At thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore (Ps. 16: 11)
He that hath pity upon the poor lendeth unto the Lord; And that which he hath given will he pay him again.Proverbs 19:17
We must always remember that we are dealing with proverbs, and not with axioms in geometry. To be precise, we want to make sure we understand what we are dealing with when we are talking about “the poor.” But before we rush off to say what this verse cannot mean, let us take care to understand what it does mean.
In the sense of this proverb, when someone is poor and in a pitiable condition, it is appropriate for a godly man to have pity on him. If someone takes pity on the poor man, and gives him sustenance, this is tantamount to having the Lord borrow money from you. If you give twenty dollars to a poor man, this is as though the Lord borrowed twenty from you. And what the Lord borrows, the Lord will always repay. This means that when you give to the poor in such circumstances, it is not good money after bad. It is not money down a rat hole. The Lord is a meticulous bookkeeper when it comes to matters of generosity.
Scripture is clear that the giving of alms is a proper and righteous thing. The prayers of Cornelius were heard, in part, because he gave alms (Acts 10:4, 31). Jesus assumes that His followers were going to give alms (Matt. 6:3). The disciples of Christ are instructed to sell what they have in order to give alms (Luke 12:33).
But to ask who are “the poor” is not necessarily the same kind of thing as asking who your neighbor is, in an attempt to get off the hook (Luke 10:29). There are plenty of poor people, including in the book of Proverbs, that we are not supposed to subsidize. A little sleep, a little slumber, and the deacons’ fund will pick up the tab. But if a man is not willing to work, he shouldn’t eat (2 Thess. 3:10).
That said, our default settings should be on the side of generosity.
“But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:17–18).