Psalm 82 – Help Others, Without Prejudice

“The Thankful Poor” by Henry Ossawa Tanner, 1894

God takes his place in his own assembly.
He pronounces judgment among the gods:
“How long are you going to judge unfairly?
How long are you going to side with wicked people?”

Defend weak people and orphans.
Protect the rights of the oppressed and the poor.
Rescue weak and needy people.
Help them escape the power of wicked people.

Wicked people do not know or understand anything.
As they walk around in the dark,
all the foundations of the earth shake.
I said, “You are gods.
You are all sons of the Most High.
You will certainly die like humans
and fall like any prince.”

Arise, O God!
Judge the earth, because all the nations belong to you. (God’s Word Translation)

“My dear friends, pay attention. God has given a lot of faith to the poor people in this world. He has also promised them a share in his kingdom that he will give to everyone who loves him.”

James 2:5, CEV

God’s mercy and grace is what makes the world go round. God’s attention to people who possess little to nothing is what upholds the earth from being consumed with judgment.

An absence of grace in people is offensive to God. An uncharitable spirit, indifferent to those in need, will eventually face the crushing weight of God’s glory upon them.

The psalmist is uncompromisingly clear on divine imperatives for humanity: defend the weak; protect the rights of the poor; rescue the needy; and deliver them from unjust power. That’s what God does. And that is what we are to do, without prejudice.

When I was growing up, our family dog was named “Sam.” Sam loved being on the farm. One time he tussled with a skunk. I could barely get close enough to clean him up because he stunk so badly. 

Favoritism toward those with means over those who don’t, stinks, and God has a hard time getting close to us when we show partiality to others. And the Lord is going to clean us up when he smells the stench of discrimination on us. 

Showing favoritism to some over others is evidence that the dog is running away from the bath of grace. In order to develop relationships and interact with people the way God wants us to, we must be free from prejudice.

No matter how you slice the Bible, God cares about persons trapped in poverty. The poor are important to the Lord. 

When Jesus began his earthly ministry, he pointed people to the words of the prophet Isaiah.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has chosen me to bring good news to the poor.” (Isaiah 61:1; Luke 4:18) 

In the Old Testament, there are seven different words for the “poor” because poverty was such a pervasive reality (and still is across the world!). The range of meanings includes those who are poor because of laziness; those born into poverty; being poor because of inhuman oppression or slavery; simple beggars; and the pious humble poor. 

These spiritual poor persons are the Hebrew “anawim.” (pronounced “on-a-wheem”) The anawim are humble persons caught in grinding poverty, having no choice but to put their trust in God.

God has a lot to say about such persons because they are near and dear to the divine heart. Old Testament law was quite clear about how to treat the poor. 

Poor persons will never disappear from the earth. That’s why I’m giving you this command: you must open your hand generously to your fellow Israelites, to the needy among you, and to the poor who live with you in your land. (Deuteronomy 15:11, CEB)

Do not cheat poor and needy hired servants, whether they are Israelites or foreigners living in one of your towns. Each day before sunset pay them for that day’s work; they need the money and have counted on getting it. If you do not pay them, they will cry out against you to the Lord, and you will be guilty of sin. (Deuteronomy 24:14-15, GNT) 

The mistreatment, exploitation, and inattention to the poor, the anawim, was the chief reason God sent prophets to Israel. 

Listen to this, you who rob the poor
    and trample down the needy!
You can’t wait for the Sabbath day to be over
    and the religious festivals to end
    so you can get back to cheating the helpless.
You measure out grain with dishonest measures
    and cheat the buyer with dishonest scales.
And you mix the grain you sell
    with chaff swept from the floor.
Then you enslave poor people
    for one piece of silver or a pair of sandals.

Now the Lord has sworn this oath
    by his own name, the Pride of Israel:
“I will never forget
    the wicked things you have done! (Amos 8:4-7, NLT)

Instead of being generous to the poor and allowing them to forage for grain at harvest behind the harvesters, they kept “those people” away from the fields so that they could turn a profit at every little bit they could. And God thought it all stunk to high heaven.

