, including more access to clean drinking water, improved medicines, the spread of democracy, better education, but perhaps most notably, free enterprise.
80 percent of the world’s worst poverty has been eradicated since 1980, thanks to open trade, entrepreneurship, and free enterprise. Arthur Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute, says,
Free enterprise is the reason that people around the world aren’t starving to death. If we’re good Samaritans, if we really love the poor, we have to fight for free enterprise for everyone.
When Jesus said the poor would always be with us, he was not presenting an excuse that should minimize our efforts to eradicate poverty. Instead, he was presenting us with a magnificent challenge.
A Challenge, Not an Excuse
When Jesus says “For you always have the poor with you” (Matthew 26:11, Mark 14:7, John 12:18) he is quoting Deuteronomy (emphasis added):
For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land’ (Deuteronomy 15:11).
Notice how this statement is followed directly by a challenge to care for the poor and not a reason to maintain a hopeless attitude towards poverty.
But just a few verses earlier, God also says (emphasis added),
However, there need be no poor people among you, […] if only you fully obey the Lord your God and are careful to follow all these commands I am giving you today (Deuteronomy 15:4-5).
God seems to be contradicting himself, but he’s not.
He is saying there is no reason for poverty to exist if we follow his commands to help the poor. But do we always follow his commands? No. So when we fail to open wide our hand to our brothers and sisters, we keep the poor with us.
Poverty is not a lost cause, but instead an incredible opportunity for the body of Christ.
Though the effects of sin, which include poverty, won’t be eliminated in full until Christ returns, we can have faith that if we obey God’s command to be generous to our brothers and sisters, the needy, and the poor, we will see the end of extreme global poverty.
Thy Will Be Done on Earth as It Is in Heaven
Jesus prayed to his father, “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Have you ever thought about what this means for poverty?
It means we have the opportunity to give the world a glimpse of heaven, where poverty is no more. It means our vision for every nation, for every city, and for every community should be the New Jerusalem. It means we are meant to flourish here and now.
God has clearly and repeatedly called us to care for the poor. Christians today are rising up to take this call seriously.
Scott Todd, Sr. Vice President of Compassion International says,
Christians, churches, and world-class poverty fighting organizations are now assembling an unprecedented alliance to end extreme poverty in our lifetime.
Will your church be one of those churches? Will you be one of those Christians?
If we are willing to come together and obey God’s call in faith and hope, we can overthrow extreme global poverty in our lifetime.