Do We Favor the Rich?

Day 11 | Today’s passage: James 2:5-7 | Historical context of James

5 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? 6 But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? 7 Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong?

In the finance industry where I work, most dream to be rich. Most would therefore prioritize serving the rich over serving the poor because richer clients have more investable assets and can generate more revenue for the firm. It makes perfect business sense to serve the high-net worth. Conversely, that also means it’s a waste of time looking out for the poor client who may be in need but cannot benefit us much.

In the secular world, money talks.

This issue is magnified when we, as believers, live by this principle not just in the business setting, but also in our everyday lives. How many of us are guilty of showing preferential treatment towards the rich because of their socio-economic status? Why do we do so? Could it be that we’ve put our dependency on earthly riches instead of God?
As Matthew 6:21 says, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Noting this phenomenon among the early church, James presents two reasons why preferring the rich is actually irrational. One, God is especially concerned for the poor and has chosen them to be rich in faith and to enjoy full rights and privileges in His kingdom (v. 5). So, favoritism to the rich is wrong because it contrasts with the attitude of God.
Second, James pointed out to his readers that the rich were the very ones oppressing them (v. 6)—they exploited the church, filed lawsuits against believers, and blasphemed Jesus.

Times have not changed much today.
As we look at the extent of poverty, we can see that this is sometimes due, at least in part, to the exploitation and hoarding of resources by the wealthy. Many of the people suing others in court are also likely to be the powerful and the rich, as they are the ones who are able to hire the services of highly paid lawyers. And as we observe in some parts of the developed world, it’s the rich and powerful who openly show their disdain for the church and Christ.

Why then do we honor those who pit themselves against God?

This is not to say that all rich people are evil and that we should treat them unfavorably. Rather, I think James is making the point that it is inconsistent and absurd to despise our fellow poor believers and honor rich unbelievers instead.

Perhaps the next time we see ourselves showing favoritism to the rich, let us ask ourselves honestly: Why am I treating the rich better? Are not the poor people who have suffered under the rich also deserving of equal treatment as the rich?

—Melvin Ho, Singapore

Questions for reflection

1. How have I shown preferential treatment to rich individuals at the expense of my own brothers and sisters in Christ?

2. How does today’s passage change the way I should view the poor and the rich?

Hand-lettering by Rachel Tu

While not an avid reader and writer, Melvin likes to explore questions people have about the Christian faith and Scripture, and discover the best answer to them. He realizes however, that sometimes he may be thinking too much for his own good, and needs to spend more time putting God’s Word into practice. Among his goals now are to learn godliness with contentment, love people equally without favoritism, and put their needs above his own. In his free time, he likes to run, watch Manchester United football games, and catch inspirational movies. Secretly, he hopes God can use his life as a missionary one day, fingers crossed.

Read 30-day James Devotional

Christmas Can Be a Time of Loneliness

The Christmas season sometimes feels like an incredibly lonely one for me, and listening in on other people’s exciting holiday plans makes things worse.

“Am I the only one doomed to be spending Christmas holed up in Auckland with my family?” I think.

While there is nothing wrong with hanging out with my family, I’m envious of my friends and work mates, with their plans for travelling out of town to visit grandparents and long-lost relatives, or spending time with close friends. I envision them piling into the car, their trunk filled with luggage and presents, as they drive out of Auckland, away for a fabulous time.

As for me, my Christmas holidays usually involve four long days of doing nothing, apart from sleeping in, watching DVDs, and attending church on Christmas morning. Furthermore, with all the shops closed on Christmas Day, the feeling of isolation and loneliness has a way of seeping into my spirit.

There are no relatives for my family to visit, as all of my extended family had stayed on in Malaysia when my family moved to New Zealand almost two decades ago. So Christmas is usually a very quiet affair spent with my parents and my sister.

Many years ago, when Christmas cards were still sent and received, I would line our window sill with cards in a bid to keep our living room cheerful. But upon closer inspection, you’d see the cards were mainly from local businesses, real estate agents, and the church. A few would be from friends.

We also had a Christmas tree, and while it wasn’t a tree that would win awards, we did our best to decorate it with red and gold baubles, wooden soldiers, and angels. If you looked under the tree, however, you’d find presents that looked like they had been hastily stuffed back inside their wrapping, with torn corners and curling cellophane. Some were just props—empty boxes wrapped in colorful paper. The presents with the torn edges were my birthday gifts (my birthday is four days before Christmas, so I do get a few 2-in-1 gifts), which I had opened only to rewrap them for the tree.

My family doesn’t quite do Christmas the way other families might—big sumptuous lunches, buying gifts for one another, decking our house in fairy lights and various Christmas decorations. So I guess that’s what makes our Christmases feel so woeful and lonely.

Occasionally, my family does get invited for a Christmas gathering at a friend’s home. It involves each family bringing a meal to share and a present for Secret Santa. Can I tell you how much I dread these gatherings? I’ve never been keen on hanging out with people I have never clapped eyes on, and working my plastic cutlery into overcooked barbecued meats. And then there’s the Secret Santa gift exchange, which often feels like a dumping ground for cheap unwanted goods or cast-offs. If you’re lucky, you’d walk away with a box of chocolates.

