Columnists Religion West Edition

PASTOR’S CORNER: The influence of affluence

In today’s society, we spend a good percentage of our time pursuing money and other material things so we can live the so-called good life, the American Dream. Some of us become so engrossed in this pursuit that we lose sight of the influence it has on our thinking, our values and our behavior.

Admit it or not, we are very often influenced by the affluence that surrounds us. We admire that shiny new car in our neighbor’s driveway, dreaming of the day we can have one in our driveway.  Or dream of that house on the hill we’ve always wanted, but could never afford.

Many of us are influenced to move forward, full throttle to make these a reality in life.

What does God think about all this emphasis on things material? We learn in Psalm 35:27 that God takes pleasure in our prosperity. So generally speaking, he’s not displeased with our pursuing stuff, but he does object if we do it under the wrong mindset.

David tells us in Psalm 62:10 that, as our stuff increases, we should not set our hearts on accumulating more.

We see a case in point in the story of Gehazi, a servant of the prophet Elisha, who saw an opportunity to enrich himself with a portion of nearly a million dollars in today’s currency. The prophet by all accounts was a wealthy man, so Gehazi was accustomed to seeing wealth around him daily. The whole story is found in 2Kings, Chapter 5.

In summary, Elisha was offered gold, silver and clothing to heal a wealthy Syrian military man of leprosy. He refused the offer, and as the soldier was on the way back to Syria, Gehazi approached him and put his plan in motion. It began with two lies; that Elisha had sent him (lie 1) to ask for silver and clothing for two young men (lie 2). The soldier was compliant.

Knowing he had done wrong, Gehazi hid his ill-gotten gains in his house. Elisha knew he had been out of the house, so he asked Gehazi where he had been. To make matters worse, he lied again when he answered “no where.”

Elisha sensed he was untruthful and cursed him and all his family with leprosy forever.

As we can see, the condition of his heart was such that he allowed himself to be influenced by affluence leading to God’s wrath coming down, not only on him, but also on his entire family. All this could have been avoided if Gehazi had not lost control of his thinking process.

He most likely knew he violated at least two of the Ten Commandments, numbers 9 and 10.

I like to refer to this situation as the Gehazi syndrome,which didn’t end with this Old Testament story. It followed mankind on into the New Testament and beyond. Check out the story in Acts 5:1-11 of Ananias and Sapphira, a married couple who suffered death because of their yielding to the influence of affluence.

The syndrome is still alive and well today. But, how can we avoid it?

The answer is to live by the dictates of the holy spirit and we will not fall to the desires of the flesh (Galatians 5:16). This means exercising self-control when faced with the Gehazi Syndrome.

Rev. O.L. Johnson, a retired LAPD lieutenant, is an associate pastor in his home church, Greater New Zion Baptist, 501 W. 80th St. in Los Angeles.

Pastor’s Corner is a monthly religious column that looks at the relevancy of scripture to life today. The column appears on the first Thursday of each month in the Wave and its website,