(Proverbs 14:31 KJV) He that oppresseth the poor reproacheth his Maker: but he that honoureth him hath mercy on the poor.
As followers of Jesus Christ we are to be “gracious” (2603a) [chesed] to those who are “needy” (34). This is another of those places where I wish we could transliterate words from the original languages. “Mercy” KJV and “gracious” NASB are the word chesed in Hebrew. This is one of the great words of the OT. To me the best translation of this word is “loving-kindness”. It is the agape of the OT. It speaks of the loving graciousness of an almighty God who loved us so much that He sent His son to die for us. The glory of this rings through scripture. Here we are being told that part of our mission on Earth is to take that love which the Holy Spirit makes possible in our lives and apply it to a “needy” (34) world.
We are to be merciful. We are to be gracious. We are to be the living Bible to people who have, at best, a distorted view of the glorious God we serve. We forgive. We are patient. We are honest. We are chaste. We are kind. We are something they don’t understand.
The KJV says we are to have mercy on the “poor”. This is not the same Hebrew word used in the first part of the verse. “Needy” is a better word for us. I guess one of the big questions we face, at least in modern times, is “Who are the needy?” This is a real question because we have no understanding of the difference between needs and wants. We can be encouraging laziness and sloth by giving in the wrong circumstances. Of course, this can also be an excuse for not giving.
In the obvious understanding of the needy we see those who do not have enough to feed and clothe themselves. These are those who are worse than poor. Poor is a relative term. The poor in our country are considered rich by those in the third world. I was raised in a poor home. We had no health insurance. One of my favorite parts of the meal was the bread and gravy we filled up on after everything else was gone. I didn’t know it was poverty food, I liked it. But we were not needy. The needy exist but not near as many as the social workers would like you to believe. I work in a school full of the “poor.” They have more gold jewelry that I do and buy more gum and candy in a week than I do in a year. We need to focus our help on those who can really benefit from it.
But the “needy” are more than the poor. Without abandoning that group we need to understand we are surrounded by people who are full of needs. Some are lonely, not because noone will talk to them but because they don’t know how to respond. Some are rejected because they have never had anyone teach them to be polite. There are many in the world in need and we are to reach out to them. You might think of them as frogs waiting to be kissed. We were once frogs. Jesus kissed us. Now we are to take that lovingkindness and extend it to others.