1. Neglecting the Poor

Poverty in the Body of Christ

Neil Girrard
Scriptures Referenced in This Article:
          (Follow the Scripture links if you want to study the Scriptures for yourself.)
Prov. 14:20 π Prov. 19:4 π Jer. 12:5 π Mt. 6:24 π Mt. 6:33 π Mt. 25:44-46 π Mk. 7:13 π Mk. 10:17-22 π Lk. 9:58 π Jn. 13:3-5 π Jn. 13:15 π 2 Cor. 10:12 π Phlp. 1:6 π Col 2:18-19 π Jas. 1:27 π 1 Pet. 2:21 π 1 Jn. 3:17-19 π Rev. 13:16-17 π Rev. 14:9-11

The Lord is giving a word to those who can and will hear it. This word is primarily addressed to those American believers and those other believers whose financial status places them in the world's top ten percent income bracket. Americans, on the average, earn or enjoy around thirty thousand dollars per year. Only a handful of other nations have such a high average per capita income. This is not some "magic line" over which you are rich and under which you are poor. Rather, it is simply a clear indication of the gross imbalance of wealth that Americans, on the average, enjoy. But even the world's standard of "poverty" (approximately ten to fifteen thousand dollars per year depending on how many children one has) is a standard that is well into the status of "wealthy" when viewed from an objective, world-wide perspective.

Thus, this message is primarily for those Americans whose average income places them within the parameters of being what the New Testament calls "wealthy and rich," a category filled with spiritual dangers and temptations which can be ruinous, even fatal, to our life in Christ.

It must be stated immediately that there are many, even within this group of wealthy believers, who do not need to hear this word at all - they are already obedient to the Lord in this area. There are others who need to hear this word only to encourage them to greater obedience in this area. But before you exempt yourself from considering yourself as one who needs to hear this word from the Lord, I strongly encourage you to be certain that the Lord considers you exempt. His opinion and yours just might be very different in this matter.

It is an oddity that most Americans do not consider themselves rich or wealthy in the New Testament sense. This is largely because most think almost exclusively in terms of cash flow. Because there is only a "small" amount of money left at the end of each month after paying the regular expenses, most Americans consider themselves "poor" or, at most, "lower middle class" when, in fact, their lifestyle, even that of believers, is that of self-centered wealth, luxury and extravagance - a fact underscored by the hatred, envy, jealousy and animosity generated against Americans in many Third World countries. The lifestyle of most Americans, even believers and self-proclaimed followers of Christ who had no where to lay His head ( Lk. 9:58; top ), with their electricity, indoor plumbing, and well-built, well-heated homes, is better than that of most kings of the past.

Because most Americans don't consider themselves wealthy and because they have never been truly poor, few will be able to immediately grasp the fullness of this word from the Lord. Thus, there needs to be some explaining, some "opening up," of this word even though the application of it for each individual will be different. But for those who will recognize that this word is from the Lord and that it is, in part or in whole, applicable to them, these ones will receive God's grace, His enabling power to overcome sin and self, and will be enabled to practice greater obedience in this area - even if a full understanding of this word is absent at first reading.

The word from the Lord is this:

"You are neglecting the poor because you allow your culture - and not My Spirit - to shape your understanding."

Because we have been exposed to centuries of tradition and deceptions, we will have to dissect or "open up" this word so that we might grasp what the Lord is really saying to us.

First, who are "the poor"? James wrote, "Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble..." ( Jas. 1:27 ) And Jesus said, "Then they also will answer Him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?' Then He will answer them, saying, 'Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.' And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life." ( Mt. 25:44-46; top )

From the Scriptures, we can easily identify "the poor" as "the orphans, the widows and the least of Christ's brothers." But what is to be our response to these people's economic conditions?

