Judge Righteously (a daily proverb)

This is the last post in our January 2017 series looking at a verse or two from a different chapter of Proverbs each day.

Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy. ~Proverbs 31:9

Often when we hear “Proverbs 31,” we think of the profile of an excellent wife / godly woman. And rightly we should, as that poem to end Proverbs takes up two-thirds of the chapter. However, before we read about the excellent woman, we find nine verses of advice from a king named Lemuel that he learned from his mother.

Her wisdom comes in the form of moral and ethical commands to encourage her son to rule well. These commands include sexual faithfulness, sobriety, and caring for the needy.

Verses 8 and 9, especially, speak to a king using his power to help the needy in the world. In most circumstances, people in need lack a voice. They need help—someone to come alongside them and to stand up for them. Whose voice is more powerful in the land than the king (or, whoever holds the greatest seat of political power)?

It is easy for any of us to fall to the temptation of favoring those who help or benefit us in some way. We are tempted to give preference to those who can give back and we overlook those who cannot. The old saying comes to bear: “What have you done for me lately?”

A king who “judges righteously” will not be persuaded by money, esteem, or power; just as God judges righteously and cannot be purchased, bribed, or influenced by another. He will genuinely care for the poor and needy in his land.

But we should not limit this advice only to those in power. We each have our own spheres of influence. We might not have a national voice like a king or president, but we have our towns, neighborhoods, schools, and workplaces. In these places, are we more interested in gaining favors and being served by others, or are we more willing to favor the needy and serve others like Jesus served us (John 13)? Our sphere may well be miniscule compared to a nation, but we are still able to “defend the rights of the poor and needy” around us.

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Open Your Hand (a meditation on helping those in need)

7 If among you, one of your brothers should become poor, in any of your towns within your land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, 8 but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be. ~ Deuteronomy 15:7-8

Thousands of years ago when Israel stood ready to enter the Promised Land, God told them that if they obeyed him, he would prosper them so that the nation would have plenty and none would lack. At the same time, part of his provision for the poor came through the community of his people.

greedThe imagery in these verses is vivid—we can all picture a hand closed tight, grasping and refusing to let go; and we can all picture a hand held open to freely give to another what is in the palm. So God says it is to be with his people.

When we read the New Testament, we find that this expectation didn’t change. Jesus said, “You will always have the poor with you” (Matthew 26:11). It is a simple fact in the fallen world: things don’t always go according to our plan or as they would in a perfect world. Poverty happens, sometimes in seasons and sometimes for much of a lifetime. The causes are legion: tanking economies, poor planning and saving, unexpected health problems, things of the home or car breaking down, college debt, unwise choices, job loss, broken homes, drug and other addictions, victims of injustice…

For many reasons, we will have the poor among us as churches and a nation until Jesus forever set things right. Our response is still to be to open our hands and share.

John wrote in 1 John 3:17, “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?” Strong words. If you have the means to help, yet willfully neglect to help the poor (especially among the body of Christ—the brothers and sisters), then you have neither experienced nor displayed the love of God.

Why? Because from cover to cover in the Bible, God expresses concern and help for the poor and needy. Because from cover to cover, God is a self-giving God for the good of others (most gloriously manifested in the cross of Jesus). Because from cover to cover, if we have experienced the love and presence of this self-giving God then he compels us outward in love for others.

No one person, other than Jesus, can fix the world’s (let alone a community’s) poverty problem. Neither can a single church. Yet, many of us have God-given resources to do what we are able. That is to have an open hand and to give.

This sharing starts with the Family, the brothers and sisters—we take care of each other in the community of church, much like they did in Acts 2 and 4. But it doesn’t end with the Family. Our communities and the world have needs, and we can reach out with a cup of cold water or a warm blanket in the name of Jesus. In this, of course, we are servants and not enablers. Paul warned in 2 Thessalonians 3 that if a man refused to work then he doesn’t get to eat. In other words, a person who is able to work and supply himself with bread should. Yet when a person is struggling or sick or even addicted, they need help, generosity, and grace. They may even need someone to serve them through the long haul to move them to a place where they possess the skills and ability to work and/or better themselves.

Wisdom will guide us as we walk in grace. The poor are among us, let us open our hands and share.

This post is part of our ongoing journey through the Bible as a church.