We live in a world that is characterized by extremes of wealth and poverty. Warren Buffett, Carlos Slim Helu, and Bill Gates are the world’s top three billionaires, but the world’s bottom three billion people live on less than two dollars a day. While most of us aren’t as rich as the three billionaires, we’re not as poor as the three billion either. We’re somewhere in between.
Over the next few days, I would like to examine the extremes of wealth and poverty from a biblical perspective. Specifically, I would like to outline for you what the Book of Proverbs teaches about wealth and poverty. We will examine the various causes of wealth and poverty, focusing specifically on the role of moral and immoral behaviors. We will take a look at the awful reality of injustice and oppression as causes of poverty, and we will see how God’s judgment affects the unjust. We will study the duty of generosity toward the poor, and how God rewards the generous. And we will see that while wealth has real – though limited – value, there are other, more valuable things than money.
Today, however, I want to talk about two key biblical principles: spirituality and solidarity.
The first biblical principle is spirituality. A relationship with God is paramount, more important that either wealth or poverty. In fact, wealth and poverty present unique temptations that try to draw us away from God.
Two things I ask of you, O Lord;
do not refuse me before I die:
Keep falsehood and lies far from me;
give me neither poverty nor riches,
but give me only my daily bread.
Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
and say, “Who is the Lord?”
Or I may become poor and steal,
and so dishonor the name of my God (30:7-9).
Too much wealth makes us forget God. Too little makes us forget God’s commandments.
The second biblical principle is solidarity, which means that we – both rich and poor – have more in common than in difference, that our fates are inextricably linked, and that therefore we should help one another.
Two proverbs point out the solidarity of the rich and the poor:
Rich and poor have this in common:
The Lord is the Maker of them all (22:2).
The poor man and the oppressor have this in common:
The Lord gives sight to the eyes of both (29:13).
When we look at rich people and poor people, we notice the differences. The former are clothed, the latter are naked. The former are obese, the latter are starving. The former are healthy, the latter are sick. We could go on endlessly about our respective material differences. But what holds us together is God, who creates us both and gives us whatever blessings we enjoy. We like to think in terms of us (the rich, developed world) and them (the poor, developing world). In reality, there’s no them. There’s only us. We all are God’s children.
The biblical principles of spirituality and subsidiarity unite us with God and neighbor. And isn’t that union – love of God and love for neighbor as self – the essence of biblical teaching (Matt. 22:37-40)?