What Saint Paul Really Thought about Poverty

What a person really thinks about poverty is articulated most clearly by how they live. Likewise, what someone really thinks about the good news of Jesus is perhaps best shown by what they are willing to give up for Jesus. Paul and his colleague Sosthenes were unafraid, unbashful, and willing to do whatever it took to spread the good news of Jesus to people around the world. Paul and Sosthenes were willing to be poor, and even homeless, for the sake of Jesus. They say, in a letter to the Corinthian church:

“Until the present hour we are both hungry and thirsty and poorly clothed and roughly treated and homeless, and we toil, working with our own hands. When we are reviled, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure; when we are slandered, we encourage. We have become like the refuse of the world, the offscouring of all things, until now” (1 Corinthians 4:11–13 LEB).

If I was to characterize Paul the Apostle’s ministry in one word, it would be “boldness.” When I read passages like this, I am struck by the differences between how Paul lived and how I live—I am brought to the realization that my heart still has a long ways to go in fully understanding, and living for, Jesus.

Later, in his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul notes that he may be sorrowful, but is rejoicing and he may be poor, but is making many rich—spiritually rich through telling others of the saving message of Jesus. He goes on to say that he may have nothing but actually possesses everything: he possesses salvation and the Holy Spirit through Jesus (2 Corinthians 6:10).

So what did Paul really think of the poor and the way poverty should be approached? If we’re honest with ourselves, we realize that he respected the poor, all the way up to the point of being willing to be like them. Paul didn’t see a difference between himself and those living in poverty—they were one and the same. Paul’s concern was the good news of Jesus (come as savior, who died and rose for humanity); and living among the poor, often as a poor person, was often how he spread that news. Whatever Christ asked of Paul, he was willing to do. It is important to keep in mind that Paul once had wealth and sacrificed it for Christ. He did what Jesus asked.

What are you willing to do for Jesus? How does the example of Paul’s boldness change the way you look at the world?

(This post is part of the series, “What Saint Paul Says about Poverty.”)

John Barry
John Barry


CEO and Founder of Jesus' Economy. John is the General Editor of the highly acclaimed Faithlife Study Bible and Lexham Bible Dictionary. His new book is Jesus' Economy: A Biblical View of Poverty, the Currency of Love, and a Pattern for Lasting Change. It is widely endorsed by Christian leaders from around the world.