Issues of "Poverty"
Review: In our first session, we set Galatians 6:10 and 1 Thessalonians 5:23 up as the "umbrellas" that would guide us in our thinking about "poverty". Then we defined "poverty" as "a lack that imposes a downward spiral upon the one possessing the lack." From there we went to the "arenas" of 1 Thessalonians 5:23 where any "lack" would show up. The categories of "lack" are all "relational" as an outworking of God's "relational universe". "Spiritual poverty" exists when there is a "lack" of a "believing" relationship with God (Revelation 3:17 is a classic text on this form of "poverty"). "Soul-poverty" exists when there is a "lack" of "harmony" in relationships with others so that the "soul" is stressed and distressed by conflict (2 Corinthians 7:5-7 is a classic text on this form of "poverty" even though the words "poor" or "poverty" are not used in it). "Physical poverty" exists when there is a "lack" of a healthy relationship to the physical world. When we are attacked by a germ, a virus, an accident, a glitch in our genetic makeup, or when we engage in behaviors that subject our bodies to a downward spiral, we are "poor". The bottom line is this: when "poverty" is defined in terms of how much money a person does not have, "poverty" is being pushed into a "mechanistic" definition as though "money" could improve the relationships we sustain in the three areas of our poverty. Money is a factor to a limited degree, but it never moves above the "mechanism" stage of the problem.
In our second session we made the claim that the Abrahamic Covenant is the Controlling Issue of God's dealings with humanity and the lesser covenants of the Palestinian, Davidic, and New, show how God is working in history. Our major claim is that God has forsaken the primary focus of the Palestinian covenant for the present because it was set in place to reveal the fact that man's problems are not addressed by providing benefit for the outer man. We did not get to argue that the Davidic Covenant is historically being worked out in terms of the "Seed" promise to Abraham, but it seems that God's focus in the present age is upon the "soul" wherein the issue is man "in relationship", primarily with the Seed but then, by extension, with those who believe in that Seed. Nor did we get to argue that the New Covenant is ultimately a prophetic issue for the present because it is only in the Future Kingdom of Messiah that our identity in Him will be both recognized and act as the basis for all of our participation with Him.
In our third session we argued that the "wisdom" books of the Old Testament (Job, Ecclesiastes, and Proverbs) were the basis for Paul's claim in 1 Corinthians 13:13 that now "abide" Love, Hope, and Faith (in reverse order) so that Job presses the question and answer as to whether "love" for God should transcend every other "love" -- even when it looks like He is out to "kill" us --, Ecclesiastes presses the question and answer as to whether we ought to hold on to "hope" in every circumstance -- even when it looks like the expected end will never be realized and all is "vanity" --, and Proverbs presses the question and answer as to whether we can "believe" in the typical workings of "wisdom" -- even when there is a "glitch" in that "typical" working.
This Current Session:
Class Session Four
The Church and Poverty in Respect To the New Testament
- I. Poverty in the New Testament
- A. It exists at all three levels of the categories of 1 Thessalonians 5:23.
- B. It is addressed at all three levels.
- 1. Evangelism addresses "poverty" of the "spirit" where the issue is man's "poverty" in his alienation from God [The beatitude, "Blessed are the poor in spirit..." is an indirect statement regarding this kind of "poverty" in that it establishes the fact that the "proud" resist depending upon God but those who recognize their spiritual poverty are more inclined to turn to God].
- 2. Edification addresses "poverty" of the "soul" where the issue is man's "poverty" in the breakdown of relationships [The fact that the majority of the New Testament is addressed to the Church with "edification" in mind is indicative of the almost massive focus of this age upon the poverty of the soul and its solutions].
- 3. Financial sharing addresses "poverty" of the "body" where the issue is man's "poverty" in the physical circumstances of the body's health and whether "money" can do anything to alleviate it [Interestingly, 2 Corinthians 8-9, which are the concentrated New Testament teaching on the giving of material gifts to alleviate the problems of the materially poor, are an interesting challenge for believers primarily because "money" has been predominant in the focus of people as a kind of idolatrous replacement of God].
- C. We begin with Galatians 2:10 because of its high visibility at the first recognized "Church Council".
- 1. Paul went to Jerusalem to force a resolution of the bottom line content of the "Gospel" that is to be preached to solve man's "spiritual poverty".
- 2. His claim is that the resolution was completely in the favor of "his" gospel and that the only thing the Church "leaders" did in distinction from the essence of the Gospel was to ask him to "remember the poor".
- a. This was not the "generic poor"; it was a special class of materially poor people whose material poverty was the direct result of their faithfulness to the Gospel and the resultant ostracism from the mainstream of the culture that made "working for a living" a very problematical issue.
- b. Paul's basic insistence regarding "poverty" in the New Testament was 2 Thessalonians 3:10 with a very critical follow-up in 3:12, which is echoed in 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12.
- c. Under this "basic insistence" are a few clarifications...
- 1) The material support of those heavily involved in "ministry" goes under the category of "those who preach the gospel should live of the gospel" (1 Corinthians 9:14) as a variation on the thesis that "the laborer is worthy of his reward" (1 Timothy 5:18); they are working so they should be able to eat.
- 2) No one is ever so "poor" that they cannot use a portion of their material possessions to help someone else who is in worse shape than they (2 Corinthians 8:2).
- 3) There are two basic motivations for "working": to supply one's own need (1 Thessalonians 4:12); and to be able to supply the needs of others (Ephesians 4:28). Noticeably absent is any effort to work so that one may become wealthy (1 Timothy 6:9) and those who do happen to fall into that category are urged to be "rich" in good deeds (1 Timothy 6:17-19).
- 4) There is no repetition of the Old Testament "tithe" concept in the instruction of the New Testament and there is even less on churches using "tithing" as a way to retire debt incurred because of "leaders" who want a bowling alley in the basement.