If you see the oppression of the poor, and the violent perversion of justice and righteousness in a province, do not marvel at the matter; for high official watches over high official, and higher officials are over them (Ecclesiastes 5:8, NKJV).
It grieves us when we witness oppression and violence, but it should not surprise and astonish us. Justice and righteousness continue to be perverted in this country and around the world. Indeed, there is nothing new under the sun (Eccl. 1:9). While acknowledging these wrongs, Solomon instructs us to remember that those in authority are also under higher power. This reality ought to be a check against harassment and injustice, but even that is not always the case. “When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice; But when a wicked man rules, the people groan” (Prov. 29:2). What are we to do? (1) Remember that God is sovereign and holds the unrighteous accountable for their sins (2 Cor. 5:10). Jesus called out the hypocritical scribes and Pharisees who “devour widows’ houses” while pretending to be pious with long prayers (Matt. 23:14). God will bring justice to bear on His day of judgment (Acts 17:30-31; Rom. 2:4-11). (2) Keep our faith in God instead of putting it in human beings (Jer. 17:5). God will not fail the righteous (Heb. 13:5-6). (3) We can go about our daily business (Eccl. 5:18-20). Honest labor is God’s gift that prevents us from being overburdened with anxiety over life’s troubles (Eccl. 5:20). Daily labor to provide for ourselves and our families brings joy and contentment in the face of life’s injustices. (4) Remember to pray (1 Thess. 4:11-12; 1 Tim. 2:1-2). (5) We can aid those harmed by others (Luke 10:29-37). Be neighborly and help one another instead of being suspicious and divisive.
1 The Elder, To the beloved Gaius, whom I love in truth: 2 Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers. (3 John 1–2, NKJV)
John, now the aged apostle, expressed a three-fold love of Gaius, which was no doubt prompted by the disciple’s faithful walk in the truth (3 John 3-4). John’s love for Gaius prompted prayer for his health and prosperity “in all things” as his soul prospered. Is this proof of the “prosperity gospel” that many preach? Hardly. The word “prosper” contains the idea of progress, of “help on the road,” and thereby to successfully reach one’s destination (Strong, G2137). Gaius’ spiritual life was progressing – he was on a spiritual journey. (So are we, 1 Peter 2:11.) John prayed that his health and all things would progress well, too. Christ did not mandate material abundance as evidence of spiritual fullness. Indeed, the Son of Man did not have a place to lay His head (Matt. 8:20). Far from covetous enrichment for selfish pursuits, the gospel teaches material wealth is a blessing that gives opportunities and the spiritual responsibility to be “rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share,” and to do so thankfully (1 Tim. 6:17-19). Gaius was undoubtedly doing these very things when he hospitably supported faithful workers for the truth (3 John 5-8). May our souls faithfully progress on our pilgrimage with the health and the means to do the work our hands find to do “while it is day,” for “the night is coming when no one can work” (John 9:4).
1 Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven. 2 Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. 3 But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly. (Matthew 6:1–4, NKJV)
Giving to the poor is undeniably a way Christians “do good to all” (Gal. 6:10). The rich are reminded to be “ready to give” (1 Tim. 6:17-18). (In today’s world, most of us qualify as rich.) We should look for and use our opportunities to help others. When we do, God sees the motive of our heart. Jesus said we ought to seek God’s honor and not the praise of men for our acts of charity. To announce our charitable deed is like blowing a trumpet before us so they will know how generous we are. It is selfish hypocrisy to help others out of a heart that wants others to honor us for it. Though honored by people, such will not be rewarded by God. Let us do our charitable deeds from a heart of compassion. In due time, we will reap what we have sown (Gal. 6:7-10).
19 There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day. 20 But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate, 21 desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. (Luke 16:19–23, NKJV)
Jesus told “the Pharisees, who were lovers of money,” about two men in life and after death (Lk. 16:14). The unnamed rich man lived in luxury, while failing to give even the leftovers of his table to the poor man who was laid at his gate. Infected with sores, Lazarus endured disease, humiliation, poverty, and the lack of common decency every day. There are important lessons here for us to learn and live. First, wealth does not define one’s value, nor does it prevent one’s death. Whether rich or poor, death comes to us all (Eccl. 9:2-3). Second, the sin of selfish indulgence ignores the needs of others, but it is not ignored by God. Thirdly, God sees the injustices and suffering of the righteous (2 Thess. 1:4-7). Fourth, we must not trust in riches, but lay up heavenly treasures (Matt. 6:19-21). Riches are uncertain, so trust in the living God and use your material blessings to be “rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share,” that you may lay hold of eternal life (1 Tim. 6:17-19).
