The suffering and humility of the state of poverty has caused many preachers to propound that ‘poverty is a disease’ and so win a lot of congregation that hope that by their teachings they would learn how to pull themselves out of or not degenerate into poverty. The saying is so gladly proclaimed that it has become a national slogan, yet poverty increases in my country.
Prior to this era of preaching prosperity, there was a conceived notion that the rich were comfortable with their status and their exploitation of the poor, so long as the poor considered themselves citizens of heaven; hence, while they exploited the poor, these poor will complacently take solace in the hope that – blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of God.
So, when the crop of prosperity preachers sprang up to tell us otherwise – that poverty is rather a disease than a merit to heaven – their teaching became a welcome development for the suffering people of my dear country. I choose to talk about my country Nigeria here because I am not familiar with others’ in this regard.
It is understandable that bad situations make us inventive in escaping or delivering ourselves from their bondage. But this is why we must hold firm and be truthful in GOD’s way, Spirit and life. We need God’s Spirit of knowledge, understanding, wisdom, counsel, strength, fear and love to live and preach His truth and light for ourselves and the world at all times and in all situations. Why do I say this?
My experience of the poverty situation in my country seems to persist and grow worse with impenitent corruption that has eaten so deep into lives as to be considered the right way with every excuse that comes to mind. It has shut our conscience and heart to the plight of our neighbour while we are anxious to exploit situations for our selfish gains. It has caused us to be wicked to our neighbour. Those who choose to be upright are now considered as foes of progress and fools in the struggle for survival. You now see people openly professing Christianity and perpetrating corruption at the same time, as well as, accusing their victims of not being Christian enough to have fallen as preys to their corruption.
When we profess Christianity, we claim to emulate Jesus Christ in His entirety, or strive to emulate Him. Jesus, as we know, is King and Messiah, a Co-Maker of mankind and the world with the Father and the Holy Spirit – all of Genesis chapter 1 and specifically verse 26, ‘Then God said, “Let us make man in our image …”’ Even as a Maker, owning His creation, He came into it as one of the poorest, birthed in a manger amongst cattle; became a child of a carpenter and living among the poor instead of a palace of royalty; He friended the poor and said that He came for the sick – Mark 2:17; even the rich who encountered Him gave up their wealth for the love of Him – Matthew and Zacchaeus; He had no place to lay His head during His ministry; He is the good Shepherd who knows His sheep, living among the poor and heeding to their troubles. In His teachings he blessed the poor in spirit, the giver, the mourner, the humble and the suffering. But to the rich, He said – “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” Mark 10:25. And to a man, who sought earnestly for God but did not know that his insatiety was because of the burden of his wealth, he told to give up all this wealth, but he did not understand.
Considering the above, how does poverty become a disease? Does it make Christ a disease, because many dread the gospel to trouble their conscience? Is Christ’s choice of poverty and living with the poor a mistake that the prosperity preachers are trying to correct and so promoting desperation to get rich by all means, the aftermath of which is blind corruption among the people? – 1 Timothy 6:10. Are we not aware that the act of corruption involves cheating, stealing and impoverishing the other for one’s selfish gain? These preachers may defend that they never told their congregation to cheat or steal, but to a country like ours with a suffering majority, what is expected when you minister that their poverty is a disease; they will not like to remain a disease or be part of it.
The beatitude of ‘blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of God’, is the humble recognition of our sinfulness and being contrite about it, and so, emptying ourselves in complete dependence and trust in God rather than in our material possessions and in worldly things. God fills that emptiness with the wealth of Himself. Seeing Him is the kingdom we seek, and to be sure to experience Him above, we must begin to do so here. And this is regardless of your status as rich or poor in material things.
Jesus lived as and among the poor, because these people are humbled by their status, dependent on God for all things and so closer to Him, therefore open to receiving Him. The rich like Matthew, a former tax collector, and Zacchaeus, a tax collector, opened their hearts to God too and experienced a gracious gift of giving self and material to others rather than acquiring and keeping to themselves.
So, what am I saying? I am saying that demeaning the status of the poor as ‘a disease’ in our bid to preach prosperity is contrary to the gospel and contra-productive. The Bible already tells us about the rewards of our works in: the sower – as we must be consistent in righteousness and good works to bear good fruits; in harvesting – as in what we sow we shall reap; in the blessings of the works of our hands in other verses.
It does not matter whether we are poor or rich, what matters is the humility and emptiness of our heart to be filled with God, whose riches fill us to live in His image and likeness, and so, in the fullness of His Grace. We will always have the poor among us – says Jesus in John 12:8, but so will we have the rich. So, it is simply not the status of our material possession but the state of our hearts in receiving God and then showing His love among one another.
“You cannot be a slave of two masters; you will hate one and love the other; you will be loyal to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” Matthew 6:24, says the Lord. And – 1 Timothy 6:10 – tells us that ‘the love of money is the root of all evil; and some are so eager for it that they wandered away from true faith and have broken their hearts with many sorrows’. This is enough to be mindful of what we preach to the suffering seeking for redemption.
In line with the above, poverty is a choice by some, for instance, are the Catholic Religious, who vow to poverty in order to serve God by experiencing and giving self to the poor and needy so these can see God’s love through them – the Religious. This is exemplary of Christ who also humbled Himself to be and understand the poverty of the poor, as well as, give Self to show His Father’s love to them.
Some others are poor because they are inflicted with it. Dubai was a desert turned into a beautiful city which citizen are proud of as they welcome foreigners to enjoy the wealth they created in a desert. And so, they are proud of their insightful and sincere goodwill leaders for this. Nigeria is endowed with almost all the mineral resources you can find in this world, but we seem to hoard them and put all our heads in one, which more and more increases our sufferings and enrich our leaders who allocate unimaginable salaries, allowances and pensions – after only four years of selfish service and even while serving in another capacity – out of this one resource: petroleum; only to leave little or no change for national development and payment of the peanuts that serve as wages for the civil servants, who also end up unpaid for months. Now, faced with being called a disease, these poor civil servants turn on their fellow citizens by corrupt practices in their jobs, and gradually ingrained this corruption as normal, thereby closing their hearts and minds to love, honesty and fairness; all in their struggle to overcome poverty and being a disease, thereby creating a new kind of disease – inhumanity.
If I may suggest what we should preach, let us rather preach that, we should be honest and diligent at our work so that we may earn our due pay and let all concerned earn theirs too. Let us preach that since God made us for Himself, we should use His gifts to us for Him, so that through us His name will be hallowed in the world. Let us preach that as we work and harvest, we remember to be charitable to our fellow men all the way, so that many may benefit in our justice, fairness and love. Let us preach that our work should reflect true faith, so that we eschew all forms of corruption and unkindness towards those we are opportuned to serve by our works. Let us preach that we work with the heart to serve and lead aright. Let us preach to love and to share, so that together we bridge the gap between the rich and the poor.
Let parents live by good examples and teach their children and wards to be content, honest and hardworking. Let our teachers teach the honest means of work and growth in our classes. Let our preachers be true about God’s teaching. Let God, our Creator, as we all believe, be the basis of our lives and teachings, so that we may be guided and live in the right principles. And let us pray that God delivers us from bad leadership and corruption in our country, and renew us in His love and righteousness; that we may choose Him and reject the darkness of money.
Whom do you choose – God or money?
By Linda IfeanyiChukwu Ogbue – 9th February, 2020
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