I don’t know about you, but the one social group that I struggle with having compassion for is the rich and famous. Who feels sorry for someone with more money than they know what to do with?
It’s easy to identify with children (all of us have had one or been one, and besides, they mostly are pretty adorable); with the sick (we’ve all suffered with ill health at some point in our lives); with social outcasts (who doesn’t have at least one “black sheep” in their family). But unless we are rich or famous ourselves, we really don’t have any idea what they struggle with.
In order to understand the rich and famous, we must come to terms with our own relationship with money and fame. It seems we either despise the excessively wealthy or come under a lovestruck spell when we’re around them. This week we’ll see how Jesus interacted with this class. We’ll see how He treated:
- the rich young ruler
Memory Text: “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows” I Timothy 6:10 NKJV
Not money, but the love of money, has caused many to lose their faith. And that would include all of us, regardless of financial standing. How does greed do this? And what sorrows could millionaires possibly have? Indeed, who among us would feel sorrow over winning the lottery (forgetting all the tens of thousands of poor people who supplied you with your newly found wealth)?
We all need to take another look at our attitudes about wealth or the lack of it, and try to see the world from an unfamiliar perspective–the eyes of the rich and famous.
Sunday: Richly Blessed
Before we’re ready to throw out all rich people in a barrel marked as unsaved, let’s remember that several faithful people in the Bible were also wealthy. Some of them were:
- Abraham (“had flocks, and herds, and tents…their substance was great” Gen. 13:5, 6)
- Joseph (Pharaoh “made him ruler over all the land of Egypt.” Gen. 41:43)
- Job (“His substance also was…a very great household; so that this man was the greatest of all the men of the east.” Job 1:3)
We can name many others who were wealthy, but also spiritually minded. How did they keep their connection with God? Deuteronomy 8:17, 18 probably has the key:
“And thou say in thine heart, My power and the might of mine hand hath gotten me this wealth. But thou shalt remember the Lord thy God: for it is he that giveth thee power to get wealth, that he may establish his covenant which he sware unto thy fathers, as it is this day.” KJV
So there’s our first hint of a challenge for rich people. They, of all people, must struggle with humility and pride, and often it’s done inwardly (“in thine heart”). They might look like a great philanthropist on the outside, but inside can be a different matter.
No matter how riches were earned or not earned, the rich and famous not only feel disconnected with other humans, but with God Himself. What happens to the most important business contract they are ever invited to invest in–their contract with God?
Discussion Questions: What are your attitudes toward someone richer, much richer, than you are? How can we learn to see wealthy persons the same as everyone else, as souls needing a Savior?
Why does God bless only a few with riches, causing the rest of us to struggle from paycheck to paycheck?
Should some riches not be considered blessings–like those from stolen goods? Are lottery winnings a blessing from God? Why or why not?
Monday: Nighttime Rendezvous
The first and perhaps the only personal interchange between Nicodemus and Jesus happened in the darkness of night. The event immediately preceding this meaningful visit was when Jesus overturned the moneychangers’ tables in the temple. Also, Jesus statement about destroying and building the temple again in three days must have mystified Nicodemus, who had revered the temple all his life.
Jesus’ conversation (John 3:1-15) consisted of a tender entreaty for the personal necessity of being born again. The Jews didn’t see themselves as needing conversion, but this new thought seed didn’t bring results that night. However, Nicodemus boldly came to the front by defending the new church after Jesus’ crucifixion.
Discussion Questions: What are some of the things that money can’t buy? [peace, contentment, meaningful relationships, purpose and meaning in life, etc.]
What makes it harder for someone with money to have these things?
Tuesday: Rich and INfamous
Now here’s a class that gets a double whammy. Not only are people turned off because of their wealth, but the bad press hasn’t earned this individual any popularity contests either. Who is going to want to reach these souls with the gospel?
Well, Jesus did. He looked right up into the sycamore tree and into Zacchaeus’s heart. Then, just like asking the woman at the well for a drink, He invited Himself over for dinner. The result was a powerful conversion story.
Matthew, another unpopular tax collector, even became one of Jesus’ disciples and wrote one of the Gospels in the New Testament. Both of these conversions should tell us two things:
- that we should be careful about making spiritual judgments of people, even when we think we know all about them
- that all of us are equal before God in that we all need Jesus and His righteousness in our lives
Discussion Question: Think of some well-known, but despised, people in our culture today. If you had a chance to witness to that individual, could you, and what would you say? [examples, Martha Stewart, Bernie Madoff, Paris Hilton, Charlie Sheen, Lance Armstrong, etc.]
Wednesday: Gold-plated Message
The Bible has many admonitions about hoarding and the proper use of wealth. Becoming familiar with them can equip us in our discipleship efforts with the rich and famous. They also pertain to our own financial affairs. We must make sure we practice what we teach.
- Mark 4:18, 19 “Now these are the ones sown among thorns; they are the ones who hear the word, and the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things entering in choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.” NKJV
- Luke 1:51-53 “He has shown strength with His arm; He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He has put down the mighty from their thrones. And exalted the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, And the rich He has sent away empty.” NKJV
- Luke 12:16-21 “Then He spake a parable to them, saying: ‘The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully. And he thought within himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?’. So he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.” But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?'” NKJV
- Luke 16:13 “‘No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon [money].'” NKJV
Discussion Questions: How are we all caught up in some of the same traps as the wealthy?
- Do the cares of this world make us unfruitful?
- Are we proud of our accomplishments in life?
- Do we need more and more room to store our “treasures”?
- Do our perceived needs come before the Lord’s work?
Thursday: Terms of Endangerment
Matthew 19:16-26 tells the rather sad story of a rich young ruler who came to Jesus, asking what he might do to have eternal life. Jesus first reminded him that only God was good, but that keeping the ten commandments was needed for eternal life.
Tailoring the rest of His answer to the young man’s needs, Jesus instructs him to sell all he has and come and follow Him. Before we think too negatively of his decision to turn away, remember that even the young ruler went away sorrowfully.
The disciples were further instructed that although it is hard for the wealthy to be saved, with God all things are possible.
Discussion Questions: Is anyone beyond the reach of God? How does this impact our responsibility to disciple every child of God?
In light of I Corinthians 13:3 (“And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.” NKJV), why does Jesus ask this individual to give all he has to the poor? What benefit is there in the sharing of our wealth?
Summary: “Riches and worldly honor cannot satisfy the soul. Many among the rich are longing for some divine assurance, some spiritual hope. Many long for something that will bring to an end the monotony of their aimless lives. Many in official life feel their need of something which they have not. Few among them go to church; for they feel that they receive little benefit. The teaching they hear does not touch the heart. Shall we make no personal appeal to them?” ~Ellen G. White, The Ministry of Healing, p. 210.
- Make two lists of your own blessings from God (one for the tangible and one for the intangible ones), and thank Him specifically for each one.
- Concentrate this week on being a faithful steward of all God’s blessings. (i.e. be a smarter consumer, recycle, clean out your garage, work on the family budget, increase your offerings at church)
- Work on your attitudes toward the rich and famous. Try to picture them in ordinary environments, remembering that they are just human, like the rest of us.
- Identify the socially elite in your community–the doctors, lawyers, city councilmen, etc.–and think about some ways for you or your church to reach them with the gospel.
Next week: Discipling the Powerful