Do Not Despise the Man of Little Means
HOW would you react if a friend, an average worker of modest means, returned from a vacation driving a $20,000 luxury automobile? West Germany’s auto club wanted to know how people would respond to such a sudden showy display by someone really unable to afford a very expensive car. So, for three weeks it furnished an auto of this type for a middle-income computer programmer who had been driving a small station wagon. He lived in a lower-middle-class neighborhood of Munich and initially gave no explanation to neighbors, relatives and fellow employees.
Some of the man’s acquaintances became annoyed. Others were suspicious. But there were other reactions too. For instance, a resort hotel that was ‘booked up,’ according to a telephone inquiry, strangely located a room for these people when they drove up in the high-priced car. Also, a doorman who formerly had motioned their little auto away from a loading zone outside a luxury hotel raised no objection at all when they parked the expensive, showy automobile there.
Yes, people reacted in varying ways during this experiment. There is no question, however, that some were influenced by seeming wealth. They were ready to give special consideration to persons thought to be rich.
ESTIMATING A PERSON’S VALUE
But, please think about your own attitude. How do you estimate an individual’s value? Do you feel that you can assess a man’s worth by what he possesses? Before you answer, put yourself in this position: Suppose you were part of the privileged generation living in the Roman province of Judea during the first century of our Common Era. They had the opportunity to identify the Messiah sent by Jehovah God for the redemption of mankind. (John 3:16) Those Judeans had the Messiah in their midst, and their hope of attaining everlasting life depended upon their being able to discern the superior qualities that clearly distinguished him from all other men.
Likely, most of the Jews thought that the Messiah could be only a man of great wealth and power. How they despised Jesus, that “nobody” from Nazareth! They knew him only as the son of a lowly carpenter, Joseph, who had to struggle as a common laborer just to provide necessities for his family. (Matt. 13:55) Yet Jesus was anointed with God’s holy spirit at his baptism when thirty years of age. (Matt. 3:13-17) And those accepting Jesus as the Messiah, God’s anointed, had to put their confidence in a man of little means. In fact, rather than possessing riches, land and houses, he had “nowhere to lay down his head.”—Luke 9:58.
Despite overwhelming evidence, even miracles, proving that Jesus was the Messiah, his contemporaries largely found no good in him and condemned him to a disgraceful death with common criminals. (John 12:37) That was a final expression of contempt for a man they regarded as having nothing of value for the benefit of others. If you were there, would you have scoffed at Jesus, as did the majority? Or, would you have discerned his worth and come to be counted among his disciples?
Clearly, it is not wise to estimate a person’s worth on the basis of his possessions. The acquisition of wealth does not automatically mean that a man has acquired skill, sound judgment or ability to take the lead. Many rich people simply inherited their wealth. Hence, it tells nothing about their abilities or experience. And how many times have you heard about unethical or dishonest business schemes used by certain rich persons to increase their wealth? Indeed, how often flagrant violation of the law goes unpunished when wealth is used to tip the scales of justice! So, to assume that a rich person is to be respected and honored simply because of his wealth leads to a distorted, unrealistic view of others.
The converse also is true. A man’s lack of wealth does not mean that he is a failure. He may prefer to live modestly. It may be his choice to avoid the anxiety and frustration accompanying the pursuit of material things. Or, he may be in poor health, limiting his earning power. Perhaps he is unjustly discriminated against because of race or nationality. His modest income in business might reflect his unwillingness to use shrewd or questionable practices to beat the competition. He may place a premium on the well-being of his family, preferring to spend time with them rather than making more money to spend on them. So, a man’s lack of wealth does not prove that he lacks competence or ability.
Why, then, are most people inclined to give preference and honor to the wealthy, even as some did during the automobile experiment cited earlier? Well, being sinners, humans are inclined toward selfishness. A Bible proverb says: “One who is of little means is an object of hatred, but many are the friends of the rich person.” (Prov. 14:20) The wealthy man is able to bestow gifts and favors. So there are always those who will seek his company and address him with flattering words, even though they are insincere. But what happens if his wealth suddenly disappears? Most of his “friends” soon disappear too. When his money is gone, who seeks his friendship? Hence, if we find ourselves inclined to cater to those with great material means, remember the age-old tendency to flatter the rich for selfish advantage. Using “flattering speech” or “a false front for covetousness” cannot be harmonized with godliness.—1 Thess. 2:5.
