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Christian Ethics: Lesson 010

Christian Ethics Free Course:  LESSON TEN: THE POOR

We live in a divided world. It is the world of the haves and the have nots, of the stark division between rich and poor, of the economic oppressors and the oppressed.

At a time when the techno-nations enjoy a wealth unparalleled in human history, over five hundred million people are starving to death and another one billion are suffering chronic malnutrition. Untold millions more struggle against the daily deprivation wrought by unending poverty – they are powerless, in poor health, lacking education, constantly weary and dying prematurely.

Earn £100 a week and your poor two-thirds-world counterpart will earn only £10. – Or even less. But things are not ten times cheaper for him. Your poor neighbour is in real terms often ten times worse off than you.

Or look at it this way. The USA uses only seventeen per cent of its disposable income on food. The other eighty-three per cent is spent on medicine, education, comfortable living and defence. But a nation like India has to spend no less than sixty-seven per cent of its disposable income on food, leaving only a third of what is a much less valuable sum anyway, available for everything else.

The problem is exacerbated in many developing countries because small elites often hold the majority of the nation’s wealth. For example, in Brazil some five per cent of the population holds thirty-eight per cent of the wealth. In these countries a global process known as evisceration takes place with particular fierceness. (Emisseration is that process where the rich become both fewer and richer while the poor become poorer and more numerous. Disaster is inevitable if the process is not reversed.)

The International Monetary Fund was set up ostensibly to assist the funding of developing countries. However, because of the high interest rates, these countries have often been unable to pay off the loans.

As a result they have had to borrow, at a rate of interest, in order to pay the interest on the first loan. Soon they can’t pay this either and have to borrow again – at a rate of interest.

It is becoming impossible for some third-world countries ever to pay their debts. And what they can pay demands high taxation on the very people who should have received the benefit of the original loan.

A fluctuation in the interest rates can mean death by taxation for those at the bottom of the social scale.

Nor is it simply possible for loan repayments to be waived. Such is the magnitude of the debt that this would have serious repercussions for Western economies. And indeed for our pensioners, as many pension schemes depend on overseas investment. We live increasingly in a global village.

Tackling the problem of world poverty is a major item for the agenda as we enter the 21st century. But it has only recently become part of the evangelical agenda. Why?

(i) Reaction of Evangelicals

For most of this century evangelicals have taken very little interest in the plight of the poor. Part of the reason has been a sinful middle- class complacency, itself made possible by the acquisition of wealth gleaned from the poor of the world. Such an attitude would have earned the indignation of the prophets. Read what Amos has to saw about it: “They trample on the heads of the poor as upon the dust of the ground and deny justice to the oppressed. Father and son use the same girl and so profane My holy name.” (Amos 2:7)

There is also a theological reason. Towards the end of the last century there developed what became known as the ‘social gospel.’ This was a theologically liberal response to the view, born of ‘education’, that traditional biblical Christianity was no longer tenable. What was left for the church to do? Why, justify its existence by ministering to the needs of society.

Evangelicals, who had always done this as an expression of their faith, now reacted by putting the emphasis on holding to ‘the truth once for all delivered to the saints’. They retreated en masse into their church services and began to decline.

The development of Christian Socialism further compounded this by bringing in a political element that many of the middle classes found unacceptable. This presents itself in a modern, more extreme form in many third world countries with what is known as liberation theology – ‘Christianised’ revolutionary Marxism – as we have seen in an earlier lesson.

Liberation theology redefines the gospel in sociopolitical terms. It seeks biblical support in the liberation of the Israelites from Egypt and the heroic death of the revolutionary, Jesus.

‘Salvation’ is thus redefined, being worked out in the struggle for economic justice against the exploitation of people by people; in the struggle for human dignity against political oppression of men and women by their fellow human beings; in the struggle for solidarity against the alienation of person from person; in the struggle of hope against despair in personal life.

Mere charitable action is viewed as an actual hindrance to the need for fundamental change in the political structures which create poverty. If necessary, violent means may be used to bring this about.

Needless to say, evangelicals have been extremely guarded about these developments, though a younger generation is less patient.

