Today is World Fair Trade Day, when people around the world come together to support products that lift people out of poverty. In honor of World Fair Trade Day, here are four ways that fair trade is a Christian value. But before we jump in, you may be wondering, what makes a product "fair trade"?
The term “Fair Trade” describes an economic exchange in which laborers receive a fair living wage. The basic goal of fair trade is to create a more just and equitable world, where people are paid wages that adequately provide for their needs and are commensurate with their labor.
Fair trade matters for the sake of our world. And it matters for Christianity—here are the four primary reasons why all Christians should support fair trade.
The majority of what we purchase in the U.S. is based on unjust economic exchanges. The exploitation of labor in developing nations reduces the costs we pay here in the U.S. And as such, a large portion of clothing manufactures, and producers of other items, aim to pay people the smallest amount possible. This is a practice that we as Christians should oppose—not just with our words, but also with our wallets.
While it is not possible yet to buy everything you need from a fair trade manufacturer, there are many fair trade options. One day, God willing, we will be able to buy everything we need at fair trade wages and fair trade will be the norm.
Fair trade represents justice and equality. And justice and equality are key tenants of Christianity. On this point, the prophets especially come to mind. Over and over again the prophets call us to live the principles of justice, mercy, and humility (e.g., Micah 6:6–8). Near the beginning of the book of Isaiah, the prophet Isaiah records God saying:
“Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause” (Isaiah 1:16–17 ESV).
We should plead the widow’s cause by buying products that empower women. We should learn to do good by understanding the implications of our purchases. We should live the principles of justice. If we desire justice, then we should make justice a priority when it comes to our purchases. If we believe in equality, then we should back that with our entire lifestyles.
Work is central to who we are. It was a major part of the lives of the apostles and something they advocated for (e.g., Acts 18:3; 1 Thessalonians 2:9; 2 Thessalonians 3:10). But work is not an option for some—they lack the opportunity. And where work is available, it is not a fair exchange. We can change that through creating fair trade jobs.
If done right, fair trade is one way to change lives through business. Fair trade products are purchased at a price that allows for people to overcome poverty. Fair trade creates safe, sustainable, and profitable jobs. It also provides high quality products for people around the world to use and enjoy.
If Jesus was to create an economy, it would be based on love and self-sacrifice. But fair trade isn’t even asking for self-sacrifice; it’s asking that we simply respect people—that we show them the dignity of being paid what their work is worth.
Fair trade represents life transformation for impoverished artisans. It represents a chance for their dreams to become real. It means their families having sustainable incomes and real money coming into their economies.
Jesus envisioned a world where we truly loved our neighbors (Mark 12:31). Fair trade is a way for us to show his love. It’s a way to live what we believe.*
*This article is adapted from my earlier article, "Why Fair Trade Matters to Christianity." The artisan featured above, Benson, is a living example of why fair trade matters: Read Benson's fair trade story.
The 2019 National Day of Prayer in the United States is today, May 2, and its theme is "Love one another," taking a queue from Jesus' instruction to his disciples, "Love one another, just as I have loved you" (John 13:34). There is no more fitting way to love than being a blessing to the people of our world. When we pray for God's blessing, let us pray because we want to bless.
These prayers make me ask again: What if the American dream could be leveraged to change our entire world? What if the frontier spirit of America had enough tenacity to transform lives around our planet? Americans are blessed so that they may be a blessing. Prayer coupled with action is the way for that to happen.
On National Day of Prayer several years ago, I delivered a message in Casper, Wyoming about how America is blessed to be a blessing. I discuss the frontier spirit present in people like Henry David Thoreau, the power of prayer, the biblical view of blessing, and how our interconnected world presents us with a unique opportunity to lift people everywhere out of poverty.
In this keynote address, I discuss how I grew up in the shadow of the American dream in the oil boom in Alaska, raised by parents who are the epitome of the dream itself. I explain what growing up in the frontier spirit taught me about the power of being able to choose your future. I then relate this to how our entire world deserves this choice by telling a story from Bihar, India along the way. I explain how the American dream may not be fully alive today, but that it can be again, and show how that would change our entire world for the better.
