I recently finished college and am working a retail job that serves mostly the rich. My customers are demanding, and we bend over backward to serve them. I love them, but I wonder whether we as Christians should contribute to a lifestyle that is ultimately selfish.
I am leaving this job to go on to grad school, but should we avoid working for the rich? If it's harder for a rich person to get into the kingdom of heaven than for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, then shouldn't we focus on the poor?
First, let's talk about wealth, and next let's talk about work.
Wealth. I hate to break it to you, but the odds are that "the rich" isn't they; it's you and me and they, ala Heather Koerner's "I Am 'The Rich."
If you pulled back and had a very macro-cosmic view of wealth, in comparison with the rest of the world, you're likely right up there with your customers. I know it doesn't feel that way, because you don't have the "mega" expensive cars and the "mega" expensive home and the "mega" expensive shoes.
You (likely) "just" have an "average" car and grew up in an "average" home and have "average" shoes, but from a macro-cosmic view, your possessions and theirs are virtually indistinguishable. Just the fact that you are somehow going to afford graduate school (whether by scholarship, loans, savings or work income) makes you mega-rich to many, many people in your own city, who could never "afford" such a "luxury."
So when we talk about "the rich" we need to have grace for however many digits are on the paycheck, because it isn't about the digits — those are relative; it's about the heart behind the digits, and I think that's what Jesus is getting at with the rich young man in the incident to which you referred. I also think that's what Jesus was getting at with His comment on serving two masters. It's fine to have "wealth," but it cannot be our master. Jesus will not share the throne of our heart with any other thing or person.
Now, work. It doesn't matter where you work or whom you serve. People of all income levels can be demanding, and people of all income levels can be pleasant. I've served both at different times in my life, and I can assure you that income has very little to do with a person's general disposition regarding pleasantness or selfishness.
From convenience stores to high-end department stores, from homeless shelter soup lines to 4-star restaurants, people are selfish and people are selfless, people are demanding and people are loving. Sinners and saints are everywhere and at every rung on the socioeconomic ladder. You simply cannot judge a person's heart by his or her income or by where they shop.
Here's what I think you're getting at: You're wondering whether what you are doing at your high-end retail job isn't unlike a bartender who knows he's serving drinks to alcoholics — feeding the disease rather than helping cure it.
The truth is there is probably a way to feed a person's disease with every profession or service in which we are involved, because we have no idea what's going on in that person's soul. Does working in the food industry feed the disease of gluttony? Does working in real estate feed the disease of covetousness? Does readily accessible healthcare reduce the number of people who ask God to heal them? Does working in the investment industry promote greed? Does my field of public policy promote the selfish ambition of some politicians?
See what I'm getting at?
I hesitate to make this gray area too black and white, but here is my best shot: Unless your employment is either a) active disobedience to a clear biblical mandate (and I don't think yours is), or b) disobedience to a personal mandate that you believe the Lord has impressed upon you, then your work is probably on solid footing.
At some point you must allow for those you serve to answer to God for their own choices, especially if what we are talking about are issues of the heart rather than actions. I think a better reference point than the rich young ruler here is the code for servants toward their masters in Ephesians, you being the servant and your customers being the masters.
Paul instructs the Christian slaves to "obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as unto the Lord and not to man, knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord whether he is a slave or free."
No doubt some of those masters were rich, selfish, gluttonous, prideful and so forth, and Paul addresses them as well. But the masters' disposition was not taken into account in Paul's instruction to the servants.
Your earthly master could be your boss or, in your case, your customer; either way God instructs us to concern ourselves mostly with our own heart, not that of the person we serve, and God will handle the outcome.
My advice: Let God use you to shine His light on "the rich" and "the poor" and everyone in between, and do it all as unto the Lord and for His glory. If you find yourself having to deal a lot with sinners, you're in good company. Jesus knows how you feel.
Copyright 2008 John Thomas. All rights reserved.