The Ability to Eliminate Poverty: Is It Just a Matter of Interpretation?

On Monday, I asked your thoughts on whether it’s possible for us to eliminate poverty in light of two Bible verses that address the topic differently.

“You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.” – John 12:8 (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.” – Deuteronomy 15:4 (NIV)

Thank you for sharing your thoughts. And as I promised, here’s a summary of what Scott shared with us at chapel.

With the first verse, Jesus speaks these words on a Tuesday night. It happens in the moment when Jesus has just been anointed, three days before He is to be executed.

Jesus is at a party in the home of Simon the leper in the town of Bethany. Lazarus and his sisters are at this party. Many people who have seen the miracles of Jesus are in attendance; many who have even received miraculous healing by His hand are present. Can you imagine the immense celebration of this party?

People who have experienced the love of Jesus, who have found comfort and strength in Him, people who left everything to make Jesus their everything are guests.

In the midst of this Mary comes into the room with very expensive perfume and anoints Jesus. A moment of worship, of adoration.

The Word even says that the whole house is filled with the smell of this fragrance.

Despite this, in John 12:4 we see Judas Iscariot object. He strongly deems Mary’s act as a waste, something that can be used for the poor.

People who did not know his character or motives may have believed he genuinely cared for the poor. But Judas is speaking to someone who knows his heart and knows the motive of his words, deeply marked by greed.

In John 12:7-8, Jesus replies with the verse that has captured our thoughts as we think about the poor. The verse that is now the most remembered about the poor.

And yet, as Scott clearly and firmly went through the scripture he pointed out that when Jesus made such a statement, he was not talking to us. His use of “you” was not intended to be directed at us. This reference, this statement, was very specifically directed at Judas.

Read it again. “You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”

But in Matthew 28:20b (NIV) we read, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

In John 12:8 Jesus states “you will not always have me,” then in Matthew 28:20 He faithfully promises He will surely always be with us.

Some of us would write this off as a contradiction, or maybe to avoid such an accusation we do not reconcile the two verses. But it is clear that these verses are not working against each other because in John 12:4-8, we see that Jesus’ comment was directed at Judas.

Sadly, many of us know the story of Judas. His love for money allowed no room for His love of Jesus; he had chosen whom he would serve.

In Acts 4 it is revealed to us, as Scott conveyed,

“At least in one place, for one moment of time, in one community, poverty was eradicated because the people of God lived according to the plans God had given them.”

The outcome of poverty is quite different when the master chosen is the Lord. In fact, it is clearly outlined that this community of believers were of one heart and soul, having everything in common and devoted to one master, the Lord. Therefore,

Acts 4:34 (NIV), “There were no needy persons among them.”

Ok, let’s have a heart check, shall we? At this moment in chapel my jaw is slowly dropping. Scott is making connections I have never made. Showing me things I have not thought about. But truly, am I hearing what he’s saying? Poverty … gone … not among us?

Yet there is more. He continued on with some alarming statistics and, blog readers, I got ahold of these stats for you!

In 2000 the Global Community established goals for ending poverty. They are called the Millennium Development Goals. There are eight goals, and I will walk you through how some of these goals are, in fact, on target. But that’s for another day.

Today, I’d like to hear what you have to say about Scott’s interpretation of these verses.

9 Comments |Add a comment

  1. Ian Durias October 19, 2009

    “There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land.” Deuteronomy 15:11.

    I’m not yet sure if God means “there will always be poor people in the land” objectively (e.g. it’s impossible to end poverty) or subjectively (e.g. poverty can be ended but it won’t because of sin). What I do know is that he commands us to help the poor and needy.

  2. Sarah Charles October 15, 2009

    I have a different question. Does it matter whether we can or cannot end poverty? Either way we have to keep trying to end it. Eventually it will end. Whether it is God working through us now to end it, or later on when Jesus comes back. It will end. It is just a matter of time. In the meantime, I don’t think the answer to the question really changes what God has called us to do. “Feed my sheep” physically, spiritually, feed people, love people, serve people. 🙂 But we can all have hope that someday all will be made right.