Since part of Jesus' Economy's vision is to create jobs in the developing world, I often get asked, "What about American jobs?" It's a valid question and one I answered in my talk for National Day of Prayer.
I believe that Americans will have even more opportunity as fair trade jobs are created in the developing world. It will give Americans the opportunity to leverage our knowledge of markets, organization structures, and technical information to create work here. You cannot have fashion without fashion designers. You cannot deliver products in the U.S. without shipping facilities here. You cannot create a leading fair trade shop without employing technical people. What if the U.S. and other western countries could be the means to making fair trade work happen? And what if this industry, based completely on empowerment and freedom, was bigger than companies like Amazon and Facebook?
Peace is a beautiful thing. In my talk I also explain that by creating fair trade jobs, we create friends and allies. We eliminate the possibility of exploitation and isolation. When we create fair trade jobs, we create a way for the U.S. to have peaceful relationships with other nations.
I believe there can be win-win-win situations in business, if business is based on Christian ethics. I believe that fair trade commerce creates such an opportunity. What if we could leverage the ideas that built America to make this happen? What if we were to spread the idea of economic and spiritual freedom around the world? Such an effort would create incredible and unwavering hope.*
We are blessed to be a blessing. On this National Day of Prayer, let's pray for that. Think of that as you use this guide for prayer from the National Day of Prayer Task Force.
*This article is adapted from my earlier article, "Leveraging the American Dream to Change the World."
World Book Day celebrates all aspects of a book—reading, publishing, authors, illustrators, even the copyright. Most importantly, the day is marked to encourage people around the globe to read and to enjoy what they read.
When the founder of Jesus' Economy, John D. Barry, set out to write a book on how to empower the impoverished, he decided to consult a global cast of Christian leaders prior to publication. Since that moment, more than 30 Christian leaders around the world have read and endorsed his book, Jesus' Economy: A Biblical View of Poverty, the Currency of Love, and a Pattern for Lasting Change.
What better way to celebrate World Book Day than by sharing what these Christian leaders had to say about the book?
“John Barry has written an inspiring and readable account about Jesus, poverty, and the mission of the church. This book tells you what poverty is, where it is, what Jesus said about it, and how you can follow Jesus’ commands to end it. A great introduction to the socioeconomics of poverty, as well as Christian teaching on the subject. Great resource for pastors, students, and church groups!”
—REV. DR. MICHAEL F. BIRD
Author, Evangelical Theology and What Christians Ought to Believe
Academic Dean and Lecturer in Theology, Ridley College, Melbourne, Australia
Author, Euangelion blog, Patheos.com
“In Palestinian culture, we are accustomed to saying, ‘If poverty were a man, I would have killed him.’ This book shows us how Jesus wants to alleviate poverty through the sacrificial love of His followers. Such love is only possible through a vital relationship with Jesus and also with the poor. John D. Barry prophetically reminds us that we cannot be true followers of Jesus and ignore the poor. We cannot separate physical and spiritual poverty. In Jesus’ Economy, we find disturbing contemporary data, heart-stirring stories, and inspiring challenges, as well as opportunities for ministry. The book informs us, inspires us, and gives us the opportunity to be involved in addressing poverty in biblical ways. I recommend this book to every Christian who desires to know how Jesus wants us to help the poor.”
—REV. DR. YOHANNA KATANACHO
Academic Dean, Nazareth Evangelical College, Nazareth, Israel
Reconciliation leader in Israel and author, The Land of Christ: A Palestinian Cry
Old Testament Editor, Arabic Contemporary Commentary and Asia Bible Commentary
“Considering the passion and action that John Barry and his wife, Kalene, have put into this project, I trust they must be prompted by God to do so. Barry shares deep insights into wealth and poverty from Jesus’ perspective. Jesus’ Economy is well worth reading, pondering, and putting into action, especially in this day and age.”
