Rich or poor?

The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is slave to the lender. ~Proverbs 22:7 NIV

Gold MoneyThis verse states a harsh truth: Wealthy people in this world exert tremendous power and influence over those who have less. People who have little material wealth must be prepared to be treated by the rich as if they are slaves. It isn’t fair, or right, or proper, but it is true.

However, the Lord urges you to remember that whether someone is fabulously rich, middle class, or truly destitute, people are only people; they are not God. Just prior to this verse, Proverbs 22:2 reads:

Rich and poor have this in common: The LORD is the Maker of them all.

Don’t be tempted to think that your wealth somehow gains you favor with God. It won’t. Neither will your lack of material possessions. It is not inherently more spiritual to be either poor or rich.

In the New Testament, the Lord gives clear instructions to both slaves and masters who have decided to follow Jesus. To the slave (the borrower), he says in Ephesians 6:5-6:

Slaves, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ; not by way of eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart.

According to this passage, a slave (a borrower) should be obedient. Keep your promises; pay on time. And obey knowing that your real master is Jesus Christ. It is him you seek to honor by living up to the terms of your agreement.

Are you among the wealthy who “rule over the poor?” As a master (or lender), Ephesians 4:1 must be your guide for living:

Masters, grant to your slaves justice and fairness, knowing that you too have a Master in heaven.

Justice and fairness can be elusive, but as a wealthy person, the Lord expects you to extend a measure of grace to others – perhaps especially those who are indebted to you. How do you respond when someone pleads, “Be patient with me?”

God has already shown you enough unmerited favor that you can enter heaven – undeservedly. Keep that in mind as you consider how you treat other people less fortunate than you.

Listen

Whoever closes his ear to the cry of the poor will himself call out and not be answered. ~Proverbs 21:13 ESV

PovertyThis verse is a simple reminder of a basic obligation to mankind. And it’s one that the apostle Paul fully embraces in Galatians 2:10:

They only asked us to remember the poor — the very thing I also was eager to do.

Poverty is persistent. Although the Bible includes many references to your obligation to care for the truly needy, it never suggests that we should (or that we can) eradicate poverty. Jesus teaches in Matthew 26:11, Mark 14:7, and John 12:8 that “the poor will always be with you.”

So what are you supposed to do about people in need? Consider this brief excerpt from The Hole in Our Gospel, by Richard Stearns, president of World Vision:

I don’t want to suggest that all true followers of Christ must forsake everything to bring comfort and justice to the poor. I only propose that a genuine concern for “the least of these” that finds tangible expression must be woven into the pattern of their lives and faith. That expression might involve small but regular gifts to compassion ministries, advocating on behalf of the poor to government representatives, or regularly volunteering at a soup kitchen, the local nursing home… Even Jesus did not spend every waking hour helping the poor. He dined with the wealthy, celebrated at weddings and feasts, taught in the synagogue, and perhaps even did a bit of carpentry. Still, there is no question that His love for the poor found consistent and concrete expression in His life and ministry. The question for you and me is this: will Christ find evidence of our genuine concern for His beloved poor when He looks at the fruit of our lives on that day? Further, what might He be calling you to do today? What new steps of faith might you take to demonstrate your own concern for “the least of these?”

Proverbs 21:13 makes it clear that the Lord expects you to pay attention to the plight of people in need. As you study God’s word and pray today, remember to pray for those in need. More importantly, determine before God what it is that you will do to show a tangible expression of Christ’s love for “the poor.”

It’s your choice

An arrogant man stirs up strife, But he who trusts in the Lord will prosper. He who trusts in his own heart is a fool, But he who walks wisely will be delivered. He who gives to the poor will never want, But he who shuts his eyes will have many curses. ~Proverbs 28:25-27 NASB

Strategic Planning CycleIt may be useful to examine these verses by separating the first statement in each one from the comparative second statement. When you do that, here’s how you might ponder this practical advice from God. First read the left-hand column from top to bottom. Then read the right-hand column from top to bottom:

An arrogant man stirs up strife. But he who trusts in the Lord will prosper.
He who trusts in his own heart is a fool. But he who walks wisely will be delivered.
He who gives to the poor will never want. But he who shuts his eyes will have many curses.

Do these simple statements about how you choose to live your life suddenly become clearer to you?

The first statement is plain enough: Arrogance or pride in a person may explain why they are constantly surrounded by turmoil and strife. The second half of verse 25 offers a contrast, explaining that one who places their faith and trust in God will prosper.

Does this mean that arrogant people can never prosper, or that people who do trust the Lord cannot be arrogant? No. But as a rule, these things are generally true about people. That’s the best way to understand many statements like this in the book of Proverbs. These are not meant as absolutes, but rather as general observations about the human condition.

Typically, an arrogant person truly does lack peace and contentment in their life. And typically, a person who does trust the Lord each day is a person who will, in the end, prosper – perhaps materially or physically, almost certainly spiritually.

Are you arrogant – meaning supremely self-confident? Or are you walking wisely, seeking the counsel of others (especially God)?

Do you rely on your own instincts? Or will you experience God’s deliverance because you trust in him?

Do you give to those who are less fortunate financially? Verse 27 promises that while you are doing that, you will never suffer lack yourself. On the other hand, if you willingly ignore the plight of the poor, you may be subject to the ill effects of many curses.

Proverbs 16:9 says:

In his heart a man plans his course,  but the Lord determines his steps.

It’s your choice, isn’t it? In each case you can choose to live according to God’s wise advice, or you can decide to go your own way. Ask the Lord today to help you see the steps he has determined for your life, and pray for the strength to submit to his plans.

An easy reward

Kindness to the poor is a loan to the Lord, and He will give a reward to the lender. ~Proverbs 19:17 HCSB

KindnessIn this verse, God essentially says that he himself will pay back any kindness you show to the poor. Interestingly, the Lord considers nice things you do for someone less fortunate to be a loan – regardless of whether or not you expect repayment.

Jesus told a story about this in Matthew 25:34-40:

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’

So according to this passage, feeding or clothing the poor, or visiting people in jail, or just offering a refreshing drink to the less fortunate, may be a kindness that God will one day repay.

Do you seek a reward from God? Be sure that you are looking out for people who have little in the way of worldly possessions. Ask the Lord today to help you see opportunities to serve or give in ways that please him.

Be kind to the poor

The one who oppresses the poor person insults his Maker, but one who is kind to the needy honors Him. ~Proverbs 14:31 HCSB

Please HelpGod’s word mentions numerous times that we should be concerned for the well-being of people who are suffering in poverty. This verse specifically says that oppression of poor people – taking advantage of them, or keeping them down-trodden – is an insult to the Lord himself.

Consider these passages on the subject:

Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly. ~Leviticus 19:15

There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land. ~Deuteronomy 15:11

I know that the Lord secures justice for the poor and upholds the cause of the needy. ~Psalm 140:12

All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do. ~Galatians 2:10

While the scriptures never instruct us to “eliminate poverty” or care for the poor through government programs, Proverbs 14:31 makes it clear that God is honored when we are kind to those who are in need.

Have you reflected upon your own attitude and track record concerning needy people? God has. How will you show the compassion of Jesus today to those who are less fortunate?