From the Pastor's Study
From the Pastor’s Study
June 14, 2023
There are different levels and kinds of poverty, and most of us have some idea about how we help those who are impoverished. If someone has not had anything to eat for several days, the obvious solution is to buy them a meal and perhaps some extra groceries so that they can make it through the next couple of days. Another person may not be able to find a job, and they become unable to pay for their utilities, leaving their house cold and uninhabitable. We pay the utilities. A third person may be working, but because of a lack of skill and training, they cannot find a job that will pay enough to feed themselves and their family. Instead of giving them a handout, we work with them to give them the skills and training that they need. Different kinds of poverty call for different responses.
The solution to poverty is charity. The word, charity, has been misunderstood as having something to do with pity. Someone might say, “I don’t need your charity,” meaning that they don’t need our pity. The root of the word, “charity,” comes from the Latin which means, “generous love.” To be charitable, then, is to love someone generously, which means that we contribute of what we have to meet their needs. The key is that charity is not done out of pity but out of love and love is expressed through generous action.
We have lots of experience meeting people’s physical needs. When there is physical poverty, we know what to do, most of the time. But what about spiritual poverty? To consider how we meet spiritual poverty, we must first be able to define what that is.
Spiritual poverty, like physical poverty, takes several forms. A spiritually impoverished person might be completely unaware of the God who exists in a spiritual world. We might say that such a person is completely impoverished spiritually. Another person might be aware that there a God out there, but they might not know that that God cares about them. Another person may know that there is a God who cares about this world, but they may not think that this same God cares about them personally. Another person may think that the God who cares is angry with them because of their sin. And, finally, someone may well be aware that God loves them, has forgiven them and welcomes them as his child, but does not experience the blessing of belonging to the family of God.
People who are experiencing spiritual poverty need our charity. They need us to be generously loving, meaning that we give of what we have to meet their needs. But we cannot help them only with words. Talking to a starving person, even encouraging them by saying that food is available, might seem nice, but it does not help them with their hunger. We must do something, and whatever it is that we do is going to involve more than just a few words. It will probably cost us a few dollars to buy meals and groceries.
In the same way, it is not enough just to tell people that God exists and that he loves them. God’s love, if it is to be understood, must be experienced. Now, of course, God can give the experience of his love to the spiritually impoverished without human help, but it is generally true that God uses his children to provide experiences of his love. Assisting people who are experiencing spiritual poverty, then, means that we must love generously. Generosity usually involves cost of some sort to ourselves. In other words, evangelism and discipleship is not a program where we throw a few words out hoping someone will catch them. Evangelism and discipleship (which are methods of helping those who are spiritually impoverished) involves committing what we have for the sake of others, often with some cost to ourselves..
We often hear that if we are going to reach people for Jesus, we must live godly, Christ-centred lives ourselves. Nothing can be truer than that. We cannot be a witness of God’s love if we do not live obedient and trusting lives. If people don’t see us experiencing God’s love in the way we live, in the decisions we make, and in the priorities we set for ourselves, they won’t expect to learn of God’s love from us. But living godly lives is not enough. Just as we most acts of charity for physical poverty involve engaging in the life of another, so when we seek to meet the spiritual needs of another, we must engage in their lives in a meaningful way. Of course, we are careful that we do not get drawn into their world and be led away from God, but at the same time, unless we love them concretely, they will not experience God’s love.
Each person will have a spiritual need, and that will mean that we show spiritual charity in a way that best fulfills that need. If someone is aware of God’s existence and even knows that God loves people but believes that God is not interested in them as a person, we can talk about how God sent his Son to die for our sins. As we do that, we also model forgiveness in our relationships with others. If someone knows that Jesus has given his life for them but does not experience the joy of belonging to God’s family, we can invite them into our lives and give them the experience of what it means to belong to a community of believers. What we do depends on the spiritual need of the person.
There are plenty of people around us who are spiritually impoverished. We have been blessed with God’s love and, to use Paul’s words, are rich in Christ. We can give spiritual charity by engaging in the lives of others and loving them generously so that they can experience God’s love in Jesus Christ. Helping people become spiritually rich does not happen overnight just as helping someone is physically impoverished takes time. God could use other means than us to help people in their spiritually poverty, but he most often chooses us. He has blessed us with spiritual richness (we know God, know that he loves us, know his forgiveness, and experience the wonder of the Christian community), and, as a result, we can give that to others. Spiritual impoverishment is solved by spiritual charity, giving generously what God has given to us.