The traditional tactic among wealthy believers has been to pass a plate to take up donations that would both attend to the needs of the poor and pay the salaries of the professional staff who are then to attend to those matters. In reality, the "solution" to poverty of giving cash to someone as a means of "meeting the needs of the poor" does little more than humiliate the poor, foster the poor's reliance upon the giver and then leaves that giver with a smug sense of subtle superiority. Personal service, where the giver helps the poor reach a specific goal that liberates the poor from the trap of ongoing poverty, even when it involves giving cash, most often encourages the poor and humbles the rich. And, guess what! Upon receiving the revelation that every believer is a priest of God. you, the reader (assuming you are a genuine believer and follower of Christ), and every other believer in Christ, are the "professional staff" whose responsibility it is to attend to the "orphans, widows and leasts." Clearly, the Lord is not saying that we should simply increase the amount of money we blindly drop in an offering plate - and He is clearly not wanting us to relinquish that responsibility for ministering to these people to a special class of clergy or servants who will do our duty for us.

A second traditional tactic is to form a "Ministry to the Orphans, Widows and Leasts" and, usually on a weekly, monthly or semi-annual basis, gather a handful of saints (often by some form of religious manipulation and/or guilt trip) to go and visit some portion of these poor folks as if the mere presence of these saints once in a while truly met their most pressing needs. Clearly, this too is not what the Lord is calling upon us to do.

Yet another traditional tactic is to assume that "the poor" refers to the nameless unfortunates overseas in some Third World country or to those willfully homeless hobos who lurk downtown in America's larger cities. This is simply not so. "The poor" is a relative term and refers to anyone and everyone who has less of this world's goods than we do. Sometimes "the poor" is our neighbor or someone who would (if it weren't for our wealth that enables us to blindly commute past them) otherwise be in our regular circle of fellowship. Most often, "the poor" are very close to us but "hidden" from our view because we turn a blind eye to their needs (either because we are so self-centered that no one, including the poor, ever enters into the equation that determines our actions or because we are so offended by their "impoverished" lifestyle that we feel guilty about our own excesses and extravagances or because of whatever other excuse we allow ourselves). In view of the fact that the vast majority of the world population lives far below the so-called poverty line (those who earn less than around ten thousand dollars per year - nearly three fourths of the world's population), it is American arrogance to assume that no American-born believer could ever be poor and be perfectly within the will of God for their lives. In truth, the American poor are here as a rebuke and a reminder that it is not only the foreign poor that we will ignore. Clearly, the Lord is not calling upon us to look for distant foreigners and unknown strangers or to go far out of our normal, everyday life to find "orphans, widows and leasts" upon whom we can lavish His love and care. Rather, He is calling upon us to humbly repent and shed the veil which covers our eyes and hearts so that we might see what He sees and desire what He desires.

To begin to get a better idea of the mockery modern religion has done to the Lord's intent, let us make a forgery of a certain passage of Scripture.

Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going to God, called upon Judas Iscariot, who kept the money bag, and sent him out to find and hire a servant to wash the disciples' feet.

That's not quite how it happened, was it? No.

Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going to God, rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself. After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded. ( Jn. 13:3-5 - emphasis added; top)

It is important that we notice that this episode is one of the only two times the New Testament says that Christ left an example for us to follow. (see Jn. 13:15 ; also see 1 Pet. 2:21; top ) What we are to give most to the "orphans, widows and leasts" in our lives may not be money - it may well be our time and humble (and humbling) service. It is true that most American believers, so immersed in the deceitful traditions of vicarious giving, have little or no knowledge of how to attend to the needs of the poor and are often offended at the notion that they need to humble themselves to do some "dirty work."

It is not enough to have a generic label of "orphans, widows and leasts." We must personally identify who the "orphans, widows and leasts" are in our lives. There is someone we most likely already know - a family, a couple, a child, a single man, a single mother, an elderly man or woman, someone - whom the Lord has given us the particular responsibility to love as if they were our own immediate family. Obviously, only the Lord can tell you who - and how many of them there are - that "someone" is. Equally obviously, only the Lord can tell you to what extent you are to lay down your own life to serve their needs. But know clearly that there is someone - perhaps more than one person if you are particularly wealthy in terms of this world's goods and/or time to serve.

