Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Proverbs 29:7 commentary; consider the poor

7 ¶ The righteous considereth the cause of the poor: but the wicked regardeth not to know it.

In the Hebrew kingdom of the ancient world, under God’s law, created to separate the Hebrews as a distinctive people, unique among a host of wicked, Gentile nations the poor were supposed to be taken care of in specific ways. The Hebrews were to leave some food in their fields for the poor and for the foreigner living among them to get during the harvest. Clearly, the poor were expected to do some work to get it.

Leviticus 23:22 And when ye reap the harvest of your land, thou shalt not make clean riddance of the corners of thy field when thou reapest, neither shalt thou gather any gleaning of thy harvest: thou shalt leave them unto the poor, and to the stranger: I am the LORD your God.

The Hebrew was to be generous to the poor.

Deuteronomy 15:11 For the poor shall never cease out of the land: therefore I command thee, saying, Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto thy brother, to thy poor, and to thy needy, in thy land.

The instructions given to the kingdom of Israel regarding welfare for the poor were more like American President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s (FDR) programs of the 1930’s where you even had out of work executives whose only business attire was a suit sweeping a city sidewalk or cleaning up a park. You could get government aid, but if you were able and healthy enough to do so you had to work.

Somewhere in the 1960’s welfare programs became a handout with no expectation of work on behalf of a healthy, able bodied individual. Then, in the 1990’s President Bill Clinton introduced a type of “workfare”, a word first coined by 60’s civil rights leader, James Evers, and first used in a speech by President Richard Nixon. This was designed to get the welfare recipient into employment. Some on the left criticize it as simply moving the poor person into a different category and not employing them at all.

We also have many working poor in our country. There are people unable to find full time work with benefits or a living wage and will work two or three part time jobs just to maintain a roof over their head or food on their table. There is usually nothing else left for improving their lives and many of these people don’t have health insurance.

There are no Christian countries and never have been as only a person can be a Christian. There is no communal or group salvation. Each and every individual is responsible for coming to Christ. Certainly, the United States was founded on Christian principles and often by many men who claimed to be Christian of some stripe or the other. However, leaving the political world aside let’s look at the individual’s responsibility to the poor, both within and “without the camp” under the doctrines of grace.

Paul tells us that the Lord Jesus Christ, though he was rich, made himself poor for our sakes.

2Corinthians 8:9 For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich.

With regard to caring for the poor within the house of God, the family of God, the church, which is the body of Christ on earth, Paul tells us;

2 Corinthians 8:12 For if there be first a willing mind, it is accepted according to that a man hath, and not according to that he hath not. 13 For I mean not that other men be eased, and ye burdened: 14 But by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may be a supply for their want, that their abundance also may be a supply for your want: that there may be equality: 15 As it is written, He that had gathered much had nothing over; and he that had gathered little had no lack.

And in this context he says in an often abused passage by preachers trying to raise money for a new parking lot or a basketball court rather than the poorer brethren’s needs;

2 Corinthians 9:6 ¶ But this I say, He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully. 7 Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver. 8 And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work: 9 (As it is written, He hath dispersed abroad; he hath given to the poor: his righteousness remaineth for ever. 10 Now he that ministereth seed to the sower both minister bread for your food, and multiply your seed sown, and increase the fruits of your righteousness;) 11 Being enriched in every thing to all bountifulness, which causeth through us thanksgiving to God.

So, in context the Christian has a responsibility before God to help his poorer brothers and sisters. This is considered a good work and is the active result of having charity toward your brothers and sisters. Paul calls those Christian who are rich in this world to distribute and communicate, two words that mean supplying a physical need.

1 Timothy 6:17 Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy; 18 That they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate; 19 Laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.

And returning back to the context of the earlier passage about giving bountifully and as God has laid it on your heart Paul brings us to the point where our mercy and benevolence is expressed not only to those in the church but the poor in the world, as well. The wicked choose to look the other way.

2 Corinthians 9:11 Being enriched in every thing to all bountifulness, which causeth through us thanksgiving to God. 12 For the administration of this service not only supplieth the want of the saints, but is abundant also by many thanksgivings unto God; 13 Whiles by the experiment of this ministration they glorify God for your professed subjection unto the gospel of Christ, and for your liberal distribution unto them, and unto all men; 14 And by their prayer for you, which long after you for the exceeding grace of God in you. 15 Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift.

This is a voluntary function, a Christian work done because a person is saved, not to get saved or to stay saved, or even to purchase salvation. It is from the heart and not done as a political act, at the point of the proverbial gun. So you must separate in your head your duty to the state and what you do out of love for Christ and for the brethren. They are two entirely separate things, although you probably will not object to your tax money going in part to help people simply because you are generous.

Christian giving is not political. Considering the poor is a Christian duty and an act of love, not a nuisance that gets in the way of you taking vacations to Cancun or building a nest egg for your children’s ease of living. And God will take care of you. Paul, after thanking the Philippians for being generous in supporting him in his missionary efforts promises;

Philippians 4:19 But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.

The wicked simply don’t care about the poor. It doesn’t even cross their mind. “I”, “me”, and “mine” are their trinity. Neither Ayn Rand nor Karl Marx were followers of Christ when they were on the earth. But believe me, if government welfare was efficient and went where it was actually needed rather than being a tool with which to buy votes then people like Bill Gates wouldn’t set up a foundation to help people. They’d just write bigger checks to the government and take fewer deductions.

In any event, once you have met your own survival needs then look to the needs of others, first in the church, then in the world. God will take care of you.

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