So yes, Christmas for me is pretty so-so. However, my thoughts and attitude towards my so-called lonely Christmas changed after I saw firsthand what a lonely Christmas truly looked like.

A lonely Christmas is the individual I packed a gift box for as part of my church’s year-end community event, where we gave to people who would otherwise not receive a present. I remember my pastor telling us to buy something we thought they would need, something they would like, and a Christmas decoration. For my chosen individual, I bought a pair of new pajamas, an autobiography by the late All Blacks rugby player, Fred the Needle (even had the book signed), and a Christmas bauble.

A lonely Christmas is the vulnerable woman who had broken away from an abusive relationship. But she was grateful for the gift of basic toiletries such as bath soap, toothbrush, and toothpaste, along with a gift for her child.

A lonely Christmas is the family struggling to pay their bills, resorting to their local food bank to see them through the season, and most likely not being able to give presents to their children.

A lonely Christmas is the young mum who desperately wants a food hamper filled with washing detergent, toilet paper, and canned food.

I believe if we were to ask Jesus what Christmas should be about, He would say it’s the time to care for the widows and the orphans (James 1:27).

For Jesus, I believe it’ll be about taking the time to reach out to people who otherwise might not have anyone to spend Christmas with. Last year, my sister and I invited a friend whose parents live in a different town, over for a Christmas lunch and gift-giving.

It was a small gathering of three, but we had Christmas foods like mini-pavlovas and a bottle of sparkling juice. We also tried our hand at deep-frying a pork dish—the oil went all over the kitchen and cleaning it was a mess. There was nothing extravagant about the Christmas lunch and the presents exchanged were hardly excessive, but it was probably one of my best Christmas memories.

After my eye-opening experience of what a truly lonely Christmas means for various individuals, I have since made it a habit to buy presents for my local charity.

Christmas can be a time of loneliness for certain individuals, but I believe when we reach out to them with love and compassion, we are also bringing with us a little bit of Jesus into their lives.

ODJ: devouring the poor

July 24, 2015 

READ: Proverbs 30:7-14 

Give me just enough to satisfy my needs (v.8).

In great cities,” noted Nathaniel Hawthorne, “it is unfortunately the case, that the poor are compelled to be the neighbours and fellow-lodgers of the vicious.” Hawthorne was writing about the slums of early 19th century London, but his observation is timeless. Those among us who lack money tend to congregate in neighbourhoods marred by crime and human exploitation.

It seems a harsh rule of life that the evil and manipulative prey upon the disadvantaged and naive. It seems even harsher that the strong oppress the weak.

A mysterious ancient sage known only as Agur wrote about such predators: “They have teeth like swords and fangs like knives. They devour the poor from the earth and the needy from among humanity” (Proverbs 30:14).

A particularly uncomfortable truth is that the poor as well as the predators come from the ranks of us! Agur surely sensed this hard reality. Perhaps that’s why he preceded his observation about human oppression with a candid admission of his own struggle for balance. He prayed, “Give me neither poverty nor riches! Give me just enough to satisfy my needs. For if I grow rich, I may deny you and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’ And if I am too poor, I may steal and thus insult God’s holy name” (vv.8-9).

—Tim Gustafson

365-day-plan: Matthew 17:24–18:6

Read Matthew 5:38-48 from the Sermon on the Mount. 
How have you been reflecting God’s heart for the poor and needy? What are three ways you can help make your neighbourhood a better place? 

(Check out Our Daily Journey website!)

ODJ: leftovers

July 9, 2013 

READ: Deuteronomy 24:19-21 

There will always be some in the land who are poor. That is why I am commanding you to share freely with the poor and with other Israelites in need (15:11).

According to a study released in August 2012,Americans throw away 40 percent of their food every year, valued at roughly $165 billion annually. The average American throws away 240 pounds (110 kg) of edibles per person every year. Just a 15 percent reduction in this amount would feed 25 million people annually.

God promised to bless the Israelites if they would simply obey Him. They would always have had enough food to eat (Leviticus 26:3-5; Deuteronomy 28:1-8). In the midst of their plenty, however, the Israelites were told to deliberately “waste food”: “When you are harvesting your crops and forget to bring in a bundle of grain from your field, don’t go back to get it” (Deuteronomy 24:19). “Do not strip every last bunch of grapes from the vines, and do not pick up the grapes that fall to the ground” (Leviticus 19:10). Why the deliberate waste?

The Jews were to leave some of the food “for the foreigners, orphans and widows” so that the poor and the vulnerable would not go hungry (Deuteronomy 24:19). God reminded them of the hunger that their ancestors had experienced as slaves in Egypt (v.22).

Today, one out of every seven people is starving(925 million total). Sharing food with them should include not wasting it ourselves and sharing our abundance with the poor. God’s solution to hungry stomachs is the generous hearts and open hands of those who believe in Him (15:4-11).

“Feed Me,” Jesus tells us. But we ask, “Lord, when did we ever see You hungry and feed You?” “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to Me!’ ” (Matthew 25:35-40).—K.T. Sim
Mark 4:1-29 ‹

Read Deuteronomy 15 to see how God wants us to care for the poor, needy and vulnerable in the world. What’s one thing you can do for people such as these? 
What can you do to lessen the wasting of food? How can you help to feed the hungry in your community?  

(Check out Our Daily Journey website!)