2. BIBLICAL VIEWPOINT

What does the Bible have to say on these issues? Quite a lot! The biblical writers have none of our reticence in talking about money, and they certainly don’t duck the issue of poverty.

A. CONCERN FOR THE POOR:

God wants us to be concerned about the plight of the poor.

We have already noted the blunt prophecies of Amos which will not allow us to hide under a cloak of religion. What is true fasting all about? Isaiah gives the answer (see Isaiah 58:6-10): “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter – when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I. If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.

James defines the essence of practical Christianity to include care for the poor of the day: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (Jas 1:27)

And, in a most amazing statement, Jesus assesses the difference between the sheep and the goats, not on the basis of professed faith in
Him, but on the basis of who serves Him by ministering to the needy (Matthew 25:31-46).

A significant part of Paul’s apostolic ministry consisted in raising money in order to provide for famine relief. In 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 he reveals his heart in this. Note his answers to the following questions:

*What is the great motivation to give? (8:9)

*Do you have to be rich to give? (8: 1-3)

*What is the measure of our reaping? (9:6)

*What is a sign of God’s righteousness? (9:9)

*What else happens when we supply the needs of the poor? (9: l 2)

Although Jesus came seeking all people, his ministry had a significant impact among the poor (Matthew 11:5). The feeding of the five thousand and of the four thousand, though by no means famine relief, nonetheless tells us that Jesus was concerned with the whole person and not just the spiritual aspect. There is also a hint in the miraculous nature of his supply that our own care for the poor needs a charismatic dimension.

The parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) defines our neighbour as anyone who crosses our path, regardless of colour, creed or country of origin. Paul sums it up: “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” (Gal 6:10)

This keeps us from either doing nothing or trying to do everything.

Real wisdom!

B. FREEDOM FROM COVETOUSNESS:

Materialistic philosophy dominates both the capitalist and socialist economic systems in our modern world. Jesus challenges the assumption that we should find meaning to life only in what can be seen and touched: “Then He said to them, "Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” (Luke 12:15)

He went further and declared that it was extremely difficult for a rich person to be saved (see Luke 18: l8-25). So, out of love for him, Jesus told the rich young ruler to sell all he had and to give it to the poor (Luke l8:22).

Covetousness is a curse. It can be the vice of a man with only five pence to his name. It is especially a threat to the affluent. The only way that a person with assets and the ability to make money can be an heir to the kingdom of God is by becoming a generous giver, especially to the poor ( l Timothy 6:l7-19).

Paul gives some specific advice on how to give to the poor in l Cor. l6: 1-2. What is it? And what sort of giver does God like (2 Corinthians 9:7.)

C. RELIGION AND POLITICS CAN MIX TO PROVIDE A REMEDY:

The Scriptures are always realistic, never idealistic. As we saw in a previous lesson, Paul didn’t attack slavery as such but nonetheless made it impossible for any true believer to continue treating his slaves as slaves (see Philemon l5-17).

The implications of this are tremendous. How, on that basis, could we ever cram the working classes into tenement housing, let alone keep anyone in economic, racial or political subjugation, once given the opportunity to do something about it? However, whatever means we use to bring about social and political change, they must be non-violent. This is apparent from Jesus’ words to Pilate in John 18:36. Our warring is in the spiritual realm, the home of the real mowers (Ephesians 6:10-12). Prayer and proclamation can change a policy, or a government.

Does the Bible give us any economic clues beyond the charitable? Is there a godly way to arrange the economics of a society and indeed of a world so as to lessen the appalling divide? The answer is ‘yes’.

(i) THE SPIRIT OF TEMPERANCE

The malaise of the West is due in large part to worshipping the false god of mammon (money). Governments as well as individuals need to repent of this and temper their policies by the principle of wisdom found in Agur’s prayer: Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown You and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonour thee name of my God.” (Pro 30:9)

This assesses the degree of wealth we should possess by its effect on the soul, not by our place in the league table of world economic growth. As a result, we will temper our growth and therefore our exploitation of the poorer nations. Maybe we will also seek to protect them from others more greedy.

It is this spirit of temperance which undergirded the Mosaic Law and led to legislation to prevent gross extremes of wealth and poverty.

