Working With the Poor – A Biblical Perspective on Poverty Alleviation

  • In Scriptures, eradicating poverty is not entirely about making material sources available, but it also involves reestablishing the relationships with God, with themselves, with others, and with the rest of creation.
  • The fall of mankind from Eden became the very root of the nature of poverty, disturbing the economic, social, communal, and political aspects of our lives in one or another.
  • Jesus became the Savior for all humanity, and his compliance with the law was sufficient to remove the wrath of our merciful Lord.
  • Mankind and the succeeding generation are redeemed and trusted with the work of Jesus.
  • The Church is a deliverer and redeemer for non-believers, preaching the message on deeper levels.

The typical perspective that crosses one’s mind when we talk about poverty alleviation is developing deprived areas and global regions. Providing necessary resources to the underprivileged people and ensuring the availability of basic necessities are general ideas for poverty eradication. While these developmental measures are the government’s responsibilities, the Bible presents a different definition and resolution for this rampant global problem.

In Christianity’s teachings, poverty is regarded as a complex societal issue that can only be resolved through holistic approaches. Regularly, the term ‘poor’ is associated with economic and material deprivation and the circumstances and causes that lead to such conditions are complicated. They may include oppression, spiritual, economic, and crisis-based deprivation. In Scriptures, eradicating poverty is not entirely about making material sources available, but it also involves reestablishing the relationships with God, with themselves, with others, and with the rest of creation.

New Creation—the ambassadors of God

In general terms and understanding, an ambassador is someone entrusted with an official position to reflect a country’s policies on global levels. Scribing the Corinthians, Paul draws out his own conceptual impression of being an ambassador. He calls every believer of Christ an ambassador for Christ, “we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. ” (2 Corinthians 5:20). 

The Gospel of Reconciliation was the primary focus of Paul’s teachings, urging the Christians to serve and act as the ambassadors of Reconciliation. He reminded the community and people who have been reconciled to live out and spread the message and gifts of faith, love, and hope. Representing Reconciliation’s message is too crucial of a task, which was only possible when our Savior received the punishment on the cross because of our sins. As a result of His sacrifice, we were reconciled and got known as ‘new creation’:

“If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation” (1 Co 5:17-20)

As we go through this world, we act as representatives of another kingdom, and it is our responsibility to fulfill the requirements of the official ambassadors of heaven. We live in this world, but we don’t belong to it.

Galvanized by the heavenly message and invigorated by Holy Spirit, we must work on taking the message of Reconciliation to every man and woman unaware of the divine gifts of Reconciliation. In Christian vocation, everyone is know as an ambassador of Reconciliation. The term vocation often refers to “being called” in Christianity. In Christian language, it is related to one’s work, while in Latin, the literal meaning of the term vocation is “call.” The Gospel proclaims that every God’s creation, be it a believer or a non-believer, receives God’s calling through their vocation. From a Biblical perspective, we need to recognize the true meaning and notion of the call inviting us to the heavenly Kingdom’s discipleship and service. All in all, the vocation of a Christian’s life is to be reconciled and reconcile with others.

The good news that comes with being reconciled is eradicating the barrier between man and God and presenting humankind as blemish-free in God’s eye. “That God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation,” (2 Co 5:19). The message is meant for everyone, whether he is a believer or a non-believer. It assures the non-believers with glad tidings of God’s mercy and that nothing would be held against them once they are reconciled. On the other hand, it promises the believers with spiritual cleansing and fellowship of Christ.

Being a part of this new creation and forgiven ones, one should seek Reconciliation continually to be sure of the heavenly profits promised. “The Spirit of the Lord God is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor,” (Isaiah 61:1 & Luke 4:18). Being blessed with gifts like Reconciliation means to spread this message to less privileged ones, benefitting them both physically and spiritually.

God created everything perfectly

In the Christian language, God is an eternal being capable of preserving and creating all things that are within the universe. God is a transcendent being, entirely independent of the material universe while being immanent and sole controller of worldly matters. He is the judge of the world and redeemer of the sinners. The creator of the heavens and earth is omnipotent who designed humans in His divine image.

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters…Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. Then the God blessed the seventh day and made it holy because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done…” Genesis 1 – 2. 

