Eliminate Poverty: Can We Do It or Not?

There are times when the Lord, being the mysterious and grand lover that He is, will shine the light of revelation into our hearts. These moments are most beautiful to me, to have received some understanding of the heart of the King.

Yet, as awakening as they can be, they are also piercing, able to transform the deepest parts of my being, to change the way I see. Even to change the way I live. We are not dealing with a quiet God and, most certainly, not a complacent God.

Working at Compassion has brought a concern for the poor more deeply into my life. Poverty is no longer some distant thought to me. It’s not a trip I can reflect on or even a verse I can read. My daily life, for eight-plus hours a day, steeps within it, within the knowledge and awareness of poverty.

Recently, Dr. Scott Todd, our Senior Ministry Advisor, spoke to us at chapel. It was a time when the Lord broke through in revelation for me.

First of all, some background on Scott. He helps define and develop our philosophy on child development and poverty and how we work to combat it, which affects our communications and program design and how they work together. He also coordinates our global advocacy efforts about the importance of children in poverty to the worldwide church. He’s a busy guy — one who the Lord has entrusted much to.

So, back to what I was saying: He presented a powerful message that left me teary-eyed and deeply convicted. I have decided I do not wish to carry the burden of his message alone.

Can We Eliminate Poverty or Not?

Not too long ago we discussed with you why we can’t end poverty, and you shared some really great thoughts with us.

Well in this chapel, Scott asked us to think of the verse that comes to mind when we think of poverty, a question he has asked many other people, including pastors. Do you know what the common response is? The same verse we originally referenced, just from a different gospel.

“You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.” — John 12:8 (NIV)

Scott pointed out that this must be the most memorable verse about the poor, seeing as it is the one most referenced. It has come to serve as the foundation of our philosophy about the poor.

For those of us under the burden of caring deeply for the poor and desiring to help them, maybe this verse offers some comfort. We can’t do it all. Jesus even said that the poor will always be with us.

But for those living in poverty, Scott pointed out, what hope is this verse for them? What does it mean for those living in poverty?

If this verse is what we cling to, then what of Deuteronomy 15:4 (niv):

“However, there should be no poor among you, for in the land the Lord your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you.”

I’ll share Scott’s belief about the grave misinterpretation of John 12:8 in a couple of days, but before I do, let me know how you feel the two verses work together.

11 Comments |Add a comment

  1. David Coplin April 25, 2014

    For my purposes the definition of poverty is fairly straight forward; it is not defined by
    numbers (although numbers do have their place). I define poverty as the denial of the legitimate
    opportunity to contribute whatever you have to contribute to the economic system and, therefore, the denial
    of an equitable share of that system’s goods and services. Just because an individual’s income is below a
    certain level does not make them poor if they have a legitimate opportunity to make their contribution to the
    economic system and share in that system’s goods and services but choose not to exercise that opportunity.
    An individual is poor only when they are denied the opportunity to participate equitably in their economic
    system. This denial is never the fault of the individual; it is and always has been the fault of the economic
    system itself. We all choose the economic system that we support and, therefore, we all create that system
    and the poverty it generates (or not).

  2. Lindy October 13, 2009

    I did not get a chance to reply to this post when I first read it, but if I’d had the time, I would have said something very similar to Bob’s reply. As long as there are corrupt and greedy people following their own desires, rather than God’s, there will be poor among us, and if you look at some of the Psalms and elsewhere in scripture, you see God’s great heart of love and concern for the poor, the needy, the orphans, and the widows. I love the book of James, and one of the themes in it is God’s heart for the poor!

  3. Brianne Mullins October 12, 2009

    I have so enjoyed reading all your comments. A very rich conversation!

    Thanks for the time you all have spent sharing your thoughts and seeking the Lord’s heart in this matter.

    I am excited for the conversation ahead as we continue to unravel this a little bit more!

  4. James Lanchester October 12, 2009

    The poor will always be with you, but I will not always be with you.
    I think that he is saying that when he is no longer here to take care of the poor, it is up to us, to take care of them.You can never out give God. If you give away what you have, there will always be more. He will never leave us, nor forsake us. We need to trust him to supply what we need, and give away what is over, and above what we need.

  5. Mike Stephens October 12, 2009

    what do I think…I thought of babies b/c babies always need help, if someone doesn’t help them they will die b/c they don’t know how to do anything yet. We will always have babies and we will always have poor people just like someone wins the race and someone gets last. I figure Compassion’s work is similar to the movie the Matrix. We are trying to release children from poverty but it is not easy and some people do not want to be released. And some people that are released may want to go back and others want to be released but we haven’t found them yet to be released. So Matthew 6:33 “But seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well.” I think we should work to help as many needs as we can b/c “we will reap a harvest if we don’t give up.”

  6. Cheryl J October 12, 2009

    Even if the poor will always be with us, we can help some people out of poverty. Just because we can’t end it doesn’t mean that what we are doing doesn’t make a world of difference for those we can reach out to. And, of course, they will reach out to others who will reach out to others. And the gift goes on… 🙂

  7. Jen October 12, 2009

    Deut 15:4 is conditional on always strictly obeying the whole of God’s instruction; later in 15:11 it says “there will never cease to be poor in your land.” God knew we would not strictly obey the whole of His counsel which is why later we are told there will always be poor. Jesus was quoting the torah (Deut 15:11) when He said that in John 12:8… Read More. However, when he comes back as king, there will be no poor among us. Until then we need to “give freely and open our hand to the needy”; in that way we can make “His kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.”

  8. Beth October 12, 2009

    If you read John 12, you’ll see that Jesus isn’t speaking of spiritual poverty but material poverty. It’s the passage where the woman anointed him with the extremely expensive bottle of perfume and Judas felt it should have been sold and the money given to the poor.
    I also read Deuteronomy 15 and agree with Bob (above). You can’t take scripture out of context. God’s command in this chapter deals with forgiving loans, being generous and simply taking care of each other. The letter of James (chpt 4) also speaks to this issue.

  9. Teri Schultz October 12, 2009

    It says “should”…

    But as humans with free will in a fallen world there will always be poverty because some will choose to exploit resources for personal gain or will choose to be lazy and expect others to provide or will choose to abandon their responsibilities (families) without provisions.

  10. Amy Wallace October 12, 2009

    Perhaps John 12:8 is talking about the spiritually poor, and not the materially poor. Jesus was saying that He wouldn’t always be on earth to perform miracles and teach, so we have to be the ones to tell people about Jesus.

    If this verse is talking about the materially poor, that could put us into the mindset that if we can’t solve poverty, then what would be the sense of trying? And I guess I never thought about how hopeless a message this verse would be for those living in poverty.

  11. Bob October 12, 2009

    If you read a few verses down to Deuteronomy 15:11, you’ll see:

    For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’ Deuteronomy 15:11, ESV

    You can’t isolate 15:4 from 15:5… the statement “But there will be no poor among you”, is followed by “If”. Unfortunately we never rise to the God’s commands that follow verse 5.

    Yes, the poor will always be here with us. But like the blind man Jesus heals in John, the poor exist to display the glory of God’s kingdom. “How?”, you may ask… in many ways… One way is through us, as we serve and care for the poor. They are there before us. Everywhere we turn. And God watches on as some turn our heads away, and move to the other side of the street, and pass by the poor, while others stop and comfort them. Which are you?

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