The purpose of the poor

We are all familiar, to some extent, with the plight of the materially poor. However, in the grand scheme of things—do the poor have a positive purpose?

According to a respected colleague from Kenya, who is a committed Christian and a successful businessman, the purpose of the poor is the elevation of all humanity. He came to this after a time of concentrated meditation on the Scriptures and what they say about poverty.

I think he is absolutely correct, and that he has struck on something profoundly important. Before getting too far into this, though, it is also important to say that this is a far cry from saying that physical poverty or being poor is a good thing.

As you read on, you’ll see that I am going to make a potentially dangerous distinction between the poor and us. We may not live in physical poverty, but this doesn’t mean that we aren’t poor in any, or many, respects.

We all experience a spiritual poverty that is part of our human condition.

We, who are affluent in comparison with most of the majority world, often have much to learn about generosity and contentment with enough. We also need to learn about a joyfulness in life that seems inconsistent with poverty, but is definitely a gift that many materially poor experience more than we do.  In that sense, we are poorer than they are, as many poor find ways to give and feel contentment and joy in places we can’t begin to understand.

Let’s get back to the original point, though. How do or can the physically poor elevate all of humanity? They do so by making us all that we can and are meant to be in our response to their poverty.

In other words, we cannot become what God would have us become apart from our responding to the poverty of the poor. There are elements of godly character that come only through actual response to those in need.

In 1 John 3:17-18, the apostle John wrote:  “If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?  Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.”

There is probably no more succinct way of describing the essence of godly character than having the love of God in us. John says we can’t have it apart from responding to the material needs of those we know to be in need. Not thinking and talking about it, but doing something about it.

Extreme poverty around the globe is defined by the World Bank as those living on $1.25 or less a day. There are 1.4 billion people or about 21 percent of the world’s population living at this level or below across the world. Those living in moderate poverty, below $2 per day, account for 40 percent of the world’s population.

It almost requires an act of the will to ignore the plight of nearly half the human race. 

According to the World Bank, “poverty is pronounced deprivation in well-being, and comprises many dimensions. It includes low incomes and the inability to acquire the basic goods and services necessary for survival with dignity. Poverty also encompasses low levels of health and education, poor access to clean water and sanitation, inadequate physical security, lack of voice, and insufficient capacity and opportunity to better one’s life.”

God wants this for no one. The poor cannot become what God would have them be apart from us, and we cannot become what God would have us be apart from them.

We at Food for the Hungry (FH) are “inspiring hope … walking with communities … ending poverty” and would love to have you join us.  Will you?

About Marty Martin

Marty Martin is soon to retire Chief Operating Officer for Food for the Hungry (FH). He graduated from the US Air Force Academy and served as a rescue helicopter pilot in the US, Vietnam, and Greenland. Later, after graduating from Covenant Theological Seminary, he flew as an emergency medical helicopter pilot with Air Methods Corporation, eventually becoming VP for Operations. He continued in this role until called as Executive Pastor at Cherry Creek Presbyterian Church (CCPC) in Denver. He joined the FH Board in 2003. In late 2004, on loan from CCPC, Marty left on a two-year assignment as Country Director for FH in the Democratic Republic of Congo, returning to CCPC in 2007 and to serving as an FH board member in 2008. He was awarded an honorary Doctor of Humanities degree from Colorado Christian University for his work in Congo. Marty joined FH’s staff in 2011 as Chief Operating Officer and is based in FH’s Phoenix Global Service Center. He and his wife, Rosemary, have three children and four grandchildren.

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