Last Friday, Typhoon Haiyan slammed into the Philippines, killing ten thousand people and crippling an already-impoverished area.
Typhoon Haiyan is just one example of the tragedies that cause devastating poverty. Natural disasters, oppression, laziness, and simply living in a fallen world are all unfortunate situations which bring about suffering and poverty.
In my last post, I noted that these four causes stem from just one root cause. The foundational cause of poverty, according to the New Testament, is sin.
The Root Cause of Poverty
Sin has troubled the world since the time when the ground was cursed (Genesis 3:17).
- Futility, such as thorns and thistles, has transformed productive work into toilsome labor, and scarcity exists because bread only comes with great effort and sweat.
- Collecting riches by oppressing other people is now easier than creating wealth according to the cultural mandate.
- Laziness now competes with ambition and impedes work rather than spurring it onwards.
- Moral foolishness makes speculating about riches more attractive than laboring to create wealth by serving others.
- The very creation itself groans in bondage to corruption which causes calamities and disasters that destroy wealth and subject people to poverty.
- Finally, death itself is a result of sin and leaves widows and orphans destitute.
Sin is the root cause of poverty in this world, and all proposals which ignore this reality are destined to fail. But the good news is that Jesus Christ came into the world to save people by conquering both sin and death. This good news is the gospel, and its advance will necessarily alleviate poverty on earth and eventually end poverty in the kingdom of God.
That said, it is worthwhile to review the gospel message and note specific ways in which the advance of the gospel will alleviate poverty on earth until it is eliminated in heaven.
The Gospel Solution to Poverty
The heart of the gospel is that God is the wise creator of the world who made all people to live in perfect relationship with him. Unfortunately, everyone has rebelled against the authority of God and pursued self-interest apart from him. The biblical word for this rebellion is “sin,” and the justice of God requires that all sinful rebels be punished with death. Nevertheless, the unending love of God meant that he sent his only son Jesus into the world to pay the penalty instead.
Though he was without guilt, Jesus voluntarily laid down his life by dying on a cross. He received the just punishment that sinners deserved so that all who trusted him could be forgiven and have everlasting life. Through his death, Jesus Christ broke the power of sin so that sinners could be saved by grace through faith.
Not only do those who trust in him receive forgiveness of sin, but they also experience peace with God, are adopted into the family of God, and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. This Spirit over time increasingly transforms believers to be more like Jesus Christ through a process called sanctification. Among other things, this process of transformation necessarily will alleviate poverty in the world until Christ returns and poverty ends in the new heavens and the new earth.
Zacchaeus provides a helpful illustration of how the transforming process of sanctification can alleviate poverty. When this rich tax collector encountered Jesus, the gospel brought about a fundamental change in his heart. Accordingly, he said to Jesus,
Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold (Luke 19:1-10).
Before his conversion, Zacchaeus valued riches highly and had little regard for people who were forced into poverty by his excessive collection for the Roman government (Luke 19:8). When he was transformed by the gospel, Zacchaeus immediately took steps to rectify his prior fraud. The sanctifying process of the Spirit further moved his heart toward dramatic generosity to the poor.
Not only does the gospel bring an end to oppression, it causes laziness to be replaced with diligent work that creates wealth. Christians are instructed, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men” because more than an employer or even a customer, “you are serving the Lord Christ” (Colossians 3:23-24).
The gospel also changes the hearts of rich people who would otherwise hoard a surplus into hearts that imitate the generosity of Christ toward the poor by sharing wealth. A thorough understanding of grace inevitably leads to a desire to feed those who are hungry and clothe the unfortunate (Matthew 25:31-46). A long history of Christian philanthropy has flowed from this biblical expectation.
We can’t prevent natural disasters like Typhoon Haiyan, nor can we fully eliminate oppression, laziness, and other consequences of living in this fallen world. But we can live in hope that Christ is restoring this world into a new heaven and a new earth where poverty will no longer exist. Until then, we can work to restore the creation by spreading the good news of Christ’s love for us and doing our utmost to bring relief and flourishing to the needy.
Editor’s Note: Today’s post is adapted from IFWE’s forthcoming book, For the Least of These: A Biblical Answer to Poverty.
How can we fight the causes of poverty as we work toward the restoration of God’s kingdom? Leave your comments here.