Before examining Solomon’s definition of a good person from the book of Proverbs, the following foundation should be laid regarding a biblical desire to become a good person.
There is no substitution for the power of God’s Word to transform lives. Therein is the engine that drives us toward becoming a good person. Unfortunately, many today fail to give the written Word its proper place of prominence. Even pastors downplay it because, in their attempt to build a spiritually based group of people (falsely thinking that numbers define success), they avoid in-depth teaching. The reasoning is that the Scriptures’ truth, which sometimes offends, ends up turning people away. But such is to be expected and was the case with Jesus, the Apostle Paul, and others whose ministries are portrayed in the Scriptures as both authentic and normative (cf. Matthew 10:4; Acts 15:38; Philippians 2:20; 2 Timothy 4:10, 16).
To put it another way, there are numerous “ministers” and “ministries” today who are less than theocentric. Likened to soft drinks that are sweetened with phenylalanine or saccharin, many “ministries” today falsely sweeten their appeal with what I call “anthropocentricsin.” (I’m guilty here of creating a new word to explain my thinking.) Antropocentric means “man centered,” and sin means “to miss the mark.” Accordingly, anthropocentricsin is “the sin of being self-centered versus God-centered.” Ministers who suffer from this play to people. They make their listeners’ desires central rather than remaining faithful to their prophetic calling to preach the Word (2 Timothy 4:2–5). As a result of consuming and digesting too much “anthropocentric” “sin,” a disease, a spiritual malnutrition, a plague in the land results. Further, the easiest sign of detection is “wisdom atrophy.”
“Anthropocentricsin” overdosing can be detected by the existence of “wisdom atrophy.”
Accordingly, the greatest need on the Hill is for good Bible exposition! If not spiritually dead, people are atrophied all around us! The scriptural cure is clear: So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ (Romans 10:17). A common desire of all who are genuinely called of God—a desire that all true believers possess—is a desire to learn the Word of God. Note the following encapsulation in this regard:
The first Church intensely hungered for the apostles’ teaching because they were genuinely converted. This is normative Christianity!… Regarding this spiritual hunger, pastor and author Kent Hughes noted, “Where the Spirit reigns, a love for God’s Word reigns… When the Spirit reigns, God’s people continually devote themselves to the study of His Word.” Martyn Lloyd Jones wrote of the believer’s desire for the Word of God: “Wanting to listen to the Word is inevitable if men and women are born again and have become Christians. A babe…has an instinct for milk. He wants it… He is alive and wants the mother’s milk, and rightly so. The point is clear. One simply cannot be a Christian and have no desire for a knowledge of this truth—it is impossible.”1
Many in the capital name Christ but are lackadaisical when it comes to desiring the pure milk of His Word. Keep in mind that one of the fruits of the people of God is a longing to be fed the Word of God! The Living Word and the written Word are inseparable, intrinsically intertwined. Accordingly, I am so thankful for the many of you whom I have gotten to know who are genuinely converted. You long for the pure milk of the word… (1 Peter 2:2b).
Now let us turn our focus to the ingredients of a good person per Solomon in the book of Proverbs. Prior to investigating each of the following proverbs on this subject, it is important to state what Solomon is not saying relative to being a good person. He is not saying that the way one merits salvation is through being good. That misunderstanding as to how one gains heaven is common. The whole of Scripture reveals nothing of our working our way to heaven—the common thread running throughout all the false religions of the world. Rather, per the book of James in the New Testament (NT), good people in God’s eyes and in His economy of salvation are those who have trusted in Him by faith alone. And because of His indwelling Holy Spirit, the truly saved will always manifest good characteristics and good works in and through their lives. This is what James means when he says faith without works is dead ( James 2:26b). Just like compassion without action is phony, faith that does not manifest a good person or good works (i.e., the attributes that follow in this study) is illustrative of a falsified profession of faith.