—DR. JULIE LEE WU
President and Dean, China Bible Seminary, Hong Kong
Recipient of Women in Leadership Award from the Association of Theological Schools
“Inspiring and eye-opening, John D. Barry’s Jesus’ Economy is a rallying cry for all believers to meditate on and rethink the Great Commission in practical, humanitarian terms. John and Kalene, as fellow humanitarians and followers of Jesus, are committed, as we are, to the cause of seeing poverty erased in our world through the only successful means possible—the way of Jesus Christ and His gospel.”
Author of the best-selling, Once an Arafat Man and The Mind of Terror
and KAREN SAADA
Founders, Hope for Ishmael, a reconciliation ministry between Arabs and Jews
Founders, Seeds of Hope, a humanitarian organization serving the people of Jerusalem, Jericho, and Gaza
“John Barry’s Jesus’ Economy is not just a must-read, but it is also a book that the global church needs to embrace and use to teach Jesus’ life-changing and transformational principles. Barry is a terrific writer and an unusual type of Christian leader: he can correctly be described as a selfless, shepherd, servant type of leader. Barry’s ministry, the nonprofit Jesus’ Economy, makes a case for this book. Jesus’ Economy is a narrative of how to conquer the twin enemies of the human race: corruption and poverty. Barry gives the church not just theories and empirical data on poverty, but also concrete and practical examples of Jesus and His disciples’ models of poverty alleviation. Our churches in Africa can comfortably use this book in Sunday school or theological seminaries. I strongly recommend it to members of the global church who want to engage in the mission of God!”
—DR. SUNDAY BOBAI AGANG
Professor of Christian Ethics, Theology, and Public Policy, ECWA Theological Seminary, Kagoro, Nigeria
“Oriented in the global landscape of poverty and impoverishment, John D. Barry’s Jesus’ Economy is biblically anchored and remarkably personal. His self-engaged 'I-voice' and narrative approach will appeal to audiences of all ages—'to all who hope to make the world a better place.' Captivating both in theme and writing style, Jesus’ Economy is a delightful read—informative and thought-provoking yet practical, providing pointers and directives for alleviating poverty both overseas and right where you live.”
—DR. BARBARA M. LEUNG LAI
Research Professor of Old Testament, Tyndale University College & Seminary, Toronto, ON, Canada
International trainer of missionaries
Author, Glimpsing the Mystery: The Book of Daniel
“Jesus’ Economy is a wonderful biblical and practical study—and it comes from the heart and mind of an expert in the field. John Barry sheds light on one of the most important issues of our day: that the church recognize its mission, not only inside its walls, but also outside them—looking after the impoverished, those whom Jesus cared about the most. The only hope for overcoming poverty in the world today is in Jesus and His church. Please don’t read this book if you are not ready to change your heart, mind, and attitude!”
—REV. DR. THARWAT WAHBA
Chairman, Missions Department, Evangelical Theological Seminary, Cairo, Egypt
Chairman of Council, Pastoral and Outreach Ministries for the Evangelical (Presbyterian) Church of Egypt
Author, The Practice of Mission in Egypt
“Jesus’ Economy is an invitation to a journey of faith in Christ’s transformative love. It equips you to uplift and to dignify the poor and, in so doing, glorifies Jesus Christ, who became poor that the world may experience the riches of that transformative love. The book also challenges humanity, particularly the church, to live a life of fruitfulness and worthy sacrifice.”
—DR. DAVID K. NGARUIYA
Director of PhD in Theological Studies Program, Nairobi International School of Theology
Associate Professor of Intercultural Studies, International Leadership University, Nairobi, Kenya
Coeditor, Communities of Faith in Africa and the African Diaspora
“What can we do to bring about restoration and transformation in our society, which is in many ways characterized by injustice, unfairness, and brokenness? First, we need a new outlook and a new approach. Jesus’ Economy will not only change your perspective of the world but also motivate you to change your response toward those who are suffering and impoverished. John Barry discusses the stark reality of society’s brokenness, including the unjust distribution of resources in the world. But he also provides a framework for creating a better world as we join hands with Christ, who died to transform society holistically. Jesus' Economy is a great resource for any context.”
