Written by Jeanne Hedrick
Have you ever run across a Bible verse that sets you back, making you wonder what on earth the writer is saying? Some of these are the result of culture. Being from the West, we just don’t understand Eastern expressions and ways of thinking. Other times, it’s more a matter of connecting the dots. One such verse for me is the following.
“Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and
he will reward them for what they have done.”
When I first read this I wondered what my kindness to the poor had to do with making a loan to the Lord. First of all, God obviously doesn’t need anything from anybody. What could we possible lend to Him … the Almighty, all sufficient, all powerful One?
Until recently I’d never noticed how many verses in the Bible mention the poor. Once I began to look, I discovered how much God identifies with them and sees our treatment of them as somehow reflective of how we see and honor Him. Way back in Deuteronomy, God gave instructions to Moses as to how to create a godly society under His leadership, telling him “There should be no poor among you” (15:4). That’s because God was going to richly bless them and there would be enough to meet the needs of every individual if they followed all the commands He was giving them.
Yet, only a few verses later, God seems to reverse course, stating (as Jesus quoted in Matthew 26:11) “There will always be poor people in the land” (v. 11). God knew the Israelites would not follow all His commands or love their neighbor as themselves, so He offered plan B. “If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites … do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. Rather, be openhanded and freely lend them whatever they need” (vv. 7-8). In other words, be kind to the poor. Don’t think “that’s not my problem! If they’d been more careful or diligent or … they wouldn’t be in this mess.”
God’s concern and compassion for the poor and needy is carried throughout the Bible and comes to full fruition in the New Testament. The apostle John writes, “If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity of them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth” (1 John 3:17-18).
It’s as if God has allowed need and poverty in the world to test His people. Do we love our possessions and wealth more than we love Him and other people, who are made in His image? Covetousness is the opposite of generosity. When we refuse to be openhanded and to give to those in need out of a deep sense of gratitude for all we’ve been blessed with, we betray our hard hearts and tight fists. We fail to show we’ve been transformed by the love and mercy of God towards us. We do not reflect His character. That’s why John Wesley minced no words when he addressed this issue, saying to fellow Christians:
“Do you not know that God entrusted you with that money (all above what buys necessities for your families) to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to help the stranger, the widow, the fatherless; and indeed, as far as it will go, to relieve the wants of all mankind? How can you, how dare you, defraud the Lord, by applying it to any other purpose?”
In our western affluence many of us sadly prove Wesley’s observation. “The last part of a man to be converted is his wallet.”
As we see in our opening verse, Proverbs 19:17, God chooses to identify with the poor and needy in their distress. When we choose to be generous and kind to them, He promises to reward us. We don’t have to worry about coming up short ourselves. We can never out-give God; He will never be in our debt. We can loan to Him with complete confidence, knowing His rewards will far outweigh our investment.
In Matthew 25 Jesus illustrates for His disciples how complete His identification is with the needy. They are astonished to hear Him say: “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (v. 40). By meeting the needs of the hungry, the thirsty and the unclothed, offering hospitality to strangers, visiting those in prison, and tending to the sick, we minister to our Lord, He says.
God is pleased when His children show the same spirit of compassion and generosity He extends to all. He knows we’ll discover for ourselves “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).
Anything we “lend” to Him will be repaid in full, both materially and spiritually. The concept may seem obscure at first, but once we grasp this spiritual principle we can become His hands and feet in a world of need. How many of us in the West lend to the Lord? Not nearly enough to make a significant difference in our world. But it’s never too late to start! Don’t you think it’s time our pocketbooks were converted too?
For more of Jeanne’s devotions, link to her blog, Adventuring with God