How to Meet the Moral Challenge of Being Poor
“PEOPLE are poor because they are lazy,” claimed one African doctor. “The city is full of loafers. If they really wanted work, they could find it. There is no need for anybody to be in poverty today.”
There is little question that some people are lazy and that laziness can lead to poverty. The Bible says: “A little sleeping, a little slumbering, a little folding of the hands to lie down, and as a highwayman your poverty will certainly come and your neediness as an armed man.” (Proverbs 24:33, 34) However, many poor people are far from lazy. For example, consider the man who wrote: “Down to this very hour we continue to hunger and also to thirst and to be scantily clothed and to be knocked about and to be homeless.” (1 Corinthians 4:11) An incurable loafer? Hardly. Those words were penned by the apostle Paul. He chose to live a life of limited economic means so that he could better pursue the Christian ministry. Some of his deprivations were also due to circumstances beyond his control, such as religious persecution.
Today, most of the world’s poor are victims of circumstances beyond their control—perhaps lack of education, failing local economies, or political upheaval. Many toil from early in the morning to late at night and barely eke out a living. Opportunities to gain financially through dishonest means may thus seem attractive, even necessary. Why, some might reason that the Bible justifies an occasional moral lapse! After all, it does say: “People do not despise a thief just because he commits thievery to fill his soul when he is hungry.” And a wise man prayed: ‘May I not come to poverty and actually steal.’—Proverbs 6:30; 30:8, 9.
Honesty—The Bible’s Position
Do these Bible texts really give tacit approval to dishonesty? Well, let us examine them in their context. After acknowledging that people do not despise a thief who steals to fill an empty stomach, Proverbs 6:31 continues: “But, when found, he will make it good with seven times as much; all the valuables of his house he will give.” In other words, when the thief is caught, he faces the full penalty of the law. He pays for his crime! Rather than encouraging thievery, therefore, these words warn poor people that thievery can result in further economic loss, disgrace for themselves and their families, and a loss of self-respect.
But what of the wise man’s prayer? He asked that he might not come to poverty and “actually steal and assail the name of [his] God.” (Proverbs 30:9) Yes, dishonesty on the part of a person professing to serve Jehovah can bring reproach on God’s name and on the congregation of His people. The apostle Paul wrote: “You, the one preaching ‘Do not steal,’ do you steal?” If some professed Christians did steal, this could cause ‘the name of God to be blasphemed among the nations.’—Romans 2:21, 24.
For good reason, then, the Bible says: “Better is the one of little means who is walking in his integrity than anyone crooked in his ways, although he is rich.” (Proverbs 28:6) Though he himself was low on provisions at times, the apostle Paul never condoned or resorted to dishonesty. Instead, he wrote: “Let the stealer steal no more, but rather let him do hard work, doing with his hands what is good work, that he may have something to distribute to someone in need.”—Ephesians 4:28.
The Solution: Trusting in God
What of those who are working hard but cannot earn enough to care for their own families? Is dishonesty or even thievery justified in their case, especially if illness strikes a family member or some other emergency occurs? Some people think so. Said one resident of an African land: “In our country, if you are honest, you will not live. If you want to survive, you’ve got to have a few curves in your way of life.”
Yet, throughout Africa a person frequently sees the words “Trust in God” painted on trucks, displayed on wall plaques, and printed on decals and bumper stickers. The Bible itself says: “Trust in Jehovah with all your heart.” (Proverbs 3:5) Dishonesty could never harmonize with that Biblical exhortation. But is trusting in God really a practical answer to the moral challenge of being poor?
As a minister of God, the apostle Paul experienced such hardships as ‘hunger and thirst, abstinence from food, cold, and nakedness.’ (2 Corinthians 11:27) Surely, Paul must have wondered how he would survive! But after some 25 years of Christian experience, he could write: “I know indeed how to be low on provisions, I know indeed how to have an abundance. In everything and in all circumstances I have learned the secret of both how to be full and how to hunger, both how to have an abundance and how to suffer want. For all things I have the strength by virtue of him who imparts power to me.” (Philippians 4:12, 13) Yes, Paul trusted in God.
Paul realized that Scriptural principles are not empty, idealistic words. They are instructions from a living God eager to help and support those seeking to apply them. An ancient prophet said: “As regards Jehovah, his eyes are roving about through all the earth to show his strength in behalf of those whose heart is complete toward him.”—2 Chronicles 16:9.
Blessed for Trusting in God
Why is it so hard for most people to trust in God? Doubtless because their religion has failed to give them sufficient reason to do so. The churches have made God appear to be nameless, abstract, impersonal, beyond human comprehension. But through a study of the Bible, Jehovah’s Witnesses have come to know God, not as some abstract force, but as a Person with a name. (Psalm 83:18; Hebrews 9:24) They have learned that he has qualities making him worthy of our trust. For instance, according to Exodus 34:6, Jehovah is “a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in loving-kindness and truth.” The Witnesses trust God and realize that he is ‘abundant in truth.’ Hence, they have full confidence in his promise to usher in a new world free of the grinding poverty that now afflicts so much of the human race.—2 Peter 3:13.
Millions of Jehovah’s Witnesses have therefore proved that it is practical to trust in God. For example, Rosaline, a Witness in Sierra Leone, works hard from five in the morning until late at night to provide food and clothing for herself and her six children. She states: “Many people say that it is not possible to live an honest life, but I know that this is not true. Sometimes I have problems and don’t know how they will be solved. But I know that if I live an honest life, everything will be all right for me. So I try hard not to displease Jehovah.”
One writer said: “A poor man with nothing in his belly needs hope . . . more than bread.” Yes, hopelessness, despair, and chronic unhappiness are afflictions that can be more painful than hunger. But one who comes to know and trust God need not succumb to despair. “I work hard now,” adds Rosaline, “but I have joy because I know that the time is coming when I will not have to toil in this way. Now I work to get food for me and my family, but in Jehovah’s new world, there will be plenty to eat. So now I have a hope and a joy I never had before I knew Jehovah.”—Compare Isaiah 25:6; Revelation 21:3, 4.
True, those trusting in God may still experience economic pressures, as did the apostle Paul. But never do they need to resort to breaking God’s laws in order to survive economically. Said the psalmist David: “A young man I used to be, I have also grown old, and yet I have not seen anyone righteous left entirely, nor his offspring looking for bread.” (Psalm 37:25) Yes, God cares for and blesses those who put his interests first in their lives.—Matthew 6:25-33.
So if you are poor, “do not give up in doing right.” (2 Thessalonians 3:13) Never resort to moral compromise. Build a relationship with God and rely on him to help you to cope with life’s problems and hardships. Those who serve Jehovah and trust in him implicitly are urged: “Humble yourselves . . . under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time; while you throw all your anxiety upon him, because he cares for you.”—1 Peter 5:6, 7.
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“A poor man with nothing in his belly needs hope . . . more than bread”
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Jehovah’s Witnesses help people to put their trust in God