(ii) SABBATH-YEAR EMANCIPATION (DEUTERONOMY 15:12-18)

This prevented ‘class’ from developing in the nation by giving employees, every seven years, the opportunity and the resources to set up on their own if they wished. In effect, it was a profit-sharing scheme on a national scale. The worker was a direct personal beneficiary of the economic growth.

(iii) JUBILEE RESTORATION (LEVITICUS 25:8-17)

The fifty-year lease system not only taught that men and women were but stewards of the Lord’s earth; it also served to control property prices. These were determined by the genuine business potential of the land rather than by what people were willing to pay for it.

Speculation was thus discouraged. “Do not take advantage of each other, but fear your God. I am the LORD your God.” (Lev 25:17)

(iv) INTEREST-FREE LOANS (LEVITICUS 25:35-38)

No money was to be made out of other people’s poverty or misfortune. What a difference this would make to the modern world! An absence of high interest rates would transform society.

Our modern ‘get rich quick on the stock exchange’ mentality would have to go, of course. Maybe recent crashes on the markets are God’s warning shots across the bows of the Bad Ship Enterprise. When enterprise is used to promote the good of the human race, especially of the deprived, God will bless it.

(v) THE RELEASE OF DEBTS BY CREDITORS (DEUTERONOMY 15:1-6)

There must surely come a time when we stop asking for our rightful dues from those who in any case cannot pay. And in many instances those poorer countries have helped make us rich in the first p
lace. At the end of every seven years you must cancel debts.” (Deut 15:1)

(vi) DIRECT PROVISION FOR THE POOR (LEVITICUS 19:9-10; EXODUS 23:10-11; DEUTERONOMY 10:16-19; 14:28-29)

Foreign aid needs to be increased – and provided with the necessary wisdom and safeguards to see that it reaches the right place and supplies appropriate technology. Great Britain has not reached the recommended minimum and in fact has now reduced its foreign aid.

The implications of economic temperance are worth discussing at personal, national and international levels. Herein lies hope for the future.

D. A NEW AGE

You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have Me.” (John 12:8)

This world is sinful and passing away. Today’s economic system can be greatly alleviated by attention to biblical principles, but ultimately it is corrupt and must perish. Greed is deeply in the nature of men and women without God.

We seek to bless all people in our generation, but our hope is in the return of Christ and in the establishment of a new heaven and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. Then the nations will be truly healed. (Revelation 22:1-3).

QUESTIONS:

1. Think of ways in which you could influence your Member of Parliament to promote biblical economic principles.

2. Consider how you would convince a communist that Christian economics are more radical than those of Marx.

3. Research an area of poverty and implement some form of action to help deal with it.

PERSONAL WORK:

1. Carefully examine your lifestyle with regard to possessions to ensure that you are free from idolatry.

2. Check that you are obeying Paul’s principle of setting some money aside for the poor each pay-day.

3. Read a book about current Christian responses to world poverty.

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15 Comments

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  1. Rev Charles Carter

    WE COULD FIX THE ECONOMIC SITUATION OF THE NATION BY GETTING BACK TO THE PRINCIPLES IN THE BIBLE.

  2. ill keep praying for the nation

  3. How many Christians live the Christian life? If only a number of Christians lay more emphasis on the fruits of the Spirit instead of the gifts, the society would be a saner place economically, socially and politically.

  4. Rev. William Hemsworth

    The biggest cause of atheism is Christians in my opinion. Those that claim to be saved and live in the world counteracts everything that Christ teaches. If we are Christians we need to be a light to the world.

  5. There are many who are slain in everyday life for truth and justice. Most people who ask for change are ran over by those who benefit if things stay the same. Those who care keep losing for a long time. They are passed over for promotion. As they live, they are faced with many trials to overcome.

    If you have a little and you give a little; you are still not meeting your obligations.

    This is where I cannot figure out GOD’s ten % plan. If I give tithe, we have no money left over for food. If I buy food, we have no money left over for tithe. I know I must give regardless of my strife. It is hard choosing which day to go hungry.

    I have hope of growing in grace. People’s lives are much too valuable to squander it away with pettiness and selfishness. I want grow in love and kindness. It is the way.