—DR. A. N. LAL SENANAYAKE
President, Lanka Bible College and Seminary, Peradeniya, Sri Lanka
Coeditor, Educating for Tomorrow: Theological Leadership for the Asian Context
“Jesus’ Economy is a clear demonstration of the good news in action! John Barry shows us how God’s powerful grace and cross-shaped love are being manifested in our world of dire need. With moving stories, engaging information, and relevant teaching about empowering the impoverished and sharing the gospel, we are given a front-row seat to many such godly interventions. Barry, who is eminently competent to lead us on an incredible journey, shows us how we, too, can partner in nothing less than ‘Jesus’ economy.’”
—DR. JACOB CHERIAN
Vice President and Dean of Faculty, Southern Asia Bible College, Kothanur, Bangalore, India
“In Jesus’ Economy, with the passion that characterizes him, John Barry challenges us to revisit our commitment to the needy, from two fronts. First, through a compelling case, he invites us to study and follow Jesus’ dedication to the poor. Second, due to his broad experience in the field, he gives invaluable advice to those who are involved in—or looking to be involved in—ministries to the impoverished around the world.”
—DR. NELSON MORALES
Professor of New Testament Studies, Seminario Teológico Centroamericano, Guatemala
“Jesus’ Economy is both a significant scholarly effort and a practical manual for missions. It reaches the North American reader, as well as my context of Eastern Europe and other regions. John Barry challenges, on both biblical (special revelation) and logical (general revelation) terms, the American church’s contemporary perspective on global missions. He invites us to work toward a holistic approach of sharing the gospel. We do this by moving away from both the culturally insensitive, imperialistic paradigm and the culturally sensitive, ‘withdrawal’ method—which prevents the contemporary church from achieving its global impact. Jesus’ Economy demonstrates how we can serve and empower the impoverished by allowing indigenous leaders to lead the way while providing for basic needs, fully loving other people, and giving sacrificially.”
—DR. GELU PAUL-FAINA
Founding pastor, Vox Domini Baptist (Multisite) Church, Romania
President and founder, Churches with Global Impact;
National Director, Ambassadors for Christ Romania
“The title Jesus’ Economy: A Biblical View of Poverty, the Currency of Love, and a Pattern for Lasting Change is an incredible description of what you will discover in John Barry’s new book. It is an excellent resource on the life and ministry of Jesus Christ as a model for the contemporary church. Reading Jesus’ Economy will provide you with a foundation for holistic, cross-cultural ministry in a world void of love and compassion. The church is called to be part of God’s transforming mission to bring His kingdom to all nations. Barry shows how we can empower the global church by supporting the work of indigenous leaders and local believers. I heartily recommend this book to all who want to gain a biblical and theological perspective on how to follow and model Jesus today.”
—DR. ANTONIO CARLOS BARRO
Founder and CEO, South American Theological Seminary, Londrina, Brazil
“Jesus’ Economy offers a sound biblical understanding of poverty—both its roots and its alleviation. John’s text is personal and sincere, written with humility, and reflects the author’s actual experience of dealing with the needy. The approach he advocates is relational and holistic, bringing the soul and the body together. Moreover, John offers some very practical and feasible ideas for how to alleviate poverty through the local church. Worth reading!”
—DR. ANDREY KRAVTSEV
President, Intercultural Connections (a nonprofit in Russia mobilizing pastors to serve in areas with little Christian presence)
Former President, North Caucasus Bible Institute of Russia
“In the context of the developing world, Jesus’ Economy translates the Scriptures into reality. John Barry shows that we must first live within the sacred text—allowing it to read us, examine us, bring life to us, and transform us. It is here where we personally encounter God. In this way, with the biblical text as our interpretive lens, drawing us into communion with God, we can understand how to best eradicate poverty according to Jesus’ economy of sacrifice and love.”
—BISHOP PHILIPO MAFUJA MAGWANO
Africa Inland Church, Tanzania
Celebrate World Book Day and grab your copy of Jesus' Economy today!