WHAT IS GOD’S VIEWPOINT?
Does wealth make a difference in Jehovah God’s eyes? Can we offer him anything of value that he does not already possess? Absolutely not! Since he “made the world and all the things in it,” he rightly claims ownership of all wealth that exists. (Ps. 50:7-12; Acts 17:24) Any attempt to buy God’s favor without honesthearted, godly works is nothing more than a bribe. But “with Jehovah our God there is no unrighteousness or partiality or taking of a bribe.” (2 Chron. 19:7) Wealth gives no advantage in judgment by God.
At the same time, poverty is no hindrance. The poor need not fear that their lowly status disqualifies them for God’s goodwill. Psalm 69:33 assures that “Jehovah is listening to the poor ones.” In God’s sight, there is nothing that preferentially distinguishes the rich from the poor. “The rich one and the one of little means have met each other. The Maker of them all is Jehovah.” (Prov. 22:2) In rendering judgment, Jehovah does not examine pocketbooks. He is “searching the heart . . . to give to each one according to his ways.”—Jer. 17:10.
Jesus Christ views matters exactly as his Father does. Christ invited all to come to him for spiritual refreshment, whether rich or poor, young or old, bond or free. (Matt. 11:28) Both rich and poor benefited from his teaching and miracles. The richest received no more or no less than the poorest. All were given opportunity to hear and to respond to the good news, and Jesus taught them to love their neighbors as themselves.—Matt. 22:39.
Since most of the wealthy ignored Jesus, the poor and lowly benefited most from his time and attention. He condemned the hypocritical scribes and Pharisees because they greedily demanded the best for themselves. (Matt. 23:2-7) Also, he would tolerate no attempt by any of his disciples to gain prominence over the others.
SHOWING HONOR TO ONE ANOTHER
If we are to be judged favorably by Jehovah God, we must deal fairly and impartially with others. “He that is holding the one of little means in derision has reproached his Maker,” whereas “the one showing favor to the poor one is glorifying Him.” (Prov. 17:5; 14:31) Jehovah rewards those showing consideration for others in need, and “he that is giving to the one of little means will have no want.” (Prov. 28:27) Our worship can have little meaning if we make “partial distinctions” that downgrade others.—Jas. 3:17.
Consequently, Christians happily share the good news of God’s kingdom with all who will listen. They are just as willing to visit humble homes in the poorest neighborhood as they are to go to the imposing residences of the well-to-do. Each individual is viewed as one among the many for whom Jesus gave his life. (Matt. 20:28) Any who demonstrate sheeplike qualities are entitled to all the spiritual provisions made by the Christian congregation.
Inside the congregation, there is no place for acts of favoritism. In the first century C.E., those showing favoritism to the rich were soundly denounced as practicing something sinful. (Jas. 2:1-9) Both the lowly and the rich should receive spiritual attention and care without partiality.—Lev. 19:15.
Those of little means are an integral part of the congregation. Hence, they should not be made to feel that they are ‘left out’ because some clique exists among certain ones. “Poor people” were among those whom Jesus recommended inviting to a feast as a demonstration of genuine hospitality. (Luke 14:12-14) And naturally, if some Christians have acquired material things that certain fellow believers cannot afford, the affluent ones will not make ‘a showy display of their means of life.’—1 John 2:16.
So, how do you estimate a man’s worth? Look closely at what he is and not at what he has. Measure him by his success in cultivating Christian qualities. Is he a man who fears Jehovah? (Ps. 111:10) Does he have strong faith? (Heb. 10:38, 39) Is he hospitable? (Rom. 12:13) Does he show kindness and willingness to forgive others? (Eph. 4:32) Is he known for truthful, wholesome speech? (Eph. 4:29; Titus 2:6-8) Does the person display the love that was to identify Christ’s disciples? (John 13:35) Surely, this is the kind of person you should want as your friend!