Money. Generally, this is a taboo topic among Christians. Unless we’re going to discuss the evils of money, we avoid talking about it and stick with safer topics like “treasures in Heaven.”
In the West as well, money isn’t usually a dinner table conversation—especially when it comes to discussing salaries and specific income figures. We might talk about what others make, especially celebrities and influential figures, but we rarely feel comfortable asking each other for hard numbers.
But in Eastern cultures, salary is a pretty normal conversation. And with that, perhaps, there is a different mindset about caring for the poor and how we as Christians handle our money.
Christians in the Middle East
In the Middle East, where I was working as a teacher, it wasn’t long before our neighbors, friends, and co-workers realized that we weren’t there to make money. Even though we were Americans (and assumed to be rich), many of us fell at or below the incomes of the average local family. My students usually had more spending money than I did.
Among the Christians in the community, our income was also on the lower end. Some received more from supporters back home, while others were working with high-paying NGOs. However, the fact that we had a general understanding of each other’s income actually led to greater unity. Instead of fostering envy, there was an understanding that 1) we were all working for our daily bread and 2) when there was need, the body of believers tried to meet the need collectively. Careful consideration was given to do it in a way that encouraged the recipient (rather than cast them out) and didn’t encourage dependence but helped the beneficiary become productive.
Christian Ministry Workers in Southeast Asia
Here, in Southeast Asia, the same assumption holds—that all Americans are rich. Because many are here on overseas contracts, their incomes are significantly higher than the average local. Still, I thought we’d find this to be exaggerated among the Christian expats who are here for ministry purposes, especially since many are on visas that restrict them from holding contracted jobs, leaving them to rely on overseas support.
However, after a few months, we realized that relatively speaking, we are poor. Perhaps not when you compare our income to the poorest in Malaysia, but in comparison to those we first found ourselves in community with—the Christian ministry expats. Even though income isn’t discussed openly, the difference was apparent after hearing that one Christian expat’s taxes were almost as much as our income for the year. In another conversation, I was encouraging someone to try the cheapest brand of something—it really wasn’t bad! When I saw the look of, “But why would I want to try that?” I realized how different our lifestyles must be.
Over time, we also realized we couldn’t participate in a lot of the Christian expat gatherings—we’d be asked to bring things we couldn’t afford or would feel guilty for signing up for the cheapest item on the list (again). Time and again, Matt (my husband) and I would have disagreements over whether or not to go. We wanted to be part of the community but didn’t relish the thought of eating plain rice for the next three days to recoup our budget. Even when we tried to explain our situation to the host, it often felt like an excuse to not bring anything.
After we brought home the twins, the Christian community showered us with help. To the point where it was overwhelming. Matt was gone for the first two weeks, so I had visitors almost every day during that time. Over and over, I was told (it was less of a question and more of a statement), “How are you going to cope?!”
I wasn’t worried—I knew that by being obedient, God would provide everything we needed. But after the umpteenth time hearing it, I started to wonder. Was I coping? Was I giving our girls everything they needed?
The next period of my life was one of the hardest.
Facing Poverty: Fear and Doubt
When Matt came home, visiting trickled off and after a couple of months, most people had stopped helping or asking if we needed anything. Ashamedly, I was angry. The same people who’d asked me how I’d cope had deserted me. They’d led me to believe I couldn't do my job without help ... and now the help was gone! God showed me how terribly my heart could envy and covet what wasn’t mine. I was broken by my sinful thoughts and begged God to forgive me. I asked Him to help me depend on Him and not look to others.
Matt and I started studying what the Bible taught about poverty and how we should handle our situation. Biblical wisdom told us that we didn’t have a right to others’ help ... that those who can, should work and not demand to be given. But we weren’t sure how to proceed without help. Work had suddenly tapered off and Matt and I were even poorer than before ... with two extra mouths to feed. On top of that, filling out our adoption forms only convinced us that in the world’s eyes, we weren’t financially qualified to care for the twins. Even though we were living in a nice place and could feed them good food, the forms told us we didn't earn “enough.”
And so did others.
After confiding our financial struggle to someone, she later used it as an argument against our caring for a child in need. That surprised me. And it made me even more cautious about sharing our situation. Even if we’re “poor,” Matt and I don’t think we’re exempted from God’s command to care for the fatherless and widow. In fact, it is often the poor that God uses to care for His people (example: Elijah and the poor widow with a son).
Facing Poverty: Shame and Isolation
The next phase of our struggle was isolation. We didn’t want to receive handouts or give others a reason for why we shouldn’t minister to others. And we were struggling ourselves to understand why we were “poor.” Were we doing something wrong? It felt shameful that we hadn’t fixed our financial situation yet—so we didn’t talk about it. We stopped hanging out with Christian expats. Matt found a new job ... and wore the same two work shirts, alternating them every other day.
Plus there were the things we’d hear that made us want to disassociate ourselves from Christian expats who were asking for help:
“We’re careful about what we post on Facebook because we don’t want our supporters back home to know how good we have it and stop giving.”