How was Jesus poor and why did he become poor? Why would God come into the world as a man in poverty? Paul the apostle provides an answer.
“But just as you excel in everything—in faith and in speaking and in knowledge and with all diligence and in the love from us that is in you—so may you excel in this grace [of giving generously] also. I am not saying this as a command, but proving the genuineness of your love by means of the diligence of others. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that although he was rich, for your sake he became poor, in order that you, by his poverty, may become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:6–9 LEB).
In making the case for living graciously and generously, Paul pulls in the example of Jesus. He states that Jesus became poor for the sake of the world. The implications of this for our lives cannot be overstated.
The first level of Jesus’ poverty came in his decision to become a human (see Philippians 2:5–11). When Jesus decided to become human he moved from being crowned in glory in heaven to being mortal. He went from being able to move like a spirit to being stuck in flesh. But Jesus took it on gladly, for our sake.
Jesus took on poverty for our sake. He even became poor in a very ordinary way: He grew up in poor Nazareth and was a traveling preacher, who was basically homeless (see Luke 9:57–58).
If Jesus had not chosen to become human, he would not have been able to save us. If Jesus had not become physically poor, he likely would not have been as effective as a minister. Even in his poor appearance, Jesus was an attractive teacher—a stark contrast to the rich teachers of his day (compare Isaiah 53:1).
Jesus understood that it was through enduring poverty that he was able to reach and save humanity. On his way to dying for the world—on the cross—Jesus became a poor man. Those of us with much must realize how incredibly far we actually are from the state Jesus lived in. We must also keep in mind that our poor neighbors understand many things about Jesus that we do not.
This is why Jesus says things like, “Blessed are the poor, because yours is the kingdom of God" (Luke 6:20 LEB). The Macedonians, who Paul talks about just before the above passage in 2 Corinthians, gave out of their poverty because they understood what it meant to be in need (see 2 Corinthians 8:1–5). The wealthy Corinthians had a harder time seeing the perspective of the kingdom of God and hence Paul's not so subtle rebuke.
If Paul was alive today, he would probably remind us of the exact same thing he brought up to the Corinthians: be gracious in your giving and your lifestyle, for Jesus was incredibly gracious to us. Do what you can for those in need. And spread the good news of Jesus at all cost (compare James 1:27).
How does Paul’s perspective on Jesus, giving, and poverty change your perspective? Drop me a comment, I would love to hear from you.*
Want to go deeper into this subject? Check out my new book, Jesus' Economy: A Biblical View of Poverty, the Currency of Love, and a Pattern for Lasting Change. With simple, everyday choices you can make the world a better place. Learn how to live Jesus' economy, the currency of love.
*This article is adapted in part from my earlier article, "What Saint Paul Wants You to Understand about Jesus and Poverty."
“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'."
Happy International Women’s Day to you strong women (yes, that’s all women)!
It’s International Women’s Day, and while every day is a perfect day to honor and celebrate women, we want to recognize that right now is a great time to start a conversation about gender equality and how this impacts poverty. And hopefully the conversation and the resulting actions continue beyond today.
Historically, women have not been given the same economic opportunities as men, especially in developing countries, and while this has been changing, there is still work to be done. When women are empowered and supported so that they can provide stability for themselves and their families, poverty shrinks, hope is created, and God is glorified.
There are many ways to empower women around the world. Jesus’ Economy is working with an existing program in Bihar, India to do just this.
In Bihar, a state in extreme poverty, families are forced into a repeated cycle of poverty in which their basic needs are not met. But Jesus’ Economy is partnering with a program there that teaches women tailoring and seamstress skills; and then adding innovative business training and microfinance to these efforts. With this program, we will create sustainable jobs for the impoverished.
The day Jesus’ Economy decided to launch this plan is a day CEO John D. Barry will never forget. A woman placed her hands in his and wept. She said, “I can now afford to keep my kids in school, but keeping food on their plates often feels impossible. I am constantly facing the decision of whether to eat or pay for school supplies or clothing for my children. Will you pray for me and my children?” She could pay for her kids to go to school through her sewing work, which she learned via a non-profit sewing school, but her business needed a boost.
