Is Poverty Commanded By Christ?

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Poverty is undesirable. During part of my ministry, I remember making $40k-50k a year. The ministries were fruitful. When it came time for God to move me, I found that it was difficult to be okay with making less. God took me through His sanctifying process so that I might not factor income while evaluating potential ministry positions. I now make less than half of what I once did and I find that I am more satisfied and more generous.

Now I am discipling men around the world, some who are planting churches and others who might. This is a great privilege. Most of them are in great poverty with no hope of overcoming that poverty in the near future. I have had to think about poverty in a whole new light. Scripture speaks plainly and overwhelmingly on the subject. Here are only a few references:

As they were going along the road, someone said to Him, “I will follow You wherever You go.”

And Jesus said to him, “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.”

And He said to another, “Follow Me.” But he said, “Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father.”

But He said to him, “Allow the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God.”

Another also said, “I will follow You, Lord; but first permit me to say good-bye to those at home.”

But Jesus said to him, “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:57-62).

According to Jesus, when anyone follows Him, they turn from the ways of the world and the world stops offering most of its conveniences. We are in Christ and the world hates Him. This is a difficult teaching.

And someone came to Him and said, “Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?”

And He said to him, “Why are you asking Me about what is good? There is only One who is good; but if you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.”

Then he said to Him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not commit murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honor your father and mother; and You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

The young man said to Him, “All these things I have kept; what am I still lacking?”

Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”

But when the young man heard this statement, he went away grieving; for he was one who owned much property.

And Jesus said to His disciples, “Truly I say to you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

When the disciples heard this, they were very astonished and said, “Then who can be saved?”

And looking at them Jesus said to them, “With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:16-26).

Jesus’ teaching seems to be clear on the subject of wealth. If we are attached to our worldly resources, it is impossible to enter the kingdom of heaven and to be complete. For those in poverty, this means when we try to find our identity in wealth and thus try desperately to remove ourselves from the circumstance of poverty, we are not following after Christ. Christ practiced such voluntary poverty that He had no place to lay His head during His bodily ministry on this earth. The same idea can be confirmed in the story of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31.

And turning His gaze toward His disciples, He began to say, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh. Blessed are you when men hate you, and ostracize you, and insult you, and scorn your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man. Be glad in that day and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven. For in the same way their fathers used to treat the prophets. But woe to you who are rich, for you are receiving your comfort in full. Woe to you who are well-fed now, for you shall be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep” (Luke 6:20-25).

The kingdom of God belongs to the poor, and Luke chose to leave off Matthew’s clarification “… in spirit” (Matthew 5:3) even though he had Matthew’s Gospel as a resource. Luke is referring explicitly to real material poverty.

Reading through the Gospels, this truth is confirmed over and over again. Go ahead. Read Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John looking particularly for references about poverty, denying self, forsaking this world, and the like. Your highlighter will get much use. There seems to be an explicit description in Scripture regarding the people of God and poverty. For those who are not forced into poverty, there is at least an implicit call to voluntary poverty. This means that it is a sin for the people of God to use their resources strictly for themselves. All resources are given by God according to His own will and good pleasure. This greatly damages our western mentality, the mentality of our culture. Since when are we to agree with our worldly culture anyway?

My example

As an example, I will share how my wife and I have decided to budget our household income. Perhaps even we are not doing enough. Even with as little as I make, we budget a certain percentage for groceries, for our church tithe, and for our personal allowances (and yes, we already have an allowance set aside for Elijah). We set a percentage aside for taxes (we don’t have anything withheld) and for savings. We set a percentage aside for entertainment (internet and television). Last, but certainly not least, we have a percentage set aside for household evangelism and outreach. We are strict about remaining within our budget so that we can give whatever the Lord desires to His causes according to His pleasure and according to what He has given to us for our stewardship. I find that even with as little as we make, we are able to be very generous and still have much more than we need.

My explicit challenge for my brothers and sisters in Christ here in America is this: don’t be afraid to be generous. If our household can do this, you can too. Yes, even if you are living on Social Security and US welfare. I beg you not to grow attached to the financial ways of this world. God’s economy looks different and He can deliver us from our desperate connection to perceived prosperity in this world. All things are possible with God.

If you are looking for a way to practice this, I am involved in worldwide ministry as of this year. Toward the end of the year, I will either register as a non-profit or hand this ministry to my local church. I am hoping for the later, but the church will need to confirm this calling. For only $5/month, which is so little, you can participate in everything we are doing worldwide- especially as we plant churches here in the US and as we work with people in Uganda and in Liberia. Please don’t feel guilt-tripped into giving. Click here to get involved.  Click here to plant a church with us. If you are truly following Christ, then you know and are convicted to use the resources He blesses you with for His glory and you are growing in generosity. You will decide, between you and God, how much to give in the context of the local church and in the context of other charities.

Dwell on these things. Let us, first and foremost, strive to become more like Christ to the glory of the Father.

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2 comments

  • Of this, I must disagree on. In Philippians 4:10-13 we are taught “But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at last your care for me has flourished again; though you surely did care, but you lacked opportunity. Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
    In other places in the Acts, we find that there were many wealthy people supporting the apostles and operating fair sized households.
    Rather, we must learn to utilize whatever God has given us to be stewards of and being content and grateful for all God gives us, for those with much it may become a temptation to become greedy or proud. The same thing happens for those in poverty, they may become proud they live in poverty for God. For some people, they are called to live in poverty to focus more on the ministry, as were the Apostles. For others though, ministry is not their calling. As it is declared in 1 Corinthians 12, we are all different with different gifts. Some people are better at making money to support those who called to the ministry. Does this make them less of a believer because they don’t live in poverty?

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