The peril of privilege

“My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment” (James 3:1 NKJV).

It is almost inevitable whenever I make a report on my work in South Asia that members of the audience will come out saying something like, “We here in the U.S. are so blessed compared with those who live in other parts of the world.”

That statement is true beyond any doubt, at least as it pertains to residents of the poor and oppressed nations of much of Asia, Africa, South America and similar locales. The disparity in such things as standards of living, technology, health care, and governmental institutions is staggering when experienced first-hand.

Many of those who remark on the differences go further to say, “It makes me ashamed that I do so little with all I have when others have so much less.” Again, this is an appropriate response.

Jesus is emphatic that one is responsible for the blessings granted him or her by God. “For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more” (Luke 12:48).

This principle is sometimes called “The peril of privilege.” It simply means that everyone is accountable for what he has been given. This pertains to our possessions, our opportunities, and our abilities. “Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophesy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith” (Romans 12:6). This and similar passages stress certain related truths.

First, all of our resources are gifts. We did not create our physical abilities (talents) nor the circumstances in which we live. We are born at a time and into a place chosen by God. It is he who has made us male or female, large or small, with whatever innate abilities we may have. The great athlete did not earn or deserve such physical prowess. No one has an innate right to any particular ability or possession. Each one is a blessing for which we should be grateful.

Secondly, none of our resources are actually ours. We are simply stewards of that which belongs to God. “For every beast of the forest is Mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills. I know all the birds of the mountains, and the wild beasts of the field are Mine” (Psalm 50:10-11).

Paul reminds us that this applies to intangibles as well as to created things. “Let a man so consider us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover it is required of stewards that one be found faithful” (1 Corinthians 4:1-2).

In his parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30) Jesus compares our relationship with God to managers or stewards of a wealthy man. They were put in positions of varying responsibility during their master’s absence, and held accountable in proportion to that with which they were entrusted. The man given two talents was not expected to return the same amount as the one with five. The man with one talent was punished, not because he did not earn as much as the others, but because he did nothing at all with what he was given.

Finally, the recipient of a gift is also one of its beneficiaries. No gift of God is intended for our selfish exclusive use (Luke 12:16-21). However, everyone who receives God’s gifts is blessed by them. Paul illustrated this truth by the Old Testament law, “You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain” (1 Corinthians 9:10).

It is the ox’s gift to turn the grist mill. It is also his privilege to eat some of the grain as he works. The apostle applied that to apostles and evangelists, defending their right to live by the work which they do.

One who is using God’s blessings unselfishly and responsibly need not be ashamed of the abundance which God has given. But woe to those who appropriate those blessings exclusively for their own benefit.

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