Help those who “deserve” it? (1 of 2)

Q. Is there a passage in the Bible that says help those who deserve help?

A. The answer depends on what exactly do you mean by “deserve“. If by “deserve” you mean they are “needy“, then most definitely YES:

Ps 40:17 Since I am afflicted and needy, Let the Lord be mindful of me. You are my help and my deliverer; Do not delay, O my God.
• Ps 70:5 But I am afflicted and needy; Hasten to me, O God! You are my help and my deliverer; O LORD, do not delay.
• Ps 72:12 For He will deliver the needy when he cries for help, The afflicted also, and him who has no helper.
• Ezk 16:49 Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had arrogance, abundant food and careless ease, but she did not help the poor and needy.

If you were thinking is there a “priority ranking” in the Bible such that certain people are more “deserving” of our help than others, the answer is again YES:

1 Tim 5:16 If any woman who is a believer has dependent widows, she must assist them and the church must not be burdened, so that it may assist those who are widows indeed.
• Jas 1:27 Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

God has a “bias” for the poor, the needy, orphans and widows, those who have no other means of support. While the world in general tries to ingratiate itself with the rich and the powerful, God is diametrically opposite. His nature is just, and His righteousness is such that He prefers the underprivileged.

However, if by “deserve” you mean “merit” or “earned“, then the answer is NO or at best a limited “yes”. First, the Bible’s fundamental premise is grace, not merit. To say someone “deserves” help implies he has earned or merited it, and we are obliged to help him. Not to help means we are not living up to our obligations, and depriving him of something that is rightfully owed him. That is NOT what the Bible teaches.

When you look up “deserve” in the Bible, the emphasis is not on what you merit by virtue of your good works. I’m using the NASB, a literal translation, for clarity; other versions will be different. “Deserve” or “deserves” or “deserved” appear a total of 11 times in the NASB, but except for Judg 9:6 consistently used in a negative sense – deserve to be beaten, to die, deserve punishment – as recompense or reward demanded by our wickedness, iniquities, and folly:

Deut 25:2 then it shall be if the wicked man deserves to be beaten, the judge shall then make him lie down and be beaten in his presence with the number of stripes according to his guilt.
• Judg 9:16 “Now therefore, if you have dealt in truth and integrity in making Abimelech king, and if you have dealt well with Jerubbaal and his house, and have dealt with him as he deserved
• 2 Sam 12:5 Then David’s anger burned greatly against the man, and he said to Nathan, “As the LORD lives, surely the man who has done this deserves to die.
• 1 Kgs 2:26 Then to Abiathar the priest the king said, “Go to Anathoth to your own field, for you deserve to die; but I will not put you to death at this time, because you carried the ark of the Lord GOD before my father David, and because you were afflicted in everything with which my father was afflicted.”
• Ezra 9:13 After all that has come upon us for our evil deeds and our great guilt, since You our God have requited us less than our iniquities deserve, and have given us an escaped remnant as this,
• Prov 26:5 Answer a fool as his folly deserves, That he not be wise in his own eyes.
• Isa 3:11 Woe to the wicked! It will go badly with him, For what he deserves will be done to him.
• Mt 26:66 what do you think?” They answered, “He deserves death!”
• Lk 23:41 And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.”
• Heb 10:29 How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace?
• Revelation 16:6 for they poured out the blood of saints and prophets, and You have given them blood to drink. They deserve it.”

It is not used in the sense of earning merit for right, so that we are obliged to help him. Why? Because even though the “good” deeds of “good” people are “good” by human standards, they simply do not measure up to God’s perfect standard:
Isa 64:6 For all of us have become like one who is unclean, And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; And all of us wither like a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
Filthy garments don’t merit anything.

(To be continued)

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The Prodigal Son’s Older Brother

prodigal 3

Q. In the parable of the Prodigal Son I understand the father forgiving his younger son and showing him grace. But what about the older brother? The parable left us hanging without knowing what happened in the end. What’s your view?

A. First, let’s look at the context:
Lk 15:1-2 Now all the tax collectors and the sinners were coming near Him to listen to Him. Both the Pharisees and the scribes began to grumble, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”
Jesus responded by telling them three parables: the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son. So from the context we know that the Prodigal Son has to do with correcting the Pharisees and scribes for not receiving sinners.

Secondly, let’s examine the text to see what it says about the older brother. He was mentioned in passing in Lk 15:11, but became the focus of attention in v 25-32. Taking everything at face value, my observations are as follows:

His Positive Traits:
• Hardworking v 25 his older son was in the field, presumably working
• Obedient v 29 For so many years I have been serving you and I have never neglected a command of yours
• Loyal v 31 you have always been with me
These are commendable qualities.

His Negative Characteristics:
• Angry v 28 he became angry, first with his brother
• Bears grudge v 28 was not willing to go in
• Self-righteous v 29 For so many years I have been serving you and I have never neglected a command of yours
• Jealous in comparing himself to others v 29 yet you have never given me a young goat
• Unforgiving; no love for his brother v 30 this son of yours vs. his father’s v 32 this brother of yours. His brother means less to him than celebrating with his friends.
• Angry with father v 30 you killed the fattened calf for him.
The negatives tell where his heart was, and far outweigh the positives which looked so good on the surface.

Now my interpretation:
• It is quite obvious that in the parable the father represents God, the older brother the Pharisees and scribes, and the younger brother the tax collectors and sinners.
• The attitude of the two sons are mirrored in the parable of the Pharisee and Publican in Lk 18:9-14.
• The older brother is self-righteous and looked down on his younger brother – Lk 18:9, 11-12 And He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt … The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.’ Compare his “I serve”, “I never neglect”. He was angry even with his father, who did everything graciously (see below) and represented the perfect Heavenly Father.
• The younger brother is truly repentant – Lk 18:13 But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’ Compare Lk 15:18-19 Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men. (Also v 21) He was justified rather than his brother. (Compare Lk 18:14)
• The parable of the Prodigal Son is open-ended because Jesus wanted the Pharisees and scribes to learn to be like the Father, compassionate (v 20), forgiving (v 22), joyful when his child repents (v 23-24, 32), reaching out even to self-righteous sinners (v 28 pleading), generous (v 31 all that is mine is yours), but He left the choice to them. He will not impose His will on them, even though it’s for their own good.

Lastly, application:
• Who do you identify with in the parable? Do you see yourself as the prodigal son, a sinner not worthy to be called the Father’s child, but grateful for the grace bestowed on you?
• Or do you see yourself as the older brother, trusting in your good deeds and even faulting the Father for being too kind to sinners, not realizing that the very thing you are proud of is what disqualifies you from being justified.
• A few may identify with the father in the parable, in which case “Congratulations!” You have learned to see the world through your Father’s eyes and feel through His heart. He loves His children and welcomes them anytime they repent. Hope we all learn that.