“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”
This proverb is a good start, but ultimately inadequate. We must do more than just feed the poor and teach them how to put food on the table. We must walk with the impoverished through the process of coming out of poverty—as their friends. And then, we must connect them to the right resources, so that their livelihoods are sustainable.
We must do more than teach the man to fish—we must fish with him for a while to see what the fishing is like. And then, we must ensure that the fish will always be around. This means connecting people to a larger pool of fish. It means considering not just local economies but the global economy.
When we consider how to best help those who are hurting, we have to think through not just the immediate problems but also the long-term difficulties. We should be asking questions like: How can I help someone not just build a business but be connected to a global marketplace?
So we could say the proverb should be revised to:
“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and connect him with the best fishing holes and you feed him for a lifetime.”
But what if the fishing is ruined by the environment or what if people steal the man's fish? How can we fix those types of problems? Our proverb may need even further revision.
Life is about much more than “learning how to fish.” If you teach a person to fish, but don’t meet their other basic needs, they will continue to struggle. It's not good enough to have fish to eat if I don't have clean water to drink or a medic clinic where that can care for my wounds.
Also, if you teach a person to fish but don’t help bring ethical standards to their community, their society will eventually fall apart. The good work will be undone.
There are deep rooted problems in society and these problems are ultimately spiritual. Corruption can destroy any good work. That's where ethics and thus healthy churches come in. We have to change the environment we live in if we want to see lives changed. We have to change the society.
And let’s also not forget what Jesus taught us about fishing in general: We are to do more than meet needs—we must lead people into God’s kingdom and the lifestyle that kingdom demands. Jesus' earliest disciples were fishermen and look what he said to them:
"And Jesus, walking by the Sea of Galilee, saw two brothers, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. Then He said to them, 'Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.' They immediately left their nets and followed Him" (Matthew 4:18–19 NKJV).
Perhaps, then, we need to revise the proverb once more:
“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and connect him with the best fishing holes and you feed him for a time. Join a man in lifting his society out of spiritual and physical poverty and he will never be hungry again."
Although, often the "man" you find will turn out to be woman, whom we should never hesitate to empower. She can lift her entire family out of poverty. Thus the proverb is just as accurate when it reads as follows:
“Give a woman a fish and you feed her for a day. Teach a woman to fish and connect her with the best fishing holes and you feed her for a time. Join a woman in lifting her society out of spiritual and physical poverty and she will never be hungry again."
We need to do everything we can to look at the entire picture: the spiritual and physical problems affecting people. I believe this is how we empower people to overcome poverty. This is what creating a new, spiritual and physical economy for those who need it most is all about. This is what creating Jesus' economy is about.
I hope this article inspires you to do more than teach a man to fish. I hope you decide to really love someone today. Walk with people on their way out of poverty and work with them towards sustainability. Help instill biblical ethics into their community. In the process, I am betting that you will find—as I have—that it alleviates some of your own spiritual poverty.*
*This article is based in part on my previous article, "Moving Beyond 'Teach a Man to Fish'."
When Jesus looks at the world, he sees what can be. Jesus shows us what the kingdom of heaven looks like and asks us to live its principles here on earth. This means turning normal personal economics upside down. This is what Jesus' economy looks like. Here are five ways you can live Jesus' economy.
When Jesus first called his disciples, they dropped everything to follow him:
“Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, [Jesus] saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.’ And immediately they left their nets and followed him. And going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets. And immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed him” (Mark 1:16–20 ESV).
Jesus’ earliest followers literally dropped their livelihoods to follow him—they completely dedicated themselves to him. Similarly, we are called to make sacrifices for Jesus—to show others love by giving, praying, and investing in them. For Jesus, belief and actions are one and the same—you cannot have one without the other. We must be willing to give whatever Jesus asks of us.
To a young rich man, Jesus says:
“If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Matthew 19:21; see 19:16–30 ESV).
Regarding a poor widow who put a seemingly insignificant amount of money into the offering box, Jesus says:
“Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For 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” (Mark 12:43–44; see 12:41–44 ESV).
The currency of Jesus’ kingdom is different than ours. Jesus’ currency is self-sacrifice and love.
To a man with a recently lost love one, Jesus said:
“’Follow me.’ But [the man] said [to Jesus], ‘Lord, let me first go and bury my father.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God’” (Luke 9:59–60 ESV).
Jesus was right there, calling him in person. And this meant the man had to act now. We all have these moments in life: When Jesus tells us to act now, and we have to take him seriously when he says so.
For Jesus, it’s all about God’s kingdom. For us, it too should be all about God’s kingdom. From a different man, Jesus hears:
“‘I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.’ Jesus said to him, ‘No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God’” (Luke 9:61–62 ESV).
There are no hesitations in service to God’s kingdom and there is no looking back—it’s all about what God is doing here and now. It’s all about putting our hand to the plow of God’s work. If you love God, you love the kingdom and you love people. If you love the kingdom, you’re not going to ask yourself what else is important: you’re going to just live for the kingdom.
At the end of it all, Jesus notes that he will recognize those who follow him by whether or not they are caring for the impoverished, outsider, and marginalized. This is what the "least of these" passage is about (Matthew 25:31–46).
Jesus has also given us a mandate to bring the gospel to those who are yet to hear his name. Jesus' economy is not just about alleviating physical poverty; it's also about alleviating spiritual poverty. Jesus tells us to "make disciples of all nations" (Matthew 28:19–20).
