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Proverbs 19:17

“Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed.”

Biblical standards of ethics place a high priority on caring for the poor. For example, the law of Moses specifically commands farmers not to harvest all of the food in their fields but to leave some behind for the poor to gather and thereby not go hungry (Lev. 19:10). Repeatedly in the Prophets, we read harsh words of judgment against those who oppress the impoverished (Isa. 3:13–15). If wisdom and right living go hand in hand, the wise man or woman will follow this biblical ethic, seeking to help those who have very little in terms of physical goods.

We find encouragement for caring for the poor that goes beyond mere duty in today’s passage. True, we should care for the poor and obey all of the Lord’s other commands simply because He is the Lord and He has the inherent right to determine the ethics of His creatures. But God is gracious, and He gives us many incentives for doing what is right in addition to making it purely a matter of duty. Proverbs 19:17 tells us that the Lord will repay those who are generous to the poor. Those who give to individuals who lack the basic necessities of life will be blessed by God. Though the poor cannot and may never be able to repay us for our generosity, the Lord can and will. Moreover, since it is the Lord who is repaying the debt, we can expect an eternal return.

In giving to the poor, we are in a manner of speaking lending to our Creator Himself. Today’s passage does not explain what that means, but one commentator says that lending to the impoverished is lending to the Lord because He has tied His honor to the sustenance of poor men and women, creatures who are made in His image (Gen. 1:26–27). Having pledged to defend the cause of the needy (Ps. 140:12), God associates Himself so closely with the poor among His people that to give to them is to give to Him. Because of this, we never need fear that giving to God-honoring, dignity-respecting programs that address poverty is a waste. Our Creator will return our investment and then some, granting us eternal rewards in heaven. Almsgiving will not get us into heaven, but only the righteousness of Christ. However, God rewards the good works done to honor Him, works that we do in gratitude for our salvation, which is accomplished by the Savior alone.

Wisdom has to be exercised in caring for the impoverished, but make no mistake: every believer who helps the poor for the right reasons can count on God’s blessing.

Coram Deo Living before the face of God

The Lord does not overlook what His people do to help others. When we work to help the poor acquire basic necessities and even to prepare and train them to eventually escape material poverty, we are doing what God finds pleasing. Caring appropriately for the poor takes wisdom. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, for there are many reasons why people might be impoverished. Let us seek to aid the poor wisely, both in their material and spiritual poverty.

For Further Study
  • Deuteronomy 15:7–11
  • Psalm 12:5
  • Proverbs 28:3
  • Galatians 2:10

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Saving the Lord’s Anointed

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From the February 2015 Issue
Feb 2015 Issue