Last week, I posted about the striking contrast between the annual ETS meeting and the grinding poverty of inner-city San Francisco where the conference was located. This was a thought-provoking experience to say the least! But it wasn’t the first time God opened my eyes to realities of poverty and the ethical demands of the gospel toward the poor.
A few years ago, I was deeply struck by the Bible’s condemnation of the misuse of wealth as I was preparing to teach a class on Ezekiel. I read Ezekiel 16:49 for what seemed like the first time and the rest is history. (You can read about my retelling of this story HERE.) I then quickly found out that there are over 2,000 passages in the Bible that condemn greed, the misuse of wealth, or indifference toward the poor. I quickly realized that something is wrong. How is it that I’ve listened to well over 1,000 sermons in my life, attended (at the time) both Bible College and Seminary, and yet had never been told about the relentless concern God has for the poor?
It takes an insane amount of interpretive creativity to dodge 2,000 passages. Perhaps we need to stop talking about being biblical and start reading the Bible with fresh lenses. Think about this. The Bible condemns the misuse of wealth, more that it condemns the misuse of alcohol, sex, and drugs combined!
Could it be that our value scale of what makes a good Christian is terribly skewed? If someone struggles with alcohol abuse, pornography, and drug addiction, yet devotes his life to serving the poor, we condemn them as an unbeliever. But if someone never drinks, uses drugs, or looks at a porn site, and yet has no heart whatsoever toward the poor, we call him a saint. In fact, if he’s a good speaker, we call him pastor, shower him with praise, and—ironically enough—bless him with a 6 figure salary.
I’m not advocating for less concern for alcohol or drug abuse, nor am I saying that helping the poor constitutes salvation. Plenty of unbelievers are concerned for the poor, but aren’t doing so out of a deep love for Jesus. But I am advocating that we reconfigure our ethical value scale more around the Bible than the Christian culture we grew up in. What would it like if the ethos of our churches reflected the blistering critique that the Bible levels against the misuse of wealth and lack of concern for the poor.