Small Group Discussion

Lazarus at the Gate

(Nicole Conner - May 5-6th, 2007)

Introduction

Read Luke 16:19-31

There are three people in this story – Lazarus, a rich man and Abraham. It shows us the realities of heaven and hell (eternal separation from God). Why was the rich man in hell? Was it because he had riches? If so – why was Abraham in heaven? Abraham was wealthy and blessed in every way even to the point of envy from his neighbours (Gen. 24:1). Wealth alone would not be the issue that took the man to hell. It was more what he didn’t have than what he had.

Read Matthew 23:23-24

The comfort and excess in the rich man’s life had made him blind. He no longer saw Lazarus at the gate. Because he no longer saw him he was not compelled to do anything about him. So he withheld justice, mercy and compassion and somehow convinced himself that it wouldn’t matter.

Identifying with the Rich Man

In some way we can all identify with the rich man. We often make excuses for injustice – have you noticed that? What does God think of it all? See: Job 5:15-16; Lev 19:15; Deut 16:20; Ps 11:7; Proverbs 29:7; Micah 6:7, 8.

Israel went into exile because of two major sins – idolatry and injustice. They became blind to Lazarus at the gate, not realising when they did they became blind to God. Opulence and wealth has the potential to create the same blindness in us.

Salvation not by Works – but Works Demonstrate Obedience

Do you think our salvation is conditional on our works? Salvation – the born again supernatural experience - is not something that cannot be brought about by works. It is an act of an Almighty God. But Jesus makes it very clear that those who claim salvation as theirs cannot neglect the issues of justice. To do so brings doubt on a true salvation experience.

The Sheep and the Goats

Jesus sheds light on this in Matthew 25. Jesus tells another story remarkably similar to this one – the story of the sheep and the goats. One group goes to eternal life – the other damnation. The difference – their actions!

The FACTS about Riches

We have established that having wealth is not necessarily what got the rich man into hell. However, we cannot escape this all together. Why did Jesus talk about the rich man? Why did he comment on his opulent living? Was it a coincidence or is the story telling us something about riches? We see that the rich man was in hell because of his blindness to Lazarus. But I would go one step further and say that it could be that riches have the potential to make us blind.

One of the most astounding things about the affluent minority is that we actually think we have barely enough to survive in our modest comfort. Seductive advertising bombards us from all directions making us believe this delusion. Jesus continually warned about the deception of wealth because of its ability to create in us a surreal world that becomes our basis of operation. This influences our character and eventually our theology.

“I used to think when I was a child that Christ might have been exaggerating when he warned about the dangers of wealth. Today I know better. I know how very hard it is to be rich and still keep the milk of human kindness. Money has a dangerous way of putting scales on one’s eyes, a dangerous way of freezing people’s hands, eyes, lips and hearts.” Dom Helder Camara

No wonder there are so many warning about possessions and riches (see 1 Tim 6:9-12, 17-18).

God’s Answer to the Deception of Wealth: GENEROSITY

In a world dominated by greed and violence, where the rich become richer, and the poor poorer – the answer is not for the Christian to hide in the desert at war with culture – but to model God’s answer – GENEROSITY.

Generosity is not just a good idea of God – it is the very essence of God. We serve a generous God and those born of His Spirit need to partner with the Holy Spirit in allowing this attribute to flow from their lives (2 Cor 9:10-13). Generosity is displayed in all aspects of life: emotionally, spiritually, financially, in areas of self-control.

Dr. Charles Birch said: “The rich must live more simply that the poor may simply live.”

Prov. 23:4 “Do not wear yourself out to get rich; have the wisdom to show restraint.”

It is also displayed in what makes us angry. God gets angry at injustice.

Conclusion

The story of Lazarus and the rich man has direct implications for us today. It is a story that unsettles us, makes us uncomfortable – and so it should. This story should make us alert to the dangers of wealth and God’s offence at those who choose to ignore Lazarus at the gate.

Amos 5:24. “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

Sample Discussion Questions

  1. Discuss things you notice when reading the story of the rich man and Lazarus.
  2. Do you think wealth played a contributing factor to the man’s blindness to Lazarus?
  3. How can we change our global thinking so that the story of the rich man does not become ours?
  4. What do you think God require of His followers regarding the issues of justice, mercy and faithfulness?

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