  3. Kees Boer October 15, 2009

    If we take the poverty wheel in mind of Compassion and we combine that with the fact that wide is the road that leads to destruction and many are there on that road. Then not knowing Christ by itself is a sign of poverty. Especially if you take into account that compared to eternity our lives here on earth are extremely short or is really nothing. So, yes, we will always have the poor with us and that will be everywhere even in the USA. Even when you surround yourself with financially rich people. If they don’t have Christ, they are extremely poor. I wrote with a very rich movie star for a while. She was rich beyond imagination from a financial standpoint. (She would go shopping and for the fun spend $50,000 and she would go into a club and just for showing up for 15 minutes, they’d gave her $1,000,000). Yet, when talking with her, I felt that she was poorer than my little Compassion girl, because she didn’t have Christ. Yet, my Compassion girl lived in a little shag in Bolivia, yet….. 100 years from now, unless the movie star would be saved, things would look totally different for my Compassion girl and for the movie star and that would go on for all eternity, never to finish. So, our lives are like just a door here on earth. Or as Wess said: “We are just backpacking here.”

    That prespective is very important, when dealing with poverty.

    On Acts. 4, I agree with the other commentator. That was a local church in Jerusalem, where the believers shared everything and there was no poverty within that local church. I would think that within the USA and even churches in some of the developing countries, you could see that same situation. As a matter of fact, you could almost say that in a Compassion project, you have that situation, since the children are all being taken care of. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t poverty all around that project. So, no contradiction there.

    On Jesus not being with them. I would say that there is a difference there regarding Matt. 28 and what Jesus said in John 12. He would not be with the disciples much longer physically. In Acts. 1, He ascended on high. Yet, being God, He is with us. He lives within us. So, those two passages are not contradictory. They are talking about different things.

    Having said that on a totally different note. I’m looking for someone, who could sponsor a little girl named Janneth from Bolivia. She is 10 years old and attends the BO181 project, which is an amazing place in Alto Lima. I sponsor 3 children in that project and I’ve been there and the staff is just really good!

    If you know of someone, who could sponsor her, please, contact me at: (310) 933-4284.



  4. Mike October 14, 2009

    Clever and cute… ::) but I’m not buying any new “insights” into His Word (Ron & Keith each make good points). His Word is clear and understandable by everyday minds. You and I can’t even begin to pose a question that hasn’t been answered many times over by minds far brighter than the collective wisdom on this blog. Yet in our vanity we seek out the Holy Grail. Or we set out a supposition and inductively proof text to that conclusion.

    The Bible is not a code book to puzzle over and to tease out hidden wisdom. It’s all there in black and white. A present day expositor sums biblical interpretation up quite simply. The “main things” are the “plain things” and the “plain things” are the “main things”.

  5. Ty Cooper October 14, 2009

    I love this. Scott is spot-on with what our church here in Austin, Texas is trying to live out. Your reference to a “community of believers” is such an important component when trying to eradicate poverty. God designed us to live and serve in community. When we choose to go it alone we are probably not as effective. Thanks for the post Brianne

  6. Keith Prater October 14, 2009

    We have to be careful with the Acts 4 statements. There are two things we have to know from this. One is that the people who is declared that “there was no needy among them” were all believers. Second thing to remember is that because these people had received the true Spirit of God, they had begun to live by Matt. 6:24-34. They were no longer serving mammon, they were serving God. They didn’t seek to make a living first, they sought the kingdom of God first.

    So, what do we gather from this? That poverty will not end unless people truly come to Christ, and poverty will not end while we hold onto the financial systems of the world.

  7. Ron Lusk October 14, 2009

    I’m not comfortable with Scott’s interpretation of John 12:7-8, primarily because he is not taking into account the shift in number (singular vs. plural) of the verbs and a pronoun in the passage: “You (s.) leave her alone…; the poor you (pl.) always have among you (pl.), but you (pl.) don’t always have me.”

    This also has to be read within the framework of John (“I am going away,” “Where I am going you cannot come (now),” “I go to prepare a place for you”, “Walk while it is yet day”). It would then appear that this is not a warning or threat to Judas.

    Only then is it reasonable to say, “How do we understand these things in the light of Matt 28?” Then we are free to look to the promise of another Comforter, and the promise that “I will be in them” in John. (See 17:11-13.)

    One might instead consider, “There will always be people who will need your help.” “There were no poor among them” might not mean that everyone was self-sufficient: it suggests that the sharing was such that the people in need (“the poor”) were not left to beg, to starve, to die of exposure. Take away the wage-earners and “rich”, and only the formerly-poor who have had time to learn new skills, amass a few resources, and heal from their diseases were likely to stay afloat. The “poor” were still there: but the blessing of God on his church was such that they were cared for.

  8. Lindsey October 14, 2009

    Yes, thank you. Sometimes it takes someone else reading and looking at the scripture to really bring to light what is meant. I appreciate you sharing with us!!!

  9. Lindy October 14, 2009

    Wow! That’s powerful! A BIG thank you to Scott for his insights, and to you, Brianne, for sharing them with us!

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