Who are the poor and the rich, Biblically and physically speaking?  The answer is:  "Those who need food or clothing are poor."  Paul stated that we should be content if we have food and clothing. (I Tim. 6:8)  On the contrary, anyone who has an abundance is rich. 

     Quite often, we determine in our own eyes who is poor and who is rich, depending on the culture in which we live.  If someone lives in the United States and lacks a car or lives in a low-income housing situation, in many cases this person would be considered lacking or poor.  Most Americans would agree that those who live in the slum area of a city are poor, where those who live in expensive housing in the wealthier part of a city are rich.

     In other countries, where cars are rare, people are considered rich if they have adequate housing and enough food to eat.  They are rich compared to others who have to sleep on the streets and are daily struggling to get something to eat.

     Biblically, it is clear that the Lord emphasizes having food and clothing is sufficient for us and that we should be content when those needs are satisfied.  (Personally, I wish that He would have included house.  I live in a cool climate, and am not much for being outdoors, even with warm clothes!)

     The Lord told us not to worry, saying,


‘What shall we eat' or 'What shall we drink' or 'What shall we wear?'  For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.  But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself…. (Mt. 6:31-34 NIV)


     What could cause someone to become poor?  There are three reasons I would like to examine: sin, choice (for the sake of eternal riches), and oppression.  Sin often leads to poverty, depending on the nature of the sin.  Sin definitely leads to spiritual poverty because it separates from God.  However, there are some particular sins that would lead to physical poverty - laziness, greed, love of pleasure, drunkenness and gluttony.  The following scriptures describe some results of laziness: 


I went past the field of the sluggard, past the vineyard of the man who lacks judgment; thorns had come up everywhere, the ground was covered with weeds, and the stone wall was in ruins.  I applied my heart to what I observed and learned a lesson from what I saw: A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest - and poverty will come on you like a bandit [vagrant] and scarcity like an armed man [beggar]. (Prov. 24:30-34 NIV) 

Do not love sleep or you will grow poor; stay awake and you will have food to spare. (Prov. 20:13 NIV)

Lazy hands make a man poor, but diligent hands bring wealth. (Prov. 10:4 NIV)


     Another cause of being physically poor is greediness.  "One man gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty." (Prov. 11:24 NIV)  If one withholds more than he should, it can cause that one to become poor.  Examples might include those who had invested much money in the stock market and when the market collapsed in October 1987 there were many who became poor overnight.[1] 

     Having a love of pleasure can also cause poverty.  "He who loves pleasure will become poor; whoever loves wine and oil will never be rich." (Prov. 21:17 NIV)

     Concerning drunkenness and gluttony: 


Listen, my son, and be wise, and keep your heart on the right path.  Do not join those who drink too much wine or gorge themselves on meat, for drunkards and gluttons become poor, and drowsiness clothes them in rags. (Prov. 23:19-21 NIV)


All of these sins are very typical of those who live in the United States of America, particularly the love of pleasure and greediness.  There are many who are getting drunk - not only with wine and liquor but drunk with covetousness or greediness.  They want more and more and they try to get more and more.  I am extremely concerned for the state of the United States because of the laziness, love of pleasure, greediness, drunkenness and gluttony that has prevailed.  Scripture clearly states that these things cause poverty and though we have been physically one of the wealthiest nations in the world.[2]  I am concerned that we will no longer be wealthy.  Instead, we will end up sharing our wealth with others and many of us will end up in poverty.  This principle is shown in Deuteronomy 28:43,44:  "The alien who is among you shall rise higher and higher above you, and you shall come down lower and lower.  He shall lend to you, but you shall not lend to him; he shall be the head, and you shall be the tail."  This is the direction we are going unless these sins are repented of.  Other sins that can lead to poverty include: 


·         Following after vain things or having vain associations.  "He who tills his land will have plenty of bread, but he who follows frivolity [vain persons or chases fantasies] will have poverty enough!" (Prov. 28:19) 


·         An eagerness to be rich.  "He that hasteth to be rich has an evil eye, and considereth not that poverty shall come upon him." (Prov. 28:22 KJV) 


·         Refusing instruction.  "He who ignores discipline comes to poverty and shame, but whoever heeds correction is honored." (Prov. 13:18 NIV)


     People can become poor by choice.  As explained in the "Spiritual Riches cannot Compare with Physical Wealth" chapter, Moses, Paul and Jesus chose to give up monetary profit for the sake of God's chosen people.  Moses could have remained in royalty but he would not have delivered Israel out of Egypt.  Paul could have remained a prestigious religious leader and the gospel as we know it by him would not exist.  There are many others that have given up their wealth on this earth for the sake of a higher calling, for the sake of following Jesus.  Some of us have been, and others will be, called to give up prestigious careers so as to minister to the poor.  Some will give away or spend most, if not all, monetary and material wealth.  The life of "poverty" (at least in our cultural mindset) will be a choice for some of us.

     Finally, oppression by evil men can cause poverty.  This cause of poverty is the result of sinning against another.  Oppression by evil men can keep somebody poor or cause somebody to be poor.

     On the other side of the coin (bad pun intended), what are some of the causes of being rich?  There are ways of becoming rich through extortion, robbery, drug dealing and other illegal activities.  But I would like to address the causes of being "honestly" wealthy.

     First of all, the Lord is ultimately the source of all wealth.  He created our natural resources.  He gave us intelligence and ingenuity and with one or more of these combinations we are able to produce wealth.

     Having humility and the fear of the Lord brings wealth (along with honor and life.) (Prov. 22:4)  "Blessed is the man who fears the Lord, who finds great delight in His commands.  …Wealth and riches are in his house, and his righteousness endures forever." (Ps. 112:1b-3 NIV)

     Diligence is a cause of being rich.  Diligent hands bring wealth. (Prov. 10:4)  "He who works his land will have abundant food." (Prov. 28:19a NIV)  "All hard work brings a profit." (Prov. 14:23a NIV)

     Giving to others is a cause of becoming physically and spiritually rich.  “He who gives to the poor will lack nothing.” (Prov. 28:27 NIV)  "One man gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty.  A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed. (Prov. 11:24,25 NIV)  "…Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously." (2 Cor. 9:6 NIV)

     These are a few important causes of being physically wealthy.  However, we need to keep in focus that our physical is not as important as our spiritual status.  Being spiritually wealthy is of far greater value than all the riches on the earth and this spiritual wealth is available to all!


[1] Do I need to mention the stock market at the beginning of this century?!  Wall Street had its worst year in 2002 in a quarter of a century according to a front-page article in the Detroit Free Press.  Mike Hudson, “Markets’ 3-year Fall Squeezes Investors,” Detroit Free Press, 1 January 2003, 1A.


[2] The United States has the highest GDP per capita except for Luxembourg.  Time Almanac 2000 (Boston, MA: Family Education Company), 154.