The world is ravaged by poverty, and the way we strive to fight poverty isn’t working. Our goal is flourishing, and the means to achieve this goal is true gospel-centered love for the poor.
We need biblical principles to help us know how to help the poor out of poverty. It’s a biblical truth that we’re made in God’s image. Acknowledging the dignity and respect of every human being is a basic principle for flourishing. Putting these two together is essential if we’re to effectively fight poverty.
But what unites this particular biblical truth with this particular flourishing principle? Here is the biblical basis for putting dignity and respect at the core of any poverty-fighting program.
As Image Bearers, We Should Respect One Another
Where does this biblical truth of being made in God’s image come from? We see it in the very beginning of creation. Genesis 1:27 says:
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
God created mankind, both men and women, in his image. No other living, breathing thing on this earth has the honor of reflecting the image of God in this way. Right away, we realize this fact is significant. We get to image God. What does this mean?
In “Man – Made in the Image of God,” Don Dunavant writes:
Three authors provide helpful theological direction for us. Wayne Grudem pointed out that the words used in Genesis 1:26-27, “image” (tselem) and “likeness” (demut) in the Hebrew “refer to something that is similar but not identical to the thing that it represents or is the ‘image’ of.” Therefore, Genesis 1:26, “would have meant to the original readers, ‘Let us make man to be like us and to represent us.” Bruce Ware noted that “the image of God in man involves God’s creation of divine representations (images of God) who, in relationship with God and each other, function to represent God (imaging God) in carrying out God’s designated responsibilities.” Anthony Hoekema wrote that the image of God “describes not just something that man has, but something that man is” (emphasis his).
As image bearers of Christ, we are something different. We are called to represent God and to be like Jesus. We are called to live in relationship with God and one another We are called to live life in such a way that we carry out the responsibilities the Lord has given us.
We are made in God’s image and have the honor and obligation of reflecting God’s glory. We are “a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord, a royal diadem in the hand of your God” (Isa. 62:3). Our main purpose is to live a life that reflects God’s image and character in all that he has called us to do, for his glory.
Putting Dignity and Respect at the Core of Any Poverty-Fighting Program
Dignity is defined in the Oxford dictionary as “the state or quality of being worthy of honor or respect,” or “a sense of pride in oneself, self-respect.” Poverty affects more than just material possessions. It affects the way the poor view themselves. For now, let’s consider what current poverty-fighting solutions communicate to the poor.
Many poverty-fighting solutions fail to account for people’s inherent dignity and their gifts and talents. These programs should communicate to the poor, “You are of value, let me come alongside you and help you use your gifts and talents to grow.”
Instead, programs that provide handouts say, “I am better than you. You are in trouble, let me use my gifts and talents to help you get out of this mess.”
Think about Jesus as he came to serve the poor in spirit. He is our Savior. But that was not his attitude. He broke bread with tax collectors, prostitutes, and sinners.
He was born in a manger, a carpenter’s son. He washed the feet of his disciples, even the feet of Judas Iscariot who was already contemplating betraying him. Jesus was the epitome of humility.
As it says in Philippians, Jesus “humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross,” to save his people and care for their spiritual poverty. We must embrace this same attitude as we start our journey in caring for the poor in a biblical and effective way. We must act with humility.
If we truly believe that all people are made in the image of God, treating those we serve with dignity and respect must be at the core of any poverty-fighting program.
This post was adapted from IFWE’s latest booklet, Love Your Neighbor: Restoring Dignity, Breaking the Cycle of Poverty.