God has asked us to demonstrate our belief by bringing good news to those who feel hopeless. We are called to drop everything for him. This is what Jesus’ economy is all about: envisioning what the world could look like and joining God in the process of making that vision a reality.
Jesus has called us to join him in his work—to believe in it with all we have. The cost may be hard to bear or understand at times, but when it’s put in the perspective of all that Christ has done for us—dying for our sins—it seems like very little.
We have all experienced suffering. We look for answers. We cry out to God. And we ask him, "Where are you?" In this sermon, delivered at The Bowery Mission in New York City, I tell about my experience with depression and suffering, and what I learned about God in the process. I also share some profound biblical passages about pain and anguish.
What does a strong person look like?
When I say “strong person,” my imagination creates a picture of someone standing tall and confident. I see him as he holds his head high, his chin pointed toward the sky. He keeps his hands on his hips, ready to conquer. He makes himself larger in the shadow of the vast world. The sky illuminates behind him as the mountains shrink in his presence. Nothing can slow him down, and nothing can stop him. He is a strong person.
When we think of strength, we each—in our own way—summon images like these. We imagine a person with enough willpower to do anything they believe in. We imagine a hero.
We associate strength with power and power is associated with heroic actions.
This makes me feel smaller. It makes me feel like I can never measure up to the strength and dignity of a hero. I will never be that big. I will never be that important. I will never make big changes in the world. I am the person who might make little ripples—coursing love and peace into the lives of the people directly around me. I tell myself that I will never be able to turn my ripples into waves, and that the world will never know I was here.
But I have to stop myself before I get carried away. I don’t know exactly what God’s plan is for my life. I don’t know whether he will or won’t turn my ripples into waves.
God might call me to only make small ripples and do little things. But if this is what happens, it won’t make me weak.
A strong person is made by their ability to let go of themselves, turn their lives over to God, and let him be the guide. A strong person is one who humbles themselves before the throne of God, and admits that they cannot do it on their own. The only thing we can really do on our own is to fall short of the glory of God.
But once we commit our lives to God, he can do anything through us (Philippians 4:13). He can use us to do something big and heroic, like he used Deborah as she led the Israelites. He can also use us to do the little things.
It’s in the “little things” that we find Priscilla. She isn’t very well known in the Bible, but she displayed true heroism. For Jesus, Priscilla did the small things to make the big things happen. Married to a man named Aquila, Priscilla and her husband traveled with Saint Paul, as he ministered to others. Her support of Paul made his ministry possible. And Paul’s ministry, which must have also felt like Priscilla’s own (as it was), made way for the gospel to reach a large portion of the world.
Aquila and Priscilla are only mentioned six times in the Bible and each mention is brief. They are mentioned as being friends with Paul, and working together before they left to minister with him.
“After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. And he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. And he went to see them, and because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them and worked, for they were tentmakers by trade.” (Acts 18:1–3 ESV).
When Paul mentions Priscilla and Aquila, it’s always with adoration:
“Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks but all the churches of the Gentiles give thanks as well (Romans 16:3–4 ESV).
What makes this mention even more impressive is the fact that Priscilla was a woman—in the first century AD’s patriarchal culture, Priscilla was in ministry each step along the way. Never are the husband and wife mentioned apart from one another. As Aquila and Paul worked to share the truth, Priscilla was there too. She worked with her husband as a tentmaker before they left, and she worked with him as a disciple after. She lived the life God called her to live, and it became one of ministry and encouragement. In Acts, Luke tells us:
“Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was an eloquent man, competent in the scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord. And being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, thought he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him and explained to him the way of God more accurately” (Acts 18:24–26 ESV).
They took him and explained to him—together, Priscilla and Aquila work for the gospel. Priscilla may not be the most influential disciple, but she was critical to God’s work in the world. In addition, Paul’s gratitude for Priscilla’s gifts, efforts, and fellowship suggests that Priscilla likely empowered many others—as that was a core belief of Paul’s.
Priscilla was a strong person. She was a hero. She humbled herself before God and accepted his plans for her life. She loved people and invested in them. It appears that Priscilla never gave up—even to the point of risking her own life for Jesus’ ministry.
We can all be leaders and empower other people. This isn’t something chosen for a few of God’s elect. It comes with listening to him and means a change in our lives.
God’s call means different things for different people. For Deborah, it meant becoming a judge and leading the Israelites into an important battle. For Priscilla, it meant that she dropped everything to travel with her husband and Paul to proclaim the hope of salvation.
Paul never worked alone, and neither did Jesus. They both had supporters who helped them in their work—and made the ministry their own. Priscilla, Mary Magdalene, Mary, mother of Jesus, Mary of Bethany all contributed to the gospel through what seemed like little deeds. But they each accomplished something much larger as they spread the gospel. It’s as a team that God’s people work.
“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!” (Ecclesiastes 4:9–10 ESV).
Priscilla’s actions suggest that strength is really about boundless faith, humility, and obedience to God.
Now, when I think of strength I see someone kneeling before the cross, infinitely small in the presence of a God so great. There are tears streaming down the person’s face as they accept an everlasting love. They leave their past behind and look to their future with God as they say, “Here I am, send me” (Isaiah 6:8).
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