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What the Bible says about If I Have Not Charity
(From Forerunner Commentary)

Psalm 41:1-3

Here are some wonderful promises for those who consider the poor. But what does it mean to "consider the poor"?

The Hebrew word in verse 1 translated as "considers," sakal, is quite interesting. One Hebrew lexicon defines sakal as "to look at; to look at with the mind; to consider; to attend to." As Hebrew is a picturesque language, the word runs the gamut of possible definitions. It begins with looking at something, then mentally investigating it, and finally, all the way to attending to it. It is a word, then, that encompasses a process.

The definition continues, giving more figurative meanings: "To be or become intelligent, prudent, or wise. It implies maturity of understanding or judgment." We can now plug these definitions back into verse 1: "Blessed is he who intelligently, prudently, or wisely, with maturity of understanding and judgment, considers the poor."

The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, page 877, comments on this word: "Sakal relates to an intelligent knowledge of the reason. There is the process of thinking through a complex arrangement of thought resulting in a wise dealing and use of good practical common sense. Another end result is the emphasis upon being successful.'"

So, what is David truly saying? By using this word, he does not say simply, "Blessed is he who sees people in need." We could take it that way, as the most basic definition of sakal is "to look at," but by using sakal,? with its gamut of definitions, he implies a great deal more. He is really saying, "Blessed is he who sees a need, and then looking at the complex situation surrounding it, thinks through how he could best, most intelligently, and wisely bring about a successful solution to it."

That is the essence of this word, sakal. It is not just seeing a problem that needs fixing. It is seeing a situation—a person in need—then taking stock and determining what one has to give that will fulfill what the other person really needs, investigating the needy person's situation and attitude (as much as possible), considering God's involvement, and extrapolating what actions and methods one may take to produce the best possible solution. After all that, one must actually do what needs to be done to bring the situation to a successful conclusion.

That is a lot of work! There is a great deal involved when a Christian goes about doing good (Acts 10:38)!

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
"If I Have Not Charity"

Jeremiah 22:15-16

God is saying, "Do you think you are ruling because you have the trappings of royalty, because you have money, power, and prestige, because you are the sons of David, the literal sons of Josiah?"

To put it more plainly, He says, "Your right to reign does not rest on your wealth or position." It relied on God Himself. His statement probably infuriated them.

"Did not your father eat and drink, and do justice and righteousness?" may sound a bit odd, but He is painting a word picture. Just as Josiah, their father, ate and drank, it was also a normal part of his life to do justice and righteousness. To him, those godly acts were like eating and drinking.

They are supposed to be innate to us too, as natural as eating and drinking to do righteousness and justice! Josiah was a child when he came to the throne, and by the time he was sixteen, he had begun to purge Judah of idolatry. He did a splendid job of putting Judah back on track, as much as any man could do.

Then God says, "Then it was well with him." That is the way it works. That is how blessings come. Verse 16 continues the thought: "'He judged the cause of the poor and needy; then it was well. Was not this knowing Me?' says the LORD."

Here is a critical point. We should not think that just judging the cause of the poor and the needy is involved in knowing God. It is certainly part of knowing God. The thought stems from the earlier mention that Josiah performed justice and righteousness naturally, as part of his everyday behavior, and it manifested in defending the cause of the poor and needy. Through this process, he came to know God.

Knowing God was the ultimate result of thinking through the good works he was doing, considering how they would work out, weighing the various ways he might work through the various situations, and then carrying them through to its end.

Why is this? Because God does things the same way! He does this all the time! He is constantly thinking, working the problem, and projecting how things will work out if He does this or that. If His choices seem equally good, He will figure out which one will work the best to bring about His ultimate aim.

When we begin to do things as He does, we come to know Him. The mind of God starts to form in us. We learn to judge situations—people's actions, situations, everything—as He does. As a result of our imitation of God, our relationship grows because we are becoming like each other. We enjoy each other's company because we see ourselves in each other.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
"If I Have Not Charity"

James 1:27

The apostle presents Christian living as a two-pronged endeavor that we can perhaps simplify or summarize even more. The first is doing good works: visiting orphans and widows in their trouble. The second prong is to become holy or build righteous character in ourselves in cooperation with God.

We could also divide it into the practical and the spiritual sides of life. Obviously, when a person does good works, it is a practical application of what he has learned and put on as spiritual character.

Another way to look at it is to say that James divides it into the outward and the inward. Part of Christian living goes on inside an individual, and something—a work, an action—comes out of him as a result.

However we want to name this two-pronged approach, we must realize that neither of these prongs is sufficient alone, which is why James presents them together. It is "pure and undefiled religion" to have an inward and an outward aspect or a practical and a spiritual aspect.

The apostle John agrees with James in I John 3:16-19. Pure religion requires both of these elements:

By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has this world's goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth. And by this we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him.

He says that, if we do not manifest God's love by giving, helping, and caring for others, then we have not fulfilled anything. We cannot be sure that the love of God is actually in us if it is not coming out in some sort of physical work that we do, some act of love.

In this church's teaching, we tend to stress only one of these prongs. It is not that we do not talk about the other, but we tend to stress the inward, the spiritual, the holy, the righteous character part—the second prong that James shows in James 1:27. There is good, sound, solid, biblical reason for this. Basically, it is that the spiritual aspect is the more important of the two.

The inward, the spiritual, the holy, the righteous-character part of Christian living is the foundation—the wellspring, the fertile soil—out of which good works grow. One could go so far as to say that effective and truly good works cannot be done without godly character or a right relationship with God.

This means that we must have godly character before we can even begin to do good works properly! Without godliness, good works are simply common and rather empty, humanistic philanthropy.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
"If I Have Not Charity"


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