Ethics of Materialism: Who Are The Poor?

By Keyla Sweeney

The characteristic of the Christian living is not communism, but charity.

This is the second post from the series on Ethics Of Materialism based on the book “Ethics and The Christian: Right and Wrong in Today’s World“, by R. C. Sproul. If you missed the first part, you can read it in this link 7 Quotes From Sir R.C. Sproul On The Ethics Of Materialism.

When talking about the ”poor” described in the Bible, Sproul identifies at least four different major categories of ”poor people”:

  1. The Poor As Result Of Slothfulness. The Bible speaks of those who are poor because they are lazy, refusing to work. This indolent group receives sharp criticism from God and come comes under His holy judgment.
  2. The Poor As a Result Of Calamity. The Scriptures recognize that many are left in poverty because of the ravages of disease or disasters. These people are victims of circumstances not of their own making. For these ”poor” the Bible adopts an attitude of compassion and genuine charity. It is the responsibility of the people of God to see to it that the suffering of these people is ameliorated. They are to be a priority concern of the Church. These are the hungry who are to be fed, the naked who are to be clothed.
  3. The Poor As a Result Of Exploitation. This group of poor are also oppressed. These are the masses who are frustrated daily by their inability to ”fight city hall,” the ones who live out the mournful slogan, ” the rich get richer and the poor get poorer”’. This was Israel’s status when in bondage to Egypt. This kind of poverty moves God himself as He hears the cries and groans of His oppressed people and says,”Let My people go!”Such injustice and inequity should always ”move” God’s Church, Sprout added.
  4. The Poor As a Result of Personal Sacrifice. these poor people are designated by the New Testament as being poor ”for righteousness ‘ sake. This group, whose chief is Jesus Himself , is made up of people who are voluntarily poor.

What can we learn from those four designations? In the first instance we should be warned not to lump all the poor together in one package. We must resist the tendency to generalize about poverty. An equally insistent warning must be voiced about the the same kind of unjust grouping together of the rich. It would be slanderous to maintain that all rich people are corrupt, as if all riches were achieved through evil means or through exploiting the poor. Not all rich people are avaricious or ruthless.To indict the rich indiscriminately would be to condemn the likes of Abraham, Job, David, and Joseph of Arimathea.

Second, we must avoid a theological glamorizing poverty. Throughout Church history there have been repeated efforts to make poverty a requisite for entrance into the Kingdom of God. It has been seen as a form of works righteousness whereby the poor have an automatic ticket to heaven. This substitutes justification by poverty for justification by faith.

Third, we must recognized that God cares deeply about human poverty and the consequent suffering.

The basic principle regarding wealth is the principle of stewardship, that a man is responsible for what he does with what he receives.He is not called to liquidate his assets; he is called to give as the Lord prospers him. The characteristic of the Christian living is not communism, but charity.

The science of economics is not a neutral science divorced from ethical considerations. Though the Bible is not a book text in economics, it does set forth basic principles for the right of private property; profits, who are a need for the whole community of mankind to survive in a relationship of mutual interdependency; and we also have prohibitions and sanctions for forms of stealing.

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