Lesson 8 -- second quarter 2009
July 26, 2009
© Copyright 2009
"Ye shall return every man" -- Huh? What's with that?!
"Ye shall not oppress one another" -- What might that mean now? And how is this related to fearing God?
"Ye shall hallow the fiftieth year" -- Why might it be that no principles like this taught in the New Testament?
By what criteria shall I help those more needy than I?
Are there criteria by which I should help those less needy than I? If so, what?
Defining poverty likely challenges the thinking and integrity of most people who bother with the issue. By man's definitions, the threshold of poverty rises and falls according to geographical location and cost of living. The official US poverty line for 2009 is $22,050 a year for a family of four. On the other hand, the average wage for a field worker in northwest Mexico is less than $15 a day. That kind of income makes an American "poor" family seem incredibly rich. For the sake of perspective, though, we need to recognize that the cost of living is markedly different for the two families. Even so, the one is obviously terribly poor and the other quite well off.
Besides measuring according to location and living costs, poverty is often defined according to another factor: how others are doing. Using comparison as a means of determining poverty will always produce wildly varying results. The $22,000-a-year family in the US would be considered dirt poor by some and filthy rich by others.
Does the Bible provide a fixed standard of poverty? I don't know that it does; however, consider this challenge: "And having food and raiment let us be therewith content. But they that will be rich . . ." (1 Timothy 6:8,9). Notice that verse nine begins as a contrast to the statement in the previous verse. From that we could draw an amazing inference: Anyone who has more than food and clothing is rich! That would naturally lead us to another inference: Only those who don't have adequate supplies of clothing and food are genuinely poor.
Those inferences may make us uncomfortable; I hope they also make us do some objective contemplating about our own economic status. In any event, our human compassion and Christian stewardship both would be well-served if we lived by this verse: "But whoso hath this world's good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?" (1 John 3:17). Now there's a Godly use of comparison! If I have what someone else needs, I should give it to him. Oh my! What do you think -- is that what the verse really means?
I imagine that almost everyone reading this would not want to turn away from helping someone who is truly in need. Individuals, families, businesses, churches, organizations, and communities everywhere have programs, plans, and policies for giving aid to those "less fortunate" than they. But how shall we do it?
We cannot go out to solve the world's social and economic problems through direct intervention. We are not called to social and political activism. I question whether we are called to solve those problems by any means. Let the world mess around with their economic and social problems. Let them march under the banner of democracy, Marxism or fascism. Let them trumpet the utopias of capitalism or redistribution of wealth. Political empires, economic systems and social philosophies will surge and wane...and through it all, the poor will always be among us (Deuteronomy 15:11; Mark 14:7). God calls His people to avoid getting caught in temporary tinkering on the world's systems. God wants His people to be instruments in His hands for effecting eternal changes in people.
The economic and social principles which God laid down for His people in the Old Testament ought still be applicable in the lives of His people in our era. Our personal and corporate financial dealings ought to be entirely just, equitable and generous. God expects us to lift that kind of righteous standard before people, but He has not commissioned us to change state or national economic policies and systems. Though most of us don't entertain such worldly ambitions, we are much too susceptible to emotional and verbal agitation against the oppression and injustices which we see. My friend, God would have us to be at peace, free from even that kind of response. It is time to get above the fray and do what we can to address needs with the resources which God has given us and which the government has allowed us to keep!
What are my responsibilities to the needy in the church? What does God want me to do about the hungry, sick, disabled or unemployed in the church? I believe the answers which follow underscore two basic facts concerning the church as a body: (1) to help a member of the body is to help the Head of the body, and (2) to help a member of the body is to benefit the body as a whole (thus helping another is helping myself).
According to James 2:15 and 16, God expects the Christian with food and clothing to feed and warm the brother or sister who has neither. The issue does not seem to be the amount of surplus the "have" believer has; rather, the issue is that he has at least something while the "have not" has nothing. Herein lies the proof of God's love in His people (1 John 3:17)!
Isaiah 58:6-12 is a powerful passage detailing how God expects those who go by His name to live in a caring brotherhood. I believe that verse six refers primarily to a fast which assures success in the spiritual battles that rage about us. Verse seven addresses the fast which is brought about by the very practical desire to give what I would eat to someone else. Or perhaps using my own food money to buy clothing for some destitute person. Then verses 8-12 raise up the rich blessings God pours out on those who care that way.
Proverbs 22:7 alerts us to the perils of extreme economic strata in the church. I am not sure whether this verse says that I should not borrow; I am sure it says I should not lend to the needy. God calls on me to give to the poor (Proverbs 19:17; 22:9; 28:27). The Bible commands and demonstrates balanced responsibility one for another (2 Corinthians 8:13-15; Acts 2:44,45; 4:32). Is it possible that we have failed to truly believe Matthew 25:37-40?!
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