Be Happy—Show Favor to the Afflicted
“The one despising his own fellowman is sinning, but happy is he who is showing favor to the afflicted ones.”—PROVERBS 14:21.
1, 2. What occurred to three Philippine families, leading us to consider what questions?
WHILE three Philippine families in Pangasinan Province were attending a Christian meeting, an accidental fire burned their houses to ashes. Upon returning home, they found themselves with no food or place to sleep. Fellow Christians, learning of the disaster, rushed over with food and arranged accommodations with others in the congregation. The next morning, Christians arrived with bamboo and other building materials. This brotherly love impressed the neighbors. The three families were affected for the good too. The fire destroyed their houses, but their faith and other Christian qualities survived and grew because of the loving response.—Matthew 6:33; compare 1 Corinthians 3:12-14.
2 Are not experiences such as this heartwarming? They build our faith in human kindness and even more so in the power of real Christianity. (Acts 28:2) Do we appreciate, though, the Scriptural basis for such ‘working what is good toward all, but especially toward those related to us in the faith’? (Galatians 6:10) And how might we personally do more in this regard?
An Excellent Pattern for Us
3. Of what can we be sure regarding Jehovah’s concern for us?
3 The disciple James tells us: “Every good gift and every perfect present is from above.” (James 1:17) How true that is, for Jehovah provides abundantly for our spiritual and material good! To what, however, does he give priority? To spiritual things. He, for instance, gave us the Bible so that we may have spiritual guidance and hope. That hope centers on the gift of his Son, whose sacrifice is the basis for our being forgiven and having the prospect of eternal life.—John 3:16; Matthew 20:28.
4. How is it evident that God is also interested in our material needs?
4 Jehovah is interested in our material welfare too. The apostle Paul reasoned on this with men in ancient Lystra. Though they were not true worshipers, they could not deny that the Creator ‘has done good, giving us rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts to the full with food and good cheer.’ (Acts 14:15-17) Out of love, Jehovah both supplies our spiritual needs and makes provision for our physical life. Do you not think that this contributes to his being “the happy God”?—1 Timothy 1:11.
5. What can we learn from God’s dealings with ancient Israel?
5 God’s dealings with ancient Israel illustrate his balanced attention both to his worshipers’ spiritual needs and to their material situation. First, he made the Law available to his people. His kings had to prepare a personal copy of the Law, and the people assembled periodically to hear His Law read. (Deuteronomy 17:18; 31:9-13) The Law provided for a tabernacle or temple and for priests to handle sacrifices so that the people could have God’s favor. The Israelites assembled regularly for spiritual festivals, highlights in their yearly worship. (Deuteronomy 16:1-17) As a result of all of this, individual Israelites could be spiritually rich before God.
6, 7. How did Jehovah in the Law show his concern for the physical needs of the Israelites?
6 The Law, though, manifested also how attentive God is to his servants’ physical circumstances. Perhaps what comes to your mind are laws given to Israel regarding sanitation and steps that minimized the spread of infection. (Deuteronomy 14:11-21; 23:10-14) Yet we should not overlook God’s special provisions made to help the impoverished and the afflicted. Poor health or a disaster such as a fire or a flood might bring an Israelite into poverty. Right in his Law Jehovah acknowledged that not all would be equal economically. (Deuteronomy 15:11) But he did more than merely sympathize with the poor and the afflicted. He arranged for aid.
7 Food would be an immediate need for such ones. So God directed that the poor in Israel be free to glean in the fields and vineyards or from the olive trees. (Deuteronomy 24:19-22; Leviticus 19:9, 10; 23:22) God’s way did not encourage people to be lazy or to live on public handouts when they could work. An Israelite gleaner had to put forth effort, maybe spending long hours under the hot sun to gather food for the day. We should not overlook, however, that in this way God considerately provided for the impoverished.—Compare Ruth 2:2-7; Psalm 69:33; 102:17.
8 Jehovah further stressed his interest in the afflicted by pronouncements such as at Isaiah 58:6, 7. At a time when some self-satisfied Israelites were going through a pretense of fasting, God’s prophet declared: “Is not this the fast that I choose? To . . . send away the crushed ones free, and that you people should tear in two every yoke bar? Is it not the dividing of your bread out to the hungry one, and that you should bring the afflicted, homeless people into your house? That, in case you should see someone naked, you must cover him, and that you should not hide yourself from your own flesh?” Some individuals today guard what might be called their ‘comfort zone.’ They are willing to help a needy person only if it does not mean any personal sacrifice or inconvenience for them. What a different spirit was emphasized in God’s words through Isaiah!—See also Ezekiel 18:5-9.