22 Do not rob the poor because he is poor, nor oppress the afflicted at the gate; 23 For the Lord will plead their cause, and plunder the soul of those who plunder them. (Proverbs 22:22–23, NKJV)
Perverting justice is a form of robbery. The upright of heart will not steal from anyone at any time (Ephesian 4:28). Yet, some take advantage of the poor because their hearts are given to wicked selfishness and the arrogance of power. “Might makes right” to far too many, and as a result, the poor and disadvantaged suffer at the hands of oppressors. Justice is blind – a truth God spoke long before the blindfolded Lady Justice was ever sculpted. Moses told Israel, “You shall not show partiality in judgment; you shall hear the small as well as the great; you shall not be afraid in any man’s presence, for the judgment is God’s” (Deuteronomy 1:17). God’s law to Israel warned against perverting the just of the poor: “You shall not pervert the judgment of your poor in his dispute” (Exodus 23:6). It also warned against showing partiality to the poor: “You shall do no injustice in judgment. You shall not be partial to the poor, nor honor the person of the mighty. In righteousness you shall judge your neighbor” (Leviticus 19:15). Poverty is not the rich man’s reason to plunder, nor is poverty a just reason to pervert justice. Divine justice is impartial, and ours must be, too. God will punish injustice and oppression.
23 Then Jesus said to His disciples, “Assuredly, I say to you that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” 25 When His disciples heard it, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” 26 But Jesus looked at them and said to them, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:23–26, NKJV)
It is not riches that will keep a person out of heaven, but how one views and uses his wealth. Just before Jesus said these words, a rich young man had turned away from following Him after Jesus told him to sell all he had and give to the poor (Matt. 19:21-22). His love of money prevented him from following Jesus. When we love money and material things more than putting Jesus first and obeying Him, then we will not be saved (1 Tim. 6:10). You had just as soon try to pass a camel through a needle’s eye, as try to get to heaven serving riches. God has and will save rich people (Abraham, for example, Gen. 24:35). Jesus is not saying wealth is evil. But, it is evil to love money more than God. Godliness with contentment is the lesson we must all learn and live, whether we are rich or poor (1 Tim. 6:6-10).
18 And when Jesus saw great multitudes about Him, He gave a command to depart to the other side. 19 Then a certain scribe came and said to Him, “Teacher, I will follow You wherever You go.” 20 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” (Matthew 8:18–20, NKJV)
Jesus was a poor man. He was often sustained by the goodwill sharing of others as He preached the gospel of the kingdom throughout the regions of Judea, Galilee, and beyond (Lk. 8:1-3). As Jesus was about to cross over to the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee, a scribe said he would follow Jesus wherever He went. Jesus challenged his willingness to sacrifice to follow Him. How very different from the Prosperity Theology preached by the positive attitude preachers of today! They preach physical health and material blessings if only you will claim it for yourself in the name of Jesus. (We wonder why Paul didn’t make such a claim when Jesus denied him healing in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10?) No, we are not entitled to health and wealth. Whatever blessings we have, let us use them to honor God and help others (1 Tim. 6:17-19). And above all, may we sacrifice everything it takes to follow Jesus where He goes (Jno. 10:27-28; 14:6).
1 Thus says the Lord: “Heaven is My throne, and earth is My footstool. Where is the house that you will build Me? And where is the place of My rest? 2 For all those things My hand has made, and all those things exist,” says the Lord. “But on this one will I look: On him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, and who trembles at My word.” (Isaiah 66:1–2, NKJV)
Men’s view of God is very often far too small and finite. The true and living God is not contained in the walls of temples made by human hands. All things were created and are sustained by His word. He is Sovereign over heaven and earth. Yet, God will give attention to every soul who acknowledges the impoverished nature of the soul and utterly depends on Him. The kingdom of heaven belongs to the poor in spirit (Matthew 5:6). While billions of people turn their attention to religious temples and shrines made by human hands, God turns His attention to those who “tremble at His word.” God is not impressed by architectural feats. He is impressed by hearts and lives that reverence and obey His word. Let us be among the number who hold God in complete reverence, who tremble at His word, and willingly obey Him in all things (Matthew 7:21; Colossians 3:17).