Topical Studies

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What the Bible says about Status Seeking
(From Forerunner Commentary)

Isaiah 2:7-11

Everywhere, the Bible shows the same principle: Pride has its roots in a feeling of wealth or accomplishment, which is then used to compare. We can tie this to Satan and what is written about him in Ezekiel 28, how pride arose within him because of his beauty. He had something to brag about that made him feel good. But his vanity, developing into outright pride, began to get to him. He began to feel better than the other angels, and eventually, in his own eyes, he equated himself with God. In time, he thought of himself as greater than God—a very perverted comparison.

It does not have to be intelligence or beauty or power as it was with Satan. It could be things like money, position, social position, natural ability, social status, knowledge, strength, hair, clothing, a house, furniture, automobile—the list is virtually endless. In the New Testament, the Greek is huperephania, which means "to show oneself above." It does not imply one who others look up to, but one who stands on his own self-created pedestal.

Psychologists tell us that pride is actually a mark of inner inferiority and uncertainty, and such people compensate by over-emphasizing and flaunting the qualities that they think they possess that will make others think well of them. This feeling of wealth is highly relative because each person is capable of setting his own standards of comparison, regardless of his real accomplishments.

Proverbs 26:16 speaks of the sluggard who is wiser in his own eyes than all others, who can render more answers than seven wise men can. Although he is virtually devoid of anything that anybody would consider worth bragging about, the sluggard has created his own set of standards. He thinks he already knows the answers. He has a feeling of wealth, of prosperity, of power, or of security in whatever standard he in his own conceptions has set. He is so sure that he knows the answers that he is undeterred by facts and continues then in his ignorance. He is self-sufficient.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Faith (Part Seven)

Amos 5:12

Amos says that the people went to Bethel bearing abundant rebellions on their consciences, but they returned with them still there. Outwardly, they sinned because inwardly was a heart of rebellion. There was not any real concern about the rebellion in them.

If they had really sought God, they would begin to do something about these sins, their rebellions. A person who is really seeking God is so concerned about having God's approval that he will pay any price, make any sacrifice necessary to stop sinning and thus have His approval. These people did not care. They went right on sinning.

He shows them returning from Bethel unconcerned with what people were in their character (whether they were just or upright), but they were concerned about what they had and what they were prepared to pay as a bribe. This is the gist of, "You afflict the just and you take bribes." The poor person who was telling the truth had no chance in court unless he was willing to pay a bribe to those who were judging him.

These people were not concerned with morals or ethics but how much money, influence, and status they and others had so that they could use one another to get ahead.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Prayer and Seeking God

James 2:4

The apostle James begins chapter 2 of his epistle by confronting a problem that frequently rears its head in the church, that of respect of persons, also called partiality and discrimination. His entire thought in introducing the subject runs as follows:

My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality. For if there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes, and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say to him, "You sit here in a good place," and say to the poor man, "You stand there," or, "Sit here at my footstool," have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? (James 2:1-4)

The example he gives is a common one. Human nature tends to be partial to the rich, the well-groomed, the finely appareled—those who make a good outward show of respectability. It is rather selfish of us to pay them so much attention and provide them with favors and upgrades that we would not normally lavish on others. We do these things because we want something from them, whether it be some future benefit we might receive as gratitude for our obsequious solicitation or merely to be seen with them, ratcheting up our status as a result. Respect of persons is, at its base, all about us.

Of course, it also diminishes those we pass over, essentially telling them, "You are not worthy of my time or favor. Take care of yourself . . . over there . . . where you'll be out of the way." Such partiality actually turns the godly order on its head. Those who are wealthy or powerful or good-looking or talented need no help; they are successful and prove by their success that they can take care of themselves. The poor and downtrodden, however, are the ones who need our help to give them a hand as they start up the ladder of recovery and eventual success. Human nature perversely offers help and advantage to those who need it least and denies it to those who desperately seek it.

Even so, James' central thrust in this long paragraph (which stretches all the way to verse 13) is that favoritism is wrongful judgment: "have you not . . . become judges with evil thoughts?" His argument against partiality obviously derives from his half-brother's comments on judging in Matthew 7:1, "Judge not, that you be not judged," where Jesus goes on to speak about a person's method of judgment of others being used by God to judge him. Jesus calls the one who judges his brother a hypocrite because he condemns his brother for a minor fault (a "speck") while he himself has much a larger sin (a "beam") to overcome. Thus, practicing partiality makes us judge, jury, and executioner of a fellow Christian—not to mention that we poach on one of God's prerogatives, sitting on His throne as judge.

James is speaking about unjustified discrimination. The distinction made between the rich man and the poor man in his example had its basis in purely outward and superficial reasons, and thus the judgment was unsound—or as he puts it, "evil." As the apostle points out in verse 5, God more often calls the weak of the world to righteousness (see I Corinthians 1:26-29), so the poor man is just as likely—or perhaps even more likely—to be the more converted of the two. This is not always the case, but it does make James' point that we need to be more thorough in our discernment of people lest we judge them by sight rather than by faith (II Corinthians 5:7).

Our example of this is God Himself. When the prophet Samuel went to Bethlehem to anoint the next king of Israel, he saw the strapping older sons of Jesse, thinking, "Surely it must be one of these!" But God saw things differently: "Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the LORD does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart" (I Samuel 16:7). The "poorest" of the family was chosen, as David was the youngest and smallest, the one that everyone seems to have forgotten about to the point that no one had thought to tell him that Samuel was in town!

Being quite limited in our spiritual perception, we have a hard time doing that, so our best course is to treat everyone with humility and kindness, preferring them in our interactions with them.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh


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