Theology of Poverty

I fell into a Facebook debate the other day. I don’t know how it happened, it just did. Anyway, the debate revolved around poverty and being a Christian.

At one point someone said, “Poverty is a horrible testimony.” This statement floored me because it seems to mean that Jesus who didn’t seem to have a ton of cash on hand (Matt 17:24-27), or a house (Matt 8:20), or a family, and didn’t leave any kind of financial inheritance then would have a horrible testimony.

People in favor of “claiming” and “walking in” the blessing of Abraham are nice people. The problem I see however with this idea that Christians shouldn’t be poor is that it would put Jesus as well as most Christians in the developing world  in the camp of having a bad testimony.  It would put most of the early church in a the category of a horrible testimony, as they faced persecution, losing jobs and their lives, for their faith.

This idea that poverty is in some way evidence of not having a good testimony is troubling.  Also, as a side note, for Christians, our testimony is all tied to whether or not we said yes to the grace of Jesus which was extended to us.  Rich or poor that’s the greatest testimony you can have.  But back to the matter at hand.  Someone could follow Jesus with all their heart, lead many people to faith in Christ, and they may never have “finanicial victory.”  Would that person be a bad representation of Jesus to the world?  Of course not. Someone could lose everything through no fault of their own, but still be a committed follower of Jesus and, they may work dilligently to get their finances back on track but to no avail.  Does that person have a bad testimony?  No.

Jesus wants his disciples to be like him.  Which means we must live lives that honor God.  Rich or poor, every Christians should strive to be like Jesus.

So let’s actually look at what Jesus said about poverty and wealth.

What did Jesus say about the poor?

Matt 5:3

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”

Luke 6:20

20 Looking at his disciples, he said:

“Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.”

This Matthean passage compared to the Lukan parallel is particularly interesting.  In Luke Jesus gives no qualifier to the poverty.  “Blessed are you who are poor.”  Pretty obvious.  Matthew qualifies being poor with “in spirit.”  Which one does Jesus mean?  Both.  Keener in the IVP Bible Background Commentary says,

“Poverty and piety were often associated in Judaism; the term poor could encompass either physical poverty (Lk 6:20), or the faithful dependence on God that it often produced (“in spirit,” as here).”

The word for poor is the word used for utter destitution.  So in Luke Jesus is saying the very poor will be blessed.  In Matthew the very poor also recognize also their “utter spiritual destitution, the consciousness of which precedes the entrance into the kingdom of God, and which cannot be relieved by one’s own efforts, but only by the free mercy of God.” (Word Studies in the New Testament Logos Bible Software)  Physical poverty can lead people to recognize their physical and spiritual dependence on God the Father.  When we recognize our deep need for God, we can receive his promise, “the kingdom of God.”

This is another example of Jesus blessing the poor Luke 21:1-4:

“As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. 2 He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins.3 “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. 4 All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”

 This woman, who has no name in scripture trusted God, gave all she had.  Now, is this Jesus saying to everyone, “Give everything and be blessed?  Be poor!”  No, but he is also not saying, “This poor woman has a horrible testimony.”  He calls her blessed, because she didn’t just give what she could.  She was generous in her worship of God through giving.  The Bible doesn’t say then she went out and won the lottery.  But I bet the next week she had another pair of small copper coins.  She was poor, trusted God, and Jesus said she gave more than the rich.
Jesus had more of a concern that his followers would desire to be rich.

What did Jesus say about wealth?

Matthew 6:24

24 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

Jesus is clearly telling his followers to focus their heart on God and not on money.  You can’t seek God and seek a so called “promise” that you will be rich.

Luke 12:13-21

13 Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”

14 Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?”15 Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”

16 And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’

18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’

20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’

21 “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”

Jesus’ story here is about somebody who put his confidence in the riches he had produced through his fields. He then turned his focus on taking it easy, trusting in what he has earned, thinking that everything was set. But his wealth wouldn’t keep him alive forever.  He died rich and a fool.

Luke 18:18-30

18 A certain ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

19 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 20 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.’[a]”

21 “All these I have kept since I was a boy,” he said.

