Poor Ways

Not only did I have an Agriculture teacher for a father, and grow up on a farm, at 13 years old I began working at a tractor and equipment auction after school and Saturdays (and continued to work there until after Donna and I married).  The owner/operator of that establishment considered himself somewhat of a savant collector and purveyor of old sayings.  So I was constantly asked if I “had all my (rac)coons on a stump,” “ducks in a row,” or if I was “happy as a dead pig in the sunshine” and such like.  Some of these adages I had heard before, and had particular meaning, but many of them were new, and seemed to be just for fun.  A few of them not only expressed a particular truth, but did so in a memorable way. 

One such proverb was “Poor folks have poor ways.”  Usually, this meant that someone with limited resources of tools and materials (and perhaps of knowledge regarding how best to use what they did have) did the best they could with what they had.  This saying usually came up when I was called upon to repair some tractor or piece of farm equipment that had been poorly “patched.”  Perhaps it had been “hay-wired” or “rigged” to “get by,” but I was expected to “fix it right.”  Occasionally, this “patch job” had actually made the original problem worse, and thus harder to “fix.”  But if I complainingly pointed such out, the retort from the boss was always the same, “Poor folks have poor ways.” So, I’d close my mouth get busy with my hands.

“Poor folks have poor ways” isn’t exactly biblical, but it has scriptural cousins.  The wise sayings of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes have much to say about foolish behavior, slothfulness, vain (empty/worthless) pursuits, and unwise ways both generally and specifically.  Much like its earthly counterparts, folks often do the best they can with what they have spiritually.  They may not have good resources of “spiritual” materials, or the tools and knowledge of how to use them.  Nonetheless, like the impoverished farmer, they do “the best they can with what they have.”  There is honor in such, and it deserves to be praised rather than belittled.  The widow who was “poor” in terms of earthly resources manifested spiritual wealth, understanding, and generosity in Mark 12:41-44; and the woman who anointed Jesus at the home of “Simon the leper” in Mark 14:3-9 was praised as having “done what she could” by the Lord.  Even the spiritually poor can thus be “rich in good works” despite their poverty, cp. 1Tim.6:18!

However, it is also true that “the poor” are sometimes impoverished because of poor ways.  That is, their poor habits produce their poverty, Prov.6:6-11.  In such cases, it is not the lack of resources that make for poor ways, but that poor ways produce a lack of resources.  This is true both physically and spiritually.  The Bereans of Acts 17:11, regardless of their earthly status, where “noble-minded” (willing to learn; open-minded; willing to evaluate fully) precisely because they:

1) “received the word with great eagerness”- the right attitude;

2) “examining the Scriptures daily”- the right practice; and,

3) “to see whether these things were so”- the right purpose

The Thessalonians, by contrast, had the same spiritual opportunities, cf. Acts 17:2-3, but Paul and Silas had to be “sent away by night” when a riot ensued, Acts 17:10.  In their case, poor ways produced spiritual poverty! 

The parable of The Talents (Matt.25:14ff) provides the underlying truth to what has been said thus far.  Notice that the man depicted in the story “entrusted his possessions” to his servants, “each according to his own ability,” vv.14-15.  Thus, each was given proportional opportunity with which to prove himself worthy of additional resources.  The five and two-talent servants did well with what they had been given, and were rewarded accordingly, vv.20-23.  But the one-talent servant did poorly and suffered punishment commensurately, vv.24-27,30.  Though not “rich” by any means (a talent was the equivalent of one day’s wage for a servant), the two and five-talent men served richly, while the one-talent servant manifested “poor ways.” 

What does all of this mean?  As my father was fond of saying, “The best you can do is the best you can do.”  That is, sometimes, when lacking resources of materials, tools, and knowledge, the results are necessarily limited.  But at other times, poor outcomes result from poor ways.  We may not be able to help being “poor”- physically or spiritually; but let’s be sure our poverty isn’t because of our “poor ways”!

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