How to Treat the Poor

The poor is disliked even by his neighbor, but the rich has many friends. Whoever despises his neighbor is a sinner, but blessed is he who is generous to the poor (Prov. 14:20-21). The poor man’s neighbor dislikes him (v. 20). But in v. 21, we learn that if you dislike the poor, you sin. In Prov. 17:5, if you mock the poor, God will judge you. “Whoever mocks the poor insults his Maker; he who is glad at calamity will not go unpunished” (Prov. 17:5). Yet if you are generous to the poor, you are blessed.

This then is the right treatment of the poor. Never dislike the poor. Be generous to them. In this context, to be generous (Heb. hanan) to the poor is to show favor, to be gracious to them. (BDB) In Aramaic, the word means, “be merciful, compassionate, favourable, inclined towards.” (BDB) Thus, the right treatment of the poor is generosity, kindness, graciousness, mercy, compassion, and favor towards them.

Isn’t this behavior the opposite of human nature? When the rich comes, we tend to favor them, to like them, or to be inclined to them. But we don’t like to serve the poor. Yet James attacked this sinful behavior in his letter.

My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among ourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called?

If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. (James 2:1-9, ESV).

Not once in Proverbs are we told to favor the rich. Rather, we are told to favor the poor. If you favor the poor, if you are kind and compassionate to them, you are blessed!


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