He who is kind to the poor lends to the Lord,
and he will repay him for his deed. (Proverbs 19:17)
I have a great deal of trouble picturing myself as the creditor of God. How can I possibly presume to say that I have loaned God from my storehouse and now he is my debtor? Didn’t God say, “If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and all that is in it is mine” (Psalm 50:12)? Surely that means we insult God if we presume to barter with him. We forget that everything we have to barter with is already God’s. We are merely stewards or trustees of God’s possessions. He is the rightful owner of all that is. So how can a steward lend to his master what already belongs to him? Paul makes it very plain in Romans 11:35 that no one has ever given a gift to God that he then had to repay.
To understand Proverbs 19:17 I think we should start with a more fundamental teaching of this book: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not rely on your own insight” (Proverbs 3:5). The only way to have a fulfilling life is to stop relying on our own savvy and to start relying on God to provide the necessary turns of affairs.
Now a person who knows that God aims to bless him because of his faith rather than because of his wealth-accumulating “insight” will look upon the needy from a new perspective. He will say, “Well now, here is a person a lot like myself. He has no power or means for bartering with God. All he can do is trust him. Which is all I can do. So I better not boast over this person. And not only that, here is an opportunity for me to express my trust in God. If I give this poor man some of my money or some of my time or some of my energy to help him find a job, then I won’t have as much money or time or energy left over to do the things I was planning to do to make me happy. So that means I will have to trust God and not rely on my own insight. But that’s really no big risk, because I know how much God loves to be trusted. In fact God loves to be trusted so much that he always blesses those who trust him with a life more fulfilling than if they hadn’t trusted him. So, of course, I will give this poor man my help.”
If being kind to the poor is an act of trusting God to take care of us, there is a sense in which God becomes a debtor. He is a debtor to his own glory. If I trust him and reckon his word and wisdom and love worthy to be counted on, then God is honor-bound, glory-bound, to uphold the worth of his word and wisdom and love. Trust is the one thing that can put God in debt. The reason trust can do this is that it is the one human attitude that looks away from our sufficiency to God’s sufficiency. When God’s sufficiency is at stake, he will prevail.
So while we don’t really lend God anything in being kind to the poor, we do put ourselves in a situation where God must bless us — that is, if we have done our kindness out of reliance on the mercy of God to take care of us.