Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Avoid favouritism: Who the poor are

We should avoid favouritism because of who the poor are. We shouldn’t show prejudice because it mocks God’s choice.
Proverbs 14:31 says “He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their maker”, but in James it is even worse. James says if you dishonour the poor, you are ignoring the status that God has decided to give them. Look at verse 5. “Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of this world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?” The reference here is clearly to poor believers. James reminds the small messianic communities of where their status come from. It doesn’t come from the eyes the rich or the powerful. They don’t need to feel insecure. Their status comes from God, who has chosen them to inherit his kingdom. Who are we to mock his choice of the poor?
Dishonouring the poor and sucking up to the rich also ignores God’s gospel strategy. Paul puts it like this in 1 Corinthians 1:26 “ Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were influential, not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of this world to shame the wise, God chose the weak things of this world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things, the despised things- the things that are not to shame the things that are, that no-one may boast before him.”
Do you see God’s strategy? In his choice of those without status, God shows those with status that status counts for nothing in God’s sight. It’s only when the rich and powerful realize this that they can abandon the arrogance and vested interest that prevent them from having right relationship with God and with other people. (stolen from Bauckhams 'Bible and Mission')
Is that our strategy? Is that the kind of thing we mean when we say we need to 'think startegically' about ministry? Reach the weak and foolish to shame the strong? Over the course of 2000yrs, the church has often been tempted with a different strategy, reach the powerful and wise of this world in order to be strong.
So we have had this strategy of reaching University students because they are wealthy and bright, in the hope that they will be the leaders of our churches and the good stuff will trickle down into the rest of church and society. It hasn’t worked, instead we have churches that are very attractive and good for university educated, middle class people, and not much good at reaching everyone else.
But more disturbing than the fact it hasn’t worked, is the fact that it is exactly the opposite of Gods strategy here in James and in 1 Corinthians. Setting up your church for the wealthy mocks God’s choice and his strategy.

nb. University ministry is a good, good thing. And necessary. But it needs to keep a check on its language about its own strategic value, to make sure it is chastened by the Gospel.

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