Monday, November 15, 2010

What's Best Next: Why We Need to Give Creative and Competent Thought to Addressing Global Poverty Part I

Hello all,

I thought this post would be a good follow up to yesterdays post on productivity in which we established the connection between the Gospel, good works and productivity with the help of the Bible and Matt Perman. Today we will again turn to Mr. Perman for insight into another issue; the issue of poverty.


Psalm 41:1 says “Blessed is he who considers the poor.” In his commentary on the Psalms, Derek Kidner points out: “The word considers is striking, in that it usually describes the practical wisdom of the man of affairs, and so implies giving careful thought to this person’s situation, rather than perfunctory help.”

Tim Keller draws out the implications of this in Ministries of Mercy: “God requires not only a significant expenditure of our substance on the needy. We are obligated to spend our hearts and minds as well. . . . We are to ponder the condition of the poor and seek ways to bring them to self-sufficiency. This takes a personal investment of time and of mental and emotional energy. God looks for a willing, generous heart, which freely helps those in need, and what we give with our hands is not acceptable without it (2 Cor 9:7).

So we are to be eager, not begrudging, in helping the poor and we are to give thought to how to do this in a way that helps bring them out of poverty over time, rather than merely doing a few things here and there.

Both of these are related. For if we are eager to help others, including the poor, this implies that we will give careful consideration to how we do it, even creating plans and generating ideas and initiatives to serve with insight in ways that help over the long term. And it means, when possible, we will ultimately seek to address root causes rather than give relief only — as important as relief itself is, all on its own.

Job is an example of this. In chapter 29 he mentions how he not only provided relief to those in need, but also “broke the fangs of the unrighteous and made him drop his prey from his teeth” (v. 17). As Keller points out in his article The Gospel and the Poor, the prophets also denounced “corrupt business practices (Amos 8:2-16), legal systems weighted in favor of the rich and influential (Deut. 24:17; Lev. 19:15), [and] a system of lending capital that gouges the person of modest means (Lev. 19:35-37; 25:37; Ex 22:25-27).”

So we should both seek to provide relief and have a view towards helping the poor become self-sufficient, ultimately seeking to address the root causes that keep people in poverty.

Mr. Perman makes persuasive arguments for why we should care about the issue of poverty. Often the "root cause" of poverty is based in a need for the Gospel which adds a new and extremely important dimension to the issue of global poverty. However, the Bible itself speaks to the issue so clearly that it's a sad testament to our culture and church today that we need the 'Matt Permans' of the world to make this case and stir us to action.

For instance, Isaiah 58:10 says: "if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday."

Proverbs 41:1 says: "Blessed is the one who considers the poor! In the day of trouble the LORD delivers him"

Proverbs 21:13 says: "Whoever closes his ear to the cry of the poor will himself call out and not be answered."

In my own life, the most convicting passage in scripture relating to poverty has to be Matthew 25:31-40.

"31 "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. 34Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.' 37Then the righteous will answer him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?' 40And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me'."

If we need more reasons for helping and caring for the poor and hungry after that we have massive heart problems. I remember as a small boy, (*does his best old man imitation*) listening to thousands of hours worth of Your Story Hour with Aunt Sue and Uncle Dan (it is now Aunt Carol and Uncle Dan). I loved them then and still love them now, as I recall many of their stories that have stuck in my mind. I remember a bunch of their stock sound effects, the voices of their actors, and most importantly - the rich truths their stories illustrated and communicated to youths such as myself. The one story that I recall most vividly though, was the one in which they illustrated the the principle of "whatsoever ye have done to these the least of thy brethren ye have done it unto me". I can't recall the name of that exact episode and can't find it in their online store (it would take to long to give the details of the story itself...perhaps digging through old cassettes will yield some fruit) but I don't have enough space to tell you how vital that understanding was to a young mind (I was probably in the 6-10 year range when I listened to them the most) in compelling me to evaluate all my actions not in light of how I felt, but in light of what I was doing to and for Christ. I can point to that realization as one of the turning points in my walk with the Lord.

The point of that story, beyond indulging my reminiscent mindset, is to say that this is a powerful and simple truth that can and should impact servants of the Gospel from a very young age.

Yet, it seems more than a little absent in our culture.

How tragically sad.

May it never be said of us that when Christ was hungry and thirsty we gave Him neither food nor drink. Or, when Christ was a stranger, we did not welcome Him. That when He was naked we did not clothe Him and when He was sick or in prison we did not visit Him.

The calling is clearly laid before us. We should feed the poor, as many as we can, because we are doing it unto Him. Now, let us each go forth and live out Matthew 25:31-40!

Tomorrow or the next day we'll explore practical elements of how to feed the poor, so be sure to come back and catch Part II! :-)

God bless!

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