Poverty and the Poor
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The last few days I have been thinking a lot about poverty and Lagos, Nigeria. My husband and I resided in Lagos during 2013-2015. We saw a lot of poverty as we traveled within the city. I know there is poverty in the United States, but the poverty in Lagos was different than what we had seen in the United States of America.
Poverty is a global problem, but the poverty I saw in Nigeria was more bothersome than what I had seen in the USA. Maybe it was because I was unaccustomed to it – maybe not. Each nation may have different issues to consider, but the results usually involve what most people think poverty is – a lack of food, clothing, and shelter. Knowing that poverty is a very complex issue, I decided to look at some of the issues that led up to poverty in Nigeria.
In Nigeria, many politicians were corrupt and governmental money was not being used to help the people in the country. We saw the imported products being unloaded from the docks because manufacturing, agriculture, and entrepreneurship were limited due to lack of education or funding available. Buildings dangerously toppled down from lack of codes or enforcement. Transportation and roads needed a throughout upgrading. Getting used to an electrical system where your electricity goes out 5-10 times per day was strange. Schools, hospitals, and medical facilities were in need of an upgrade. The majority of the economy’s focus was on oil production, but there was pilfering of oil, unequal distribution of the oil’s wealth, and disdain by many locals towards the oil companies. Beggars were commonplace. I ran into a lot of “workers” who felt they deserved a handout just because we supposedly had more money than they did. Paying a bribe for safety or special favors began to seem logical after a while. In our short time there, we experienced two close calls with criminal behavior. And being an avid newspaper reader, I read many newspaper articles about the living conditions of the people in the northeastern part of the country being killed and displaced due to the terrorist organization Boko Haram.
The first step of my research for this blog involved trying to figure out who really were “THE POOR.” I decided to search the Bible to find out what God had to say about the poor. While I couldn’t find a definitive definition in the Bible of who exactly the poor are, I found multiple words and phrases about the poor in Strong’s Concordance with Hebrew and Greek Lexicon. From various verses throughout the Bible, the poor were noted as weak, hungry, indigent, needy, of the lowest class, impoverished, reduced to beggary, afflicted, wretched, lean, powerless to accomplish and end. In addition, Strong’s mentions the Greek word ‘ptόchos’ defines the poor as:
One who crouches and cowers; beggarly; destitute. The Greek word ptōxόs defines the poor as deeply destitute, completely lacking resources (earthly wealth) – i.e. helpless as a beggar. It relates to “the pauper rather than the mere peasant, the extreme opposite of the rich.”
Andrew Wilson interviewed Natalie Williams in his article Who Are the Poor. In that article, Williams states,
One biblical characteristics of poverty is [you are] powerless to raise yourself out of your circumstances.”
It is my opinion that since not all poor people are destitute, it would be wise to look at poverty and the poor in the context of each Scripture that addresses the issue. That is a challenging task since the word ‘poor’ and/or related words are mentioned in the King James Bible hundreds of times.
- Poor – 205 times
- Poorer – 1 time
- Poverty – 15 times
- Beggar – 3 times
- Destitute – 8 times
- Needy – 38 times
- Penury – 2 times
Living in Nigeria made me wonder what God’s attitude toward poverty is. I noticed that poverty was affecting good people as well as bad people —maybe not equally, though. I noticed many Godly people who were poor and I noticed many ungodly people who were rich. It saddened me to see the shame, struggles, and ruin that affected many poor people, but it also saddened me to see the rich and famous lack humility, peace, and an ungodly lifestyle. My conclusion regarding poverty is that poverty does not have to lead to an ungodly life, but life is still tough. In the Bible, the word ‘poor’ most often referred to a person’s economic situation. But in each Biblical and/or current story on poverty, the causes and circumstances surrounding poverty are very different and complex.
Possible Causes of Poverty
- Sin; Genesis 3:17-19
- Trials/Misfortunes/Bad decisions i.e. stock market crash, bad investment, illness; Job 1:13-21
- Lack of discipline; Proverbs 13:18
- Idleness; Proverbs 10:4
- Neglect in giving; Proverbs 28:22
- Divine punishment; Proverbs 22:16
- Injustice; Proverbs 13:23
- Debt; Matthew 18:23-25
- Natural occurrences, i.e., tsunami, famine, tornado, hurricane, flooding; Genesis 47:20-22
Sometimes our attitude towards the poor has to do with why we “feel” a person is poor. We might not feel sorry for a person when they are poor because they don’t want to work and are just expecting a handout. When I see people asking for money on the street corners, I am a skeptic most of the time. I wonder why they are experiencing poverty or if they are really poor or even a fraud. I wonder what the cause of their poverty might be and then I make a judgment call. Whether that is acceptable or not, I do know that God is very specific about how He wants the poor to be treated.
How Should ‘The Poor’ be Treated?
- The poor should be treated fairly. Exodus 23:6
- The poor should not be mistreated. Galatians 6:9-10
- The poor should be cared for. Luke 3:11
- The poor should be helped generously. Jeremiah 39:10
- The poor should have special privileges. Exodus 23:11
We should show compassion for the poor among us. When we look at the early church, we see a Godly attitude shown by the first believers toward the poor. We see Jesus having compassion on the poor. The Bible says that when we show compassion toward the poor we will be rewarded. The Bible even gives some examples of the poor we should help – the orphans and the widows specifically. [Note: The family should be the first to help relatives, especially the orphans and widows in need.]
- Poverty will always exist in this world. Matthew 26:11
- God is concerned about poverty. Psalm 14:6
- People in poverty are expected to work if possible. 2 Thessalonians 3:10
- Family members are to help their poor relatives. 1 Timothy 5:8, 16
- People who are financially able should help the poor, i.e. gifts, food, clothing. Ephesians 4:28
- The church should help the poor. Acts 15:26
So far, I have spoken only of the physically poor. However, there is also the spiritual poor – those without Jesus Christ in their lives. And just as there are reasons for physical poverty, there are reasons for spiritual poverty. One may lack faith, understanding, or knowledge of God. This is where those who understand the redemptive power of Jesus Christ must pray for the Holy Spirit to change a person’s heart so that they will be drawn into loving relationship with Jesus. God does hear the prayers of the poor in spirit who are willing to trust Him for their daily needs.
I once saw a lady in Lagos on the street begging as she wearily walked up and down between the cars. Her shirt top was pulled down as she was nursing twins – one on each breast. She wore raggedy clothing. Her facial expression exhibited true despair. Her body screamed “malnutrition.” I don’t know about you, but in my estimate, she qualified as being one of the poor. You will run into people throughout your life that God will call you to minister to. They may be needy; they may be destitute; they may even be faking poverty. But by using your God-given wisdom and discernment abilities, He will show you what He wants you to do or how to help the poor! He really will!!!
Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors him. Proverbs 14:31
For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? Matthew 16:26
Heavenly Father, when we see weariness, distress, and poverty, please allow us to discern who you want us to minister to – both physically and spiritually. Open our eyes to see everything we encounter through your eyes. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
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Web Page: www.PattiGreene.com
Strong’s Concordance with Hebrew and Greek Lexicon. 14 March 2016. Online. EliYah.com.
Wilson, Andrew. “Who are the Poor? A Conversation with Natalie Williams.” 14 Oct 2015. Web. 13 March 2016.
Zondervan Dictionary of Bible Themes. Ed.Martin H. Manser. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999.