Preach Good News to the Poor
by Dan Juster, Director, Tikkun Ministries International

Why does poverty still dominate so many in countries with modern economies? Governments have spent trillions of dollars on poverty plans to little effect. Where has the church of the prosperous been in solving the problem of poverty? Has it made a real difference? How have the churches among the poor done in solving the issues of poverty?

Several years ago at a conference of five-fold/apostolic movements, the leadership made the statement that the credibility of the Church would be tied to its ability to address and make a significant difference in systemic poverty. Here are some very important truths.

First, it is clear in the United States at least, that government programs are often unsuccessful because they produce a culture of dependency and do not address the central problem of poverty. Overcoming poverty will require a change of mindset, lasting marriages, discipleship and education. These life transformations can come through the Gospel rightly preached, understood and embraced.

The matter of discipleship is a personal investment in people on a mentoring level that government programs do not begin to attain. When we see the effectiveness of ministries that do just this, such as the drug-rescue programs developed by David Wilkerson and Teen Challenge, we perceive that amazing change is indeed possible.

Secondly, the church of the prosperous, with some exceptions, is mostly cut off from the poor. The members of these churches seem to be absorbed in their work, congregational activities and their children’s extra curricular activities. Most Christians are worn out just keeping up with the schedules they have chosen. It appears that to make a real dent in poverty massive numbers of prosperous Christians would need to drop many activities and get personally involved with the poor. This is not happening to any significant degree. So the government steps in and seeks to fill the vacuum of church neglect.

In the context of the last U. S. election, I have been thinking about the issue of the poor. The Democratic Party’s orientation is toward more spending and more government. The Republicans say that we need to grow the economy and provide more opportunities for all, which means lower taxes, and smaller government with fewer programs for the needy. While economic growth does help some of the poor and is essential, most of the endemic poor are still not changed by either approach. Yes, it is good and right for government to seek to improve the lives of the governed. Yet what should truly be the greatest instrument of change on this earth? The transforming Gospel shared and applied by Yeshua’s disciples! So why are we not more effective?

Most Christians have been won to Yeshua in the context of a truncated Gospel. What is said is true, but so woefully inadequate. The Gospel is not only about the forgiveness of sins through Yeshua and going to heaven if we die. The Gospel is about the coming of the Kingdom of God through Yeshua, its availability in the present, though partial, and its ultimate triumph in Yeshua’s second coming. It is good news about deliverance and transformation. In the example and teaching of Yeshua, the Gospel of the Kingdom shows itself first of all by being offered to the poor and affecting the poor. When a person comes to Yeshua, he or she should be embracing a new Kingdom direction that includes giving one’s life to the poor. This was the example of Yeshua’s own life. His answer to John’s question was that the Good News was being preached to the poor. The miracles were done primarily for and among the poor. Of course, others could join as well, but like the rich young ruler they might be given a very hard word: to sell everything and give to the poor and to come and follow Yeshua. If we primarily seek to reach those in need, God will bring along some of the rich who will be inspired to join with us and use their wealth to benefit the needy. This is the story of the Salvation Army. The account in Luke shows us that the Kingdom moves from being offered to the poor and from that place of transformation and discipleship, then spreads to the rest of society.

Dallas Willard, in his wonderful book on discipleship, The Divine Conspiracy, and Bishop N. T. Wright in Jesus and the Victory of God, both give a new interpretation of Luke 6:20. They maintain that when Luke and Matthew write that believers should be poor or humble in spirit, they are not referring to a moral quality. Rather they are announcing the power of the Kingdom breaking into this world and thus breaking the bondage of poverty. Poverty need no longer determine the lives of the poor because they now are invited into a supernatural Kingdom where they can learn to walk in God’s provision. I am convinced that we as a community of believers will not deal effectively with poverty until we understand that the Good News itself calls us to personally identify with the poor. That was the real challenge to the rich man. Now of course, all without Yeshua are poor in the ultimate sense, but that does not relieve us from primarily following Yeshua in where we locate our ministries.

In Israel we have an amazing opportunity to put this concept into practice. For the unusual nature of the Jewish community in Israel (compared to many Jewish communities in the Diaspora) is that we have many poor. There are the poor among the Ethiopian Jewish immigrants, the poor among Russian immigrants, among Eastern Jews from Muslim countries and among Holocaust survivors. Jewish ministry in Israel has a unique opportunity to duplicate the ministry of Yeshua. Some are embracing this call wholeheartedly – setting up ministries and congregations in neighborhoods where there is great need. May God lead us in this and may we see a great demonstration of the power of the Gospel in Israel as His love and provision are distributed throughout His land!

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