Seeing past the labels

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Robin Leach, best known for a program on TV that aired in the 1980’s, Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, died last week. He entertained by giving people a look at celebrities and their wealth, his signature line being about “champagne wishes and caviar dreams.”  He made himself rich by playing to the American obsession with money.  Is that really a new thing?  Not at all.  Wealth has always attracted the attention of others – as far back as we can track history!

Money creates an illusion of ‘good’ and makes a person desirable in the eyes of most.

James asks those who love Jesus to think differently.  He says, My dear friends, don’t let public opinion influence how you live out our glorious, Christ-originated faith. If a man enters your church wearing an expensive suit, and a street person wearing rags comes in right after him, and you say to the man in the suit, “Sit here, sir; this is the best seat in the house!” and either ignore the street person or say, “Better sit here in the back row,” haven’t you segregated God’s children and proved that you are judges who can’t be trusted?

Listen, dear friends. Isn’t it clear by now that God operates quite differently? He chose the world’s down-and-out as the kingdom’s first citizens, with full rights and privileges. This kingdom is promised to anyone who loves God. And here you are abusing these same citizens! Isn’t it the high and mighty who exploit you, who use the courts to rob you blind? Aren’t they the ones who scorn the new name—“Christian”—used in your baptisms? You do well when you complete the Royal Rule of the Scriptures: “Love others as you love yourself.” (James 2:1-8, The Message)

We say we are not impressed by the label on clothes or the kind of car she drives, but too often our glance tells a differently story.  Admitting that we treat persons with wealth differently  than the poor is a tough thing. When we look at that bias in the light of day it is ugly and shallow, isn’t it?  The lie that a person of wealth is a superior person creeps up on us, resulting in favoritism and discrimination. Those first generation Christians let it happen in their churches and Pastor James told them to knock it off for Christ’s sake!

He is not just asking Christians to be ‘nice.’  We may do kind things for those we see as ‘different’ all while keeping them a distance, our kindness coming from sympathy rather than true love.  James invites us to be completely different, changed from the heart by the Holy Spirit.  We need the eyes of Jesus, the ability to see others not for their color, clothes, or attractiveness; but for their heart and character.

This is not just sentimental or idealistic. Loving all, the ‘royal law’ in James’ words, is the basic trait of those who know Jesus.  (He does not address it, but there can be a similar response in the poor who let caricatures about the rich cause bias as well.  That is equally offensive to our Father because it leads to giving value to a person solely based on first impressions and external appearance.)

Paul came at the problem of discrimination this way. In our word from the Word he reminds us that entrance into God’s love is not found in noble birth, high position, or personal wealth.  “Remember, dear brothers and sisters, that few of you were wise in the world’s eyes or powerful or wealthy when God called you. Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important. As a result, no one can ever boast in the presence of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:26-29, NLT)

Let pray for release from our prejudice, for a new and honest way of living.   Pray that you will choose to live God’s way! “True godliness with contentment is itself great wealth. . . . people who long to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction.” (1 Timothy 6:6-10, NLT)

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