What does Jesus say
about poverty

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"In Jesus, God came as a poor man, lived as a poor man, and died as a poor man. He is good news to the poor. And as such, Jesus cared deeply about the impoverished".
by John Barry, CEO of Jesus' Economy

January 28th was Housing Justice Homeless Sunday and as such I want to tie the problem of homelessness into the problem of poverty.

  • The UK has 3.9 million people in "persistent poverty" according to a report released from the Office for National Statistics in May 2016. 
  • Homelessness has increased for three consecutive years, partly because of housing shortages and cuts to benefits, with an estimated 185,000 people a year now affected in England. 
  • The last time a global survey was attempted – by the United Nations in 2005 – an estimated 100 million people were homeless worldwide. 
  • As many as 1.6 billion people lacked adequate housing. 
  • Nearly half of the world's population, more than 3 billion people, live on less than £1.80 a day. 
  • More than 1.3 billion live in extreme poverty, less than 90p a day. 
  • One billion children worldwide are living in poverty. 
  • According to UNICEF, 22,000 children die every day due to poverty. 

As you can see poverty is no less a problem now than it was in Jesus’ day.

In this study I want to concentrate on what Jesus has to say about poverty, as well as concentrating on what He says the response to poverty should be. Jesus talks a lot about poverty, but more on what we should do in response. 

The meaning of poor is to lack something. For example; poor in wealth, health, or spirit. It doesn't solely mean to not have money, although for the context of this talk that is what we are concentrating on; those that are in financial poverty or financially poor.

We will be looking at what Jesus says about those of us that lack money, or those in financial poverty. 

What does Jesus say about them and the situation? To understand this we’re going to look at what Jesus says about people that do not lack money.

The Rich and the Kingdom of God
16 Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”
17 “Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.”
18 “Which ones?” he inquired.
Jesus replied, “‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony,
19 honour your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbour as yourself.”
20 “All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”
21 Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
22 When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.
23 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven.
24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?”
26 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

Matthew 19 v 16-26

These verses are not specifically referring to money, but more about us putting things in front of God and holding onto worthless temporary things when He offers us so much more!  

This young man has everything, he has wealth and follows the commandments. Yet Jesus can see deeper, He sees that the man is spiritually poor.

Look at the response when Jesus tells him what he must do:

21 Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
22 When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.

This man wanted to follow Jesus but on his own terms, without sacrificing his possessions. Everything Jesus was offering was not enough for the young man to give up all he had. He was poor in spirit and faith.

For those that have enough to eat, rent or own a house, hold down a job there is a warning here, make sure you are not the rich man in this story.

Jesus is making it clear “what I offer is worth more than everything you own or ever will” that is the cost to follow him. 

I want to focus our attention on these verses:

21 Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
22 When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.

Jesus here is plainly telling us what our response to poverty should be as people that follow him.

Jesus is saying if you want to follow me use what you have to help those with less and love your brother as you love yourself.

Jesus tells the man that he lacks self-sacrifice for others, he lacks giving to the extent that it is painful to him. He lacks an ability to put aside his wealth for the sake of the gospel. Wealth is meant to bless others, plain and simple. 

Jesus is clearly saying it is impossible for anyone rich or poor to enter into the Kingdom without being willing to make this trade. A rich man cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven. It is impossible for anyone that puts wealth and comfort in front of giving and sacrifice.

It is not hard for a camel to go through an eye of a needle, it is impossible!

In Jesus’ day much like today the wealthy were seen as being blessed or favoured by God. That is why the disciples say: “Who then can be saved?” 

Jesus answered

26 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

Only with God can anyone enter the kingdom, especially those that put wealth and there own well-being in front of others needs. Why? Because in God’s economy we own the problem of poverty. Our greed, inaction and self serving nature have stopped us from loving our brother as we love ourselves.

The world and the Christians in it do not always do to others as they would want it done to them. This rich man is any one of us. Poverty is our problem because it is God’s problem. There are many reasons people are poor or homeless, sometimes poor decisions; but we do not take responsibility for their decisions. However the circumstances that lead to poverty, and helping people out of it are our responsibility.

It doesn’t matter if you do not like that, and you feel that you have worked hard to be where you are financially. Jesus does not care for your financial situation, only what you choose to do with it. As someone with wealth you are given by God an even greater opportunity to serve those with less.

If Jesus believed that belief is about action, why don’t we? Why have we not dedicated ourselves to being part of the solution to poverty rather than part of the problem? 

Giving individually, not just as institutions. Jesus is calling out those that might say:

  • My church gives a lot of time and resources to the poor. 
  • I give to my church so I don’t need to do anything for the homeless women I saw yesterday. 
  • My church runs a shelter they seem to be getting on fine and I give to my church. 
  • I don’t need to worry about the family that have to choose between heating or food as there are organisations that help with this stuff... 
  • I need a new car this year, I need a new kitchen, I need new shoes, I deserve to treat myself… 

I need, I need... Please understand I am not saying God does not want you to have nice things, what I am saying is that God does not want you to put them in front of your love for Him or your service to others. If you really need a new kitchen buy one. If you need shoes buy them without fear. However remember we are called to love our neighbour as we love ourselves.

Maybe you give lots and believe the rest is yours to do with what you like, I disagree but lets just say it is. 

This does not change the teaching that for those that follow Jesus what we like should be the same as what He wants. 

“I’ve worked hard I deserve my holiday in a 5 star resort”, do you deserve it more than answering the call Jesus has put on you?

Imagine that you have a bill that has to be paid by the end of the month or you would lose your home, through overtime you could work enough hours to cover that bill; you would work as hard as you could to get it paid off. Now imagine that your neighbour is in this situation, but they could not or did not have the opportunity to pay the bill; would you work just as hard to help them pay the bill?

This is what Jesus asks of us. 

Life is meant to be lived and enjoyed. We all need money to live but we either believe in Jesus’ teaching or we don’t. 

Jesus teaches poverty is our problem, He makes it clear how we should view those in poverty and homelessness and makes it clear what we should do about it.

But for those people in poverty what does he say?

20 And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
21“Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied. “Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.
Luke 6 v 20-21

Jesus time and again makes it clear it is not wealth we should be chasing but Him, in doing so He will provide for our every need. In this verse Jesus lays out what He expects us to be doing about poverty.

Jesus also lets those of us in poverty know it is temporary, you should be cared for by my people and you will be cared for by me. He is saying in my kingdom you will be cared for, in my kingdom you will be fed, loved and housed.

However until that day comes, until then my people, those that follow me will do the job; feeding the poor, healing the sick, housing the homeless.

Why are the poor blessed?

They are blessed as they have to rely on the Lord and not there bank accounts. They should be shown Jesus by those that claim to follow Him now and they will be with Him in the kingdom to come. 

Interestingly Jesus nowhere says that everyone should be fabulously wealthy, He doesn’t preach the prosperity gospel. Wealth is not a kingdom character trait but neither is poverty. Sacrifice and a giving heart is.


What does Jesus say about poverty: He says it should not exist but as it does we must do something about it, until He comes back at that time no one will be lacking anything.

  1. Name some reasons you can think about why it is impossible for those that put wealth in front of Jesus to enter Heaven?
  2. Is poverty in this world our responsibility, as Jesus seems to teach us it is? 
  3. Can I be justified in putting my own financial needs or wants in front of Jesus, call to serve the poor, hungry or homeless? 
  4. In what way would actually doing as Jesus asks “love your brother as you love yourself” change how we deal with the problems of poverty and homelessness?

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I hope you enjoyed the study.
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