22 When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

23 When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was very wealthy.24 Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! 25 Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

26 Those who heard this asked, “Who then can be saved?”

27 Jesus replied, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.”

28 Peter said to him, “We have left all we had to follow you!”

29 “Truly I tell you,” Jesus said to them, “no one who has left home or wife or brothers or sisters or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God 30 will fail to receive many times as much in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.”

Here is a rich man who couldn’t follow Jesus’s command to sell everything.  His hope and security was in his riches and his possessions.  His hope and confidence were not in God.  He wanted God’s blessing but didn’t want to actually trust God.  Jesus was calling him to a life of poverty and obedience.  But he couldn’t handle it.  Does Jesus call everyone to poverty?  No.  But he does call everyone to put their hope, trust and confidence in him.

Because the only way we are going to be saved, is through faith in Jesus.

Should poverty be glorified by Christians?  No, that’s ridiculous.  But poverty should not be shunned.  Jesus’ words are pretty clear that focusing on money (rich or poor) instead of the things of God is a path to destruction.

With or At

This week I have been auditing a class on Theology of Disability with Amos Yong.  It has been really helpful personally.  And I think it can be helpful for Creekside as we have been partnering with YoungLife Capernaum for many years. 

One of the things that struck me today is how do we do ministry with people with disabilities.  This challenged me even deeper because I think there can be a tendency to do ministry at people instead of with people.   

One of the truly beautiful things about the incarnation of Jesus Christ is that he was with us.  He lived among us.  He did ministry with his disciples.  If anyone had the right to do ministry at people it was Jesus.  But instead he:

6 . . .did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross! 

Jesus humbled himself to become a priest for and with:

15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.

Jesus was a priest for us, but also with us.  He identifies with our weaknesses (disability even) and was without sin.  

As a leader in the church I recognize that I get frustrated when I stop doing ministry with and do ministry at.  I get upset when I preach at instead of with. Because when I preach at I feel like I’m in a battle.  But when I recognize I’m preaching with the congregation, we are all participating in the message.  Sure I did the prep work, I spent the time praying about the text, I rehearsed the message in pre-preach, I did most of the work it seems.  

But when it comes to actually preaching, I need to be with the people.  I need to learn with the people.  I may be speaking but I still need to hear with the people.  And together we need to respond to God’s leading.  Together we need to take the mission of God into our weeks. 

We need to do this with one another.  And the only way we can do this with one another is recognizing that Jesus is with us, and the Holy Spirit is with us wherever we go.

Ministry that truly represents the Body of Christ requires with-ness.


God’s Currency

Has God’s face ever been on a coin? We are the coin that bears the living likeness of God. Giving if ourselves with whatever that may include, is the only legal currency of the kingdom of heaven.
– Gordon and Gladis DePree

Matthew 22
Paying the Imperial Tax to Caesar

15 Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. 16 They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are. 17 Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax[a] to Caesar or not?”

18 But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? 19 Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, 20 and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”

21 “Caesar’s,” they replied.

Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”

22 When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away.

They say money makes the world go ’round. And it is true that our economies drive much of our culture and innovation. If there is money to be made then someone will find a way to make it happen. In doing so they move the world forward.

The economy if God’s kingdom does not require money. God doesn’t need our money he wants our hearts. And if we surrender our whole heart to God, to be used by him to move his kingdom forward then we truly are the currency of God. Just like a coin has an image (Caesar, Kings and Queens, presidents) we bear the image of God.

Who decides how to use your money? You do. If you are God’s money will submit to his plan?

What if we actually lived like we were the currency of God’s Kingdom?

Nothing To Say

It’s June 20th, and I haven’t written anything here in nearly 6 months.

It’s not that I haven’t had thoughts and things haven’t been going on.  I just have not had time, or energy, to formulate those ideas.

This is very frustrating.

Even more frustrating is when I think about the time that I have been given by Creekside to think, reflect, refresh, and write.

It is frustrating for someone who writes sermons and presents sermons fairly frequently to not have anything to say outside of that venue.  I’m recognizing that I also have not had much to say at home, with friends, or otherwise.  I’ve been content to sit and think in silence.  I’ve been happy to listen.  But I’ve really had nothing to say.

Or have I been so mentally tired that I have not had energy to say anything?

Whatever the case of what has been, I also feel guilty for not saying anything.  I am feeling a stirring to write again.  But if I don’t I know that it’s ok to have nothing to say.