    I am concerned about the poor. My heart hurts for the children.

    I am from a poor country, I have lived that life. It wasn’t the poverty that was unbearable. It was the cruelty of everyone around us.

    GOD was good to me in those days. I did not starve. I was not diseased. My heart was filled with joy most days, because I play in the sunshine. I saw beauty all around me.

    I wish very much to give those values to my children. I cannot. It is not good enough for them.

  6. Debbie Williams
    Christian Ethics: Lesson 010 August 19, 2009
    QUESTIONS:
    1. Think of ways in which you could influence your Member of Parliament to promote biblical economic principles.

    If there was one way to get Parliament to promote biblical economic principles, I would not share it with you. I would be pretty darn famous for it.

    My estimation is the indirect approach, as was global warming. You must send messages out on the information highway, rally support with the public at large, and with the creative minds of special individual you will carve the way to every Member of Parliament.

    2. Consider how you would convince a communist that Christian economics are more radical than those of Marx.

    As you know the faith principal does not appeal to the communist. And they are already applying the principals of Joseph, saving grain for the days of famine. Asking people to be faire and impartial an entirely different scenario. Only Jesus Christ can light the way.

    3. Research an area of poverty and implement some form of action to help deal with it.

    I can always empathize with foreign nations and their plight. The thorn in my existence is the civilized road blocks for decent housing, food, and medical care. Ergo, there is my dilemma.

    Prior to today, I had no idea regarding the magnitude of world poverty. It is interesting that there is an organization addressing the situation. It is said that 189 world leaders at the United nations Millennium Summit in 2000 propose to “End poverty by 2015”. They signed the Millennium Declaration to meet the “Millennium Development Goals, (MDGs).”1 It is a good idea for world leaders to organize themselves to address poverty. The goals are as follows:
    Goal 1: Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
    Goal 2: Achieve universal primary education
    Goal 3: Promote gender equality and empower women
    Goal 4: Reduce child mortality
    Goal 5: Improve maternal health
    Goal 6: Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases
    Goal 7: Ensure environmental sustainability
    Goal 8: Develop a global partnership for development

    It appears that poverty is like a web with connecting cubes that goes on and on and on. The strategy is far from being basic. A complex strategy must be developed, which involves all of the above.

    The first order is to organize government funding. But, this will only be a spring board. I believe people of every nation must be encouraged to give to this cause. Various channels must be developed. I believe recycling is an excellent channel. Tons of goods can be donated. Medicines can be donated to a central distributor, where individuals or organization can give medication. My favorite is clothing donations. Clothes can be refurbished and distributed. Medical staff can provides pre and post service contribution as interns. Food can be collected from individuals, farmers, and corporations to be collected by a central distributor. You we can all plan food. Building materials can also be donated to a central collection distributor. We are in the age of reclaiming the land. I know everywhere I go, I see torn down buildings. Managing the increasing cost to provide fuel to move the goods and services will be an ongoing challenge.

    I believe the most difficult challenge will be to teach everyone to love and be kind to one another. This is very critical to ending poverty.

    Ref: http://www.endpoverty2015.org/about

  7. World in our days is under tremendous stress .Observe the people in office ,thy are all effected with the world economic issue. Pop in in USA-Africa-India-Australia-Europe .What all have in common ,yes deep thoughts how to solve the world issue. Yet here we see something that world has excluded .Yes here in this “TOP GUN”-foreign ministry –banks you would not hear .Yes you guessed it ,no prayer to God in the name of Christ. Here is the money in question .So if any one of this people and there are some ,mind you, not many that do pray to God i united spirit trough Christ .Yet if we consider the Revelation than we see that we are on door step of times. Amen

    1/Had written on numerical times to Prime-Minister’s and other world leaders concerning hardship of Christian’s .Yet in these days have written to world leaders where we stand in time. Prayer united in Christ indeed works for economic issues of the country. With Faith, Hope and Agape in Christ indeed.
    2. Running a country on the principal of Christ is pure bliss. I have said this to many presidents trough out the world in my years of service. People to receive Blessing have to offer a prayer and thanksgiving and to recognise and obey recognise God Yahweh trough Christ in order to prosper. Yet to except this by a unbeliever is only a will of God alone trough Christ. Holy Spirit of God is the one who reads their heart…

