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Shut Down the Dope Compound

Wisdom in considering the cause of the poor

Proverbs 29:7

7 The righteous considers the cause of the poor,
But the wicked does not understand such knowledge.


My family and I live in a fairly nice town in the southeastern United States. Our city has historic roots that back to the American Revolution. It was largely built by the textile industry and hosts a very middle- and upper-middle class population. 

There is a four-year university, a four-year college and multiple religious and community colleges that make their home here. It has parks, a nice downtown, has a vibrant arts culture and is building a new minor league baseball stadium that will attract even more businesses and families to move to the area. 

Our city is, in many ways, a very American city.

About a mile from my church a curious billboard has sprung up. It does not advertise a local HVAC company or bank, but is solid black with very bold, large white letters that spell, “Shut Down the Dope Compound.”

The first time I drove past the sign I had to turn around and go back. I wanted to be sure of what I had read. What is a “dope compound?” I could surmise that it had something to do with drugs, and someone wanted it shut down. But what would compel someone, or a group of someone’s, to put up a billboard about it? 

A quick internet search of local news outlets revealed that this sign had been funded and placed by private local citizens who were calling for action from law enforcement. A residential area near the sign had become a haven for drug dealers and drug use in recent years and the surrounding community of homeowners and families had had enough.

The news articles revealed an ongoing civic discussion between citizens and local law enforcement. Excuses about funding, manpower, and incident reporting revealed frustrations on all sides. Some offenders had been arrested, but the flow of drugs continued. This surprising billboard and peek behind the scenes of our community revealed that drugs were a serious problem.

Drug use and trafficking has a devastating effect on two distinct segments of a community: young people and the poor. The concerned families were calling attention to the issue out of concern for their children and the safety of their families. But walking the streets, huddled in doorways, and camping in wooded areas the poor remained unheard. 

At least three times a week I encounter the homeless outside our church. They pause under the front portico to rest in the shade or step out of the rain. I nearly always go out and meet them. I cannot give money, but I can share bottles of water, scripture, and even direct them to well-established charities that can house, feed, or clothe them.

One thing will prevent them from enjoying these last things, however, and that is drugs. Shelters and non-profits will not allow someone to stay while possessing or using drugs. Thus, it becomes a never-ending cycle.  

It is almost exhausting to think of all of those who are in need and the task that you as a believer are called to do, is it not? Solomon speaks much about poverty and the poor in the book of Proverbs. Many wise saying warn of the poverty that can result from foolishness, but many also call you to heed and care for the poor, both as a mark of wisdom and a sign of righteousness. Look at Proverbs 29:

7 The righteous considers the cause of the poor,
But the wicked does not understand such knowledge.–Proverbs 29:7

Here, in these sayings of Hezekiah, Solomon has compiled much wisdom that is related to godly leadership and the responsibility of a righteous king. A good king knows his people and cares for his subjects. The word “consider” here reveals something deeper: “to care,” here means literally, “to search out” or “determine.”

It is good to know the people for whom you are responsible, but a righteous person will truly know their needs. This is a difference between being a leader and a “boss.” It can also be the difference between being an acquaintance and a friend—or a godly husband or wife. 

How does this apply to the poor? This section of Proverbs easily translates into the political realm as Solomon is instructing his nations future rulers and kings. In this way, you can stack up the policy and performance of a government and quickly see whether it is wise or foolish, benevolent or tyrannical. 

This is like President Ronald Reagan’s famous quip: “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: I'm from the Government, and I'm here to help.” Your national, state and local governments all have laws and agencies equipped and intended to assist and protect the poor. Not all are effective, as the billboard story attests, but it is a facet of our western society.

“The wicked,” by contrast, “do not understand.” In other words, a corrupt government or leader will ignore the poor in his constituency, or not care enough to determine how to really assist them. 

What is all of this to the modern christian? Where do you and your church fit in when it comes to the poor? Poverty is not a sinful condition but it is a result of the fallenness of this world. 

True, many are poor because of sinful habits such as drug addiction, but many more are not. What are you to do? You know that you cannot simply give money to every grasping hand! Didn’t Jesus say “you have the poor with you always?” (Yes: Matthew 26:11) 

As a believer, you are called to care for the poor on two levels: as an individual, and in the church. Solomon here is asking you: do you know the needs of the poor around you? Do you even understand why they are poor? It could be any number of reasons, and having an understanding can help you help them in Christ.