Everything He created is perfect, from the intricate craft of the universe to the creation of humankind. Human beings are subject to His divine image, and it is our responsibility to align our deeds in accordance with that. Genesis overemphasizes the peaceful origins of God’s creations, focusing on the innate goodness of the creations. All God’s creations are made to move, live, and survive in harmony as they are innocent, useful, and eternal. The scriptural teachings urge us to view all the creations as essentially spiritual and peaceful instilled with the Divine Spirit. The Spirit’s inclusion in every creation makes the world a harmonious place free from cruelty and wrongdoings.

The First Article on Martin Luther Small Catechism’s creation states that “I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.” The article is an acceptance of God’s blessings on humankind. It is not because humans earned those blessings but due to God’s fatherly nature and divine goodness.

Humans were given the freedom to live and move about the world as they desired, spreading the message of God and Reconciliation. They served as divine agents of God on earth, working on God’s message and making the world a peaceful place to live. The secret to such peaceful existence lies in four foundational relationships, including the relationship with God, self, others, and the rest of the creation. In his book When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor… and Yourself, Steve Corbett discusses how one can experience the fullness of life and work these relationships in a certain way. These four key relationships demonstrate humankind’s multifaceted nature, indicating the poverty eradication process’s multi-layered complexities. To elaborate this, poverty assuaging shouldn’t be restricted to material fulfillment. Since humans are composed of body and soul, a more holistic approach is required to design and execution.

The fall—the inseparable bond between humans and sins

God created everything, the heavens above and the earth, to utmost perfection. However, nothing is assured with eternity, not even the harmony of God-beloved earth and heavens. The perfect relationship between humankind and other creations was destroyed, introducing sin to this world and humans. The sins were a curse to humankind and Godly creations. These wrongful acts separated humans from God, making them astray and estranged from the existence of God. The impacts of original sin were such that we are still facing the consequences of it.

Genesis 3:1 states that the cunning serpent tricked Eve into eating the forbidden fruit, who later convinced Adam of committing the condemned act. Therefore, humans became the carriers of the original sin and were banished from Eden.

Sin brought chaos and wreak havoc among humankind. It is not just a violation of the sacred law but also unashamed and deliberate disobedience of God’s commandments.  The act of Adam and Eve was known as the first-ever sin and the root of all the evil and sin which later separated humankind from God, as stated in Gen 3:23-24:

“So, the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side[a] of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.” 

The Original Sin became the reason for the sinful nature and human inclination towards wrongdoings. Mankind was born with the curse of banishment from Eden, spiritually dead and unfixable:

Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me,” Psalm 51:5. 

Due to the complete absence of spiritual wellbeing and God-gifted freedom to choose, humans made the choice of worldly things over true spirituality. However, the blessings of true spirituality come to those who believe and have faith in God’s grace.

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them,” John 3:36. 

Paul wrote a harsh statement in Roman 8:8:

Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” 

The statement connotates that non-believers who live by their selfish means and are sinful without submitting to God cannot please God. It implies that Christians are not “in the flesh” beings; rather, the Holy Spirit has elevated them to the status of “in the Spirit.” The identity with Christ is what distinguishes and makes us beloved to God. He is not pleased with those who focus on themselves and are guilty of self-serving sins. These sins not only damaged the relationship with God but also inflicted deeper impacts on relations with others. The four foundational relationships mentioned above form the very basis of human interaction and activity. The impacts of sins got manifested in every human life aspect, including the economic, social, political, and religious systems and practices. The broken systems and relationships caused severe damage on both individual and systemic levels. Myer’s describe this widespread damage as rudimental to the origin of poverty:z

“Poverty is the result of relationships that do not work, that are not just, that are not for life, that are not harmonious or enjoyable. Poverty is the absence of shalom in all its meaning.”

If the roots of poverty lie in the broken relationship and damaged systems, then who exactly are poor people? Let’s consider the comprehensiveness of all four relationships. The lack of any one relationship can make a person poor. If a person is unable to experience the benefits of any one of the relationships in a way that it is intended to, it could lead to poverty. Humankind suffers from a lack of spirituality, lack of interaction and intimacy, lack of direction, and communal relationships. In the biblical context, ‘poor’ is described as the general plight of the humankind.  The fall of mankind from Eden became the very root of the nature of poverty, disturbing the economic, social, communal, and political aspects of our lives in one or another.

