What the Bible says about
(From Forerunner Commentary)
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"
Some commentators cannot understand why Jesus places this example with the other three, as it does not seem to show having a good attitude under trial. However, having a godly attitude in parting with what we hold dear can be a test for us as well. The parallel scripture in Luke 6:30 shows that it follows the pattern of the previous illustrations: "Give to everyone who asks of you. And from him who takes away your goods do not ask them back."
Many believe that what Jesus requires here is foolish, that is, to give to everyone who asks of us and to allow our goods to be plundered without objection. Perhaps Luke 6:34-35 helps to clarify what Jesus intends:
And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive back, what credit is that to you? For even sinners lend to sinners to receive as much back. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Highest. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil.
His illustration in Matthew 5:42 deals with borrowing and lending, not with allowing oneself to be plundered. As in the other illustrations, His primary point is that it is preferable to suffer loss or harm than to retaliate or worsen the situation. When we give to someone in need, we should not expect to be repaid for our generosity, and we should certainly not take steps to force reimbursement. Christian charity should be done without expectation of gain. Yet, God sees, and He will show us favor: "He who has pity on the poor lends to the LORD, and He will pay back what he has given" (Proverbs 19:17).
If a person asks for a loan of money or goods, we should approach the request assuming that he makes it in good faith, if there are no extenuating reasons to doubt his sincerity. We should, however, keep in mind other principles from God's Word, such as being good stewards of what God has given us, taking care of our own, not encouraging laziness or sustaining the idle, not supporting vices (alcohol, drugs, or other addictions), and not being a party to shady or dubious get-rich-quick schemes. Jesus' suggestion is that, if we do lend to others, we might as well consider that money to be gone forever. The struggle to regain it will probably not be worth the effort, not to mention the damage it could do to relationships and one's character.
In short, what does His final illustration require of us? It asks of us, not only that we should lend without suspicion and with no eye to profit, but that we also should have a generous spirit of outgoing concern for a brother or sister in need.
John O. Reid (1930-2016)
Go the Extra Mile
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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