What are we supposed to think and do about poverty?

An indelible image in my mind while growing up in northern Canada was of grown men sleeping in our town’s Greyhound bus station with no place to go and nothing to eat.  Years later while living in tropical Brazil our family saw poverty as we had never seen it before.  As I have traveled the world, many images are burned into my mind of ragged children begging for food, of adults scrounging for anything they can find in garbage heaps in Latin America, Africa and Asia; of mothers lying on the streets with dying infants in their arms. All of these images and many more represent the 40% of the world’s population living on less than $2.50 per day and crammed into the slums of the world’s great cities.

What am I supposed to think?  How did Jesus think? What do the scriptures teach?  One thing is for sure – if I had a dollar for every time I have heard the utterance of Jesus, “the poor you will always have with you” as a defense for lack of action, I would be quite wealthy I think.  Certainly he was not saying, “Don’t worry about such things, it is clearly God’s will.”  Such illogic flies in the face of all the rest of Biblical teaching.

Jesus may have been quoting Deuteronomy 15:11 but it was as a call to action, “…open your hand freely to your poor and to your needy kin…”  God cares about the poor and charity (to address immediate needs) is clearly an important principle for all of us as demonstrated by Jesus.  However charity is not enough; it does not solve problems in the long run.  Poverty will not be solved by massive redistribution of wealth (as proposed by some church councils and major governments).  Poverty will be eased and dignity restored when root causes are addressed and we encourage a hand up rather than a hand out.  Addressing poverty in a responsible way is a part of how we live out the kingdom of God in our day.

Theologian Wayne Grudem states it well, “…I believe the only long-term solution to world poverty is business.  That is because business produces goods, and businesses produce jobs.  And businesses continue producing goods year after year, and continue providing jobs and paying wages year after year.  Therefore if we are ever going to see long-term solutions to world poverty, I believe it will come through starting and maintaining productive, profitable business.” (Wayne Grudem, 2003)1

The BAM Think Tank task force addressed these issues in their report, Business as Mission and the End of Poverty.  Most of us may not read this excellently done 74-page report, but you will be happy to know that there is a short version and I highly recommend it. Check it out at: http://businessasmission.com/bam-end-poverty.  It is a wonderful summary of why the issue of poverty is a central focus of Business as Mission.

BAM is a key demonstration of obedience to the Great Commandment of Jesus to “love your neighbor.”  It is the modern equivalent of Jesus asking the poor and disenfranchised, “What do you want?” (Mark 10:51)2  Their answer: a good job.3

For further insights on this subject I recommending reading and viewing:

  • Corbett, S. & Fikkert, B.  When Helping Hurts- How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor and Yourself
  • Lupton, Robert D.  Toxic Charity – How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help
  • Martin, Jonathan. Giving Wisely – Killing with Kindness or Empowering Lasting Transformation
  • Moyo, Dambisa. Dead Aid – Why Aid is not Working and How There is a Better Way for Africa
  • Poverty Cure – From Aid to Enterprise  (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UxASM44gPlU)


Larry W. Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

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