Prov. 22:2 π Prov. 23:4-5 π Prov. 30:7-9 π Lk. 6:30 π Lk. 6:35-36 π Jn. 13:34-35 π 1 Cor. 4:2 π 1 Cor. 4:6-7 π Gal. 6:10 π Tit. 2:14 π Tit. 3:1 π Tit. 3:8 π Tit. 3:14 π Jas. 2:15-16 π 1 Jn. 1:9 π 1 Jn. 3:16 π 1 Jn. 3:16-18 π Rev. 13:16-17
There is no one-word, bottom-line answer to this issue of poverty in the Body of Christ. But, in closing, there are several words that should be discussed.
There will be those who will feel terribly guilty after reading all this. Please do not rush out, sell all your goods and give them to the poor and thus become yet another burden on the family of Christ. Rather, take some time to review before the Lord what your true needs are. As He reveals your excess to you, as you have opportunity, do good with your excess. The personal love we give to the poor will go much further than any "crumbs" we toss them from our table. More than likely, the godly poor want our time, attention, fellowship and/or humble service more than they want our money or worldly possessions.
But what is guilt? Is guilt a feeling that prompts us into action or is it a question of fact? Too many of us see it only as a feeling that comes from Satan which is therefore only to be totally ignored. Largely this too is only deception. Guilt has very little to do with feelings and is truly a question of fact: Did you or did you not commit the sin in question? Yes or no. If you did the sin, then you are guilty. If you did not do the sin, you are not guilty. If you are guilty of some sin, simply confess your sins to God and He is faithful to forgive and cleanse you from all unrighteousness. ( 1 Jn. 1:9; top ) The grieving we most often experience over our guilt is the more-than-uncomfortable realization that we aren't the good person we presumed ourselves to be. It is great foolishness to let the fašade of our "goodness" keep us from finding and knowing God.
But suppose you find yourself in possession of far too much excess and you cannot decide where God is leading you to give because you are overwhelmed with feelings of guilt about your hoarding possessions to yourself. Let me suggest this (only) to those who are caught in this form of introspective paralysis: Choose a few relatively minor items from your collection or gather together a few relatively small amounts of cash and give them away one at a time (anonymously, if possible) precisely because of your guilt in hoarding. As you begin to practice giving, allow God to cleanse you of your feelings of guilt. God never holds your past against you but it is far easier for Him to correct your path if you are moving in the right general direction than if you are paralyzed and unmovable in your sin.
If there be any "bottom line" issue regarding the possession of goods, it would be this question: For whom do you possess your wealth? Far too many of us quickly and glibly answer that, of course, our wealth (if we can even admit to having wealth) is for God. But let us examine the question of but two luxuries which most Americans seem unable to live without: electricity and running water.
Many Americans will be aghast at the notion that these services are luxuries and not necessities. Humanity has lived for millennia without these and it is only the past century and a half that has made them so commonplace. (Actually, this making of these luxuries so commonplace is part of the drawing in of believers into the world money system that will culminate in the mark of the beast without which no one may buy or sell anything - Rev. 13:16-17; top ) But if a person can live well without electricity and running water - something which I can personally attest to as being more than possible though it is indeed hard at times - then these are not necessities but luxuries.
Okay. Why do you, the reader, have electricity? Is it for yourself or for God? Put this question to God and not just to yourself - His opinion may be quite different from yours. If it is for God, somehow your electricity will build up and further His kingdom. If it is only for yourself, then God will not be able to show you how your electricity serves His kingdom.
Now, put every service, possession and asset you receive or own through this same scrutiny. Every item on your list which God does not reveal as having value for His kingdom, His people (of which you and your family are an integral part - don't exclude your family's true needs from being true service to God's kingdom) is something which has subtly drawn you into service to Mammon. Even a "tithe" can be for your benefit - to make you feel "good" or "spiritual" or whatever - and may not truly serve God and His kingdom. Discard, give away or liquidate these items which do not serve God in any way at your first opportunity and begin to be extricated from secret service to Mammon.
This phrase, "a spirit of poverty," is not to be found in the Bible. It comes to us from the realms of hyper-charismania, that brand of religious "church" clubs that cater to the feeling aspect of the soul by emphasizing the experiencing of "spiritual gifts." Whether some, all or none of these gifts are actually from God will always remain debatable.
But, what is a "spirit of poverty"? Frankly, I'm not sure. From the ways I've heard it used, it seems to be a demonic spirit given an ability to deceive the one having that spirit into believing that poverty is okay, perhaps even preferable. If this be an accurate definition, it is immediately apparent why it cannot be found in the Bible. This definition assumes poverty to be evil or wrong when, in fact, poverty and its counterpart, wealth, are merely tools in the hands of the Lord to accomplish His varying purposes.
Agur's wise prayer points toward the higher, more noble attitude we should possess: "Two things I request of You (deprive me not before I die): remove lies and falsehood far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches - feed me with the food You prescribe for me; lest I be full and deny You, and say, 'Who is the LORD?' or lest I be poor and steal, and profane the name of my God." ( Prov. 30:7-9; top ) The man who can sincerely echo this prayer is free to experience poverty or wealth or even both at the same time and be in bondage to neither.
