Rev. Kuiper is pastor of Southeast Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Holy Scripture uses the words poverty and poor in two senses. First, these words refer to those who do not have a sufficient amount of natural, earthly things to exist; they lack food, clothing, and other necessary items so that they cannot fulfill their callings. If we ask the question, Why is this so? the ultimate reason is given in I Samuel 2:7, “The Lord maketh poor, and maketh rich: he bringeth low, and lifteth up.”
As the Lord exercises His sovereignty in regard to the distribution of earthly things, He has two purposes in mind. The lack of earthly things brings His children very close to Him and works trust in their heavenly Father. And secondly, the presence of the poor with us gives the saints opportunity to give unto them in love.
In the Old Testament the Israelites were to remember the poor at harvest time, “Not wholly reaping the corners of the field, neither gathering up the gleanings … neither gathering every grape of the vineyard. They shall leave them for the poor and stranger” (Lev. 19:9, 10). The godly Boaz kept this precept faithfully (Ruth 2:15, 16). The virtuous woman “stretcheth out her hand to the poor; yea, she reacheth forth her hands to the needy” (Prov. 31:20).
Jesus reminds us of the tender concern God has for the poor by saying, “Ye have the poor with you always…” (Mark 14:7). If we find that not to be true, we are not looking hard enough, or we are looking in the wrong places. Because the poor are always with us, proper Sabbath observance includes the taking of benevolence offerings (I Cor. 16:1, 2; L.D. 38). One of the motives the workman has in his heart as he goes off to his job is “that he may have to give to him that needeth” (Eph. 4:28).
No one sets out in life to be poor. No one ought to set out to be rich! “They that would be rich fall into temptation and a snare … for the love of money is the root of all evil” (I Tim. 6:9, 10). Poverty and riches both present us with temptations. “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” (Prov. 30:8, 9). “Having food and raiment let us be therewith content” (I Tim. 6:8).
The Scriptures also use the words poverty and poor in the spiritual sense. All mankind has impoverished itself by its willful sin of disobedience through Adam in the Garden. Although God had created man in His own likeness and image, man was not impressed with his high estate. He willfully cast away the riches of God’s image and became wretchedly poor apart from God. We are poor sinners, possessing nothing of any value in ourselves. “This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles” (Ps. 34:6). “Bow down thine ear, O Lord, hear me: for I am poor and needy. Preserve my soul” (Ps. 86:1, 2).
We are given a striking picture of our spiritual poverty in the parable of the lost son (Luke 15). Keeping in mind that the three parables of this chapter form Jesus’ answer to the Pharisees who thought they were righteous in themselves, we see that the wayward son is not some especially sinful member of the church but is a picture of every child of God. Leaving God, we “waste our substance in riotous living” (Luke 15:13). We did this not only with our original sin in Adam, but we do this repeatedly throughout our lives. Were it not for the love of God that follows us even when we go astray, to bring us to repentance and return us to our Father’s house, our squandering of God’s good gifts would bring us to the final poverty of hell. If anyone thinks this is too harsh a judgment on the poverty of our sinful natures, hear the warning of Revelation 3:17, “Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked….” And hear the good counsel of Jesus in Revelation 3:18, “I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve that thou mayest see.” These riches of salvation are of grace, free to them that believe, to be found only in Christ.
Poor, needy, miserable, wretched sinners are made rich beyond calculation by the love of God in Jesus Christ. “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” (II Cor. 8:9).