Part 9 of 11
I have used the term ‘needy’ many, many times during the previous eight posts. I have talked about God’s disposition toward the needy, and the call upon us to care for them. I have explored with you the ontology and attributes of God and His holy acts. And we have looked at the real effect of second causes as God continuously brings about His providential will. We have just three posts left. As we finish up with these, I will come to the point of application: where we apply the principles we have learned in practical ways concerning caring for the needy. In the following three , we shall look at four subjects: the imperatives given by Scripture concerning care for the needy, promises of deliverance as God acts on the behalf of the needy, how the wicked treat the needy, and finally, how the godly treat the needy. Let us consider the first: the imperatives given by Scripture concerning care for the needy. But before we do this it will be helpful to answer a question basic to this issue: who and where are the needy?
Who are the needy? Or, said another way: what conditions are present in a person’s life to put them in the group of the needy? Throughout the Scriptures at least twelve categories of need are spoken of; these are: the fatherless, the widow, the poor, the hungry, the thirsty, the broken hearted, the imprisoned, the naked – or those subject to physical exposure, the sick, the oppressed, the alien, and the weak. Some verses refer to the needy as destitute, which can be understood as not possessing something desired, such as food or clothing. Other verses refer to the needy as afflicted, which can be understood as possessing something not desired, such as oppression or alienation.
Where are the needy? There are needy ones within and without the visible church, and we are called to care for both. For example, concerning those within the church, when we read of the judgment of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25, Jesus refers to the needy ones as “…one of these brothers of Mine” (Matthew 25:40b) when he commends the righteous for caring for the hungry, thirsty, estranged, naked, sick and imprisoned. Further, when James critiques the so-called faith of the one who sees another in want “…without giving them the things needed for the body…”, he refers to the needy one as “…a brother or sister…” (James 2:15, 16). We are certainly called to care for the needy brother or sister among us. As John says in first John chapter three, “…if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him” (I John 3:17)?
Concerning caring for those outside the visible church, the most overt example is the parable of the good Samaritan found in the Gospel according to Luke. “And behold, a lawyer stood up to put [Jesus] to the test, saying, ‘Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’ He said to him, ‘What is written in the Law? How do you read it?’ And [the lawyer] answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.’ And [Jesus] said to him, ‘You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.’ But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’ Jesus replied, ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denariiand gave them to the innkeeper, saying, “Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.” Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?’ He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘You go, and do likewise’” (Luke 10:25-37).
So this parable is given as an answer to the question, who is my neighbor? which was asked of Jesus by the lawyer. The conversation started when this lawyer asked Jesus, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus responded by asking the lawyer, “What is written in the law? How do you read it?” And the lawyer correctly answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” So once the lawyer goes on to ask, “who is my neighbor,” Jesus responds by telling this parable of the good Samaritan. Please notice the response of the three men. The priest and the Levite see the injured man – the afflicted man – and avoid him. However, the Samaritan, when he sees him, is moved with compassion. When you see someone in need, are you moved with compassion? If you are not, ask the Lord to help you. Ask Him to help you show mercy to the poor as He has shown mercy to you: one who was bankrupt spiritually and has received God’s mercy. Our response to the needy must be compassionate. Further, the Samaritan goes to him, and cares for him. He takes care of his wounds, puts him on his own donkey and takes him to an inn. Finally, he returns the next day and gives money to the innkeeper to provide for the care of the injured man; stating that “…whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.” So also we must act on behalf of the needy and alleviate their condition of distress. And this will oftentimes include the use of the resources God has given to us.
So who are we called to love? Who is our neighbor? Whom shall we help when they are in need? We find from this parable that our neighbor is anyone with whom we come in contact. We are called to love all those with whom we come in contact and this includes helping the needy among them, whether “Jew or Gentile,” whether they are within or outside of our church.
Now there have been times while preparing for these posts, and as I have thought about it through the days, that I wondered how I could convince you that we are called to help the needy. Thinking that I must prove that the call exists through some complex set of logical syllogisms based upon a few hints from Scripture. However, I realized that this is not the case. The Scriptures are filled with calls to help the needy; it is an obvious theme of God’s word. It is no more difficult to show from Holy Scripture that we are called to help the needy than it is to show that we shall have no other gods before the Holy One of Israel, or that we shall not commit adultery. Please consider what the Scriptures command concerning treatment of the needy. With each set of verses, consider what imperative is being given to you as members of the body of Christ. Also, consider whether those within or outside the visible church are being identified.
