Even those with little intention of reading the Bible are familiar with the line about it being “easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven”; Matthew 19: 24 has been one of the most quoted lines of scripture in the whole of Christianity (with the possible exception of the Catholic church, but let’s not get into that right now). However, does the whole of Christianity really understand the true meaning of what Jesus was saying when He told the disciples this information, just after turning away a rich man who was reluctant to give up his true love (that being his wealth and personal possessions) to follow Christ?
God tells us, “He that loveth silver shall not be satisfied with silver; nor he that loveth abundance with increase: this is also vanity.” (Ecclesiastes 5: 10) When the Bible talks about ‘riches’, it refers not just to money, but to anything that we may have in abundance: an abundance of food prevents empathy with those who have none. The same principle could be applied to those with an abundance of friends, good looks, strength, or even health. Having too much of any of these things bears the danger of giving us one less area of our lives that we’re willing to hand over completely to God. Any of them could equally inflate your pride to the point where you believe God places more importance on your own happiness than on your obedience to His plan.
Around May/ June is an interesting time for graduating students, as they find out things such as dissertation results and overall degree classifications. This year, it was drawn to my attention how many of my Christian friends would give glory to God for getting the best grades. I looked at all the proud messages of people passing with flying colours and a part of me wanted to warn them to be careful, because they were in danger of becoming like the rich man (this was of course inevitably drowned out by the part of me that was happy for them). I wonder whether those same Christians, who display amazing academic abilities, would happily give up all of their qualifications and awards if God requested that they do so to follow Him on a very different path?
This has been a major challenge for me as well, as I graduated like many other people, with a good degree, and yes, I do thank God wholeheartedly for the gift of the opportunities and knowledge that He has blessed me with. But I have also tasted failure in the past, and it’s usually only in retrospect that we’re able to look back and be equally thankful for those times. After all, it is said that we learn more about ourselves when we fail than when we succeed. This is especially true for Christians in their walk with God; how can we know the strength of our faith if it is never tested? How can we be truly thankful for the times that go right for us in the most selfish of ways, unless we know what it is to be without?
For every aspect of your life in which you can acknowledge that you have privilege in, it is important that a) you give God the exclusive glory for it, b) you use your financial/ intellectual/ physical advantage for His purposes rather than your own, and c) you realise that this makes you no better than those who appear not to have been blessed with the same gifts. They could be superior to you in many other ways that are not as apparent to the naked eye.
I ask you; how can a Christian who has grown up popular among their peers possibly claim to have empathy with someone who has suffered bullying from an early age? How can one blessed with loving parents to help fund their dreams know the feeling of becoming homeless and seeing those dreams crash down around you? How can a brunette possibly know what it’s like to be ginger?
Okay, maybe that last one’s pushing it a bit. Nevertheless, I believe those who have less are actually more blessed by God (“Better is a little with righteousness than great revenues without right” – Proverbs 16: 8), and perhaps, in their humbleness, are more likely to be called to do great things for Him. Luke 16: 10 says, “He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much; and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much.”
Only Jesus, of course, is in a position to say he feels empathy with everyone’s situation, no matter what it may be. He took it ALL on the cross, everything, and even Christians find it hard grasping this: that’s why we must endlessly go on about it. By taking all of our sin, he also took the emotional effects of that sin. He felt how we have felt at the worst moments of our lives. He felt our anger, our sorrow, our fear. It affected Him to the extent that before going to the cross, he even asked God to take the cup of suffering that awaited Him. But what set Jesus apart (or at least, one of the many things that set him apart) was his obedience to God’s plan, even when it meant going forth to His own destruction.
Whatever things you have in abundance in your life (whether it be money, loved ones, good academic grades, or even something as simple as extreme personal hygiene), you must be prepared to walk away from all of it in order to serve God. Only in exceptional cases would He ask you to do so, but (and this theme will come up again during the week) what God cares about is your willingness to do so. Saying it out loud is enough to satisfy other Christians, but God sees what’s in the deepest parts of your heart; He just wants to know that He is the most important thing to you. Once you realise that, you also realise that the amount of earthly riches you have is totally insignificant in comparison with what God offers you: salvation, and freedom from the shackles that bind you to this world. The only thing that’s going to keep those shackles on is your desire for them to stay.