The Good News of Salvation

The fall was a clear indication that humankind needed a Savior. Adam and Eve’s sheer disobedience brought upon an eternal curse on them and the generations to follow.  The curse was directed to Satan, plaguing the lives of those who follow him. Be it humans who disobey, or fallen angels and demons, the curse was God’s wrath upon the generations to come. Bible regards Satan as the ultimate enemy of mankind:

“Be alert and of sober-minded. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8). 

Humankind was in desperate need of a Savior and rescuer to save their souls from Satan. The promise of Moses in Deuteronomy refers to a special individual who would be known as the sole Savior and redeemer of mankind:

“The Lord will raise up for you a prophet like me from among yourselves, from your own kinsmen. You are to pay attention to him… I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their kinsmen. I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I order him,” Deuteronomy 18:15. 

The savior of mankind was known as Jesus. The name is derived from Hebrew, and the literal meaning of Jesus is to deliver or to rescue. He fulfilled the prophecy of Moses and many other  other prophets as he rescued mankind from God’s wrath. Jesus was entitled to ultimate sanctification of becoming God’s man as mentioned in John 1:14:

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

The second article of Small Catechism: The Creed is based on redemption. It epitomizes the faith in true God, Father, Virgin Mary, and the Holy Spirit. The article talks about human redemption because of Jesus and the holy sacrifice of his innocent blood:

“I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell. On the third day, he rose again. He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again to judge the living and the dead.” 

Jesus Christ spent his entire life in total obedience and submission to Lord’s commandments. He lived his life with compassion, love, and complete devotion to Lord’s message. His life was the perfect example of how one should live in accordance with God’s commands. His selection as the chosen one was not for an eternal life; rather, the life of election of service to show mankind how to live as per God’s will.

For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous,” Romans 5:19.

He went through the hardships of poverty, hatred, severe persecution, and misunderstanding. Even then, he was able to fulfill the commands and sacred Laws set by his Lord. God wanted complete and perfect compliance with the laws, and Jesus did exactly that. He became the Savior for all humanity, and his compliance with the law was sufficient to remove the wrath of our merciful Lord. However, the persecution intensified to the point where his enemies took him to the cross and crucified him.

“But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds, we are healed,” Isaiah 53:5. 

If it wasn’t for Christ sacrificing himself for our sins and fulfilling the laws with compliance, we would have died for our sins and in a cursed state. The innocent blood of beloved Jesus redeemed humanity in God’s eyes. The believer benefits from redemption, making acceptance and faith key factors in earning eternal rewards.

“I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me,” Galatians 2:20. 

He rose to the heavens and sent down the Holy Spirit to bless and guide the true believers. The Holy Spirit’s coming empowered the Church to go in order while enabling us to be active as ambassadors of Reconciliation.

The Ministry of Reconciliation

With sanctification of the Church because of Holy Spirit, it is the Church’s responsibility to strengthen the faith of believers and sanctify the non-believers. The Church is now entrusted with the sacred duty of spreading the message of redemption. The third article of Small Catechism: Creed discusses sanctification and becoming holy:

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.”

The article is about submitting to the Lord’s will and acceptance of the Gospel as an intelligent source of power and enlightenment. The article fortifies the faith in Church as it believing in Church is synonymous with having faith in one true God and Jesus. Mankind and the succeeding generation are redeemed and trusted with the work of Jesus. Even though mankind is flawed and struggles to follow God’s message and laws, Jesus trusted us as ambassadors of Reconciliation. The Church is a deliverer and redeemer for non-believers, preaching the message on deeper levels.

“For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.” Roman 7:18. 

The verse typifies the biblical truth of man’s inability to gain righteousness. Humans were not to add or subtract to the righteousness earned by Jesus. The sole source of righteousness for man comes from outside, as Paul assesses and mentions that it is in our sinful nature not to let anything good dwell within. We are sanctified by holy grace.

For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.” 2 Corinthians 5:14. 

The sanctification equips us with the Lord’s message and holy power, instilled by the Holy Spirit, to reach out to fellow believers and non-believers. It is our sacred duty to take measures necessary to inculcate the holy message into the non-believers. The true purpose of a Christian is to reestablish the fundamental relationships that were damaged because of the original sin and the iniquities of mankind.

Miguel Torneire

Is the founder and the Executive Director of Developing Our World, an organization that seeks to put holistic community development into action. He loves Jesus! And, he is a husband, a father, a Lutheran Pastor, a Missionary, an Author, a flamenguista (a supporter of Clube de Regatas do Flamengo soccer team), and a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioner.


http://www.developingourworld.org

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