No Place for the Poor

Neil Girrard

Scriptures Referenced in This Article:
          (Follow the Scripture links if you want to study the Scriptures for yourself.)
Prov. 22:2 π Isa. 55:9 π Mt. 5:14 π Mt. 25:15 π Mt. 26:11 π Mt. 25:45 π Lk. 10:31-32 π Jn. 13:4 π 1 Cor. 11:3 π 2 Cor. 3:17 π Gal. 2:10 π Gal. 5:13 π Eph. 1:22 π Eph. 2:10 π Eph. 4:17-18 π Col. 1:18 π 2 Ths. 3:10 π 2 Ths. 3:14-15 π Jas. 2:5 π Jas. 2:15-16 π 1 Pet. 1:7 π 1 Jn. 2:17 π 1 Jn. 3:17 π 1 Jn. 5:19 π Rev. 13:17 π Rev. 19:15 π Rev. 20:6

Jesus said, “You have the poor with you always…” ( Mt. 26:11 ) and He and James and John and Paul each made it clear that how we deal with the poor is a central part of our life in Christ. ( Mt. 25:45 , Jas. 2:15-16 , 1 Jn. 3:17 , Gal. 2:10; top ) Today, however, the poor man seeking financial help (even from those who claim to belong to Christ) are as often as not told little more than “Get a job!”

This callousness is nothing new. Henry Ward Beecher (1813-1887), one of the most influential American Protestant spokesmen of his time, said, “No man in this land suffers from poverty unless it be more than his fault – unless it be his sin… There is enough and to spare thrice over: and if men have not enough, it is owing to the worst of provident care, and foresight, and industry, and frugality, and wise saving. This is the general truth.” (as quoted by Colleen Townsend Evans, Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread, 1981, p. 138) In evaluating Beecher’s own progress toward conformity to Christ, let us also note that he “came to believe that a sermon succeeds by focusing on the single objective of effecting a moral change in the hearer,” that he advocated evolutionary theory and scientific biblical criticism, that he, because he was “always considered an emotional and sensual man, became in the 1870s the subject of rumors alleging immoral affairs,” even being sued and charged with adultery by his former friend and literary protégé. (Encyclopedia Britannica, Vol. 2, 1990, p. 43)

Let it be noted that though this man has very questionable spiritual underpinnings, his attitude was very prevalent in his time and it is not very rare even in our own day. Rich “Christians” are rather quick to pronounce the poor as deceived, in sin, under God’s judgment or even demonized under a “spirit of poverty.” All these labels are used simply to justify their own hard hearts and their abysmal treatment of the poor they do come in contact with.

History Revised

Let us consider three other historical insights from American history.

  1. Sojourner Truth, a black ex-slave who became an American abolitionist and political activist in the mid-1800s, answered the call of God to travel and speak to whomever would listen. One biographer writes, “During her travels [around 1840], Sojourner stayed with whoever offered her food and lodging. Usually she found the poor, not the rich, made such offers. She did not seem afraid to live this way. If she needed money, then she stopped and did domestic work for a while.” (Sojourner Truth: American Abolitionist, W. Terry Whalin, 1998, p. 92) At that time, Sojourner Truth was about 45 years old.

  2. Little Tree, a Cherokee boy during the 1930s, after his Granpa and Granma (his guardians and “parents” after his parents died) died while he was still a boy of around 11 or 12, later wrote in his autobiographical account:

    “I took the…money that Granma had set out for me and determined that I would head west, across the mountains to the [Indian] Nations [now the state of Oklahoma]. Blue Boy and Little Red [his hound dogs] went with me. We just closed the cabin door one morning and walked away.

    “At the farms I asked for work, if they would not let me keep Blue Boy and Little Red then I would move on. Granpa said a feller owed that much to his hounds. Which is right.

    “Little Red fell through creek ice in the Arkansas Ozarks and died like a hound ought to die, in the mountains. Me and Blue Boy made it to the Nations, where there was no Nation.

    “We worked on the farms, going west, and then the ranches on the flats.” (The Education of Little Tree, Forrest Carter, 1976, p. 215)

  3. In the 1850s, the Industrial Revolution was changing the way all people worked. Tradesmen, masters of their craft and journeymen were no longer bound together by their trade but were forced into categories of employer and employee, each of which had conflicting interests.