Women like this are ready to work hard to offer their children a better life; they just need the opportunity. Together, we can give them this chance for a hopeful future. Jesus’ Economy is offering graduates of the sewing program the chance to learn how to make products for a western market—as well as learn business basics and ethical business practices.
Our partner in Bihar has already taught women how to sew, but they need the additional business skills to become successful and sustainable.
Our business-training program will teach 40 women how to expand their businesses. The training has two phases. First, a trainer will come in and offer a one-week training session on product development, employee management, handling accounts, and running an ethical, fair trade business.
The second phase involves hands-on product development training. This will be a two-week session that guides the women through their own product development cycle and further business ethics training. This trainer will be available for an additional 10 weeks for free consulting to the women. By the end of the training, the women will be equipped to sell high-quality products locally and on the western market. They will have moved from tailors to successful international businesswomen.
After the training, the women will be eligible for a microloan from Jesus’ Economy to purchase supplies for their expanding business. Jesus' Economy also changes the economic paradigm by becoming the guaranteed buyer of the products the women are creating. Jesus' Economy will sell these products in our fair trade shop.
Business-training ultimately fights against the cycle of poverty, and gives women hope of changing the future for generations to come.
International Women’s Day isn’t just about celebrating what women have accomplished. It is also about recognizing what we can still do to empower women and work to put an end to global poverty.
On this International Women’s Day, you can empower a woman in Bihar, India to lift her family out of poverty, and bring positive change to the world.
It is easy to get so caught up with our own problems that we neglect to notice the needs of other people. Giving changes this. It makes us hopeful. It changes our perspective. It makes our problems seem manageable.
Paul the apostle recognized the power of giving to change our perspective on life:
"The one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work" (2 Corinthians 9:6–8 NRSV).
The key to changing our world starts with you and it starts with me. It requires generosity. And when we give generously, we may just find that the gift returns to us in the form of joy, a renewed perspective, and a deeper relationship with Jesus.
When I think of the power of giving, I come back to how the founding of Jesus' Economy has changed my life. I'm a completely different kind of Christian because of this cause of creating jobs and churches in the developing world. Jesus, by his grace, has shown me how generosity is a gift to my life. It has renewed and strengthened my faith. It has also brought me immense joy, as I have seen God work through the efforts of Jesus' Economy to renew communities.
People around the globe are in desperate need of our help. They’re suffering from issues outside of their control, but many that are changeable. When we walk alongside them, we can create opportunity out of these seemingly hopeless situations. We can find, and offer, solutions. I believe that now more than ever.
We live in an interconnected world with incredible possibility: We have an opportunity to bring goodness and peace to the lives of others. There is a better future ahead for all of humanity, if we make it possible. What if the future could look different than the trajectory humanity is currently on? What would you want it to look like?
I want to see love, peace, and hope. I desire to see poverty alleviated, so that people can live freely and with purpose—so that they can accomplish good for other people in the world. I long for Jesus to become a major part of people’s lives, because I know the difference he has made in my life and the lives of others. I want to watch transformation in ethics and lifestyles occur. I want to see entire communities renewed. How about you?*
*This article is adapted in part from my earlier article, "What Does a Better World Look Like to You?"
In his new book, the founder of the nonprofit Jesus' Economy shares incredible, and often shocking, stories about working among the impoverished and unchurched in the U.S. and abroad. And since John D. Barry is a Bible scholar, Jesus’ Economy is also deeply rooted in the Scriptures. It is a personal, sometimes funny, often heartbreaking account that presents a revolutionary pattern for lasting change. Now you can read the Prologue and the first three chapters of Jesus' Economy for free.