For instance, in my area I recognize that drug use is all too common a factor. As a consequence, I will not simply hand someone the money in my wallet or seek to provide funds from the church unless under specific circumstances such as paying a bill or assisting with a bus ticket. Cash given to an addict can lead to death. To do so carelessly could be tantamount to murder.

God calls the righteous all throughout scripture to help the poor. The words of the psalmist consistently speak of blessings for those who do so:

1 Blessed is he who considers the poor;
The Lord will deliver him in time of trouble.–Psalm 41:1

And offers praise to God as the One who brings justice to the poor:

4 He will bring justice to the poor of the people;
He will save the children of the needy,
And will break in pieces the oppressor.–Psalm 72:4

In this day and age calls for “social justice” can have political overtones, but true justice comes from I AM, and part of the Kingdom of God is to heal the suffering of this world. 

As a Christian, are the poor a concern to you? It is easy to rest in the idea that government agencies or charities are taking are of the needs of the poor. After all, you have your own life! Doctor visits and grocery bills, concerns about children, parents, career—all of these things take precedence in your heart and mind. 

But as a believer, you have a responsibility to the poor, both to know their needs and to seek to do something about it. One such example is found in the great reformer Martin Luther. His concern for the poor of his congregation contributed to him taking action that changed the world.

Across the Elbe from Wittenberg was a bishop, Albert of Brandenburg, that basically wanted to buy another bishopric. He wanted to expand his territory—and his tax base. To pay for this he sent a man named Tetzel around to run a slick sales job on the population and sell indulgences. 

Now this was a practice where, for money, a person could buy a loved one out of Purgatory, or reduce their time there. You would get a paper receipt as proof. Tetzel was very good at this and he preyed on people’s affection for their departed loved ones. 

Luther actually didn’t have a problem with this, because it was a doctrine of the church. What Luther hated was that Tetzel couldn’t even sell in Wittenberg where Luther was, he was across the river. And what Luther saw was that the poor people, those with the least money and resources, were crossing the river to buy these things. Luther was burdened by this as a pastor. Another thing he saw was that Tetzel was getting mighty fat and happy off of all of this–and church leaders were getting wealthy too. Author Carl Trueman explains:

For [Luther], an indulgence could have a positive function; the problem with those being sold by Johann Tetzel in 1517 is that remission of sin’s penalty has been radically separated from the actual repentance and humility of the individual receiving the same.–Carl Trueman

When Luther saw that the poor of his parish were not only being preyed upon financially, they were also being given false hope, he knew he had to take a stand. The rest is history.

This reveals a significant principal for you as a believer: charity begins in the church. Many who suffer in poverty have no church home as they wander. Maybe they do not feel welcome, maybe they do not want any part of Christ, but perhaps they simply need to be invited and loved. 

The wonderful gift of the Gospel and offer freedom from sin—and a new home in a community of believers. This was a great concern of the early church, as Paul writes of his visit with James the brother of Jesus, Peter and John:

10 They desired only that we should remember the poor, the very thing which I also was eager to do.–Galatians 2:10

Can you see what God can do with one concerned heart such as yours? In my own parish I have a number of saints who continually give of their own pocket and their talents to help the poor. My elders actively visit shut ins and the needy. One elder, I was told, has tended to and brushed the teeth of someone unable to help themselves. There are nurses in the congregation who volunteer their care to those suffering. Single moms are helped with moving, and young families with expenses. 

These things have a cost, they take effort, but are like an outpouring of gratitude. The great American puritan Jonathan Edwards writes of this natural consequence of grace:

Do not make an excuse that you have not opportunities to do anything for the glory of God, for the interest of the Redeemer's kingdom, and for the spiritual benefit of your neighbors. If your heart is full of love, it will find vent; you will find or make ways enough to express your love in deeds. When a fountain abounds in water it will send forth streams.–Jonathan Edwards, “Charity and Its Fruits”

Can you do this? Will your heart “find vent” for the love you are given to share? How much should you give? C.S. Lewis in “Mere Christianity” advises: 

If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charitable expenditure excludes them.–C.S. Lewis

I know, you hesitate because you have your own needs, or worse, it may not be appreciated. I get it. Even more, Jesus gets it. He understands, but calls you anyway, for He knew your own need and gave His all at the cross. And now assures you that…your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him. (Matthew 6:8)


The Monday—Friday DEEPs are written by Mike Slay and this Saturday Deep is written by Matt Richardson. To subscribe to all the DEEPs click here:

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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. ESV stands for the English Standard Version. © Copyright 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved. NIV stands for The Holy Bible, New International Version®. © Copyright 1973 by International Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved. KJV stands for the King James Version.

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