9. What did the Law counsel as to making loans, and what attitude did God encourage?
9 Concern for poor Israelite brothers might be demonstrated in making loans. An Israelite could expect to be paid interest when lending money to someone who wanted to use it to engage in or expand his business. Jehovah said not to charge interest, however, on money lent to a poor brother, whose desperation might otherwise tempt him into wrongdoing. (Exodus 22:25; Deuteronomy 15:7, 8, 11; 23:19, 20; Proverbs 6:30, 31) God’s attitude toward the unfortunate was to be a pattern for his people. We are even promised: “He that is showing favor to the lowly one is lending to Jehovah, and his treatment He will repay to him.” (Proverbs 19:17) Just imagine that—lending to Jehovah, with assurance of his amply repaying you!
10. After considering God’s example, what might you ask yourself?
10 We should all thus ask: What does God’s view and treatment of the afflicted mean to me? Have I been learning from his perfect pattern and attempting to imitate it? Can I improve as to being in God’s image in this respect?—Genesis 1:26.
Like Father, Like Son
11. How did Jesus’ concern match his Father’s? (2 Corinthians 8:9)
11 Jesus Christ “is the reflection of [Jehovah’s] glory and the exact representation of his very being.” (Hebrews 1:3) Hence, we would expect him to reflect his Father’s concern for those interested in true worship. He did. Jesus showed that the poverty needing to be remedied the most is spiritual poverty: “Happy are those conscious of their spiritual need, since the kingdom of the heavens belongs to them.” (Matthew 5:3; compare Luke 6:20.) Christ also said: “For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth.” (John 18:37) Accordingly, he was not known mainly as a miracle worker or a healer but as Teacher. (Mark 10:17-21; 12:28-33) In this connection, note Mark 6:30-34. We read of a time when Jesus had sought some private time to recuperate. Then “he saw a great crowd . . . [who] were as sheep without a shepherd.” How did he react? “He started to teach them many things.” Yes, Jesus extended himself in response to their greatest need: truth by which they could live forever.—John 4:14; 6:51.
12 While Jesus focused on the spiritual needs of humble Jews, he did not ignore their material needs. Mark’s account shows that Jesus was alert to the need for literal food. The apostles first suggested that the crowd be sent away to “buy themselves something to eat.” Jesus did not agree. Then the apostles brought up the possibility of taking some of the operating funds that they carried and using that to buy food. Instead, Jesus chose to perform the famous miracle by which he fed 5,000 men, besides women and children, a basic meal of bread and fish. Some today might feel that it was easy for Jesus to fill the crowd’s needs miraculously. Still, we should not overlook the fact that he had genuine concern, and he acted on that.—Mark 6:35-44; Matthew 14:21.*
13. Jesus gave what other evidence of his interest in people’s welfare?
13 You have probably read Gospel accounts that prove that Jesus’ feelings for the unfortunate extended beyond the poor. He helped the sick and the afflicted also. (Luke 6:17-19; 17:12-19; John 5:2-9; 9:1-7) Nor was it a matter of healing just those who happened to be near him. Sometimes he traveled to the sick one in order to provide help.—Luke 8:41-55.
14, 15. (a) Why can we be sure that Jesus expected his followers to manifest concerns like his? (b) We do well to ask ourselves what?
14 However, were the needs of poor and afflicted disciples (or truth seekers) the concern only of those who could provide relief by performing miracles? No. All of Jesus’ disciples were to be concerned and to act accordingly. For example, he urged a rich man who wanted everlasting life: “Sell all the things you have and distribute to poor people, and you will have treasure in the heavens.” (Luke 18:18-22) Jesus also counseled: “When you spread a feast, invite poor people, crippled, lame, blind; and you will be happy, because they have nothing with which to repay you. For you will be repaid in the resurrection of the righteous ones.”—Luke 14:13, 14.
15 A Christian is a follower of Christ, so each of us could ask: To what extent am I imitating Jesus’ attitude and actions toward the poor, the afflicted, the unfortunate? Can I honestly say, as did the apostle Paul: “Become imitators of me, even as I am of Christ”?—1 Corinthians 11:1.