Since this phrase, a "spirit of poverty," seems to be a convenient catch-phrase for those who don't seem to need Scriptural or specifically accurate spiritual insights, I highly recommend that we delete this phrase from our vocabulary. If the Lord gives us spiritual insight about demonic activity, then let us speak plainly about "an evil spirit assigned to torment us in the area of our finances" or "a demon given power over our finances in some way" or whatever the Lord shows us. But by using this phrase, a "spirit of poverty," along with its attending negative connotations that poverty is wrong or evil, we are actually inferring that the person plagued by this financially-oriented demon is actually in sin - as if the person wanted the thing to have control over his or her finances!
To give another idea about how silly this phrase sounds, why not speak of a "spirit of wealth" which may be upon or in most American believers? (Why not speak thus? Because, especially in America, wealth is wrongly viewed as a tell-tale sign of God's blessing and approval and that phrase does not contain the same negative connotations. A "spirit of wealth," unless called by its true name, Mammon, would be looked upon as a good thing, a blessing from God. This is the level of deception we are under in America.) Further, does this notion of a "spirit of poverty" apply to joyous, Spirit-filled and Spirit-led believers in Mexico, India, Russia, etc. who spend all day just looking for meals or is it just applicable to American believers who aren't "supposed" to be poor because, by God, they're Americans! This phrase, a "spirit of poverty," truly is inaccurate (at best), unScriptural, demeaning to those to whom it is applied, and comes across as smugly superior in those who use it. Let us discard it once and for all and learn to speak the whole truth only in love.
This is the standard: Those who have more than enough are to share with those who have less than enough. It is that simple. Deception enters in when we self-servingly define "enough" in terms of luxuries and services that pamper our flesh and soul. Most Americans live in deception about money because their idea of "enough" has to have three or four (or more!) zeroes behind it.
Do you, the reader, own a video or DVD? Do you own a VCR, DVD player, computer or even a television? Do you have electricity? Do you have running water and indoor plumbing? Do you have any IRAs, stocks, bonds or even cash in a savings account? Do you own a Bible dictionary, concordance, commentaries or even more than one Bible? Do you have even a small block of time in which you are able to do whatever you want to do?
If you answer "yes" to any of these questions, you belong to the class of people with more than enough. This does not mean that these things are necessarily sin (except in the case of owning videos and/or DVDs filled with sin and violence that dishonors God). But they do tell you how to think about your responsibilities before God. You should be looking for ways to share your more than enough with those who would have to answer "no" to some or all of those questions.
In the case of someone having too many videos and DVDs, for example, this does not meant that you should take a portion of your videos and DVDs and share them with the poor but rather that you should liquidate some of these assets (and simply cease purchasing more) so that you can use your more than enough to give to the poor whatever it is that they truly need. Nor is this about raising the poor to the economic status that you enjoy - the attempt would very well prove impossible and abominable to God! Rather, you are called to use your resources to help the poor brother do whatever God has called him to do - at the least, use your resources to ease his sufferings in this life that he may yet learn to call upon a merciful, loving heavenly Father such as you call upon.
One idea that contributes strongly to the deceptions of Mammon in America (and similar cultures) is that of "mine." Most Americans who hold a steady job look upon monetary and financial income as mine to do with as seems right to me. Thus we construct a budget based on percentages or amounts needed that attends to our notions of what should be done with our money. In truth, this is only another form of lawlessness as we are simply and only doing what seems right in our own eyes - even when our ideas come from the Scriptures. God has not given us a financial, moral code by which we disperse our assets - He has given us a Head, Christ Jesus, who owns every aspect of our lives and who only waits for us to turn an attentive ear to His commands and desires.
A word that has fallen into disuse in the English language is "steward." A steward is a manager. He does not own the resources he controls. This is what we are called to be: Stewards. Proverbs tells us,
"The rich and the poor have this in common, the
Paul wrote, "Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful. Now these things, brethren, I have figuratively transferred to myself and Apollos for your sakes, that you may learn in us not to think beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up on behalf of one against the other. For who makes you differ from another? And what do you have that you did not receive? Now if you did indeed receive it, why do you glory as if you had not received it?" ( 1 Cor. 4:2 , 6-7; top ) There are many applications we can make from this passage. How we handle this world's goods is certainly one of the ideas Paul is discussing - though it is not the only one.
If our earnings from our job are truly something God has given us, what right do we have to boast about our ability to earn money? What superiority is there for a man with a thirty thousand dollar per year position over the man who utilizes other means to meet the needs of his family if both are obeying the call of God in their life? Though men naturally think the wealthier is superior, God does not see it as so. Money is not the scale on which God measures a man's value.
The American moneyed mentality is that more annual income means that the family is better cared for, better provided for. This fallacy is even recognized by parts of the world! Money to buy things and meet expenses is only one portion of a family's true needs. The presence of, love by and relationship with the husband and father is worth far more than the three or four (or more) zeroes we falsely believe to be part of "enough." Proverbs even commands us, "Do not overwork to be rich; because of your own understanding, cease! Will you set your eyes on that which is not? For riches certainly make themselves wings; they fly away like an eagle toward heaven." ( Prov. 23:4-5; top )
May God grant us a broader vision of what our real needs are and how we wallow in great financial excess at the expense of our natural families and of our family in Christ.
