One might conclude that since poverty is a problem of scarcity, and riches can pose temptations associated with abundance, the simple solution would be to redistribute money to make everyone equal. However, the New Testament demonstrates inherent problems with redistribution.
- First, redistribution through charitable donations can tempt rich people to pridefully attract attention to themselves (Matthew 6:1-4).
- Second, redistribution can tempt poor people to grumbling and laziness (Matthew 20:1-16).
- Third, redistribution tempts those who serve as middlemen between the rich and the poor to corruption (cf. John 12:6; 2 Corinthians 8:20-21).
- Fourth, any redistribution must be performed voluntarily rather than through coercion because depriving a person of property, even for a good cause such as poverty relief, is inherently stealing. Thus, compulsory governmental programs of redistribution seem to be fundamentally inconsistent with the New Testament goal of cheerful and willing giving (2 Corinthians 9:7).
Instead, local churches should rise to meet their responsibilities toward the poor. Local churches can best alleviate poverty by keeping the gospel at the very center of the preaching, teaching, and every other ministry of the church (1 Corinthians 15:1-2).
The gospel is the only means by which people receive the forgiveness of sins, experience peace with God, are empowered by the Holy Spirit, and begin the lifelong transformation of sanctification.
Solutions to Poverty in Local Churches
Understanding that local churches should be the dominating power in fighting poverty, how can we apply this to our daily living?
As believers are increasingly transformed by the gospel, they should work vigorously to create wealth (Colossians 3:23-24; 2 Thessalonians 3:12) with an attitude of dependence and gratitude toward God (James 4:13-15). Paul declares that “there is great gain in godliness with contentment” so that believers will generate a surplus through their vigorous, diligent work and avoid self-indulgence with the excess (1 Timothy 6: 6-11).
Further, God graciously provides a surplus so that believers will “have something to share with anyone in need” (Ephesians 4:28). Believers indeed are admonished “to do good and to share” what they have “for such sacrifices are pleasing to God” (Hebrews 13:16). Paul encouraged believers to prepare in advance to give to the poor:
On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper (1 Corinthians 16:2).
From another perspective, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit also helps believers to increasingly put off sin over time, such as the sin of laziness (2 Thessalonians 3:11-12). Therefore, the preaching of the gospel simultaneously serves to alleviate poverty by:
- Enabling people to turn from sins that cause poverty.
- Enabling people to turn toward pursuits that develop hearts of generosity and create wealth to share.
The creation of wealth in the hands of gospel-changed people with generous hearts is thus a strategic means of the church for alleviating poverty.
In addition to maintaining the centrality of the gospel, churches should also develop wise programs to help believers give generously to the poor (Acts 6:1-4). Though the specifics of such programs will change with time and culture, all can follow the same basic principles of financial accountability, individual administration, personal compassion, and godly wisdom (2 Corinthians 9:8-11; 2 Thessalonians 3:8).
People who are poor are under the same obligation to work toward creating wealth, as are all other believers. They too are called to be generous toward others with even greater needs (2 Cor 8:1-5; Mark 12:43-44). Receiving help should cause poor individuals to overflow with many expressions of gratitude toward God and other people (2 Corinthians 9:12-14).
Further, receiving aid when it is not absolutely required is equivalent to taking money by fraud or stealing. While it is admirable for believers to lend to those from whom they expect no repayment, it is even better for the poor to repay them over time if possible (Luke 6:34-35). Finally, the poor can take comfort in this life knowing that the full consummation of the kingdom of God will bring an end to sin and poverty (Luke 6:20; Mark 1:15).
Throughout his personal ministry, Jesus Christ incarnated the love of God toward the poor, and he impressed this concern on his disciples and the leaders of the early church. Jesus made clear that both the rich and the poor need the gospel to enter the kingdom of God. The gospel breaks the power of sin, the root cause of poverty on earth. The gospel not only saves people – it transforms them in ways that increase wealth creation and develops generous hearts to share with others in need.
As the church carries out its mission of preaching and teaching for the advancement of the gospel, it simultaneously works to alleviate the suffering of the poor and to bring an end to the sin that causes poverty.
How do you and your local church work to alleviate poverty? Leave your comments here.