If we haven’t met, you need to know that first of all, we are poor. We love the poor. We identify with the poor. Poverty and the Scriptures are our daily conversation. Our church is poor and most of our friends are poor. Some of our friends experience regular homelessness. Our lives include the realities of greens and cornbread, where meat is a spice. It also includes the joys of children adopted into the church family when biological mothers were unable to care for them.

We often say that God has given us the abundant life, a life together, where we experience the depths of sorrow as well as the heights of joy. We know poverty in the valley of want. We also know poverty on the hill top of spiritual reward that is gained by faith.

You might think that we would boast another qualification for writing. If poverty is a qualification for writing, the oceans would be drained to make ink. Poverty, however, is the first qualification for true life. Truly living people first of all recognize that they are destitute. Without recognizing this one fact, no one can have a real relationship with God. No one has anything to offer God. Even our good works, done apart from God, only compare to filthy rags. So, truly we are all poor when it comes to our souls.

Yet some are also poor when it comes to their material standing. This group, who according to the James 2:5 is rich in faith, has something to say to our affluent brothers and sisters.

Economic poverty seems to be at the forefront in the early church so much so that when Paul went back to Jerusalem to discuss theological issues with the other Apostles, he said in Galatians 2:10-21, “They changed nothing of my gospel except to remind me to care for the poor which we were already doing.” If the Apostles wanted to remind Paul of this one thing, then we need to know who the poor are. 

Who - and Where - Are the Poor?

In the larger world this is easy. Look on your computer. The poverty in the world is easily seen in international headlines. But in your hometown or nearby, it can be much more difficult. American poverty is a strange animal. It is hard to identify. You might be able to spot some of the homeless. But your neighbor who has some means will do every thing in his power to avoid being found not having heat for his house. Warm houses, hot water, and other necessities are required for children. Without these his children are at risk of being taken by the Department of Child Services. The standards are different in America than the rest of the world.

Standards that the authors use to determine poverty are first matters of the heart. It begins with the feeling of powerless that most people living in poverty have. These feelings provide a platform of hopelessness. The poor feel that they are unable to change their circumstance. 

As an example, just this month our local news paper, the Indianapolis Star, reported that our city was named on a national survey as the 45th of 50 cities regarding health. Thank God for Detroit, number 46, and a few other unhealthy cities, but the poor are unlikely to avail themselves of the too few golf courses anyway.  Build more and our over all health indexes will go up, but the destitute won’t golf more.

Since the poor don’t believe that they have the means to change their situations, they are left with few options. When a family finds itself in a desperate school system where can they go? The poor are those who live in the highest crime rate areas in our cities, those who have little health care options. They are those whose diets are killing them because of lack of understanding or opportunity. Some are working in conditions that expose them to extraordinary risk. They are unprotected.