Monday, June 04, 2012
THE SPIRIT OF POVERTY?
What is the “Spirit of Poverty”? Over the years I have heard Christians use this phrase on numerous occasions. To those who use this phrase regularly, the term is meant to convey the idea that someone is in bondage to a delusion that they don’t deserve better standards of living, or more expensive material possessions. Often, I've heard the phrase used whenever someone wants to talk about a person behind their back. This is where it comes in most handy, actually. For example, someone who looks down on another person might say that they need to get away from their Spirit of Poverty and get a better job. Or, they might suggest that someone is under the Spirit of Poverty because they wear old clothes, or because they drive a used car.
From a quick Google search of the term I found this quote regarding the Spirit of Poverty:
The spirit of poverty is actually a spirit of fear. “Well, the stock market is down, unemployment is up, our area is a poor area as you know, etc.” “Of course we want to pay our Pastor more, but we don’t have the money.” Or, “When we have money, then we’ll give.” These are the voices of the spirit of poverty that do not recognize God as the true source of our material needs.
The idea seems to be that if you ever make an allowance for being less than victorious financially you are suffering from the effects of a Spirit of Poverty.
While I do agree that Christians need to see God as their true source, there needs to be a balance to that perspective. We have to say, like Paul the Apostle:
“I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” - (Philippians 4:11-13)
And as the book of wisdom says, “Give me neither poverty nor riches; Feed me with the food that is my portion” – (Proverbs 30:8)
I also agree that Christians shouldn’t use the excuse “when I have more money then I’ll start to give” because generosity begins in the heart. You can share whatever you have – no matter how little it may be – with someone else in need. That is, if you truly trust that God is your provider and source.
However, the concept of a Spirit of Poverty is simply another form of being judgmental. By using this term we can make the act of judging someone because they are poor appear more holy and acceptable; as if somehow the person we are judging is helpless to overcome their lack of wealth or fashion sense due to some demonic deception that prevents them from being more affluent.
Worse, this phrase assumes that being wealthy is a sign of God’s favor. For example, if a Spirit of Poverty is something bad, then logically a Spirit of Affluence or Wealth would be what we all should strive for. But this concept ignores key distinctives of the Gospel and outright contradicts the clear teachings of the Apostles and Jesus Himself.
Just look at what the New Testament writers have to say about poverty and wealth and see if it fits with this notion of God’s favor equating to material wealth.
Paul the Apostle says:
“To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. We have become the scum of the earth, the garbage of the world—right up to this moment.” – (1 Cor 4:11-13)
“Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? But you have dishonored the poor man.” - (James 2:5-6)
“Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries which are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments have become moth-eaten. Your gold and your silver have rusted; and their rust will be a witness against you and will consume your flesh like fire. It is in the last days that you have stored up your treasure!” - (James 5:1-3)
“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” – (Luke 6:20)
“But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort. Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry.” – (Luke 6:24-25)
“So then, you cannot be my disciple unless you first give up your own possessions.” – (Luke 14:33)
I also find it fascinating that in the early church Christians responded to the poverty of their brothers and sisters with a radical outpouring of generosity and love. They willingly sold their own possessions and risked become poor themselves in order to provide the basic necessities of those within the Body of Christ. Today we see our brothers and sisters in need and we respond by insulting them for their lack of faith, or we attempt to raise their economic status to meet our own. We do not dare risk becoming poor ourselves, do we? No. We’d rather that they become self-sufficient so that we don’t have to continue sharing what belongs to us.
Now, I spend a lot of time with people who are poor. My approach is often to find ways to lift people out of poverty, or to help them take care of themselves. I admit that I’m just as guilty of this as anyone else, and I also admit that poverty sucks. It’s nothing to glorify or to celebrate. However, the truth remains that those who are in poverty are much more capable of seeing the Kingdom than the rest of us who are blinded by our affluence. Poverty, then, is a paradox of sorts in that it helps us to clearly see true riches. Poverty helps us to realize our need to rely on God for our daily bread, and once we receive that daily bread we need to be careful not to cling too tightly to it but to share it with others if they are in need.
Biblically, this term (Spirit of Poverty) isn’t found anywhere in the Scriptures. Not once. It’s a completely fabricated concept to provide Christians with a quasi-spiritual covering to justify their prejudice against other Christians, or to control people and rob them of their dignity – or their money. It’s also used to perpetuate the heretical doctrines found in the Prosperity Gospel.
If anything, the true Spirit of Poverty is embodied by those who are so focused on material wealth that they cannot see the beauty of simply trusting Jesus for every breath, every morsel of food, and to surrender everything in order to gain the incomparable riches of Christ.
So, any Christian who is living with debt and can’t seem to get control of their spending isn’t suffering under a Spirit of Poverty. Instead, they are suffering under a simple cause-and-effect reality, namely over spending and under budgeting.
In my list of terms that no Christian should ever use again, Id’ like to add the phrase “Spiritual Poverty”. It’s a term used exclusively to put down our Christian family members and make ourselves feel better, and it’s not based on any scriptural basis of reality for those who are in Christ Jesus.