We live in a society of clichés. A new word for this, a new concept for that. We cannot get enough of ourselves, so to speak. And we want to be the first to throw something new out there. We will do anything for a moment of glory, even if, in the end, it comes back to haunt us. (Begging your pardon for that cliché.)
I’m sure you have read the book of James in your Christian experience. Kay Arthur, internationally acclaimed Bible teacher, author, and co-CEO of Precept Ministries International, has developed courses of Scripture study that guide the learner into systematically “mining” for truths. Her study in the General Epistle of James is entitled The Gospel in Shoe Leather, an amazing title for an amazing Book of the Bible. I like that title—The Gospel in Shoe Leather. This is where the rubber meets the road in the study of Scripture.
I believe you know me well enough by now to understand that I am always going to take you where the rubber meets the road, always speaking the truth in love and sometimes scorching the temperament and causing pain. Have you ever heard the cliché, “the truth hurts”?
We are living in perilous times. I’ve said that over and again, and the Apostle Paul said it long before I did in II Timothy 3:1: “This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come.” Paul gives us a list of the reasons why this is true in verses 2 through 4. Read it and then read it again. At the end of this list, Paul suggests that we “turn away from such.” I’m getting to my point, and I’m coming in the front door of the book of James to do so. He says in Chapter 1, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, who giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.” Now, that is easy enough for a young man of fourteen or fifteen or sixteen, even younger, to understand even if, God forbid, he has no parental guidance. If we are to be wise, we must seek our wisdom from God.
In verse 8, the Epistle of James doles out what seems to be a harsh indictment. “A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways.” If James had been a man of the cliché persuasion, he would have described this person as a paranoid schizophrenic. We would do well to ponder what James said and to read his remedy in verse 12: “Blessed is the man who endures temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord has promised to them that love him.”
Now, you need to read the entire book of James (the Gospel in Shoe Leather), for therein you get the good, the bad and the ugly. But God never tells us the problem without giving us a solution. In chapter 5, he gives a warning to the rich. “Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you. Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver is cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire. Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days.” That is easy to understand. Just read it again, word for word, remembering I didn’t say it, God did!
The news releases are replete with accounts of young people who are in trouble, many of them steeped in poverty; many of them affluent. Trouble that leads to crime is no respecter of persons, rich or poor. We like to think that our legal system is fair, that it metes out punishment that fits the crime and that is sensitive to cases where our young people can be helped and salvaged but, on the other hand, that demands retribution for crimes done against humanity. Lately our judicial system gives us pause to wonder.
If we did not already know the cliché, Affluenza, before this week, we know it now. It has become a sickening, demoralizing combination of two words—affluence and influenza, which when combined indicates pain, contagion, socially transmission of overload, debt and anxiety, and so much more. If you are suffering from this social disease, you are familiar with all the other symptoms, mostly “having too much of this world’s goods.” We have yet to understand the extent of its affect upon society and upon individuals. I do not like to think of this social transmission as disease but sin against a Holy God.
Anatole France, winner of the 1921 Nobel Prize in literature said this, “The law in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets and to steal bread.” Beautiful words and meaningful. But on the other hand, someone once said, “Rich people go to court; poor people go to jail.” This is a travesty. It flies in the face of Scripture, and it is an indictment of our judicial system. Where is the majestic equality?
I’m not making this discussion racially charged. That is not who I am. You have never once read one of my articles and concluded that. And this is not what I’m doing in this case. I’m talking about rich versus poor as it concerns the law and punishment of the crime.
The young man in this week’s news, who ludicrously was diagnosed with Affluenza, will never be a better person for having committed a crime against humanity and gotten off scot-free because of his or his parents’ affluence. It matters not that his parents were able to buy him out of his trouble, for Galatians 6:7 says, “Be not deceived; God is not mocked; for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.”
The teenager who committed the crimes is responsible for his actions and will, in due time, pay the price. But it goes much deeper than this. It had a start somewhere in the mind and influence and affluence of parents who obviously have more money than respect for life, including their own son’s. That father and mother would do well to seek God’s wisdom through His Word.
It is never too late to get things right, to trust Christ as Savior, for there will come a time when “every knee shall bow” no matter how affluent that “knee” happens to be. The bottom line is Jesus came to call sinners to repentance. This is where life begins, where the rubber meets the road, where the Gospel goes to shoe leather and becomes our responsibility, where the sinner repents and comes to Christ, no matter what their station in life. Remember, Jesus said this to His disciples when teaching them about rich people, a very important message for, as a rule, a rich man has all the pleasures of this world with little need for Christ, or the law, or friends—Matthew 19:24 “Verily I say unto you, that a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven. And again, I say unto you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.” That proclamation does not end there. I said—Jesus never gives a negative without giving a positive. When His disciples asked, “Who then can be saved?” he said, “With men, this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.”
Hallelujah! There is an answer. There is a Savior!
Jesus loves you. Christ died for you and wants to save you and help you get your life right—rich or poor.
Through Christ Alone,
Victor W. Baugh, Sr., Th.D., Ph.D.
Pastor, St. Luke AME Church
Copyright © Victor Wayne Baugh, Sr., Th.D., Ph.D. Birmingham, Alabama, December 2013