Worship and Fighting Poverty
Adapted from Practicing the King’s Economy
We don’t often connect our work in fighting poverty (and economic life more generally) with our worship of the living God. But we should.
When the collection plate is passed around in a church service, pastors often try to connect the dots to how our giving is part of worship. But it doesn’t always register with us. If we’re not careful, we can see giving to church almost like a “fee-for-service” project where we support the pastor and ministries of the church and receive most of the benefits from their work.
At the Lord’s table, however, a deeper understanding of God’s generosity emerges. When we are reminded of the sacrifice of the God who so loved us He gave His Son for us, our giving should also come into perspective. Christ’s generosity reshapes our work and world. It invite us to see how “every good and perfect gift is from above” (James 1:17) and how we use our resources as a grateful response to God’s love.
Worship and Money in the Scriptures
From Genesis to Revelation, God’s lavish generosity is a recurring theme. As beings made in His image, we are wired to reflect this generosity. Giving back to God and His people becomes a fundamental aspect of our DNA, signifying our allegiance to God and His kingdom.
Likewise, the worship of idols in Scripture isn’t just about pretty statues; it’s driven by economic promises. For the Israelites, Baal was seen as a powerful force who could bring rain (and thereby crops and wealth) to them. When God confronted this idolatry through His prophet Elijah, He was reminding them that true abundance comes from Him, not false gods.
The Bible teaches that such economic idolatry is a serious spiritual issue. Psalm 115:8 reminds us that those who make idols will become like them, showing that our worship shapes us as people. For good or for ill, we become what we worship.
Jesus taught us that we can’t serve both God and money (Matt. 6:24-26). Paul warns that the pursuit of wealth can lead to temptation, traps, and destructive desires. The love of money, described as the root of all kinds of evil, can cause believers to wander from their faith and experience various griefs (1 Tim. 6:9-10). James further highlights the harmful consequences of love of money, reminding us that coveting and seeking wealth wrongly can lead to conflicts and unfulfilled desires (James 5:1-6).
Material possessions often seduce us into focusing on them in ways that could only really be described as “worship”. When we idolize money, we give it a spiritual power that mauls us, allowing it to use us rather than the other way around. The prophet Jeremiah offered a grim depiction of idol worship consuming not only material wealth but also our most cherished relationships—our “sons and daughters.” A life centered on possessions and consumption falls far short of the abundant life that Jesus invites us to experience.
Transformation through Giving
If God warns those with riches not to trust in them, his solution is not to avoid riches and resources (as if the good gifts of God were evil in themselves) but to share them. In Scripture, the antidote to economic idolatry is faithful giving from the abundance of God’s blessings.
The whole Old Testament economic system (including gleaning, jubilee, sabbath years, offerings, etc.) is focused on the way that God designs generosity as the means of provision for those in need so that both those with wealth and those without can be connected to each other (cf. Lev. 25:35) and give God praise and glory together. Jesus speaks of giving to others as “storing up treasures in heaven” (Matt 6:19) pointing us to examine God’s faithfulness in creation and freeing us from materialism’s toxic anxiety.
Here in one of the richest countries on earth, many Americans give a lower percentage of their incomes away than previous generations, and those in material poverty often give a higher percentage of their income than the wealthiest! But the goal of giving is not to pass on the economic anxiety and idolatry that often beset the materially wealthy to the materially poor. Rather, generosity is God’s gift to all of us.
Participating in God’s work should be a privilege for everybody. When we believe it’s better to give than receive, we work to ensure everyone can participate in generosity. Giving in ways that create community not only frees up money for giving but also welcomes us into new communities where we can share in God’s vision of unity and peace.
As we pursue generosity together, we should pursue strategies for fighting poverty that lead to worship—strategies that encourage all our ministry stakeholders (givers, ministry staff and volunteers, and ministry participants) to grow together in bearing witness to God’s grace. Jesus is making all things new, and our work should flow from that reality. Nothing else can sustain our ministry and allow all of us to see fighting material poverty as an act of worship to our abundant God.