Poor People Can’t Give

Written 2/25/10

Tonight was Dave Ramsey night in Grand Rapids, MI.  As a preferred provider of mortgages in Michigan for Churchill Mortgage (the charter sponsor of the Dave Ramsey radio show), we were able to attend the event in the VIP section—not a section I find myself in under too may circumstances.  The event was very well run.  The meal was great.  Dave was predictably great.  My wife and I had a good time.

I don’t disagree with Dave on too many points, and maybe I don’t disagree with him about this either, but I needed to write this down because something Dave said near the end concerned me.

Near the end of the program Dave said that poor people can’t give.  I think he said it twice.  The qualifying example he used was that not one poor person filled a jet with food and medical supplies and flew it to Haiti like his good friend just did, because “poor people can’t give.”

I think that in a way this is true, but in a more important way it’s false – and not only false – it’s a dangerous statement to make.  The more I ponder this, the more I think that Dave probably didn’t mean it the way he said it either.

Like Dave, I am Christian.  As a Christian, I know and believe the Bible to be true.  The Bible is in fact a book different than other books in that we know it to be always true.  I may not always understand what it says, but what it says is true.  So my problem with Dave’s statement is first a biblical one, and then I think there is practical evidence against it as well.

Biblically, the statement that poor people can’t give is simply false.  If what Dave meant was that poor people can’t REALLY give – like A LOT of money, then I think he’s right.  Poor people don’t have a lot of money, and so they cannot give a lot of money.  They cannot fill jets with a lot of food and fly to other countries.  I get it.

The problem with that short segment of an otherwise great presentation is that based on the progression of the teaching – this being the culmination of his 7 steps to financial success: the message was No, if you are poor, then in order to give in a meaningful way, you need to get rich.  This is false and is not only discouraging to poor people, but even worse – it’s a dangerous belief system to introduce to rich people.

The question is a good one and is really important.  Can poor people give?  It’s not can they give in dollars, as much as rich people? But rather, does their meager giving count?  Can they give in a meaningful way?

The Bible says yes.  And not only does it say yes, it says that when the poor give what they have out of their poverty, Jesus sometimes likes it more than when rich people give out of their abundance.  Could that be true?  That less money might actually please God more than more money?

These few verses are found in the New Testament, in the book of Mark, Chapter 12.  Jesus is the one sitting down opposite the treasury.

41And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. 42And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. 43And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. 44For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

In another account, the apostle Paul, in a letter to the Corinthian Church, intends to encourage the church to give generously.  Rather than giving an example of a large gift given by a wealthy person, Paul is moved to recount and thank the impoverished Macedonians for their generosity.  Check this out for yourself in II Corinthians 8.

1We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, 2for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. 3For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, 4begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints5and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us. 6Accordingly, we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace. 7But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you— see that you excel in this act of grace also.  (emphasis mine)

These people were poor if ever there was poor.  We are asked to look at these situations so that we know how to give.

Jesus also says that we are really serving Him when we serve those in need.  So if we are serving Him and he really likes the gifts of the poor, then I think that we ought to encourage poor people in their giving, and in their desire and ability to not be left out of the blessing of giving simply because their two coins are not worth as much here on earth as the bags of money delivered by the wealthy.

Life on earth is screwed up.  That is to say, here on earth we will not get it right.  That’s why Jesus died for us.  He will make it right again someday, but until then this world will value things that have no value and devalue what He values.  We ought to value what Jesus values.  We ought to proactively encourage the poor in their meager giving. No amount of giving will get the poor or the rich into heaven. Jesus did that job.  But the poor ought not be left out of the joy of helping to meet the needs of those who are in trouble.

I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about rich people and what they can and should do because they are rich.  Jesus never said (nor will I) that being rich is wrong.  I do not feel guilty for owning a nice home and having nice things that others in the world do not have.  Like Dave, I’m not one to tell you that you are not free in these things.  Being rich and coming by it honestly and out of hard work is to be commended.  These folks often employ people.  They make investments of capital and get a return.  They use their talents, in one sense, better than others, and as Jesus told in the parables, the ones with much are rewarded with even more.  Being faithful with little is often a path to getting more to manage.  (Read Proverbs 10:4)

Jesus loved rich people.  He had many rich people in his corner. It is said that Mary and Martha were probably very wealthy.  They served their Lord with their wealth, and he NEVER denigrated it; instead he commended them for their service.