True faith in Christ and good works go hand in hand. Said another way, as alluded to in the preamble, Jesus said, “A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit” (Matthew 7:18). What follows then are proverbs indicative of true salvation—characteristics of those who have repented of their sin and have placed their faith in Jesus Christ for personal salvation. The Apostle Paul says it best in 1 Thessalonians 4:1:
Finally then, brethren, we request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us instruction as to how you ought to walk and please God (just as you actually do walk), that you excel still more.
May this week’s comparison of your good life to the Lord’s definition of the same motivate you to excel still more.
What follows is my exhausting the book of Proverbs for all that it says about being a good person.
In what follows, I have attempted to put together a theology regarding this matter. Accordingly, a good person, biblically speaking, will be characterized by at least five attributes in no particular order of importance:
The backslider in heart will have his fill of his own ways, but a good man will be satisfied with his (Proverbs 14:14).
Backsliding implies a willful step toward sin, most often not in a public way, but one that is hidden. This proverb portrays the reaping-and-sowing form of the wrath or judgment of God upon such a person. Reaping and sowing is an inviolate moral law of the universe set in place by God and just as sure as the physical law of gravity. He who habitually and willfully sins will have his fill of his own ways. Their “rod” is their own way. In contrast, the good man is filled by sowing over a lifetime in ways pleasing to the Lord. States Galatians 5:16b, Walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. The resultant fruit of a Spirit-controlled life is the fruit of the Spirit as listed in Galatians 5:22b-23: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.… Each one of these characteristics yields great satisfaction in the heart of a good man. He or she knows and relishes godly ways in part because such yields the dividend of personal satisfaction in life. I want to be a good person because being good is so satisfying! It is motivating that God bestows abundant blessings upon His obedient children!
One who is gracious to a poor man lends to the Lord, and He will repay him for his good deed (Proverbs 19:17).
Much biblical understanding and discussion of the principles relative to this subject are in order prior to a strict examination of the truths of this particular proverb. Given the many legislative decisions that are made regarding poor people, combined with widespread biblical naiveté on the subject of poverty, the issue is worthy of time spent on it. What follows then are four theological principles born from Scripture on how a good man best helps and is gracious to a poor man.
However, it is important first to distinguish between the genuinely bereft, i.e., those who are poor and want to change their lot in life, and bums. A bum is someone whom Scripture describes as slothful or lazy (cf. Proverbs 19:15) and doesn’t want to change his lot in life. Suffice to say here, a good man helps a slothful man in ways different than he does a poor man. Paul states in 2 Thessalonians 3:10: For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either (cf. Proverbs 10:4). It is important that we not enable further lazy behavior via helping a bum like we would someone who, for whatever reason, is incapable—not unwilling—to meet his or her own needs. What follows then relates to quantifiably poor, not slothful individuals.
A. THE NECESSARY PERSPECTIVE TO HELP THE POOR
No amount of personal or governmental programs will ever eradicate those who struggle to attain the basic necessities of life. Accordingly, the complete abolition of the lowest socio-economic class in society is an unrealistic objective. Deuteronomy 15:11 states (in specific regard to Israel) that “the poor will never cease to be in the land.…” And in the present Church Age of world history, the same is true ostensibly in the United States; Jesus stated in Matthew 26:11, “For you always have the poor with you.…” The reality of never being able to completely eliminate this socio-economic stratum from society in a fallen world is a promise of Scripture. Programs regarding the poor therefore need to be addressed in terms of the best way to maintain and provide for the ongoing needs of destitute people—versus eliminating all need. Herein is a biblically informed reality: the necessary perspective to help the poor.
B. THE NECESSARY ATTITUDE TO HELP THE POOR
For a person to give all my [his] possessions to feed the poor without possessing love in his heart is quite possible. Such is the case in 1 Corinthians 13:3, wherein a person gives but does not love: And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing. Many are the legislators, staff, and lobbyists who seek for and legislate huge governmental programs to help meet the needs of the poor with taxpayer money, but in so doing have no personal love to help those who are genuinely bereft.
