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The Proper Care and Feeding of the Poor

Within my care group, there’s been a sort of ongoing dialogue on this topic of benevolence toward the poor and struggling. On this past Monday night (the men of the group get together for a semimonthly Monday night accountability group/Bible study) we revisited the subject. There was some disagreement, and like all good disagreements it drove me back to the Scriptures to see what they have to say on the matter. What I found was almost staggering! At the end of every seven years you shall grant a release. And this is the manner of the release: every creditor shall release what he has lent to his neighbor. He shall not exact it of his neighbor, his brother, because the LORD’s release has been proclaimed. Of a foreigner you may exact it, but whatever of yours is with your brother your hand shall release. But there will be no poor among you; for the LORD will bless you in the land that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance to possess—if only you will strictly obey the voice of the LORD your God, being careful to do all this commandment that I command you today. For the LORD your God will bless you, as he promised you, and you shall lend to many nations, but you shall not borrow, and you shall rule over many nations, but they shall not rule over you. If among you, one of your brothers should become poor, in any of your towns within your land that the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be. Take care lest there be an unworthy thought in your heart and you say, ‘The seventh year, the year of release is near,’ and your eye look grudgingly on your poor brother, and you give him nothing, and he cry to the LORD against you, and you be guilty of sin. You shall give to him freely, and your heart shall not be grudging when you give to him, because for this the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’ — Deuteronomy 15:1-11 (ESV) But maybe I’m getting ahead of myself. 😉 See, Chesapeake Community Church has just started a series of sermons on 1 John. I wasn’t there on Sunday (this cold’s been pretty nasty), but I did have John Piper’s message from January 7th, also on 1 John (2:12-14, to be specific) playing as I drove to and from this men’s meeting. Anyway, I definitely had 1 John on my mind as I was going into this. Now, the reason I mention 1 John is that in that letter, the Apostle says something very interesting: My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. — 1 John 2:1-2 (ESV) The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ is such that we have an advocate, even if we sin after having first received mercy! The reason this was giving me a eureka! moment is because this is the exact same sort of thing being said in the Deuteronomy passage! Look at it again, specifically verses 4-5 and 7-8: “But there will be no poor among you; for the LORD will bless you in the land that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance to possess—if only you will strictly obey the voice of the LORD your God, being careful to do all this commandment that I command you today. […] If among you, one of your brothers should become poor, in any of your towns within your land that the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be.” Do you see it? Do you see it? There is at least an implication that as Israel’s financial prosperity in the Promised Land is tied to their lawkeeping, their poverty will be due to sin… yet they are commanded to lend whatever is needed to the seeming backslider, even if there’s no chance he can pay them back. In fact, according to verse 9, if you don’t open wide your hand to give the presumed “sinner” whatever he needs, you’re guilty of sin! What a beautiful illustration of Jesus’ command in the Sermon on the Mount: Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you… so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. […] You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. — Matthew 5:42, 45, 48 (ESV) So brothers and sisters, I urge you: do not sin against God and your neighbor in an effort to “avoid foolish investments”! He is no wise steward who ignores the master’s stewardship instructions. Rather, look upon the mercy and kindness of God—who pours out common grace upon all, regardless of merit (that’s what grace is)—and open wide your hand to the poor in your midst, even if you think his poverty is the result of his sin. UPDATE: It figures that someone like Doug Wilson would have beaten me to this by a few weeks—and he said it better than I did, to boot! :p