Summary: The Bible commands us to feed the hungry and look out for the poor.
Reaching out to the Poor
Two events in recent months have turned the attention of our nation to the issue of poverty.
One was the conference of the Group of 8 nations in July, where world leaders decided to cancel the debts of the 38 poorest nations of the world to help them get out from under the heavy load of debt. In addition, the G8 nations promised to invest over $3 billion to eliminate hunger and to treat AIDS, which is running rampant in some parts of the world.
The second was the hurricane in New Orleans during which it became clear that no matter how well a city might execute its evacuation plan, if the plan does not include people who don’t have their own transportation it is not worth a hill of beans. Many people were shocked at images that looked like they came from a third-world country, but eventually the reality of poverty has sunk in and people are asking what we can do to eliminate it.
The Bible demonstrated concern about the poor long before the G8 conference or Hurricane Katrina. Lots of people know that Jesus said, “You will always have the poor with you.” Unfortunately, some of them use those words as an excuse to do nothing, as though poverty is not their responsibility. They couldn’t be more wrong. The Bible commands us to feed the hungry and look out for the poor.
Today we come to our second message of four from Proverbs on our way through the Bible. Last Sunday, Sue pointed out that the five books of wisdom in the Old Testament each have a different theme:
Job-- pain and suffering
Psalms-- the heart
Proverbs -- the will, or choices we make
Ecclesiastes-- the mind, on a search for meaning
Song of Solomon – love
She told us that Proverbs was written to help us apply God’s wisdom to the decisions and activities of our daily lives. But Proverbs is not dull or mechanical like my drawer full of instruction manualsthat tell me how to set up a VCR or DVD player. Rather, Proverbs is made of sayings that are well crafted, often using elegant language like you might find in poetry, language that engages the brain and the heart, using a kind of artistic style that stimulates the imagination.
We find the gateway to this book in 1:7 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge…” And while there are many kinds of knowledge, much of Proverbs focuses on what we might call moral knowledge, the understanding of right and wrong, what is just and unjust, and the importance of carrying out the purposes of God. So, today, we look at the world through one of God’s windows, the window of justice for the under privileged.
Our text (14:31) comes from the second section of Proverbs. This is a large section that begins at 10:1 and goes to 22:16. It has 375 separate proverbs in it and they cover a whole bunch of topics aimed at building a fulfilled, wholesome, and satisfying life. God wants us to know how to honor our parents, raise our children, handle our money, work productively, treat friends kindly, cultivate attitudes toward others that make for peace, and reach out to the poor. Throughout Proverbs, we find that thinking of and responding to God is the most practical thing we do. Nothing is more important than obedience to God.
We obviously can’t deal with all these topics, but today we are going to focus briefly on how God wants us to treat those who experience poverty, a topic that comes up several times in Proverbs. Poverty is not just a political or an economic issue. Rather, as Jim Wallis says in his new book, it is a religious and a moral issue because the Scriptures say the poor are “regularly neglected, exploited, and oppressed by wealthy elites, political rulers, and indifferent affluent populations” Those Scriptures, he says, “don’t simply endorse the social programs of the liberals or the conservatives, but they make it clear that poverty is indeed a religious issue, and the failure of political leaders to help uplift the poor will be judged a moral failing.” Regardless of our political position on social programs, the scriptures are clear that God’s people have a responsibility to the poor. Wallis says there are about 3,000 references to helping the poor in the Bible, more than any other topic.
Just in this section of Proverbs, for example, we find these verses:
14:21 Happy are those who are kind to the poor (Deut 15)-
19:17 Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and will be repaid in full.
21:13 If you close your ear to the cry of the poor, you will cry out and not be heard.