A while back my pastor asked me to take his place in a ministry that he is involved in outside the church. I would share the gospel with some homeless men at a shelter and then feed them pizza. So I prepared a short sermon and as I was about to leave, I was reminded of a teaching from the book “When Helping Hurts.” The point of the teaching was that material wealth and spiritual wealth may not go hand in hand. Sometimes the most spiritually wealthy are those who have no material wealth. So, instead of going into sermon mode, I went into question mode and asked them to respond to the teachings I would have used for the sermon. I got schooled that night as these men answered questions in ways that I had not imagined. Their answers were in accord with Scripture. They wanted to discuss every point and every question – and they did…at length. Normally the preaching time would be about 20 minutes – the discussion we had lasted about 45 minutes or longer. They kept it going even though they knew that food was waiting at the end. They showed true spiritual wealth that night, and I was reminded of how spiritually poor I could be.
The early church had a problem with favoritism. Perhaps unwittingly, those who showed up who were materially wealthy were given special consideration. Maybe it’s a natural response. Maybe it started when a master came in to find out why his slave had changed so much. For whatever reason, the materially wealthy folks seemed like a “good catch” and in their rush to court favor, people often overlooked those who were materially poor. James fought against this and tried to remind those in the church that they were honoring the people who were oppressing them while dishonoring people who were being oppressed. Then he reminded his fellow believers that God worked through people who were materially poor. “Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?” (James 2:5)
It is natural to defer to people who are materially wealthy. Sometimes it’s the aura they project that seems to put them on a higher level that people who don’t have a lot of material resources. In a world that uses money as the measure of a man, those who are materially wealthy seem to have things together a lot more than someone who just couldn’t make it. When E.F. Hutton speaks, people listen. Yet, E.F. Hutton went the way of all companies and got swallowed up by a corporate conglomerate. When people depend on their wealth, they often lose dependence on God. I think this is the problem that James is dealing with. How can these people who are materially wealthy and have never had to depend on God for daily sustenance understand God like someone who has had to depend on Him for their daily existence?
I have traveled to a couple of different countries to share the gospel. I discovered fairly quickly that all of my “knowledge” didn’t help a whole lot in a different culture. I had to learn to adapt and listen to those who lived there and followed Christ. While many in my church saw me as spiritually rich because I was willing to take such a journey, I soon realized that I was spiritually poor and needed to learn from those who were truly spiritually wealthy. The message of James isn’t to hate people because of their financial status or to incite class warfare; he does remind us not to show favoritism in the church.
Lord, it’s so easy to defer to people we admire, and dare I say it, idolize, because of their financial status. Teach me to treat all people with the love that You have for them.
Sorry so late today…personal and family issues!