In Proverbs 19:17 Solomon is saying to his son Rehoboam, who would be the next leader of Israel, that there should be no disconnect! This verse indicates that charity, which should first be a personal matter of the heart, is evidenced by the use of the singular pronouns one, him and his in contrast to any Hebrew word alluding to civil government. Solomon is not instructing Rehoboam here or elsewhereto construct an elaborate governmental program to meet the needs of the poor. Instead, Rehoboam is to have a personal involvement with poor people! This standard is a model for current governmental leaders!
Nowhere in the whole of Scripture does the Bible allude to institutional government-constructed programs to meet the needs of the poor.
While Scripture does not prohibit governmental programs from helping the poor, it does instruct on personal involvement to help the poor per 19:17. While not a command, the Scripture states in principle that God will reward, specifically repay, such behavior. And, I might add, legislating governmental programs without a heart-driven personal involvement is hypocritical. Every person must personally, no matter his political affiliation, first open his heart to meet the current and ongoing needs of the poor.
C. THE NECESSARY INSTITUTION TO HELP THE POOR
The primary institutional responsibility for meeting the needs of the poor today falls to the institution of the family and then secondly to the institution of the Church—not the institution of the State (cf. 1 Timothy 5:3–16). As already stated, Solomon gives no allusions to Rehoboam of any monarchial responsibilities to meet poor people’s needs. The whole of Scripture indicates that this burden falls to God’s called out, priestly people—individually and as a whole—both in an Old and New Testament alike. More specifically note Deuteronomy 15:7 and 10 in this regard. Contextually this is a restatement of the Law of God to God’s chosen people, Israel.
“If there is a poor man with you, one of your brothers, in any of your towns in your land which the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart, nor close your hand from your poor brother… You shall generously give to him, and your heart shall not be grieved when you give to him, because for this thing the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all your undertakings.”
This passage is quite parallel to ours under study, an elaboration of the principle of Proverbs 19:17. States one leading commentator on this passage, “The attitude of the Israelites, God’s priestly people, toward the poor in their community was to be one of warmth and generosity. The poor were given whatever was necessary to meet their needs.”2 Meeting the needs of the poor was a local responsibility of God’s priestly people versus a nationalized program.
This same principle is carried forward into the NT. Note chapter six in the book of Acts. In the early formation of the first Church, the office of deacon was created in response to the needs of the poor being overlooked. The elders appointed deacons to handle the responsibility of ecclesiastical provision, indicating what institution in God’s mind is responsible to meet this need. To the same idea and as previously alluded to in 1 Timothy 5:3–16, if a widow had no personal safety net of immediate family to provide for her needs, then the responsibility for meeting her needs fell directly to the corporate Church (cf. 5:16). Lastly, 1 Peter 2:13–14 and Romans 13:1–8 serve to reveal the job description of the institution of the State. Worthy of mention is the fact that welfare responsibilities are nowhere to be found.3
Biblically, the primary functions of the State are to punish evildoers and praisethose who do good (1 Peter 2:14), not to provide for the citizenry. In this regard, the State is sanctioned by God to tax its citizenry in order to perform these two specific functions (cf. Romans 13:6; cf. 1 Samuel 8:9–18), not to provide welfare. Pragmatically speaking, the local Church is much better equipped to meet the needs of the poor than the distant State. In many cases the real needs of the poor are spiritual, not economical, and their plight stems from their character, not their environment. This is not always true but discerning the cause of poverty is deduced much more effectively by localized responsibility than national. And lastly, it is much better for a poor person to develop a dependence on the Church than on the State. The former is personal; the latter is not.