Exodus 23:6: “You shall not pervert the justice due to your needy brother in his dispute.” What is the imperative? Do not pervert justice. And the recipient? Our brother.
Exodus 23:11: “For six years you shall sow your land and gather in its yield, but the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, that the poor of your people may eat…” Leviticus 19:10: “Nor shall you glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the needy and for the stranger.” Leviticus 23:22: “When you reap the harvest of your land, moreover, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field nor gather the gleaning of your harvest; you are to leave them for the needy and the alien.” What do you see as the imperative in these three verses? Leave some of the yield of your crop in the field. How could this be applied to us, most of whom do not have fields or crops? For us it means that we set aside some of our resources for the needy. And who is the recipient in these verses? The poor of your people, the needy and the alien (or stranger).
Deuteronomy 15:11: “For the poor will never cease to be in the land; therefore I command you, saying, ‘You shall freely open your hand to your brother, to your needy and poor in your land.’” The imperative and the recipient? Freely open your hand to your needy and poor bother.
Deuteronomy 24:14: “You shall not oppress a hired servant who is poor and needy, whether he is one of your countrymen or one of your aliens…” The imperative: do not oppress the poor or needy servant; the recipient: countryman or alien
Proverbs 31:9: “Open your mouth, judge righteously, and defend the rights of the afflicted and needy.” The Imperative and recipient? Defend the rights of the afflicted and needy.
Matthew 6:2: “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven. So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men; truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.” What imperative is given by Jesus? When you give to the poor do not do it to be noticed by others, but do it in private. And please notice Jesus says “when” you give to the poor, not “if” you give to the poor. And the recipient? The poor.
Luke 12:32-34: “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” What imperative is given by Jesus? That we sell our possessions and give to the needy. Does he mean that we must sell all of our possessions? I don’t think so. What Jesus is instructing us here is that we must not store up treasure for ourselves here on earth but in heaven. We need not have more than we need, for one day we will, with Christ, inherit all things. Concerning having more than we need, most of us fit into that category. Let us be diligent to order our lives by the standards of Scripture and not the norms of our culture. And the recipients of this charity? The needy. Consider Acts 4:34: “For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales.”
In some of the verses we read the recipients are the poor and the needy within the nation of Israel, which can be understood as within the boundaries of the visible church. In others, the recipients are those outside of the boundaries of the church. In both cases we are acting as God’s agents for the alleviation of the effects of sin in this fallen world. When we care for the needy among us, we not only show charity to our brothers and sisters, but we testify to the world, as they see the care we extend, about the great love of God. When we reach outside the boundaries of the visible church and care for the needs of the stranger, we act as the hands of God to them. This reaching out also testifies to the alien and the stranger about the great love of God. This reaching out will provide many opportunities for Gospel preaching.
So why do we not actively reach out to the needy? There are probably many reasons. Among them is that reaching out to the needy is not part of the current culture of the church in this country. There have been times in history when proactive care for the needy has characterized the churches of a region. Let us not be conformed to our culture where the norms of the culture do not reflect what Holy Scripture teaches us concerning what God’s church should be about. We must not let the activities of para-church organizations or the obtrusive involvement of state and federal governments excuse us from the overt command of Scripture to love our brother, our neighbor, our enemy and the alien among us. Another reason among those which lead us to not reach out to the needy is our own weakness and tendency toward sin. Let us not be hearers of the word only, who deceive ourselves, but doers of the word (James 1:22), bearing much fruit, and so proving to be His disciples (John15:8). Let us not be guilty attending church gatherings, and tithing, and singing Psalms, and hearing the Word preached, while neglecting the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; for these are the things you should do without neglecting the others (Matthew 23:23). So what am I saying? I am calling us to repentance. It is for our benefit and growth that we often be called to repentance. That we cry out to the Lord: “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalm 139:23,24)