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Devotional Theme: Perspective for Leaders on Wealth
Contributed by Justin Irving

“Do not be overawed when a man grows rich” (Psalm 49:16 [NIV])

To be a leader today often means having to be comfortable around people from a wide range of socio-economic backgrounds.

Psalm 49:16 provides a helpful reminder for leaders to “not be overawed when a man grows rich.” The Bible seems to be targeting the human tendency in our hearts to inordinately admire—or envy—those who are wealthy. Why is this tendency dangerous? Why is this warning especially relevant for leaders? Three answers to these questions come to mind.

First, 1 Samuel 16 records the events surrounding the occasion of David’s being anointed by Samuel to be King of Israel. Upon Samuel’s arrival to anoint Israel’s future king Samuel saw Eliab, son of Jesse, who possessed the physical appearance and stature that Samuel expected of a king. As Samuel saw Eliab and thought to himself that surely he was the Lord’s anoint, God gently corrected Samuel and said:

“Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature…God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7 [NASB]).

Similar to Samuel’s error, it is easy for leaders today to become focused on the outward appearance, including one’s financial status. God’s correction is as much for us as Samuel. God’s gentle redirection is clear—look to the heart and character of people and not to external measures of socio-economic status.

Second, James 2 provides an additional reminder for today’s leaders. In light of the temptation to become “overawed when a man grows rich,” James reminds us of the importance of not showing favoritism toward those who are rich. Reminding us of our Lord’s second greatest commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself” (James 2:8 [NASB]) Use the NIV here to ensure continuality with the previous reference…, James provides a clear warning to his readers: “if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.” To honor God, we are called to not show favoritism toward those who are rich; honoring the rich and poor with equity begins by not being over or under-awed by those we encounter.

Finally, Paul offers a call for Christian leaders to provide a direct challenge to those who are wealthy. Paul writes: “Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy” (1 Timothy 6:17 [NASB]Use NIV here again). For Christian leaders to be able to serve the rich by calling them to trust in God and not their money, they must first learn the art of seeing people with the eyes?  of Christ. They must not be “overawed” by those who are rich.

When leaders posses the ability to not be “overawed when a man grows rich,” they begin to possess the Christ-like perspective that enables them to look at the heart of a person. Such perspective will enable leaders to not yield to favoritism, and to provide care for the rich and poor alike by calling to them to a whole-hearted trust in God.

Example of the devotional

CEOs and executive directors regularly face the challenge of speaking to multiple stakeholders and constituencies. For example, the Executive Director of a non-profit organization often will serve at the governance level as an ex officio board member, as well as at the programmatic level strategically engaged in the day-to-day operations of the organization.

Serving in this dual governance-programmatic function, the Executive Director will need to regularly and flexibly adapt to communicating with a diverse set of audiences: (a) board members, (b) senior staff, (c) program staff, (d) large donors, (e) small donors, and (f) the people who are served by the organization’s programming. Such flexibility requires that the organizational leader have an honest and authentic interest and concern for people that will facilitate partnering with the diverse network of people associated with the organization.

The leader who is “overawed” by the wealthy may find it difficult to engage the large donor in an authentic manner. The leader who shows favoritism based on external indices of status may find it difficult to display equitable and authentic concern for those who are served by their programming. In contrast, the leader who is informed more by internal indices rather than external indices will be free to authentically lead as stewards of their organization’s mission. They will possess a capacity to be genuine in their interest and concern for others, no matter what the socio-economic status of these people.

Application of the devotional

In James 1:22, James writes, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says” (NIV). Such passages demonstrate the importance of taking the principles of Scripture and applying them to life, for the inner life relates to real life. Because leaders deal with real people with real economic situations, take a moment to reflect on the people in your area of influence. As you reflect on these people, who are you inclined to treat with favorable or unfavorable inequity? How would the application of this devotional change the way you relate to these people?

Practical exercise related to the devotional

Next time you find yourself engaged with someone who is of a different socio-economic background pay attention to the tendencies of your heart. Do you find yourself inclined to show favoritism toward those who are wealthy? Is it challenging to honor the poor with the respect that their dignity as people created in God’s image deserves?