    “The employer wanted to maximize profits, which meant improving the efficiency and controlling the costs of production, including wages. The employee became dependent on the ‘boss’ not only for wages but also for the means of production – machines that the worker himself could no longer hope to own. The emergence of industrial capitalism from 1815 to 1860 thus began to forge a new system of class relations between capitalists who owned the means of production and workers who owned only their labor power. Journeymen artisans who experienced this process did not like it. They and their spokesmen offered a sharp critique of emerging capitalism.

    “Capitalism was incompatible with republicanism, they insisted. Dependence on wages robbed a man of his independence and therefore of his liberty. Wage labor was no better than slave labor – hence ‘wage slavery.’ The boss was like a slave owner. He determined the hours of toil, the pace of work, the division of labor, the level of wages; he could hire and fire at will. The pre-industrial artisan had been accustomed to laboring as much or as little as he pleased. He worked by the job, not by the clock… But in the new regimen all laborers worked in lock-step; the system turned them into machines; they became slaves to the clock. Manufacturers encouraged the temperance movement that gathered force after 1830 because its Protestant ethic virtues of sobriety, punctuality, reliability, and thrift were precisely the values need by disciplined workers in the new order.” (Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era, James M. McPherson, 1988, p. 24)

Interestingly, this same historian goes on to note, “In the largest American cities by the 1840s…” – the same time frame when Henry Ward Beecher was assigning poverty to the sins of the poor – “…the wealthiest 5 percent of the population owned about 70 percent of the taxable property, while the poorest half owned almost nothing. Although wealth was less unequal in the countryside, in the nation as a whole by 1860 the top 5 percent of free adult males owned 53 percent of the wealth and the bottom half owned only 1 percent.” (ibid, p. 25) One would wager that Beecher did not preach often against the greed, covetousness and corruption of the wealthy elite! Beecher’s callous judgment that the poor were kept in poverty because of their own sin, laziness and ignorance just doesn’t even match up to the historical realities of his day and a more accurate statement (however generalized and subject to exceptions) would be that the poor are kept in poverty because of the sins of the rich! Then, as now, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer because the former are securely perched atop the backs of the latter as whatever money the poor do earn is funneled through the corporations, foundations and banks the rich use to shelter their own assets from taxation, exploitation and seizure.

Some Modern Comparisons

Sojourner Truth

Little Tree

Artisan journeymen

Interestingly, the same financial advisor goes on to say,

“If you were born prior to 1930, the advice ‘Go to school, get good grades, and find a safe, secure job’ was good advice. But if you were born after 1930, it is bad advice. Why? The answer is found in 1. Taxes. 2. Debt…. Taxes and debt are two of the main reasons most people never feel financially secure or achieve financial freedom.” (ibid, p. 55, 58)

Now even when the poor jump through all the educational and socialistic hoops which the rich elitist utopian social planners and legislators have erected in their way, that strategy just doesn’t work for a large portion of the poor who, if they do not find Christ, quite often respond to the apparent futility and meaninglessness of life by turning to alcohol, drugs, violence and crime.


It would be very easy to make overly simplistic conclusions at this point but we must resist that impulse because these would neither be true to life nor true to God. God’s ways are still higher than man’s ways. ( Isa. 55:9 ) God has created both the rich man and the poor man ( Prov. 22:2 ) to accomplish His purposes, at least one of which is that the poor should be rich in faith. ( Jas. 2:5; top ) Any simple code of self-made laws or rules that we could concoct on the basis of the above insights and comparisons must surely come up short of both reality and godliness.

Paul’s exhortation, “If a man will not work he shall not eat” ( 2 Ths. 3:10 ) still stands as a rule of thumb for the follower of Christ. But we must not overlook the fact that what Paul meant by “work” and what “work” means now after the Industrial Revolution is not the same thing. The idea of work has been subtly and powerfully changed. The elements of oppression and control have been inserted in preparation for Satan’s end time government as no one who has not bowed down to that system and taken “the mark” will not be able to buy or sell or, by implication, to “work” in the sense of selling one’s labor, skills or produced goods. ( Rev. 13:17; top )

The true follower of Christ is called to liberty, not a liberty to indulge the flesh but rather a liberty from the bondages of fallen, sinful flesh to follow after the Spirit of God in righteousness and truth. ( Gal. 5:13 ) Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. ( 2 Cor. 3:17 ) The modern work place is not characterized by liberty but by slavery – slavery to the pace of the machines, slavery to the tickings of the clock and the pages of the calendar, slavery to the whims and desires of the business owners and employers. These subtle controls and oppressions are embedded in place even when one works for the best of employers who strive to keep these things to a strict minimum. When Christ returns and rules with a rod of iron for a thousand years ( Rev. 19:15 , 20:6; top ), there must come with Him a realm or state of existence whereby these elements are removed and work reverts to a God-ordained, Christ-centered and Spirit-empowered thing. Blessed indeed are those who have something of this in their work experience now!