“I just know that Christians are supposed to give to others, so I look around and wonder if Christians are going to step up and help me.”
Facing Poverty: A Change in Perspective
As we continued to study God’s Word about poverty, we tried to be more conscientious of how we spoke about our finances. We asked God to give us hope and to change our thoughts about money. After reading, Tithing and Dominion—a good principles + practical book—we implemented the three tithes as outlined in the Bible.
And God answered prayer. Our view of money and God’s provision changed drastically. We’d spent a lot of time worrying about the deficit that seemed to keep us from community with other believers, the money we didn’t have that others expected us to have, and the financial goals we weren’t meeting. Tithing helped us focus on what God values:
1) The teaching and application of His Word.
2) Family celebration around His Word.
3) The poor.
As our spending (and thus what we value) has become more aligned to God’s values, we’ve found more contentment with what He’s provided. Some days are harder than others. Like when I pulled one of Matt’s work shirts out of the washer and it was stained pink. I prayed we wouldn’t have to buy another and thankfully, the pink came out.
I didn’t realize until recently how much that struggle has lessened. I was reminded of what it was like in the beginning after reading the following on poverty:
The poor in terms of whom God’s law is given are those who are victims of disasters, deaths, and a variety of factors beyond their control. Some, who cannot work, need constant help, whereas others are to be helped in order to gain work, or helped to work. Such poor people often gain less help than others simply because they are not demanding help as “a right.” The U. S. News and World Report, January 11, 1988, reported on about nine million such people, mostly white and working, predominantly devout Christians, and of good character. Such people trouble the consciences of many, whereas those who will not work and insist on welfare as their right are “no problem,” because the state, after a fashion, cares for them.
Proverbs tells us,
“The poor is hated even of his own neighbour: but the rich hath many friends.” (Prov. 14:20)
“All the brethren of the poor do hate him: how much more do his friends go far from him? he pursueth them with words, yet they are wanting to him.” (Prov. 19:7) 
This was certainly true of our own situation. Matt and I didn’t demand help. But we didn’t fit the “mold” of those needing help by the Christian expats here. So we found ourselves excluded from the Christian community.
As Emma Woodhouse put it, “The yeomanry are precisely the order of people with whom I feel I can have nothing to do. A degree or two lower, and a creditable appearance might interest me; I might hope to be useful to their families in some way or other. But a farmer can need none of my help, and is therefore in one sense as much above my notice as in every other he is below it.” (http://austen.com/emma/vol1ch4... )
While we may think we’ve outgrown the class system, it isn’t surprising that this quote should fit so well here.
Poverty has been politicized in recent years, as it had been in Rome and other civilizations of the past, and this has altered its nature, because the moral and religious nature of poverty has been lost. To neglect the theological governance of poverty and wealth is to warp both, to engender a bad conscience, and to foster class hatred.
Sadly, Christians have adopted the “politicized” view of wealth and poverty:
The poor often feel they have “rights” simply because they are poor. To view poverty as a condition which gives man rights and entitlements is a strange belief, and a socially destructive one because it rests on envy.
Because the rich are rich, the poor because they are poor are “entitled” to a share-the-wealth division of assets and taxes. Welfarism divides society by its impersonalism. The rich look down on the poor as dangerous and mask their fears and self-doubt by dressing up welfarism as love and human concern. Love is not welfarism: if I love someone, I want to be close to them, but welfarism seeks to keep the poor at a distance, a safe and contented distance.
Unlike our experience in the Middle East, where poverty and need were addressed Biblically, Matt and I found ourselves in a situation that was isolating, humiliating, and demanding—in two different ways. On the one hand, it demanded that we “fix” our financial status to come back into community. Or, it demanded that we bring attention to our financial status to have community come help us.
When Christians don’t know how to treat the poor, impossible situations are created for both parties. Sadly, most churches prefer to hand the poor off to the government welfare.
So What Is the Solution?
- View money correctly and value what God values
- Hold the poor to the standards of God’s Word
- Love your neighbor as yourself
Even though we are “poor” relatively speaking, Matt and I also find ourselves in situations where we are “richer” than others. We are wealthier than most refugees, orphans, and widows. And this is true for virtually everyone.
[T]he poor of India in the 1980s would regard the poor of New York City as rich. This fact gives us no ground for dismissing the poverty in New York City; it simply tells us that the definition is to a degree relative. The poor in New York commonly have television, something very remote to the poor of Calcutta, but this does not eliminate the fact that the poor in New York see themselves as poor, are seen by their more prosperous New Yorkers as poor, and, in terms of the life of the United States, are indeed poor.
1. Our View of Money and Valuing What God Values
Wealth and poverty then are relative. But that doesn’t mean we can dismiss the reality that our incomes are higher or lower than others. Someone tried to “cheer” me up by saying it all comes down to the choices we make. They were in debt because they chose to live a certain lifestyle (i.e., eating at nicer restaurants, owning nicer cars, etc.). However, this wasn’t a comfort to someone living on a tight budget who just found out their income had been cut in half. Some must choose between heat and food but to tell them “it’s your choice” is like saying, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?