The book is called Jesus’ Economy because it’s about creating a spiritual and physical economy for those who need it most. Here is a thoroughly biblical and compassionate pattern for addressing issues of poverty and offering the hope of the gospel. Jesus’ Economy:
AVAILABLE IN PRINT AND DIGITAL MOST PLACES BOOKS ARE SOLD
The Bible talks a lot about how God blesses those who follow the path of righteousness. In passages like Psalm 1 and Jeremiah 17, we’re told that the one who trusts in God will be blessed. But when I look at the world, it seems that, more often than not, the good guy loses. Meanwhile, the deceptive seem to win. I'm going to ask a risky question: Why trust God when the wicked prosper? And how do I seek God’s blessing in a world that feels unjust?
It is this precise issue that Jeremiah the prophet addresses in the book of Jeremiah 17:5–13. Writing in the late seventh century and early sixth century BC, to the southern kingdom of Israel (called Judah), Jeremiah teaches us three things about how to seek God’s blessing.
Echoing Psalm 1, Jeremiah provides a principle of how things should work.
This is what the LORD says: “Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who draws strength from mere flesh and whose heart turns away from the LORD. That person will be like a bush in the wastelands; they will not see prosperity when it comes. They will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives.
“But blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit” (Jeremiah 17:5–8 NIV).
Those who trust in people (flesh) over God will find themselves withering away in a desert. But the one who trusts in God will be like a tree with deep roots. That one's roots go all the way to the stream, so that no matter what may come his or her way, there is a stream of water to draw upon. In drought, the one who trusts in Yahweh will endure.
Jeremiah explains that God knows the hearts of those who trust in the ways of culture.
“I the LORD search the heart and examine the mind, to reward each person according to their conduct, according to what their deeds deserve.
“Like a partridge that hatches eggs it did not lay are those who gain riches by unjust means. When their lives are half gone, their riches will desert them, and in the end they will prove to be fools” (Jeremiah 17:9–11 NIV).
God sees the injustices. While many may be deceived, God knows. Trusting in God also means trusting in his knowledge of the injustices.
Furthermore, riches will desert us in the end. While our culture may prioritize material gain—at nearly any cost—God does not. And justice will come to those who exploit others in their journey to so-called success.
Jeremiah tells us that those who trust in Yahweh are putting their trust in the true "place of sanctuary ... the hope of Israel ... the spring of living water” (Jeremiah 17:12–13).
Blessings are intended for those who trust in God. Those who seek the path of deception or exploitation should experience the bareness of their decisions. But we’re still left with a problem: Why, then, does the world not work that way? Yet that could be the wrong question. Jesus would suggest that what’s needed to understand God’s blessings—and how to seek them—is a different perspective.
Blessing can come in material gain, positions of authority, and relationships, but blessing is first and foremost the deep well of relationship with God. This is at least what Jesus believed. Jesus says,
“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh" (Luke 6:20–23 NIV).
Jesus' view of the blessed life should confront us. It demands that we reevaluate what blessing means. The poor are blessed because they will receive the kingdom of God. The hungry may be hungry now, but they will be filled by God. Those who weep and mourn will laugh in the end.
God’s blessing is about realizing here and now that while the world may favor the deceptive and greedy that God will make all things right in the end (see Revelation 21). This means changing our view of what it means to be blessed. It means learning to be a blessing.
Jesus and Jeremiah both call us to trust in God to provide the blessing. Pick any of Jesus' sermons and you find echoes of this. Jesus’ life also demonstrates this. Jesus did not look to the praise of people, wealth, or power for blessing. Jesus looks to God the Father. Jesus proved, in how he lived, that God's blessing—even when all hope seems lost—comes to those who seek righteousness. There is nothing that shows this more than the hope of resurrection on the other side of death on a cross.
This is why Jesus lovingly looks at the Rich Young Ruler and says, “One thing you lack. ... Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me" (Mark 10:21). The Rich Ruler, like the people Jeremiah addressed, had placed trust in the wrong place.
To seek God’s blessing, we must place trust in God—in belief that he will make all things right—and we must act as if we really believe what we say. That means self-sacrificially answering the call of justice for the poor, the hungry, and those who weep. It means having resurrection hope with a willingness to give of any and every resource that God has provided to better our world. We are blessed to bless.