Bear in mind, only the poor in spirit will enter the kingdom of heaven. The real issue is humility that demonstrates grace to people who cannot offer you something in return. 

It’s easy to be merciful to people who will turn around later and scratch your back. It’s altogether a different thing to be humble, gracious, and generous to those you know cannot give anything back to you.

God cares about the condition of our souls and not the balance of our bank accounts. 

Inattention to the needy only betrays a heart far from the Lord. God does not judge people on face value and the state of their finances, and neither should we.

The only way to rid ourselves of the stench of showing favoritism is to receive the cleansing bath of God’s mercy in Jesus Christ. The shampoo of grace is available, that is, if we will let God apply it. God is the expert in:

  • Turning people from only associating with those they are comfortable with, to lovingly reaching out to people very different from themselves
  • Changing people from the stinking thinking about what they can continually obtain and consume, to people who are loving and generous with their words and their physical resources
  • Putting to death a proud spirit that looks to get ahead and accomplish an agenda by any means possible, to giving new life through humble repentance.

Ministry to the poor is a non-negotiable for the Christian and Christ’s Church. 

Beyond mere dispensing of benevolent funds, the poor also need relationships, connections, resources, and a chance to give back in ways they can contribute. That’s just part of being attentive to them and extending basic human respect and dignity. 

How do you or your church show their concern for the poor in your city and/or region?

Almighty and most merciful God, we remember before you all the poor and neglected persons whom it would be easy for us to forget: the homeless and the destitute, the old and the sick, and all who have none to care for them. Help us to heal those who are broken in body or spirit, and to turn their sorrow into joy. Grant this, gracious Father, for the love of your Son, who for our sake became poor, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

James 2:8-13 – On Mercy and Against Favoritism

“Benevolent Mercy” by Iowa artist William Butler

If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. For he who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.

Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment. (NIV)

One of my bedrock foundational unshakable beliefs is that God’s big world spins on the axis of grace. Without grace we would all be living in some nightmarish dystopian novel just trying to survive. Grace is the force which overwhelms and overcomes everything. 

When I was growing up, we had a dog named Sam. Sam loved being on the farm. More than once he tussled with a skunk. In those times, I could barely get close enough to clean him up because he stunk so badly.  Favoritism stinks, and God has a hard time getting close to us when we show partiality to others. God is going to clean us up when smelling the stench of discrimination on us.

Showing favoritism to some over others is evidence the dog is running away from the bath of grace. To develop relationships and interact with people the way God wants us to, we must be free from prejudice. Favoring the rich over the poor stinks because God cares about those trapped in poverty. When Jesus began his ministry, he lifted-up the importance of poor folk by placing himself in the position of extending grace to them:

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. (Isaiah 61:1; Luke 4:18, NIV)

In the Old Testament, there are seven different words for the “poor” because poverty was a pervasive reality (and still is!). The various reasons for poverty range from being born into poverty, being lazy, or being oppressed and/or in slavery. The types of poor persons run the gamut from simple beggars to the pious and humble poor.  These spiritual poor persons were called in biblical times the anawim” (Hebrew עֲנָוִ֣ים). The anawim are humble and gentle folk caught in grinding poverty with no other option but to put their trust in God.

The mistreatment, exploitation, and inattention to the needs of the poor are a chief reason why Holy Scripture is filled with references about how to treat them. The anawim are dear and near to the heart of God:

“Poor persons will never disappear from the earth. That’s why I’m giving you this command: you must open your hand generously to your fellow Israelites, to the needy among you, and to the poor who live with you in your land.” (Deuteronomy 15:11, CEB)

“If you hire poor people to work for you, don’t hold back their pay whether they are Israelites or foreigners who live in your town. Pay them their wages at the end of each day because they live in poverty and need the money to survive. If you do not pay them on time, they will complain about you to the Lord, and he will punish you.” (Deuteronomy 24:14-15, CEV)

Listen to this, you who rob the poor
    and trample down the needy!
You can’t wait for the Sabbath day to be over
    and the religious festivals to end
    so you can get back to cheating the helpless.
You measure out grain with dishonest measures
    and cheat the buyer with dishonest scales.
And you mix the grain you sell
    with chaff swept from the floor.
Then you enslave poor people
    for one piece of silver or a pair of sandals.

