Who is more poor?

The Christian world today is becoming more and more involved, and sometimes obsessed, with serving the poor.  And in many ways, this is a good thing since the church at large has remained comfortable for so long behind her 4 walls.  So, I do applaud the church for taking some radical steps to start serving the poor.  But I’m starting to think that there is another definition of poor, or perhaps that we need to re-define the word poor.  So, here’s the question that Maria and I have been wrestling with lately:

Which is more poor?  Is it the person who only maybe eats one meal a day, has one set of clothes, has a 4th grade education, and goes to church 3 times a week to hear God’s Word, rejoice in His promises, and worship Him among other believers, then returns home to sleep with their 5 children in their tiny one room house?  Or is it the 2 income family who has a child in University, has a nice car, nice house, but absolutely no knowledge of the gospel of Jesus Christ because they have never heard the message of salvation because they live in a country where there is no Christian witness, no church, no missionaries, no Christian outreach. Nothing.  So, they live their comfortable lives of pleasure, greed, and hedonism because that’s all they know,without realizing that they are headed towards eternal destruction.

So…who do you think is more poor?  Whom would Jesus say is more poor?

3 thoughts on “Who is more poor?

  1. I would say there is no easy answer as to who Jesus would say is “poor.” Churches have, over the centuries, consistently tried to rework the term “poor” so as not to have any responsibility for those mired in poverty. While I know that the spirit in which you are asking the question does not resemble this avoidance, so many suburban and upper-class churches have used precisely this type of leading question to say that the pious “poor” don’t really require much attention. There is a reason the Gospels warn against the hedonism of wealth. It is not because the rich are actually poor. It is because the rich are part of a sick society, and because concern for those who are languishing is lacking in that society’s culture.

    Can people who are poor live a deeper, holier life than those who are wealthy? Of course– the widow’s coins do not measure up monetarily, but in the kingdom of heaven they represent truer faith. But that does not mean we just change the conception of poverty to exclude considerations of food, poverty, education, health care, race, gender, and nationality.

    We need to minister to the wealthy, as they face special challenges. Jesus challenged his audience’s conception of who was worthy by showing the Samaritan could be a better “neighbor” than the more privileged Pharisee or Sadduccee. That did not mean the Pharisee was “poor”– it meant they were out of step with a true relationship with God. Jesus challenged the righteous “Dives” (rich man) to give up his possession if he really wanted to be a disciple. He did not say “You are actually ‘poor.” So I think we need to careful about how we cast being “poor.” Rethinking what makes life fulfilling definitely requires recognizing that wealth does not equal happiness. But being poor, suffering material poverty, is still a hardship, and the prophets, from Micah to Amos to Jesus, all knew that it was a social disgrace for them to be ignored and mistreated while leaders and the powerful stayed complacent in luxury. We can’t just preach to folks who are poor, but we can’t lose the prophetic edge when preaching either.

    Thank you for you post.

  2. Thomas, Thank you for your comment. I do agree with what you said about the church at large over the years trying to write their own definition so that they can stay in their own comfort zone. And this is not good. But my post was really written from more of a missional perspective. I believe, as I see the Gospel testifies, that those without Christ are indeed the poorest of all people. After all, Jesus states, “What should it profit a man if he gain the whole world, yet lose his own soul?”

    So, I see in the Bible clear as day that the church is indeed called to minister to the needs of the poor, first to those within the local body, and then to the stranger. I couldn’t agree with you more. But from a missional perspective, I think that we need to remember that those without Christ are indeed the poorest of the poor, and we must not forget about entire nations that have no gospel witness. These nations may be advanced and materially wealthy or living in poverty, but I believe in God’s eyes, these are indeed the poorest of the poor because they have no one to explain to them the riches that are found in the Gospel of Jesus. Hope that clears up the intent of my post. God bless you.

  3. Hi Cody,
    I’m curious which country or countries have people that can live comfortably materially as you described and have no Christian witness? I agree that there are countries yet without a witness, but I don’t think they are industrial nations. I do whole heartedly agree that those without Jesus are the true poor! I read your blog often and have been praying for your family and ministry for some time now!
    His peace for you,
    Vicki

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