Paul—A Happy Example
16. What was of special interest to the apostle Paul?
16 It is appropriate to bring up Paul in this connection, for he also was a fine example to imitate. As we would expect, his primary focus was on the spiritual needs of others. He was an ‘ambassador substituting for Christ, begging others, “Become reconciled to God.”’ (2 Corinthians 5:20) Paul’s special assignment was to preach and to build up congregations among the non-Jews. He wrote: “I had entrusted to me the good news for those who are uncircumcised.”—Galatians 2:7.
17. How do we know that Paul gave attention to physical concerns too?
17 But since Paul said that he was imitating Christ, did he (like Jehovah and Jesus) give attention to the physical afflictions or difficulties of fellow worshipers? Let Paul himself answer. In Galatians 2:9, he continued: ‘James and Cephas [Peter] and John gave me and Barnabas the right hand of sharing together, that we should go to the nations.’ Then in the very next verse Paul added: “Only we should keep the poor in mind. This very thing I have also earnestly endeavored to do.” (Galatians 2:10) So Paul appreciated that, even though he was a missionary-apostle with responsibilities to many congregations, he could not be too busy to be interested in the physical welfare of his brothers and sisters.
18. To what “poor” was Paul likely referring at Galatians 2:10, and why should they have received attention?
18 Likely, “the poor” that he spoke of in Galatians 2:10 were mainly Jewish Christians in Jerusalem and Judea. Earlier there had been “murmuring . . . on the part of the Greek-speaking Jews against the Hebrew-speaking Jews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution” of food. (Acts 6:1) Thus, when mentioning his being an apostle to the nations, Paul made it clear that he was not ignoring any in the Christian brotherhood. (Romans 11:13) He appreciated that the physical care of brothers was included in the words: “There should be no division in the body, but . . . its members should have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the other members suffer with it.”—1 Corinthians 12:25, 26.
19. What proof do we have that Paul and others acted on their concern for the poor?
19 When Christians in Jerusalem and Judea suffered because of poverty, local famine, or persecution, some distant congregations responded. They, of course, would have been remembering their needy brothers in prayers for God’s support and comfort. But they did not stop there. Paul wrote that “those in Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to share up their things by a contribution to the poor of the holy ones in Jerusalem.” (Romans 15:26, 27) Those making such financial contributions to their afflicted brothers were “being enriched for every sort of generosity, which produces through us an expression of thanks to God.” (2 Corinthians 9:1-13) Would that not be cause for them to be happy?
20. Why could the brothers who contributed to help “the poor” be happy?
20 The brothers who shared their funds with “the poor of the holy ones in Jerusalem” had an additional basis for happiness. Their caring for the afflicted would assist the contributors to have God’s approval. We can see why by noting that the Greek word rendered “contribution” in Romans 15:26; and 2 Corinthians 9:13 contains the idea of “sign of fellowship, proof of brotherly unity, even gift.” It is used at Hebrews 13:16, which says: “Do not forget the doing of good and the sharing of things with others, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.”
Will We Be Happy?
21. What can we conclude will provide a basis for our gaining happiness?
21 In this discussion, we have examined the Scriptural evidence that Jehovah God, Jesus Christ, and the apostle Paul cared for the afflicted. We have noted that all of them recognized that spiritual needs should receive first attention. But it is also true that they all showed in very practical ways their interest in the poor, the sick, and those experiencing misfortune. They could find happiness in providing practical help. Should it be any less true of us? The apostle Paul urged us to “bear in mind the words of the Lord Jesus, when he himself said, ‘There is more happiness in giving than there is in receiving.’”—Acts 20:35.
22. What aspects of this matter yet deserve your attention?
22 You may well ask, though: Just what can I personally do? How can I know who are genuinely in need? How can I offer aid in a way that does not encourage laziness, that is kind and realistic, that takes into consideration others’ feelings, and that is in balance with my Christian duty to spread the good news? The following article will address itself to aspects of this matter, laying a basis for you to find additional happiness.
Did You Note?
□ How does God evidence his interest in our spiritual needs as well as in our physical needs?
□ What shows that Jesus was concerned with more than helping people by teaching them the truth?
□ Paul set what sort of example regarding the poor?
□ After considering the examples of Jehovah, Jesus, and the apostle Paul, what can you see the need of doing?
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Christian elders and others should apply Jesus’ counsel at Luke 14:13, 14