D. THE NECESSARY MOTIVATION TO HELP THE POOR
Lastly (with no claims of having exhausted all that Scripture has to say on this matter) notice that Proverbs 19:17 contains a direct and fascinating promise from God that should help to motivate a person’s personal involvement: God will repay those who give to the poor. My favorite commentator on Proverbs states regarding this passage, “Though God has a right to all, and is beholden to none, He becomes a debtor to His own.”4 Those who have a personal, manifest pity for the poor obtain great favor with God! The compassionate fall within the principle and purview of His blessing!
When you help the poor, the Lord considers it as if you were lending to Him! And He will repay!
We must realize that, in essence, helping the poor is lending to God! Further states Bridges in this regard:
Selfishness would evade the obligation under the cover of prudence. But what we give is only a loan, to be paid again, and that with such security, as can never fail. The Lord of heaven condescends to be the surety for the poor. He takes the debt upon Himself, and gives us the bond of His word in promise of payment… Here is a safe deposit in the very heart of God… The poor man’s hand is the treasury of Christ. All my superfluity shall there be hoarded up, where I know it will be safely kept, and surely returned to me.5
States Jeremy Taylor, “No man is a better merchant, that he that lays out his time upon God, and his money upon the poor.”6 The student of Scripture needs to be compelled by this truth. Paying our taxes and rationalizing that much of it goes through the government to programs to meet the needs of the poor is not enough. Scripture redounds with the necessity of personal responsibility. If a person claims to be good, per God’s definition, then that good person generously helps poor people with his own personal resources. Rest assured, a good person will receive an abundant dividend from opening a heavenly bank account wherein the doorman is a poor man. Herein is a biblical characteristic of a good man.
The third characteristic of a good man from Proverbs is the influence he has on others.
A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children, and the wealth of the sinner is stored up for the righteous (Proverbs 13:22).
Some good men have no children whosurvive them. Nonetheless, Scripture does provide many illustrations of this proverb relative to one’s posterity: Abraham’s children inherited his covenantal blessing, Caleb’s children inherited their father’s possessions, and David’s house blessed the next 17 generations. This proverb means that a good man leaves a good mark—and others greatly profit from his life’s product—spiritually, intellectually, socially, emotionally, economically, etc. The sum total of a good man ends up contributing to the needs of many others. For the most part, herein is a measurement of how good of a person you really are.
Now note the second half of this contrasting proverb: the opposite is true as well! The sum total of the habitual sinner is sure bankruptcy! And if he leaves anything that is good, God sees to it that it goes to those whom God determines deserve it. In His justice, He always (sometimes patiently) exacts full payment for all sin. His very nature requires it lest He be accused of injustice. Much more than the disquieting truth regarding the redistribution of a wicked man’s wealth is the fact that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). States Psalm 1:4–6, The wicked…are like chaff which the wind drives away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous…the way of the wicked will perish.
Proverbs 28:8 echoes the same truth of 13:22 and ties into the previous point in the outline: One who increases his possessions by usury and extortion gathers it for him who will pity the poor (NKJV). In other words, the efforts of wicked people, save perchance their blessing the righteous, eventually and surely amount to nothing for themselves. The fool in his rebellion against his Creator most assuredly will lose whatever he or she had. Job 27:16–17 further underscores the biblical primacy of this principle, “Though he piles up silver like dust and prepares garments as plentiful as the clay, he may prepare it, but the just will wear it and the innocent will divide the silver.” In fact, the biblical illustrations of wicked people’s wealth ending up in the storehouse of the righteous are numerous: Laban’s wealth ended up in Jacob’s hands (Genesis 31:1, 9, 16); the spoils of Egypt and Canaan were for Israel (Exodus 12:35, 36); and Haman’s wealth went to Esther and Mordecai (Esther 8:1, 2).
