Economics 101 & Public Square

What Can the New Testament Teach Us About Fighting Poverty?

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The New Testament says a lot about the underlying causes of poverty. Does it also have anything to say about poverty’s possible solutions?

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.

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  • Jeffrey Wagler

    This makes sense now how business owners in the church seek to provide good-paying jobs.

  • Robby

    The use of Matthew 20 above runs utterly counter to the parable. This parable is about the landowner’s (I.e. The King) utter freedom to reward all his servants without regard to effort or status. It is not a warning about tempting people to grumble! It is a warning against grumbling when God grants (distributes) blessings without reference to what one “deserves.” I really like the important work of IFWE. Please do not follow the example of those who teach “stewardship” by twisting Scripture to mean anything convenient.

  • Stephen

    The Church is not called to alleviate poverty in the world. We are called to preach the Gospel to the world and care for the poor brethren in the Church. When the multitude wanted Jesus to continue feeding them He refused, because they only wanted their bellies filled and they were in the Church (Israel).
    Giving sinners bread when they need the Bread of Life does them a disservice. Their first and most serious problem is their sin and their poverty almost always is a consequence of their sinful lives. I spent 10 years in the poorest metro area in the U.S. (Hidalgo County, TX). Giving away food and clothing doesn’t save anyone, it keeps people from being saved.

    • David

      You sound just like the guys Jesus had to share a story with (might have something to do with neighbors). Yes and you should be grateful you weren’t born as a slave or in famine so I could point out your sin and stuff my face while you starve. Have this sinking feeling you have not experienced the love and forgiveness of the Jesus of the Bible – read Luke and get on your knees

  • Scott

    “As believers are increasingly transformed by the gospel, they should work vigorously to create wealth (Colossians 3:23-24; 2 Thessalonians 3:12)” This is the kind of stretch that can be annoying. Neither of these verses and no where in the New Testament does it teach to work vigorously with the intention of creating wealth. That is not what these verses are saying. These verses are about working in such a way that glorifies God. If you sweep floors then do it in such a way that glorifies God. If you drive a bus then do it in such a way that glorifies God. This aim to create as much wealth as you can is not supported by scripture. The focus is always on God and our dependence on Him. However, prosperity preachers love to interpret it that way. In fact, God promises to be extravagantly unfair with us. God’s grace is a free gift and we have done nothing to earn it. The workers in the field who worked all day got paid the same as those who worked only a few hours. Why? Because God’s love for us is the most lopsided transaction in history. Yes, we are supposed to work and take responsibility so that we are not a burden on others and that so we can help others as well. The problem occurs when Christians use scripture to find a way not to give because we think someone is being lazy or irresponsible. That is not for us to decide. If a homeless man is taking advantage of others because he does not want to work then that is between him and God. We are called to give just like God did no matter how lopsided the transaction is.

  • Hugh Whelchel

    Scott–While the excerpt you reference would have been better if it said, “As believers are increasing transformed by the gospel, they should work vigorously to create flourishing” there is nothing inherently wrong with wealth creation when is it done to glorify God, serve the common good, and further God’s Kingdom. And from your post I think you would agree. The problem is that the majority of Christians today do not understand the correct biblical view of wealth creation, the principles for which are found in the Old Testament. I would strongly recommend taking a look at what I consider to be some of the best work on the idea of wealth from a Christian perspective.It’s being done by some the guys over at Business as Mission:

    Here’s some of IFWE’s material on the prosperity gospel:

    Longer pieces here:

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