Is poverty good or evil?

Is being poor ever something God would require?

When we lived in India, we faced this issue one day with a group of pastors who were struggling with a desperate lack of funds. These men wondered if God wanted them to be poor. In fact, they asked me this very question: “Does God want us to be poor?”

Now I know that those in the prosperity gospel camp, in their horrible ignorance, would have said, “Of course not! God wants you to be wealthy!” And perhaps many of our Western Christian friends may have held a similar opinion. “Poverty can never be good. Of course, God wants to lift you out of it.”

However, I did not respond in this way. I said, “You have prayed about this.”

Yes, they answered, they had.

I said, “And God has heard you. God hears our prayers.”


I then stated, “Either God is sovereign or He’s not. Since He is sovereign, therefore, I know of no other answer than that, for now, yes—God wants you to be poor.”

That was difficult for a relatively wealthy man—by their standards—to say.

However, it must be true. They had prayed about their condition. God had heard their supplications. Yet, their poverty remained.

This truth is so difficult for us to apprehend because we Christians tend to have a skewed understanding of poverty and wealth, and that understanding is often not based upon Scripture. In the West, it is a very strong cultural truth that being poor is one of the worst things a person can endure. We have created vast government plans to deal with issues of poverty in our cultures. However, poverty is not one of the worst scourges of mankind.

Not knowing God and His ways is.

But back to our story.

Suddenly, right out in the open, in front of all the pastors, one man said, “I know what I should preach, but if I do that, no one will come.”

He candidly admitted that he compromised the teaching of Scripture in order to get more people in his church and therefore obtain more money.

The reader may decide for him/herself if such a thing could ever happen in churches in the West or anywhere else.

However, while there, we learned another distressing truth about the condition of pastors in India. For them to work at a secular job is a humiliation. The reason they feel this way is because a powerful reality has existed in the long history of the caste system there—which is illegal but still burbles strongly through the culture: The Hindu Brahmin priests were (and still are) at the top of the ladder, and all other castes below support them. They do not labor. They are too important to labor. Christian pastors enter the ministry expecting this to be the case for themselves, as well. They feel they are entitled to be supported. However, obviously, this condition does not hold for very many pastors in India.

One day, when my wife and I were walking home on the dusty, cow-dung spotted road to our house, a man rolled up next to us on his bike. He asked if we were missionaries and then told us the following things about himself:

He had seventy people in his church.

He was a full-time pastor.

We learned this man’s status before we knew his name.

He had arrived and wanted us to know it.

Because so many Indian pastors are poor, ministries in that nation reach out to people, churches, and organizations in order to support and help them. Some Indian nationals travel all over the world, spending tens of thousands of dollars on airfare, to raise funds. However, shouldn’t such leaders address with the truth of Scripture the pernicious burden under which these pastors live? These shepherds are not entitled to an income from their churches. Yes, the Bible teaches that churches should support their elders. The laborer deserves his wages (1 Timothy 5:17-18). However, if a church is unable to do so, only one scriptural solution remains: Pastors must be bi-vocational. They must go to work. Although it may be humiliating in the Indian culture, it is not humiliating according to Scripture—and this is the truth the Indian pastors and churches, as well as ours, need to live by. Indian pastors must consider this truth before God. After all, the apostle Paul, chosen by God Himself, one of the greatest intellectuals in the history of the Church, worked with his hands and was not ashamed to do so. In fact, he desired it.

In addition, being humiliated is not something we should shun.

Throughout Scripture, the prophets were scorned and ignored by the religious leaders of their time.

Most importantly, the secular and religious authorities attempted to humiliate Jesus, God Himself in the flesh. However, we are taught to look beyond this, as He did.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1–2).1

To state the obvious, God does not think the way we do.

More next time on the scriptural truths concerning wealth and poverty.

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

Thanks to Ben Williams for the photo.