Caring for the Needy

Introduction

I did something the past couple of weeks that I normally do not do.  I opened my Bible and began reading wherever it happened to open to.  It opened to James chapter 1 last week and this time it opened to Deuteronomy 15.  Did God turn the pages and specifically control where my Bible should open so that He would teach me something?  I don’t know.  One thing is for sure.  There is definitely a message here from God that we should all be very careful about.

One of the problems in the world is selfishness.  People want to excel for the sake of self.  People want more money, more luxurious cars, bigger houses, more expensive suits, and much more.  We want more stuff so that we could enjoy the good life.  Even so called ministers preach that God wants us rich and that we should prosper materialistically because of our faith in God.  These unfortunately promote a dangerous ideal, namely the ideal of self.

We will find a consistent activity of God in the Bible if we are careful to notice and stop thinking of only self.  We will notice that God took specific steps to care for those who were needy and less fortunate.  God took specific steps to meet the needs of the needy.  God always cared for those who were needy.  As a matter of fact, we are admonished from the Bible to not seek riches, which is exactly what many ministers promote in their false teachings.  Because of our lust for things we begin to covet those things that we should not pursue, namely riches and wealth.

In this lesson, we are going to look at how God took care of the needy and perhaps why.  It is important that we try to understand the why behind things so that we would understand the principle of that thing.  This becomes very important in regards to the Old Testament since we don’t follow the letter of the law.  However, the mind of God is still the same so we should be careful to understand what His will is concerning as many things as possible.  We are going to examine Deuteronomy 15:1-11 as well as a short introduction using Deuteronomy 14:28-29.

Segue

Let’s look at the last part of Deuteronomy chapter 14 before we jump into Deuteronomy 15.  The reason that I’d like to do this is because it briefly highlights the principle behind the tithe.  Let me quote it here before entering a discussion.

Deuteronomy 14:28-29 (NKJV) "“At the end of every third year you shall bring out the tithe of your produce of that year and store it up within your gates. And the Levite, because he has no portion nor inheritance with you, and the stranger and the fatherless and the widow who are within your gates, may come and eat and be satisfied, that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hand which you do."

Now many people know what I think about the teaching of tithing.  Let me state my thoughts on the tithe teaching in many religious communities for those of you who do not know.  First of all I do not believe that Christians are supposed to tithe.  There is no requirement for the New Testament church to tithe their income to a local church.  Yes, tithing is biblical but it does not apply to us as a law to follow.  However, the principle of tithing is very much alive today even in the New Testament church and that is my point.  Consider the above scripture and you will see what I mean.  See my study on tithing called “THE TRUTH ABOUT TITHING, GIVING, SOWING AND REAPING” for more information on tithing from an objective view.

Notice what the scripture above reveals to us.  The people were to take the tithe every third year and store it in the town.  Then the Levites, foreigner, orphans (fatherless), and widows would have something to eat.  Here the tithe was used to minister to those who were needy and as wages to the Levites.  Again, see my study on tithing for more information about this.

Here we see that God took steps to meet the needs of those in need.  Notice that three specific people were singled out as needy.  They were the foreigner, orphan, and widow.  Recall in last week’s lesson on True Religion that James declared that true religion is to meet the needs of the widow and orphan (James 1:27).

Scripture Lesson

Deuteronomy 15:1 (NKJV) " “At the end of every seven years you shall grant a release of debts."

Now notice what this verse of Scripture says.  At the end of every seven years the people were commanded by God to release debts.  The word release comes from a Hebrew word that means to let drop of exactions, (temporary) remitting.  Now consider what is said about this release of debts.

Deuteronomy 15:2-4 (NKJV) "{2} And this is the form of the release: Every creditor who has lent anything to his neighbor shall release it; he shall not require it of his neighbor or his brother, because it is called the Lord’s release. {3} Of a foreigner you may require it; but you shall give up your claim to what is owed by your brother, {4} except when there may be no poor among you; for the Lord will greatly bless you in the land which the Lord your God is giving you to possess as an inheritance—"

Anyone who has lent a fellow Hebrew anything shall release it and not require it to be returned or paid back.  What was lent to a foreigner could be required back however.  This law only applied to the Hebrews.  Notice carefully what is said in here.  God said, “but you shall give up your claim to what is owed by your brother, except when there may be no poor among you.”  That last statement identifies this law as benefiting those who could not pay the debt as opposed to those who could.  This law was for the benefit of the needy.  If there were no poor among them then all would be able to pay what they owe.  Therefore, this law of releasing debts appears to be for the benefit of those who were not able to repay and doing so would cause them to be lacking.

Here we see that God took specific steps to incorporate the care for the needy in the conduct in the Promised Land, i.e., the law.  The purpose appears to be to relieve the needy of their burdens.  The releasing of debts was indeed a gift from God to those who fell on hard times and found that they were not able to pay what they owe to their brothers.