The poor are not necessarily poor because they live in sin or ignorance. Poverty comes from two sources: God and man. But even these two kinds of poverty look very different. Man creates poverty through his greed and covetousness. Beecher was right in one sense – there was enough in America in the mid-1800s to meet all the needs three times over. But in Beecher’s time, the rich 5% owned 70% of the wealth – some sources place today’s imbalances as even word, and that on a global scale! As the “fortunate few” – both those who have inherited their wealth and those who trade their life and soul to become wealthy – hoard their vast resources to themselves, others do without even basic needs. Certainly, the financial “trickle-down” theory of economics holds some valid ideas but when an individual investor can make millions from the sale of a business while the employees, those who make the business a viable possibility, remain in the same financial condition, the imbalance comes clearly into view. It really should come as no surprise to discover that “the game is rigged” in favor of those who sell out to wealth and its acquisition. The god mammon must reward at least some of his followers and devotees and the result is crushing oppression for the man who struggle and strive for his “favors” which he miserly doles out upon only a few “shining examples” of “glorious” wealth so as to keep the “trodding masses” motivated on their endless treadmills of meaninglessness.

God, when He inflicts poverty on a person – and He does not do this to all persons any more than gives wealth to all persons - He has a specific purpose in doing so. The faith inside the poor man’s soul and spirit is worth much more than gold. ( 1 Pet. 1:7; top ) And in the midst of God-given poverty, there remains His faithful, sustaining hand, His provision of enough for today - a provision the world would scoff at, deem inadequate for life, health and or the pursuit of any dreams. But the privilege of walking alone with God more than compensates for any material lack these may experience.

One purpose God has in inflicting this kind of poverty on a man or family or people group is to expose the hard-heartedness of the wealthy people around them. Will the wealthy who claim to follow Christ strip themselves of their station and humbly attend to the true needs of the lowly poor? ( Jn. 13:4 ) Or will they turn their noses upward in self-righteous judgment and move to the other side of the street to keep from being made unclean by the dirt and filth and blood of real life interactions between men? ( Lk. 10:31-32; top )

Wealth and poverty and work are not the simple matters many people believe them to be. God has foreordained works that we should perform ( Eph. 2:10; top ) whether that comes under the modern categories of employment and careers or not. The preaching of God’s word must certainly not be brought under those categories (though for many American “pastors” it has been a lucrative career choice for many years) as this only brings another element of following Christ and God under man’s dominion and thereby opens it to the influence and counterfeiting work of the devil and the demonic.

Christ is the Head of every man individually ( 1 Cor. 11:3 ) And the Head of very group who seeks by faith to follow and obey Him. ( Col. 1:18 , Eph. 1:22 ) Any individual or group that refuses to (note well how different that is from cannot) work is not entitled to eat – though he is to be reproved as a brother ( 2 Ths. 3:14-15; top ) in the hopes that he will repent and move on to do whatever God has placed before him to do. No man is called to idleness – the “workshop of the devil” in colloquial wisdom – but neither is man necessarily called to submit himself to the modern slavery that robs him of his humanity and cripples his ability to raise a truly godly family in Christ Jesus. Blessed indeed are those truly fortunate few whose life and family and work have come together, a trait most often found only in like-minded communities.

But whether we walk in whole or in part in God’s ideal work environment, whether we live in abundance or in mere sustenance, whether we struggle against the consequences of other men’s sins or we experience great liberty, we who name the name of Christ must all one day stand before Christ and give account for how we answered His call to walk responsibly with whatever resources (“talents” – Mt. 25:15 , etc.) He has given us so that we might be agents of His kingdom of light in a darkened, sick and dying world. ( Mt. 5:14 , Eph. 4:17-18 , 1 Jn. 2:17 ) Anything else will be another counterfeit that delivers us, in one way or another, to one degree or another, into the hand of the devil and the demonic. ( 1 Jn. 5:19; top )

Let he who has ears hear.

I’d love to hear comments and/or questions from you! Email me!

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