Once we have determined "Who?", the question turns to "How?" To begin with, the Lord is calling upon us to get rid of our own excesses and self-centered extravagances. To be wealthy is not a sin - to be wealthy and lavish that wealth only or mostly upon ourselves is. And hoarding and stockpiling our wealth in the last days will not only prove to be ludicrous and foolish, it will one day be seen as the mean-spirited, hard-heartedness it really is. So let us look for some practical ways we can begin to move into the Lord's will for our lives.

Perhaps the junk that is collecting dust in our closets, garages and attics or the "retirement nest egg" that is collecting interest in a savings account is really siphoning away our faith in the Lord and these need to be liquidated and dispersed to others. Perhaps several families need to team together and make extra mortgage payments for one another so that their personal debt is eliminated and cash flow is made available for "orphans, widows and leasts." Perhaps our house is too large or our car too extravagant and we need to downsize. Perhaps we assign too much money to food, clothing, entertainment, jewelry or some other self-centered pleasure. Perhaps we are "tithing to our pastor" - a concept and practice not to be found in the New Testament and something we practice, not because the Lord has personally called upon us to do this but rather because of our religious traditions (which make the word of God of no effect - Mk. 7:13; top ) - and we have nothing left to give to "orphans, widows and least." Whatever the needed change in our lifestyle may be, only the Lord can tell us what it is. Any man who tries to tell us specifically what and how much - except those prophets speaking clear, precise corrective words from the Lord which echo exactly what the Lord has been trying to get us to hear from His mouth - is simply lording it over us. It is only important that the Lord holds us blameless in these matters - it matters not what any other man "understands" or thinks about what we are doing if we are truly obeying God.

When our faith has been proven before God by the removal of what we believe to be our excess, God will begin to purge our hearts and redefine what are our "needs" and what is our "excess." Then He will call upon us to remove that excess as well - as this is the only way to truly live in liberty from the things of this world. When our faith has been strengthened to that extent, then He will call upon us to give out of our sustenance - our necessities, our "food budget," our funds set aside to pay mortgages and utilities - so that, in contrast to our worldly "wisdom," He can demonstrate in any number of ways that He is quite capable of being our sufficiency.

Be warned though. Our enemy the devil will imitate God's voice and try in every way to get us to take these steps of faith prematurely - and we will fall flat on our face and be tempted to doubt God's faithfulness. Wait, wait, wait upon the Lord for specific leading and timing as to how and when and to what extent to make these steps of faith. He is not calling upon us to obey some generic process of building our faith. He is calling upon us to hear His voice and obey Him in all things.

Why is this attending to the "orphans, widows and leasts" so important? John wrote, "But whoever has this world's goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in Him? My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth. And by this we know that we are of the truth..." ( 1 Jn. 3:17-19; top ) In short, it's how we know that Christ's Spirit is truly within us! Those who are genuinely led by the Spirit of the Lord will routinely attend to the needs of the "orphans, widows and leasts" in their lives - and it will not primarily be some burden or duty but rather mostly a joyous labor of love. Those who are merely religious - trying to do something for God but not of Him - will routinely pass the "orphans, widows and leasts" by as they attend to what they perceive their religious duty to be, whether that be routine "church" attendance or some philanthropic or even "Bible-based" "ministry" that is devoid of God's participation and leadership.

It is important that we serve only God. Jesus said, "No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon." ( Mt. 6:24; top ) The New Testament is replete with instructions about how to serve God, but how do you serve the god, Mammon, that is, riches and wealth? In a word, you serve Mammon when you let your money and resources serve you and not the kingdom of God. It is that subtle.

Read it again.

You serve the god Mammon (riches and wealth) when your money and resources serve you and your agendas and do nothing for the real kingdom of God.

Most Americans, because of the grossly affluent culture, are steeped in the practice of pursuing wealth as a way of life and most are often not even aware that their lifestyle, even when lived in what most consider "moderation," is still being lived in obedience to the principles of Mammon and not in obedience to the Person and Spirit of Christ. And serving Mammon precludes us from even being able to serve God. It is that deceptive and it is that dangerous.

