What does the Bible say about poverty?

September 5, 2019

The homeless man on the sidewalk waved. I waved back as I turned the corner. I didn’t know his story. If I’m honest, I didn’t even think about the fact that he had a story. In fact, I don’t even remember his face. I subconsciously noticed that there was a person there, but I didn’t acknowledge his humanity.

Most of us are accustomed to seeing poverty around us in some form, whether as a distant issue or a personal reality. As believers, how are we supposed to respond to the poverty we encounter? And how does the Bible speak to this issue?

When we hear the word “poverty,” we don’t often think of specific people and needs. It causes us to consider a broad issue while being able to safely ignore all of the individuals who are personally affected by it. When Scripture references “the poor,” on the other hand, it encourages us to see people as people. The poor are people with faces and names and stories. The poor are people with fears and doubts and questions. The poor are every bit as human as anyone else.  

Who are the poor?

Anyone who lacks “sufficient money to live at a standard considered comfortable or normal in a society[1]” is considered poor. There are many reasons someone could be poor. Sometimes poverty is the result of foolish decisions (Prov. 6:10-11, 10:4, 14:23), and other times poverty is no fault of one’s own (John 9:3). Often, systemic injustices contribute to the cycle of poverty (Psa. 12:3; Isa. 10;1-3; James 5). Poverty, though, does not deprive a person of his or her humanness. Everyone bears the image of God because we are humans—created by God and made in his image. The reason for someone’s poverty shouldn’t determine the value we place on him or her, and the way we treat the poor around us is a reflection of how we view their Maker (Prov. 14:31). 

What does the Lord require of you?

Throughout Scripture, God reveals his heart for the poor. We see God’s concern for poor people when he speaks of the injustices toward them. Consider the prophets Amos and Micah. Although they were both ultimately getting at Israel’s heart-issue, in the process, they addressed God’s concern for the poor, God’s judgment on those who abuse the poor, and the reality of systemic injustice and the cycle of poverty. 

The reason for someone’s poverty shouldn’t determine the value we place on him or her, and the way we treat the poor around us is a reflection of how we view their Maker (Prov. 14:31). 

In the cities where Amos was prophesying, people were faced with unexpected food shortages (Amos 4:6-9). Those who maintained some measure of wealth clung to it by exploiting their poor neighbors (Amos 5:11-13). In this time of need, the righteous were not standing for justice. Amos tells Israel that without justice, there is no righteousness (Amos 5:7). There should be no disconnect between the Christian’s work and worship. Justice and righteousness should flow from the same heart (Amos 5:21-24). Wealthy Israelites were showing contempt for the poor among them, so when Amos told of the coming punishment, he said that the wealthy would be the first to go into exile (Amos 6:1-7). The complacent heart of the wealthy was not a heart aligned with God’s heart. And because God cares for the poor, he proclaims judgment on those who trample the poor—those who do not leave anything behind for the alien, widow, or orphan to glean from and those who exploit the poor in order to gain power (Deut. 24:19; Amos 8:2-8; Micah 2:1-3, 7:1-2). The poor are a people God cares about, so he will not withhold judgment from those who abuse the poor. 

In light of God’s care for the poor people among us, how should we treat them? We should begin by remembering the words of Micah: “Mankind, he has told each of you what is good and what it is the LORD requires of you: to act justly, to love faithfulness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). This should guide us as we seek to care for poor people the way that God does. Jesus perfectly exemplified the heart of God and didn’t neglect the poor or their needs. In fact, he tenderly cared for the poor and often spoke about how we should treat them.

Furthermore, in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he tells the church that we should work so that we have enough resources to be able to give to those who are in need (Eph. 4:28). This call to give to those in need is reiterated throughout Scripture. And when we give, the attitude of our hearts matters. We are to give generously and without a grudging heart (Deut. 15:10). We should not be manipulated into giving, and we should not be reluctant in our giving. God desires for us to give cheerfully (2 Cor. 9:7). The Christian’s calling to give to those in need is not a checklist item that must be completed in order to be in good favor with the Lord. It is an opportunity to reflect the extravagant love of God to our neighbors.

As we use the voice and the opportunities God has given us to pursue justice for the poor and to help them get food and shelter, we may be surprised at how much the poor can teach us and help us to grow. We have neighbors who understand what it is to have no place to lay their head or who cling tightly to Jesus day after day because they know that they can not place lasting hope in a paycheck or a home (Luke 9:58). As we seek to truly love these neighbors, we should learn all we can from them, watching how God will shape our hearts through their example. 

As Christians, we must be intentional in truly loving the poor people among us as we seek to serve them. It is easy to give away some unwanted clothes or to serve a bowl of soup, but really loving the homeless man on the corner is much harder. It requires relationships—as messy and inconvenient as they can be. It means asking about and listening to the needs of the person sitting across from us rather than assuming that we know what she needs. It means empowering an individual to be self-sustaining rather than causing him to be another person depending on us. Genuinely loving someone is hard, but in the power of God’s Spirit, we can truly love our neighbors as ourselves. 

Marissa Postell

Marissa Postell serves as the managing editor of LifewayResearch.com. As a writer, she hopes to tell compelling narratives to equip the church to live on mission for the kingdom of God. Read More by this Author

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24