In Paul's description of godly, agape love, we find the word "charity" - at least in the old King James version and some other old English versions. This was changed in the Revised version because "charity" had come to mean "practical benevolence." It could refer to "random acts of kindness" or to systematic giving to some particular class of people. But this is not the agape love we are to express to one another.John wrote, "By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren." ( 1 Jn. 3:16 ) Jesus gave this same standard when He said, "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." ( Jn. 13:34-35; top )
The standard for giving is twofold: ability and leading. The man who possesses only a hundred dollars is not expected to give a thousand and the man whose time is consumed in feeding and caring for his own family is to be excused from other acts of service that would rob his family. The leading of the Lord is any prompting of the spirit (the heart - the renewed mind, will and emotions of the spirit) that is not "vetoed" by direct instruction from the Lord.
We will be required to sacrifice deeply for one another. The man who has only a hundred dollars may well be required to give it all to a man who has none. The man with only an hour to spare from his work to provide for his own family may well be required to use that hour to freely help his brother perform some menial and exhausting task. We must expect the Lord to require our own lives of us or else we are participating only in some fraudulent form of godliness that denies the real Power.
The practice of giving from our excess, while better than never giving, is still an abomination in the sight of the Lord when it only serves to exalt the giver and humiliate and enslave the recipient of our "charity."
The poor are sometimes told that they should expect nothing from their brothers and sisters in Christ but that they should look only to God for their supply. But is this Scriptural? No, nor is it even the historical examples left by the early people of Christ.
Church historian Bruce Shelley writes:
The impact of this ministry of mercy [Christian compassion for the bodies of the dead, especially the poor] upon pagans is revealed in the observation of one of Christianity's worst enemies, the apostate emperor Julian (332-63). In his day Julian was finding it more difficult than he had expected to put new life into the traditional Roman religion. He wanted to set aside Christianity and bring back the ancient faith, but he saw clearly the drawing power of Christian love in practice: "Atheism (i.e. Christian faith) has been specially advanced through the loving service rendered to strangers, and through their care for the burial of the dead. It is a scandal that there is not a single Jew who is a beggar, and that the godless Galileans care not only for their own poor but for ours as well; while those who belong to us look in vain for the help that we should render them." (Church History in Plain Language, p. 50)
My, how times have changed! The denominational and mega-"churches," whose charity organizations often rival the government's welfare system in bureaucracy, are not to be expected to understand the spiritual methods of giving that belong only to the Body of Christ - these are simply another of the world's religious systems and their leaders are unable to grasp even this elementary spiritual truth. The sad commentary on those who are able to grasp the truths about "church" is that they are still imprisoned by the traditions of vicarious giving to clergy, organizations and "ministries" and are equally unable to enter into the giving of the Spirit of God. Now the situation is reversed from the time of Julian - one is more likely to receive help from the government or the people who want nothing to do with God (most often because of the "church") than from the people who claim to belong to Christ. Most often, the poor now look in vain to their supposed brothers and sisters in Christ for help in time of need - even though their brothers, especially the American ones, are amply provided for and the Scriptures clearly command them to do so. (see Gal. 6:10 ; Tit. 2:14 ; Tit. 3:1 , 8 , 14 ; Jas. 2:15-16 ; 1 Jn. 3:16-18; top )
To the poor then, I must say, "Expect nothing from those who claim to be your brothers and sisters in Christ" - not because they owe you nothing but because, unless and until the Lord miraculously changes their hardened hearts, they will continue to exclude and neglect you and your needs while they pursue their own higher priorities of sporting events, physical exercise, personal entertainment and "church" "fellowship" (where they mingle only with those of like social standing and of like understandings of the Scriptures). The phrase "rich snobs" is all the more applicable to those who have freely received of the grace of God in Christ and in worldly possessions but who do not know how to freely give of what they have received.
Note wisely those who are wealthy but who are free of the control of Mammon. These are exceedingly few and far between and are worth far more than the dollars or time they invest in the lives of the poor. To the poor it must also be said, "Take care that your poverty does not become too great a burden on these very few. Just because the rest of your 'brothers' and 'sisters' won't help bear your burdens does not mean these few are able to carry what the whole Body was meant to carry."Many people with material resources excuse their neglect of the poor by saying, "It's just the will of God that these people are poor." As far as it goes, this is a truthful statement. The godly poor are poor because of the will of God - but it is so that the godly rich will have someone to share their resources and lives with! Not so the rich can look down their noses with religious disgust and smug superiority but rather so that those with supply can be knit and joined together with those who have need. It is that simple - but centuries of traditions of men have made it a muddied mess of theology, morality and ecclesiology.
The will of God is that we do good for all who are in need. "Give to everyone who asks of you... Love your enemies..." (How much more so your brothers in Christ?!?) "...do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Highest. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil. Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful." ( Lk. 6:30 , 35-36 - emphasis added; top)
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