Poverty is usually defined as when a person is unable to meet their basic needs. Extreme poverty is defined as living under $195 A DAY! Both types of poverty are a result of a lack of options and opportunities and is often a result of unjust economic, educational, or spiritual influences. Yet, we know that options and community support are often cited as the solution to ending poverty for those on the margins, those without access to clean water, education, livelihoods, health care, etc.
The reasons for poverty are complex. It is often the result of several factors including which country a person is born and lives in, the socio-economic situation of the family, income, education, opportunities, government programs, and health. Many people are caught in intergenerational poverty – the cycle of poverty that is difficult to break without intervention like education to increase future job prospects. People living in poverty most often have limited, if any, access to practical opportunities or programs that can help them emerge into new and flourishing lifestyles.
Some people accuse those in poverty of ‘not working hard enough’, as if they should be able to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. In reality, no one makes it in life without the help and support of others. The complicated conditions around the globe in which many people are born can keep them in poverty, or just as quickly thrust them into poverty.
1 Timothy 6: 17-19 gives helpful insights about economic wealth and poverty, spelling out the purpose of wealth for the follower of Jesus. It reminds us too of the importance of viewing possessions as nothing more than gifts of provision from God, if we want to take enjoy the life that is truly life’:
‘Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds,and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.
Dig Deeper: Review 1 Timothy 6 again. How can it shape your thinking about wealth and poverty?
As we know, wealth is an opportunity for God’s people to be generous. Christ commands those with much to consider providing for those with little. His Kingdom reflects this generosity, though not every nation does.
Dig Deeper: Read through the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5 and 6 and consider how Jesus defines his Kingdom.
For Christians, we’re called to do all for the ‘glory of God’. That means considering issues of justice and the workers behind the products we purchase. The early church in the book of Acts shared all things in common (Acts 2:44), a radical idea for those of us living in today’s materialistic world!
Dig Deeper: Download the Ethical Fashion Guide to learn which companies care about issues of justice and workers rights.
Experts suggest that poverty is both a driver and a consequence of disasters and conflict. As a driver, it creates or propels poverty by damaging infrastructure, institutions and production; destroying assets; breaking up communities and social networks and forcing displacement or homelessness amongst people and families. It can also increase unemployment and inflation.
Consequently, people already living in poverty are more likely to live in areas prone to hazards and environmental vulnerabilities. They already have inadequate housing and community infrastructure with a lack of social services or support. These vulnerabilities mean that disasters like droughts, floods, cyclones, or human-made conflict erupt, they will suffer the most. In these situations, the communities or families forced to use their already limited social protections to buffer disaster losses.
The impact of disasters and conflict on the poor can, in addition to the loss of life or injury and damage, cause a total loss of livelihoods, displacement, poor health, loss of education, food insecurity and more.
Dig Deeper: Consider the issues presented in the following articles and how they help shape your thinking about poverty and the environment.
In Matthew 6, Jesus reminded His listeners not to worry about your life – what you eat or drink or wear because your Heavenly Father knows what you need and provides. Instead, He urges his disciples to seek first his kingdom and His righteousness. Consider how God has provided for you and your family, either in an obvious blessing or in the little everyday things. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights (James 1:17).
God also calls us to share what we’ve been given with those who are in need. Romans 12 describes God’s people as the body of Christ and exhorts us to be living sacrifices, using what we’ve been given to serve one another as an act of worship.
Dig Deeper: One of the traits of the early church was the way the believers shared with one another (Acts 2:42-47), giving and even selling possessions so that they could provide for any brother or sister in need. Think about times God has used you to provide for others in need – it might be physical (like cooking a meal), emotional (like being a listening ear), spiritual (like praying in a time of need) – or something else. Give thanks for those opportunities.
From the beginning, God has wanted people to experience fullness of life and to flourish in the world he created. Yet, sin has kept the world broken. When Jesus came, he restored relationships with those on the margins, widows, orphans and foreigners, inviting them into his Kingdom and giving them a place to belong.
Dig Deeper: The first chapter of James puts these issues into perspective and ends with the beautiful but challenging verse: ‘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’ (1:27). As God to help you to help lead you in response.