Yet he and his disciples and the apostle Paul gave stern warnings to those who have wealth in THIS life.

It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven.  Please read this – you’ll find it in Mark 10, verses 23-31.

James said: “Woe to you who are rich.” Read about that in James 5 the first six verses.

To the rich young man who had DONE everything right he said, “Give away all of your possessions”.  You can read that account in Mark 10 as well, verses 17-22.

To those who would follow Him, He reminded them that the son of man has no home, nowhere to lay his head.  In other words, we ought to count the cost of following Jesus.  Read this in Matthew 8: 18-22.

We need to be careful when we help people get rich and when we talk with them about the purpose of riches.  More on this in future posts – for a good introduction to what Christians believe about the reason for riches, read I Timothy 6: 17-19.

I’m not just saying this when I say that I know Dave agrees with me on these things.  He is a Bible-believing Christian man with an amazing business that has helped literally millions.

Just yesterday one of Dave’s listeners called me for some advice about their high interest rate PMI mortgage loan.  Because of a slowdown in their new business, and because, as they admitted, they borrowed money instead of buying cars and a lifestyle that the cash they had could afford them, they are in trouble with a number of creditors.  They have a reduced but steady income and they are resolved to work this all out.  So we worked on their debt snowball worksheet for a few minutes; I think they will be okay.  They really want to get through this.  They wished they’d been introduced to common sense 40 years ago.  But it’s never too late.

I had some time after we took care of business, and since they are a lot older than I am (they started their business in their retirement) I asked them to tell me about their family and their life up to this point.  They never made a lot of money. They never paid off their home.  They had five of their own children, one of which died tragically in a boating accident at the age of 26, a fact that a decade later still brought them to tears.

They told me the stories about two “foster” children in addition to their own five, I’ll tell you one of the stories.  Their youngest son, at the time in high school, had a friend whose parents had been divorced for some time.   This friend had been living with his dad in a trailer and one day got the news that his dad had met someone and was going to move in with this woman.  She had a few kids of her own and a small house, so the friend was not going to be able to make the move.  The trailer was his if he wanted it.  He was 16.

This couple heard about this from their son pretty soon after and drove over to the trailer.  Finding the boy there alone and confirming the story with his father, they were given permission to have him come live with them.  Because poor people can’t give, they had nothing of real value to give him.  But that did not stop these folks. The boy lived with them through the rest of high school and on into community college.  He went off to serve our country in the Army and now has a family of his own.  He still calls this couple’s home his; and this couple’s kids are his brothers and sisters.  Because the state never knew about this loose arrangement, these folks never got a dime in support.  They never thought about asking for it.  They had a fridge and some room and shared what they had.

Can poor people give?  You bet they can!  And as a percentage of their total portion they likely give far more than the rich.  In fact, I would dare make a bet, that more ACTUAL financial giving is done by people in the bottom half of society measured by wealth and income than in the top half.

The better question, the more important question, the question that leaps from the pages of the New Testament, when it’s all said and done and it all goes back in the box at the end of our lives is this: can the rich person give it all up? If he can, then he gets the real prize – eternity with Jesus – ever increasing Joy!  But if his heart was with his earthly riches all along, then that Camel is not getting through the needle.  Man CANNOT serve two masters – both God and money.

So as Dave wrapped up the night and exited through the back curtain, I so wanted to pull a Barry Sanders and get through the rental cops in the front if the VIP section to talk with him about this.  But if you’ve seen me, you know that a running back I am not.  Who knows, maybe I’ll get my chance someday. That would be a real pleasure.  Until then, I’m going to assume that Dave agrees with me since we agree on almost everything else.  Maybe what I am trying to say is summed up in the following quote:

“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” – Jim Eliot.

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