Being ‘Poor’ Is A Choice, and Often A Missed Or Ignored Blessing
I haven’t had much time to post lately because I have been busy in my shop, filling orders for my customers. But this is a blessing. In fact, it is one of many. You see, it was while I was working late into the night to serve my customers that things started to come together for me. I should have realized all of this long, long ago, but I can be a slow learner. In fact, I can be downright stubborn at times. Still, I found an understanding of the battle over poverty that I would like to share with you. However, before I do, I need to warn you: this may not be an easy series for many people to read because what I have to say is going to run counter to what many of us believe. But that’s OK, just so long as you do me a favor. If these next few posts anger you, step back and take a long, hard, honest look at why before you attack me for what I am about to say.
For those who do not already know this, I own a small company. It isn’t much, and for more than ten years, I struggled to run it. It isn’t that it wasn’t successful; it was very successful. I became known around the world. True, my customer base is small, but that doesn’t matter. If you are considered to be the biggest fish in the pond, the smallest pond in the world is still sufficient to make you stumble over your own pride and vanity – and I did. On top of that, I did not look at my company as a business, nor did I understand what the business of a business is. Like most employees, I saw it as my time to have and spend as I pleased – and I paid the price for that foolishness, too. Eventually, I came to my senses, but I thought it was too late and I sold the company. Fortunately, the Lord had other plans for me and I got it back last year. But I made my wife a promise. Before she let me take the company back again, she made me promise that, this time, I would run the company as a business (i.e. to make a profit), and to do it according to Biblical principles. And so it is that I found myself working late into the midnight hours to fill orders that seemed to have no end in sight – and that was when it all came to me and I suddenly understood.
In this nation, being ‘poor’ is a choice. Now, this is not true in every part of the world, but you will soon understand that it is true in most places, but most of all, it is absolutely the truth for those living here in America. But to understand why I say this, you must look at the notion of poverty from a Biblical perspective. What do you really need to survive in this world? You need food and clothing – that’s it, nothing more. And this is exactly what the Apostle, Paul, teaches us:
New International Version (NIV)
8 But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.
But Paul teaches us much more than this. He teaches us to work. He says every able bodied person should work so that we do not make ourselves into a burden for those who are working to help support the truly needy among us. And he says that those who do not work:
New International Version (NIV)
10 For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.”
What’s more, Paul teaches us that whatever we are given to eat we should eat and be grateful for it and not grumble or complain because we do not like what has been provided. In short, Paul teaches us that anything more than basic food and clothing is a want and not a need. In America, anyone who is willing to work can and will be able to earn enough to eat and acquire adequate clothing to shelter themselves from the elements. So, in America, being ‘poor’ is a choice.
The next thing that came to me is that having to work for your living is a blessing, and having the necessity of working to survive taken away from you is a curse. Where many will read Paul’s words and think them harsh, they are anything but. Sadly, those who think Paul’s words hard think so because they are spiritually blind. Everything the Lord commands of us is meant to help and to bless us, and so it is here, with Paul’s teachings. Those who work, no matter how little they may have, gain a sense of self-worth in the process. They have self-respect, and a dignified sense of pride in knowing they have accomplished something of meaning. It also helps the individual regulate their desires; because the individual knows how much he or she is willing to work for them, they can adjust their desires according to their willingness to work for more. This leads to a sense of fulfillment and contentment and to inner peace.
However, for those who have no need to work, there is not sense of accomplishment, and thus, self-respect. What’s more, there is nothing to curb the desire for more. Because they do not have to work for it, they can demand more. There is no consequence to those who do not have to work to demand more. It is the natural and inevitable result of being dependent. What child curbs their desires and demands so long as their parents give in to their tantrums? Why should adults be any different? If we make adult children out of otherwise able-bodied people, those adult children will behave as children. This is spiritually destructive to the individual who is not made to work. It ruins who they are in their hearts by making them envious and greedy. Christ actually explained this Truth:
New International Version (NIV)
The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard
20 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. 2 He agreed to pay them a denarius[a] for the day and sent them into his vineyard.
3 “About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. 4 He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ 5 So they went.
“He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. 6 About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’
7 “‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered.
“He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’
8 “When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’
9 “The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. 10 So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. 11 When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12 ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’
13 “But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’
16 “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
Though the parable is meant to teach us about the value of salvation, it also teaches us about human nature. To the honest man who works hard for their living and who places a premium on keeping his word, it does not matter if he was hired first or last. In this story, so long as he willingly agreed to the arrangement with the landowner, and the landowner kept his part of the agreement, then the honest man keeps his and does not worry about what other deals the landowner may or may not have made with other workers. The honest man is only concerned with doing what is right himself.
However, to someone who has been taught not to work hard for and be content with what they receive, those who were hired last but paid the same as those who were hired first may be seen as having ‘made a better deal.’ Today, we would say “they won life’s lottery’ and someone would argue it wasn’t fair and that government should do something to make things equal. But this is the wrong way to look at this story. A person who sees an injustice between the first and last workers in this parable is actually condemning themselves. Look at what it means about them.
First, it means they are envious and greedy. If they were hired in the morning, and they willingly agreed to their pay, and the landowner readily paid it at the agreed time, then they should be happy with the deal they made. By looking at what others made and comparing things, they are saying they think they are worth the same or more than the other person. Well, that may or may not be true. But they are also demonstrating their greed. They either want more money than they agreed to work for, or they want to work less for the same as others. Any way we look at it, this parable teaches us to guard against envy and greed.
I want to make one more point before closing this first posy on poverty. In Christ’s time, a denarius was the average daily wage for a simple laborer. It was enough to keep you alive and to pay for your needs. Maybe it wasn’t enough to make a person rich, but then, the point here is not about being rich. It is about how poverty is most often a choice; just as being happy is a choice. In the case of every worker in this parable, no matter when they were hired, they all earned enough to provide for their needs that day. Yet some of the workers thought they were being ‘cheated,’ even though they got the pay they had agreed to accept, they thought the workers who were hired last should have made less or they should have made more. But look at what the landowner tells them when they demand ‘justice.’ He tells them that his money is his to do as he pleases, and that he is also free to make whatever deals he chooses to make, and with whomever he please to make them. And the landowner is right. But, if left unchecked, the grumbling of the workers who feel they were ‘cheated’ leads to demonizing the landowner as the one who is evil, and calls for government to punish him, and to make him pay more to those who work longer. This is a demand to use force against the landowner, and the force in this case amounts to theft. The workers are willing to break their agreement – their promise – and to demand a new deal after the fact because they are lazy and greedy – not because they are poor.