But this doesn’t mean that because your income is higher than someone else’s you must give them something. We are all poor when we compare ourselves to someone wealthier than us. And when we realize that the God of the Universe owns everything, then we can argue that we have nothing.
We must believe that the same God who owns everything has the right to distribute it as He pleases (seen in the parables of the workers hired at different wages and in the distribution of the talents.) We must also value what He values—the teaching of His Word, rejoicing over His Word with others, and the poor and needy.
2. Holding the Poor (Including Yourself) to the Standards of God’s Word
Money may describe a relationship comparatively—I am poorer than her. I am richer than him. But it doesn’t define our relationships or the standards to which we are held. The poor are not excused for breaking God’s law, nor are the rich allowed to buy their way out of the consequences of breaking God’s law.
As poor people, God still holds us to high standards:
“For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.” (2 Thessalonians 3:10)
“But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” (1 Tim. 5:8)
“Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread, but he who follows worthless pursuits lacks sense.” (Prov. 12:11)
“Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce.” (Prov. 3:9)
As rich people, we dishonor and humiliate God’s image bearers who are “poorer” than us (monetarily speaking) when we treat them by a different standard.
A week after Matt and I were married, Matt’s company hired a new supervisor who began giving unethical directives. Because Matt wouldn’t comply, he was told to leave the company (so they wouldn’t have to pay him unemployment). We were newlyweds and unemployed.
After one service where our church prayed for us to find work, a lady sitting in front of us took time afterward to get to know us, what Matt’s skills were, and what he might be interested in doing. She encouraged us to read our Bibles and told us she’d be praying for us. When we got home, we found a $100 bill in our Bible. A few weeks later, she asked us to come to her home and help her “unload” her freezer because she was moving. She gave us two coolers worth of food and let us harvest as many vegetables from her garden as we could eat. Perhaps the most valuable thing she did was give my husband access to her library, the majority of which was books by Rushdoony. Matt was able to read the works of godly men who encouraged him to grow in his understanding and application of God’s law.
We came away from that season of unemployment “richer” than we’d ever been. We look back on her with profound love—she didn’t make us feel less worthy for being unemployed nor did she neglect us. She was a wise woman who taught us a great deal through her kindness.
Offer what you can to alleviate immediate need but give tools for future and long-term productivity.
The goal is not to make the poor dependent on you or even grateful to you, but to honor our Maker by equipping His image bearers with the tools you’ve received by His grace.
3. Loving Your Neighbor as Yourself
The commandments can be summarized as loving God and loving your neighbor. The focus isn’t on protecting your rights or what you are entitled to, but on who you worship and what you do. This applies to both “poor” and “rich.”
To the Poor
As the poor, in order to love our rich neighbor as we love ourselves, we have to fight the lies we’re told:
● That we are owed something by others
● That our situation is defined by our poverty
● That until we are no longer poor, we can’t have value
We need to believe God’s Word and recognize God’s sovereignty over the distribution of money, skills, knowledge, etc.
God has given us skills, resources, time, experience, etc. Though we may have them to a lesser degree than others, we are no less accountable for what we do with them. The man with only one talent was as accountable as those with more.
As the poor, we must also recognize that we are wealthier than others. And we need to extend the same kindness to our poorer neighbor that we would wish to receive. When we really think about this, hopefully it will transform our desires to a Biblical standard. We may think we want handouts, but when we consider extending those same handouts to our poor neighbor from our own pocket, we’ll probably think twice.
To the Rich
As the wealthy, we must also heed God’s Word and love our poor neighbor. We need to fight the lies that tell us:
● All poor people are lazy.
● They don't deserve anything from me.
● I won’t be able to take care of myself if I help others.
Instead, we should look at what God’s Word teaches:
“You shall not oppress a hired worker who is poor and needy, whether he is one of your brothers or one of the sojourners who are in your land within your towns.” (Deut. 24:14)
“Whoever oppresses the poor to increase his own wealth, or gives to the rich, will only come to poverty.” (Prov. 22:16)
“If among you, one of your brothers should become poor, in any of your towns within your land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be.” (Deut. 15:7–8)
“As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.” (1 Tim. 6:17–19)
“Whoever multiplies his wealth by interest and profit gathers it for him who is generous to the poor.” (Prov. 28:8)
God has given us our riches for His glory and for the building up of His Kingdom. We need to ask for wisdom to judge between the “undeserving” poor and the “deserving” poor (see George Grant’s In the Shadow Of Plenty). And we need to love our neighbor as we would desire to be loved if we were in their situation.
 R. J. Rushdoony, In His Service (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 2009), p. 66.
 ibid., p. 60.
 ibid., p. 61.
 ibid., p. 60.