(Sorry for my absence the past few days. I came down with a gnarly cold/flu/don’t know what, and have been very out of it. Today, we’ll do Psalm 41, and tomorrow we’ll do Genesis 38, then 37 & 39 on Tuesday. Hope that makes sense. If it doesn’t yet, it will when we get there.)
There is a danger that, on a surface reading of the psalms (or much of the Bible for that matter), we can come away thinking that our work earns us something before God. That danger is definitely present in this psalm as it opens: “Blessed is the one who considers the poor! In the day of trouble the LORD delivers him” (41:1). This could be (mis-)interpreted: “If you consider the poor, on the basis of that work, the Lord will look out for you.” This is often referred to in academic circles as “I’ll scratch your back, you scratch mine” theology.
Of course, such conclusions can only be drawn from a surface reading of this psalm. A closer reading reveals the fact that David is not relying upon his own work, but upon grace: “As for me, I said, O LORD, be gracious to me; heal me, for I have sinned against you!'” (41:4); “O LORD, be gracious to me” (41:10).
So, clearly, David isn’t relying upon his own works, but upon God’s grace. But, why would he say then that the one who considers the poor is blessed?
Because, as the old saying goes, the proof is in the pudding. Any of us can say we are relying upon grace till we’re blue in the face, but it’s only when our works align with that claim to faith that others can see we aren’t big fat hypocrites.
If we believe the gospel, we will have concern for the poor. And if we don’t have enough concern for the poor AND we believe the gospel, then we are called to repent of our unbelief. Unconcern for the poor points to a certain unbelief in the gospel. It says we have forgotten that we who were once poor and destitute were lifted up by the grace of our Lord Jesus. He was rich, but became poor for us so that we could partake of his riches. Unconcern for the physically poor in our hearts shows that we have forgotten our own roots.
Thankfully, like David, we rely, not upon our works, but upon God’s grace to us in Christ.