The Man who Considers the Poor, Psalm 41. 1
Arthur Shearman, Worcester, England
So often when we think of blessing and happiness we connect it with receiving. We associate such happiness with circumstances which create a favourable atmosphere in our lives. This has been mainly the case with the happiness we have already considered in the Psalms. Under the good hand of God, through the various avenues of His grace and kindness, well-being and happiness become gloriously possible. God desires His people to be marked by joy. He gives us all things richly to enjoy, 1 Tim. 6. 17. Legitimately there is happiness in receiving.
In Psalm 41 the Psalmist speaks of a blessedness which comes not from what we receive but from the consideration of the needs of others. "He is a happy man" says the writer, "who considers the need of the poor". This is interesting for it suggests that it is possible to derive happiness from an unselfish willingness to look beyond ourselves to others. Deliverance in the day of evil is promised and the preservation of life. The Lord's strength and support are to be the portion of this man. It is obvious that life will not be impoverished, but rather enriched by such outgoing of goodness.
A right approach to the needs of the poor is taught throughout Scripture. There is always a great place in the heart of God for those in need, and He saw to it that Israel were taught how rightly to treat the poor. It was His intention that there should be no poor in the land, Deut. 15. 4. The blessing of God upon the land was designed to ensure that all would find sufficient. But if there were poor, and obviously there always were, then says God to His people, "Thou shalt surely open thine hand unto thy brother, to thy needy, and to thy poor, in thy land", Deut. 15. n R.v.
By the time the later prophets brought the message of God to the people, this principle had been sadly forgotten. Oppression of the poor and needy by the wealthy was severely condemned in the burden of the prophet's message. Amos called for righteousness among the people. He accused them of being those who would swallow up the needy and cause the poor of the land to fail; see Amos 8. 4-7. The content of this accusation was repeated many times. Perhaps it followed as a matter of course that in forgetting their God the people forgot the needs of the poor in the land.
The New Testament has much to say about consideration of those who are in need. In the context of Christian responsibility, the understanding of this truth is most important. In rebuking the hypocrisy of Judas, Christ reminded him that the poor were always with them, John 12. 8. Mary's act of devotion was above the level of mere charity, but the Lord Jesus also recognized that there were many who had needs. His ministry was exercised in great measure among those who were poor. In His great declaration of intent in His ministry in the synagogue, Luke 4. 18-19, the Lord Jesus said that He was anointed by the Spirit to preach the Gospel to the poor. His ministry was constantly an example of One who considered the poor.
There is no better New Testament commentary on this statement of the Psalmist than that in 2 Corinthians 8. In this chapter Paul commends the Macedonians for their generosity in giving. To the Corinthian Christians he holds them up as an example of unselfish devoted giving. They were poor. It was out of their depth of poverty that the riches of their liberality were shown, v. 2. How touching the words of the apostle are. They obviously considered carefully the needs of those to whom they gave. Their priorities were right. They "first gave their own selves to the Lord, and unto us by the will of God"^ v. 5. It was therefore possible for the apostle to speak of their "abundance of joy" in this exercise, although they experienced much affliction at the time. ^
"Happy is he who considereth the poor". Thus exclaims the Psalmist. Wherein does this happiness really lie? It lies firstly in Forgetfulness of self. A self-centred life is never a happy one. To consider the needs of others means that there is a wider circle drawn around life which takes in so many of those who have need of our love and care. Secondly, it lies in the establishment of Fellowship with others. The grace and generosity of giving is not just an impersonal exercise. It is warm with personal sympathy and establishes links of friendship as we identify with people in need. Perhaps it is a sad state of affairs when we answer a need without personal exercise. This may satisfy conscience but may never really come from careful consideration of the people to whom we give. Practical fellowship should be the result of an intelligent concern. Lastly, happiness lies in the Fruitfulness which is evident from such sharing with others. It makes possible the growth of God's work. It brings satisfaction and joy to the recipients of our giving. It means that in our own experiences a new dimension of unselfishness and grace can develop. And most of all, it means that out of our giving God is glorified.