Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not? hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness. Incline your ear, and come unto me: hear, and your soul shall live. (Isaiah 55:1-3)

What a wonderful, peaceful picture of plenty, where money has no value and food is freely given. A far cry from the world we live in, a world of contrasts where some wonder where their next meal will come from and others throw food away. Why does God allow such diversity, suffering on one side and sheer indulgence on the other? Part of the answer lies in the subsequent verses in the Isaiah chapter:

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8-9)

This profound statement is something we should always bear in mind when studying the Bible. We should be prepared to see things from a different perspective; a Godly perspective rather than a human one. This is true in the case of poverty. Poverty is something we wish to avoid and most of us like the idea of being rich, or at least possessing some of the luxuries of life. However, the Bible reminds us how temporary and futile worldly riches are:

Be not thou afraid when one is made rich, when the glory of his house is increased; For when he dieth he shall carry nothing away: his glory shall not descend after him. (Psalm 49:16-17)

The psalmist continues by saying that the rich man "is like the beasts that perish" (v20) - all his wealth can do him no good when he dies. James picks up the same theme:

Let the brother of low degree rejoice in that he is exalted: But the rich, in that he is made low: because as the flower of the grass he shall pass away. For the sun is no sooner risen with a burning heat, but it withereth the grass, and the flower thereof falleth, and the grace of the fashion of it perisheth: so also shall the rich man fade away in his ways. (James 1:9-11)

In contrast to this temporal state of worldly riches, the Bible promotes a very different kind of riches which lasts for ever:

Riches profit not in the day of wrath: but righteousness delivereth from death.
He that trusteth in his riches shall fall; but the righteous shall flourish as a branch. (Proverbs 11:4,28)

Here we have worldly riches versus righteousness, where the former is temporal and the latter is permanent. Trusting in riches can only lead to ruin in the long term. Jesus makes the same comparison:

Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. (Matthew 6:19-21)

This idea of laying up treasure in heaven means that we can have a hope for the future, to be part of the beautiful world referred to in Isaiah 55 - a place where we are called jewels. (Malachi 3:17) The book of Proverbs builds a lovely picture of how precious, beyond gold and silver, Godly wisdom and righteousness are. (See Proverbs 2:1-18; 8:10-11, 18-21)

But can we enjoy riches in this life, without trusting in them, and still be Godly? Can we have the best of both worlds so to speak? Matthew 6:21 indicates a problem with this. It is very easy for us to become attached to the things we enjoy and to forget that we are still reliant on God. Ecclesiastes reminds us that any wealth we have is "a gift from God." (Ecclesiastes 5:19) When we prosper it is very easy to become proud and to trust in ourselves and our riches, rather than in God. We are warned that we cannot serve God and man (Luke 16:13). For this reason, Jesus said the following:

Then said Jesus unto his disciples, Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven. And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. (Matthew 19:23-24)

It is very easy for us to think that we can keep a good balance but riches can take us away from serving God and change our perspective and judgement:

Remove far from me vanity and lies: give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me: Lest I be full, and deny thee, and say, Who is the LORD? or lest I be poor, and steal, and take the name of my God in vain. (Proverbs 30:8,9)

Judas was one of the twelve chosen disciples and yet he betrayed Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. (Matt 26:14-16) Paul summarises perfectly the points we have already covered, whilst also expanding on the dangerous trappings wealth can bring:

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content. But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness.
Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy; That they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate; Laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life. (1 Timothy 6:6-10, 17-19)

Paul leaves little more to say on the subject; the key is being content with what we have (Phil. 4:11) and trusting in God to provide, rather than relying on our wealth to get us through life. Jesus deals with this, asserting that we should not be worried about even the necessities of life but rather to be focused on God's kingdom, i.e. the treasure to come:

Seek not ye what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink, neither be ye of doubtful mind. For these things do the nations of the world seek after: and your father knoweth that ye have need of these things. But rather seek ye first the kingdom of God; and all these things shall be added unto you. (Luke 12:29-31)

God takes care of the things we need if we trust in Him (Psalm 37:25-26) but He has not promised us the luxuries of life, rather just what we need. The following verse in Luke 12 says that "it is your father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom" and this is what God is primarily concerned with; getting us there. It might mean that we struggle through this life with very little or that we have plenty. God gives us what is right for us so that we may successfully walk towards the kingdom. We have to trust that God knows best (look back to Isa. 55:8-9) and if times get hard, we have to trust that God is still with us, still guiding us towards His kingdom. God tests our faith in Him to make us stronger and this is considered much more valuable than riches:

That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1: 7)
"...that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality." ( 2 Corinthians 8:2)

The Corinthian text continues by relating this idea of gaining through hardship to Jesus' work:

For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich. (2 Corinthians 8:9)

So our focus should be on God's kingdom and not on worrying about the necessities of this life. But what about those who are poor? Should we help them? Or is that God's job? Why does He allow such suffering?

Already we have seen how God cares for them who trust in Him but we are also expected to share what God has blessed us with. God never intended a world of greed where every man just looks after himself, breeding a huge contrast between the rich and poor. Jesus said, "he that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none; and he that hath meat, let him do likewise." (Luke 3: 11) The same principle is found in Proverbs:

Withhold not good from them to whom it is due, when it is in the power of thine hand to do it. Say not unto thy neighbor, go, and come again, and tomorrow I will give; when thou hast it by thee. (Proverbs 3:27-28)
He that giveth unto the poor shall not lack: but he that hideth his eyes shall have many a curse. (Proverbs 28:27)

James warns against judging people by their social status, (James 2:2-5) which in turn affects our treatment of them. Proverbs reminds us that we are the same in God's eyes (see also Romans 10:12):

"The rich and poor meet together: the Lord is the maker of them all." (Proverbs 22:2)

If we remember that "every good gift is from above" (James 1:17) it will keep things in perspective. If everything we have belongs to God, it is no longer a case of 'how much will we give to others?' but rather 'how much will we keep for ourselves?' David recognised this fact, even though he was a powerful king. (1 Chronicles 29:10-14)

In summary, we must be content with what God has given us and trust that He will provide what we need. In turn we should be willing to help others where we can. The only riches we should be interested in are the treasures laid up for us in the life to come in God's kingdom, where we can be part of the beautiful picture painted in Isaiah 55 where poverty will not exist.

In this article we have tried to show what the Bible says about poverty - please apply for our Learn to Read the Bible Effectively Course so that you can do this for yourself with other topics.

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