by Rod D. Martin
February 28, 2016
Matthew 19:24 is a hard passage. Most pastors get it right, explaining that when Jesus says “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven,” He is not condemning the rich so much as He is debunking the common Jewish belief at the time that wealth was a sign not just of God’s material blessing but of His spiritual favor also. Everyone, Jesus taught, equally needs grace.
Even so, there’s more to it than just that. And it directly affects you, your church and society as a whole.
For many wealthier people, it really is more difficult to receive Christ. And the main reason for this – the one I’ve never heard a missions conference consider – is that rich men are one of the world’s least-reached people groups.
Now as soon as I say that, most people are either stumped or say something derogatory (which is to say, covetous). In both cases they demonstrate my point. Or to put that another way, how many billionaires (or even local bankers) have you personally witnessed to? How many do you even know?
For most believers, it is far easier to fly to Africa on a missions trip than it would be to visit the CEO of Apple or the owner of the Miami Dolphins. It’s also a lot less scary.
This works in both directions. It is true that the very rich are often seduced by the illusion of their own self-sufficiency (“the deceit of riches”), not that this isn’t also true of plenty of middle class housewives. But more important for this discussion, the very successful generally believe that others should (or should not) be listened to in proportion to their own successes.
That success does not have to be monetary, but it does have to be real. A great painter can be (and usually is) viewed as highly successful. Likewise a great pianist. Likewise Franklin Graham. But just some random person, with little above average to show — in whatever field — rarely seems to a highly successful person like someone from whom he ought to take counsel, especially on the most important matters of life.
Needless to say, few can meet that standard. And that can be a pretty big barrier.
Some people, hearing this, will think it snobbery. But in fact, it’s obviously wise. It’s what your mother taught you when you were picking friends in grade school: hang out with the smart, studious, non-troublemakers. Likewise, Scripture teaches us that a man skilled in his work will stand not before obscure men but before kings (a mandate to which too few of us aspire).
Most of the wealthy took this to heart. It’s just that they tended to pick from more successful peers. Unfortunately, far too few of those are Christians.
Some will argue that I am defining “success” in worldly terms; but since we are talking about lost people, why shouldn’t we expect them to do exactly that? Paul became as a Greek to the Greeks and a Jew to the Jews, all things to all men that some might be saved. We should not let our pride be wounded by this: we should understand it and figure out how to reach these souls.
Indeed, the early church did exactly that. Jesus’s follower Joanna was the wife of the manager of King Herod Antipas’ staff. Paul’s reach included members of Caesar’s household. Lydia was a dealer in purple, the sale of which was legally restricted to the patrician class. Barnabas and Joseph of Arimathea were wealthy, Nicodemus was a member of the Sanhedrin. The early church understood the value of influencing the rich and the rulers, which ultimately resulted in the rejection of paganism and the adoption of Christianity throughout the Roman Empire.
Those early disciples also understood that the value of the souls of a rich man and a poor man is the same.
Approaching the wealthy may be difficult and different, as is approaching some unknown tribe in Borneo. I am not suggesting that we should devalue the latter. But neither should we neglect reaching George Soros, or Bill Gates, or even our local doctors and lawyers (who are much more approachable for pastors not named Graham or Warren). What’s more, the benefits of reaching people with great influence and resources are vast, not merely in terms of the money they might give, but rather of the wider potential impact of their witness and their unique ability to reach their own lost peers.
And even if they don’t bring about the evangelization of an empire, they might well prevent the throwing of believers to the lions.
This article was originally published as part of my Beyond the Church Door series in the Florida Baptist Witness.