Are you too trusting in your wealth and security? I ask you now to change that. What do you need to give up and trust God with. Consider it practically: is it wealth, a relationship, even an occupation? What are you prioritizing over God?
My challenge to you is to place your trust in Yahweh and watch him bless what he calls you to do. In this life, or in the day that he makes all things new (Revelation 21), we will see it. Blessed is the one who trusts in God.
In a slum in Bihar, India, I felt a ball of anger well up inside of me. As I stared into the faces of people living in extreme poverty, one word came to mind, "injustice." Someone, somewhere had let these people down. I was angry at the societal corruption that had caused this injustice and I was angry at the world for ignoring these people. But most of all, I was angry at myself. I realized that, in many regards, I was that "someone, somewhere."
“This part of the village needs clean water,” the woman in her early 40s remarked. The look on her face, as she expressed her people’s needs, will never leave my mind. It was anger combined with pain—she was grateful that some people in her slum now had access to water, but infuriated by the fact that everyone had abandoned her outside of a local nonprofit. (Jesus' Economy would later partner with that same nonprofit to renew communities in Bihar, India.)
This woman understood that her community needed mercy, but she also understood that she was a victim of injustice. I was angry with her.
But where did the injustice the woman felt begin? The scary answer: The injustice she felt is something we all have inflicted upon her—each of us who has ignored the tragedy of poverty in some way or another. Each of us who had chosen consumerism or our comfortable lives over addressing poverty had contributed to this injustice. We could have done something.
But what about all the Christians in the world who claim to believe in doing good for other people? One of the reasons why injustices in our world continue is because we, as western world Christians, are not dealing with our own spiritual poverty—and that’s what is holding us back from tackling physical poverty. We've instead given in to the ideals of our culture (such as consumerism), while much of the rest of the world struggles.
The biblical prophets held in tension both mercy and justice. When they looked at the world, they saw that both must be present for God’s love to be fully known. They realized that God is both full of justice and mercy.
The prophet Isaiah once said:
“Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him” (Isaiah 30:18 ESV).
God is gracious and desires to show mercy. God moves forward in the world to offer such grace. (May we wait on him!)
But God is also a God of justice. God is not just moving forward with grace but intends to course correct our world. God is against the injustices that plague our world, such as people not having clean water.
In this instance of poverty, we must recognize that:
To correct the injustices of the world, like extreme poverty, we must look to our own lives, as well as the problems within societies. At their core, personal selfishness and societal corruption are spiritual problems. It is these dual evils that keep people poor: those with much choose selfishness and those with power give into corruption. Thus, without coming to terms with God, a sustainable solution cannot be obtained. Elsewhere, the prophet Isaiah says:
“Wash! Make yourselves clean! Remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes! Cease to do evil! Learn to do good! Seek justice! Rescue the oppressed! Defend the orphan! Plead for the widow!
‘Come now, and let us argue,’ says Yahweh. ‘Even though your sins are like scarlet, they will be white like snow; even though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool’” (Isaiah 1:16–18 LEB).
God is ready to argue with our selfish hearts. He is ready to show us the error of our ways. Consider what Isaiah says:
This means doing things like rescuing the oppressed, defending the orphan, and pleading for the widow. But the source of this good is God, who makes us clean by the salvation that Jesus freely offers.
These lines from Isaiah are like the old adage, “You can’t help someone else, if you can’t first help yourself,” but with a twist: “You can’t help someone else, if you don’t first let God help you.”
Learning to do good, to seek justice, and to offer mercy starts with us being changed by God.
We know what the prophets would do. We know how they would react and act. They would correct the injustices of the world by offering mercy—may we do the same.
Want to go deeper into this subject? Check out my new book, Jesus' Economy: A Biblical View of Poverty, the Currency of Love, and a Pattern for Lasting Change. With simple, everyday choices you can make the world a better place. Learn how to live Jesus' economy, the currency of love.
*This article is based on my earlier article, "A Just and Merciful God: Loving the Impoverished Like God Does."