To date, we have been studying the causes of poverty according to the Book of Proverbs. They include (1) the foolish behavior of the poor, which calls for reform; and (2) the oppressive behavior of the rich, which calls for repentance. Today, I would like to examine a final cause of poverty: (3) forces outside the power of the poor and the rich, which call for generosity.
The first and second causes of poverty are moral in nature. A person becomes poor because of his own foolish choices or because of the wicked choices of those who hold sway over him. But the third cause of poverty is non-moral in nature. Poverty in such cases is less a matter of choice than a result of circumstance.
Through no fault of their own or of others, some people are born in poor countries. Through no fault of their own or of others, some people are victims of natural disasters. Through no fault of their own or of others, some people fall prey to crippling illnesses that prohibit them from working.
In such cases, the Bible advocates one simple solution: generosity.
Generosity toward the poor – whether with your time or talent, but especially with your treasure – is an inherently spiritual activity. Generous people are righteous people, who are right with God and with their neighbor.
The righteous care about justice for the poor,
but the wicked have no such concern (29:7).
Generosity toward the poor connects you with God.
He who is kind to the poor lends to the Lord,
and he will reward him for what he has done (19:17).
Notice, in this proverb, that our relationship with the poor directly correlates to our relationship with God. That is true both positively, in the sense that God rewards our generosity to the poor, and negatively, in the sense that stinginess is a sin.
He who despises his neighbor sins,
but blessed is he who is kind to the needy (14:21).
Because generosity is an inherently spiritual activity, it results in spiritual and even financial blessing for the giver. Several proverbs drive home this truth:
One man gives freely, yet gains even more;
another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty (11:24).
A generous man will himself be blessed,
for he shares his food with the poor (22:9).
He who gives to the poor will lack nothing,
but he who closes his eyes to them receives many curses (28:27).
I don’t think we should interpret these proverbs as absolute promises, as if God will give you $1,000 for every $100 you give to the poor. God doesn’t work that way. But, by the same token, I do think these proverbs hit on an important truth about the connection between generosity and personal wellbeing. Generous people are happy people. Their generosity establishes ties of friendship, support, and loyalty with those whom they help. And no one is poor who is wealthy in friends, or – more importantly – whose friend is God.
So, be a friend, and be generous to the poor.