    3. Research an area of poverty and implement some form of action to help deal with it.
    Education, improve infrastructure of all countries by promotion of Christianity through all the schools. Freedom of preaching, and teaching, of Christianity trough out the world.
    Implement a body of representation of unification of all Churches to return to original and pure Church of Christ.15% of every country considered to be leading and rich to be donated to lesser .Implement in to infrastructure large desalinating water plants to all countries and supplying water so they could use and grow their own veggie and fruit and poultry . Work on teaching trough countries to have larger effect on moral-and Christian living so the Aids diminish .Improve and minimize tax on all hygienic products like soap, tut-paste, deodorant, all hygienic needs for female needs .Minimise the health and medication with high subsidy from the government. Improve roads, reduce and minimise food price , encourage government transportation, build shops and homes that are well protected from cyclones, flooding, ear quick to particular stress level .Improve freedom of global trade. Have stored emergency ration of food in each city so it is rotated constantly .Improve emergency at sea, and land due to fires and other natural or unnatural elements. Create a flying squad to be trained to help and re-establish the most important infrastructure in effected country

  8. Rev. Alaina Damewood

    Yes we should help the poor . Look at all the time jesus sacrifed every thing he owned just for sake of the people.

  9. Influencing Member of Parliament to promote Biblical principles: As a citizen of a poor third World Country, I find this to be very difficult, first of all the Parliament itself its not truly representing the people, and not mature enough in comparison with other similar institutions in the developed world. In my country the parliament is a weak institution, an arm of the political Party with no defined ideology to uplift the people from poverty, majority of my country MPs are there for purely self interest of creating wealth and as a means of their personal survival.
    Therefore, to sell the biblical principles to these kind of people need Godly interventions, it need a person with christian conviction, ready to go against the stream, ie the ruling party ideology, ready to die and suffer, and sometimes even the suffering masses will not understand his/her motive, because for the most of people to be member of a parliament is a way of creating wealth for you and your clan, that is why you find a person may be elected to be MP for years but no changes in her/his constituent, no passable roads, poor health facilities, etc.
    In most third world countries we need moral awakening, we may receive aid, grants or whatsoever forms of support, but these may not really change our societies, we need some sort of spiritual rebirth which can act as foundation or backbone to build entire human institutions which at the end will up lift the well being of the society and poor in general, this is what Christianity has done to Europe or western countries in previous centuries .

  10. Our political leaders are bathed in selfishness as are many of us. We all want someone else to handle the problems of poverty. Our governments lack the political will and many people the spiritual will to really attack the problem. It is all merely selfishness. We need to think of ourselves a little less and pray a little more for God to open up our hears and minds, to unclog our ears and clear away the fog in front of our eyes. We need to pray for a heart to feel the need of those of lesser means as our Savior, Jesus Messiah does. And then we need to act on that in whatever way we can. Those who can give, give. Those who can do, do. Those who can lobby our governments, lobby.

  11. I have really enjoyed taking this first course. It has opened my heart to what needs to be done and what my part needs to be. I look forward to the other courses.

  12. pls i need certifications for courses i take, i realy am interested and the materials are quite enlightening

  13. This material is ok, i wish, it could be share to the developed world.

  14. I do understand today the economy is down most people lose jobs,almost 1/3 of busineses are closed.I think is a serious issue,and i do believe this time is the prophecy`s time.As the bible says in [Mat24:6-14 and 1tim3:1]

  15. the article is good to read. It is talking about rich and poverty. Both of the can be sin and good. It is important to spend our money wisely. A rich person can help the poor then his worthiness is worthy but when he uses his riches to disturb or to harm any body it is not good at all. on the other hand the poor can be sin as he poor and can do good even with his poverty.

    Jesus himself did not blame the rich and the poor but he always remind them not to enslave of money and worldly things.

    For a christian, whether he is poor or rich does not matter but how he spend his money is crucial. He should not be money prior person. He must seek God’s will with his wealth.

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