There is yet another reason for learning to live without wealth and excess now. There is soon coming a day when we will be forced to give up all ability to use money. Unless we take the coming mark of the world's financial system - an act which finally and permanently declares our open enmity against God - we will not be able to buy or sell goods. (see Rev. 13:16-17 ; 14:9-11; top ) Even if we hold clear title on our own property or land, we will not be able to pay the taxes or maintain the utilities on our home and it will be taken from us. Even if we own our own vehicle, we will not be able to buy fuel nor pay for the mandatory insurance the authorities demand of us nor keep up with the registration and licensing fees and, at the least, the use our vehicle will, one way or another, be taken from us. Those who deem it impossible to live without their excess now will not be able to resist taking the mark then (see Jer. 12:5 (top) - and the doom of those who take the mark is promised and certain. In the day of trouble that is coming upon the whole world, the paltry goods and moneys we have hidden away will not be able to help us - and when the day of trouble is over, our goods and money will have no value whatsoever. Use them now, as the Lord guides, to store up treasures in heaven that can never be taken away.

Do not rely on the "pre-trib rapture" theory to guarantee an escape from the time of the mark of the beast. The "rapture" is not God's method of maturing and purifying the bride of Christ - suffering, obedience, trials and tribulations are the tools He uses to accomplish this purpose. Be wise - be prepared now.

This word from the Lord - that we are neglecting the poor because our materialistic culture blinds us to the Lord's agenda - speaks against the deeply buried, self-centered tendencies we all possess in our flesh and in our souls. Solomon touched on this tendency when he wrote,

"The poor man is hated even by his own neighbor, but the rich has many friends. Wealth makes many friends, but the poor is separated from his friend." ( Prov. 14:20 ; 19:4; top )

As a result of the Fall, there is something within the human heart that withdraws itself from those who have less. This aspect of fallen human nature is greatly enhanced by the American attitudes of rugged independence and is a very real impediment to the growth and health of the body of Christ. This reluctance to be in or near poverty is as innate as any other sinful tendency but, because wealth and poverty are so interconnected with our level of creature comfort and our sense of security, it is difficult to speak of these matters without offending even those who seek to be obedient to the Lord in the area of their finances. Satan loves that this is so as it gives him great advantage in his war against the people who would belong to Christ.

The real key here is: What standard are we living by? Are we, by the Spirit, living according to the dictates, the desires, the impulses from the Head Christ Jesus? If so, we may or may not have wealth - and it won't matter because we are as capable of having it as we are of giving it (all of it if the Lord says to!) away at a moment's notice. And we may even be "poor" in the world's definitions of poverty and that too will not matter because as we seek first God's kingdom and His righteousness, we will have enough. ( Mt. 6:33 ) Or, are we looking at our neighbors or our fellow countrymen or the wealthy, leisure class who live much more extravagantly than we do and use their lifestyle to justify ours? Comparing ourselves with ourselves is neither godly nor wise. ( 2 Cor. 10:12 ) There is always someone who is more sinful than we are - but that is only a distraction away from the One who is our true Standard. We must stop refusing to recognize our self-centered, luxuriant, extravagant lifestyles as being sinful - even when they are modest in comparison to others. We must be careful to remain connected to the Head Christ Jesus or we will become puffed up with vain knowledge and we will not be truly united with our brothers, especially the poor among us. ( Col 2:18-19; top )

To those who are offended at this word (as was the rich young ruler of Mk. 10:17-22; top ), I can only say: Repent and seek the Lord while He may be found.

To those who receive this word from the Lord but who tremble at its applications, I can only repeat what the Scriptures say: He who began this good work in you is faithful to complete it. ( Phlp. 1:6; top ) Submit yourselves only to God, obey only Him and you will see this word worked out in your life - and His peace and joy will attend you as you go. Besides, to whom else can you turn for eternal life?

To all I say: Resist the hand of God in your life at your own risk.

Prologue π 2. Dealing With the Impoverished
Poverty in the Body of Christ

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