As a matter of fact, in the future millennial kingdom, the Jews will eat the riches of the Gentiles (Isaiah 61:6, KJV)! This broad biblical principle regularly occurs perhaps more than meets the eye (or than the analysis of the business section of the newspaper indicates). Ecclesiastes 2:26 is a fitting summary: For to a person who is good in His sight He has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, while to the sinner He has given the task of gathering and collecting so that he may give to one who is good in God’s sight.… What will be the sum total of your life? Will what you champion in life be used of God in the next generation, or will it disappear? The good man has a lasting influence and product.
So you will walk in the way of good men and keep to the paths of the righteous (Proverbs 2:20).
This proverb is situated in the broad context of the attributes and fruit we garner from the aggressive, passionate pursuit of God’s wisdom. As we attempt to store in our mind heavenly wisdom and cultivate in our thinking purer pleasures (in contrast to the immediate context of this passage, illicit sexual pleasure), we will gravitate toward other good people. To the contrast, people who are dispassionate about Bible studies, church, and fellowship with genuine believers telegraph their own apathy regarding personal spiritual growth. Why? Herein is a causative construction in the Hebrew (So you will…). Spiritually hungry people will be led by the indwelling Holy Spirit to walk in the way of [other] good men; they will have a propensity to gravitate toward the paths of the righteous.
This proverb underscores the truth that “like begets like.” In our aspiration for godliness, an unquenchable, natural attraction exists toward likeminded others. The internal, personal pursuit for godly living leads to great friendships with other godly, humble people. What a blessing! Unfortunately, people who lack good friends reveal much about their own heart condition. Something is seriously wrong in the hearts of those who mechanically pawn themselves off as spiritual but possess no unction to walk in the way of good men…the paths of the righteous. This passage illuminates the hypocrisy of such. Are you excited to go to Bible studies and fellowship with others? That probing question should act like a warning light on your spiritual dashboard. Biblically defined, you’re not a very good person if you don’t have godly friends.
A good man will obtain favor from the Lord, but He will condemn a man who devises evil (Proverbs 12:2).
This proverb underscores the introduction. Since goodness is a fruit of the Spirit (cf. Galatians 5:22), the good man is synonymous with one who possesses within him the Holy Spirit, i.e., someone who is truly saved. He or she then emanates the munificent (“extremely liberal in giving,very generous”) goodness of God. He or she is the almoner (“one who distributes alms”) of God’s grace in a fallen, selfish world. Accordingly, this person obtains favor from the Lord because he reflects God’s character to others. The Greek word for goodness means “moral and spiritual excellence manifested in active kindness.” Since God is so good, the maturing believer must be likewise!
Being aggressively kind then is characteristic of wise living. Are you aggressively kind to others? Notice that this is an explicit characteristic of a good wife per Proverbs 31:12, She does him good and not evil all the days of her life. In these contrasting proverbs, God condemns a man who devises evil. People who contrive evil against others are condemned already. The sting of their conscience and the violation of God’s universal principle of reaping and sowing represent the manifest present judgment upon the wicked. And in the end, in the coming day of judgment, the all-seeing, not-forgetting, extremely just Judge, the second Member of the Trinity, Jesus Christ “will be a swift witness against [them]” (Malachi 3:5b; Psalm 1:4–6). Proverbs 15:3 states in this regard, The eyes of the Lord are in every place, watching the evil and the good. Biblically defined, a good man—one with moral and spiritual excellence manifested in active kindness—receives God’s favor.
This study of Proverbs provides scintillating insights into the character and activities of the God of the universe—what He is like and how He operates. And the wise person—the one who has skill at living life for God’s glory—will know and act in accordance with all these truths. May God bless you as you seek to know Him better and study His attributes and character and live in obedience to His precepts. Amen.
1. Steven J. Lawson, Famine in the Land (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2003), 44–45.
2. The MacArthur Study Bible (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997), 272.
3. This present-day American governmental function does not stem from the Founding Fathers or from scriptural precedent. Rather, it was conceived much later by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
4. Charles Bridges, Commentary on Proverbs (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2007), 321.
6. Jeremy Taylor, Holy Living, chapter 1.