Now the Lord has sworn this oath
    by his own name, the Pride of Israel:
“I will never forget
    the wicked things you have done!” (Amos 8:4-7, NLT)

The Seven Corporal Works of Mercy by Unknown Dutch artist, 1580.

Nothing gets God’s hackles up more than unjust and unfair favoritism which is devoid of mercy and grace toward the poor. It all stinks to high heaven, and when God smells it, divine egalitarian power is not far behind.

It is the poor in spirit with no trust in stuff and ingenuity who will enter the kingdom of heaven. The humble person gives grace to another even though the person cannot offer something in return. It is easy to be merciful to people who have a deal with you about scratching each other’s backs. However, it is altogether a different thing to be gracious simply because it is the right thing to do and pleases the heart of God. 

God cares about the condition of our souls and not the balance of our bank accounts. Inattention to the poor and needy only betrays a heart of unjust favoritism – a materialistic heart full of greed. A 2012 Boston Globe article asked the following question: Does money change you?

The Globe article stated, “most people are convinced that gaining a lot of money … wouldn’t change who they are as people. Yet, a mounting body of research is showing, wealth can actually change how we think and behave—and not for the better. Rich people have a harder time connecting with others, showing less empathy to the extent of dehumanizing those who are different from them. They are less charitable and generous. They are less likely to help someone in trouble. And they are more likely to defend an unfair status quo. If you think you would behave differently in their place, meanwhile, you are probably wrong: These are not just inherited traits but developed ones. Money, in other words, changes who you are.”

The University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management found in their research that even the mere suggestion of getting more money makes people less friendly, less sensitive to others, and more likely to view some groups of people as inferior to others.  Another series of studies from the University of California at Berkley concluded that wealthier people tend to be less compassionate toward others in a bad situation than people from lower-class backgrounds. Their research concluded, “If you win the lottery and you want to avoid becoming an insensitive jerk, there is a simple solution: Give at least half the money away.” 

Some poor people, as in the days of the Apostle James, are willing to put up with being treated unfairly so they might get a piece of the rich person’s pie. Favoritism ignores the sin in others to gain something from them. God says that is stinking thinking.

Favoritism is flat out a violation of God’s law. The entire law is summed up in two commands: Love God and love neighbor. Favoritism violates our neighbor, and therefore, is sinful disobedience of God. Any needy human we encounter is our neighbor – no matter their social or economic status, their ethnicity, race, gender, or anything that identifies them as different. They are to be helped when we can do so.

We are to speak and act with mercy because we will eventually have to face the Judge. God is always watching us – every word and every action. Judge Jesus will respond to how we have treated each person we encountered and how we talked about other people when they were not around. We will all appear before Christ at the end of the age and must give an account of ourselves. (2 Corinthians 5:10)

Words are important, so they ought to be full of grace, seasoned with salt. Showing mercy instead of favoritism is the way love expresses itself.  Mercy is best given when we have first received it ourselves from God. A heart touched by the grace of the Lord Jesus is one which will stand in the judgment.

We rid ourselves of favoritism’s stench through the cleansing bath of God’s mercy in Jesus Christ.  There is grace available if we will receive it. God is the expert in transforming lives, renewing minds, and putting to death the pride of favoritism. The work is done with needed grace and compassionate mercy.

So, we are to make it our goal to be a grace-givers, to have willing hearts which seek to emulate the mercy of Christ. The bath of mercy and grace takes away the stank of prideful favoritism and leaves us with the sweet aroma of love, justice, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.

May it be so to the glory of God.