Deuteronomy 15:5-6 (NKJV) "{5} only if you carefully obey the voice of the Lord your God, to observe with care all these commandments which I command you today. {6} For the Lord your God will bless you just as He promised you; you shall lend to many nations, but you shall not borrow; you shall reign over many nations, but they shall not reign over you."

There was a major stipulation to the blessings that the Hebrews would receive from God.  They had to obey Him.  If they would obey God then God would bless them and not requiring what was old would basically be a moot point since their blessings would cover it so to speak.  So even here it wasn’t a mere follow the rules type of thing.  Obedience to God was crucial for not only success, but also for them to be able to not require what was owed from those who were needy.

Now verse six is sometimes used by faith teachers to show that we will all be rich and able to lend and not borrow.  It is true that this verse describes how much the Hebrews would be blessed if they obeyed God.  If they were to remain loyal to God and do what He says then they would prosper and have no need to borrow from anyone because they would have total sufficiency.  Consider that the only reason that we borrow is because we do not have enough money at a given time to purchase the item in question.  This does not mean that borrowing money was a bad thing because God did not say that they could not borrow from each other even when or if they were prosperous. 

The Loophole Covered

Now I’m sure that you might have figured how someone might avoid having to forgive debts owed to him.  One could simply not lend any money when the seventh year is approaching.  That way one would not have to forgive any debts.  This would ensure that he always got what was owed to him.  Well, God already accounted for this in the following scripture.

Deuteronomy 15:7-10 (NKJV) "{7} “If there is among you a poor man of your brethren, within any of the gates in your land which the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart nor shut your hand from your poor brother, {8} but you shall open your hand wide to him and willingly lend him sufficient for his need, whatever he needs. {9} Beware lest there be a wicked thought in your heart, saying, ‘The seventh year, the year of release, is at hand,’ and your eye be evil against your poor brother and you give him nothing, and he cry out to the Lord against you, and it become sin among you. {10} You shall surely give to him, and your heart should not be grieved when you give to him, because for this thing the Lord your God will bless you in all your works and in all to which you put your hand."

Basically God said not to harden your heart by a perceived loophole in the law and not lend your brother what he needs because the seventh year is approaching.  They were to lend as their resources allowed them and not worry about not getting what was owed.  Again we see that God was looking out for the needy.  This reminds me of a situation that Jesus Christ dealt with.  Consider the following scripture.

Matthew 15:3-6 (NKJV) "{3} He answered and said to them, “Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition? {4} For God commanded, saying, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.’ {5} But you say, ‘Whoever says to his father or mother, “Whatever profit you might have received from me is a gift to God”— {6} then he need not honor his father or mother.’ Thus you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition."

Here Jesus stated that the religious leaders were using a loophole so to speak in the law so that they would not have to give to their parents.  In the same way, the Hebrews in our subject text could use a loophole and simply not lend their brothers anything as the seventh year approached.  That still would have been disobedience to God.  So again we see that God looks after those who are in need.  Consider the following passages.

  • James 2:14-18 (NIV) " {14} What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? {15} Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. {16} If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? {17} In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. {18} But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do."
  • 1 John 3:17-18 (NIV) "{17} If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? {18} Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth."
  • Leviticus 25:35-38 (NKJV) "{35} ‘If one of your brethren becomes poor, and falls into poverty among you, then you shall help him, like a stranger or a sojourner, that he may live with you. {36} Take no usury or interest from him; but fear your God, that your brother may live with you. {37} You shall not lend him your money for usury, nor lend him your food at a profit. {38} I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, to give you the land of Canaan and to be your God."
  • Proverbs 19:17 (NKJV) "{17} He who has pity on the poor lends to the Lord, And He will pay back what he has given. "

Conclusion

Yes God cares about the needy and we are supposed to be vessels of that caring so to speak.  We are to love each other and help each other.  It’s not about giving to a church to support a ministry.  It’s about relationships with people and with God.  It is about doing what we can to help those in need and then we are better able to talk about the goodness of God.  Any church or ministry has expenses.  I dare say that everything has expenses.  However, we should never forsake the love and compassion that we are able to share with others who are in need.

Being needy is not always a financial thing.  People are sometimes in need of an ear to listen, a friend, someone to talk to (especially this one), or someone to give counsel or advice.  The faith movement has so materialistically programmed us that we tend to measure everything in dollars and cents.  It’s more about relationships with each other.  God sent Jesus Christ so that we would have a relationship with Him.  He sent Jesus so that we could be reconciled to Him and spend eternity with Him.  We too should share that love and concern for others.  We should measure things as mere church thing, but as a people thing.

God cares about the needy and so should we.  Who can you help today?  Don’t look for profit.  Just do what is in your power to help those in need.  Talk to people, listen to people, and comfort someone that needs comforting.  Give of yourself just as Jesus gave himself for you. To often we only think of the "church thing" and not ministry. God is ministering and has been ministering to us since we were created. We should get on the same path, which is His will, and do what He is doing, namely ministering to people. We are all needy in one respect or another so we all need ministering to. Amen.

 


Caring For the Needy
The mark of God – The mark of Love
By William R. Cunningham
Sunday January 4, 2004