The poor is disliked even by his neighbor, but the rich has many friends. (Proverbs 14:20) ESV
גַּם־לְ֭רֵעֵהוּ יִשָּׂ֣נֵא רָ֑שׁ וְאֹהֲבֵ֖י עָשִׁ֣יר רַבִּֽים׃
Ever wonder how two soon-to-be newlyweds can spend a $1 billion on a wedding? One couple in Moscow took the celebration of a lavish wedding ceremony to a whole new level.
The wedding was held at Safisa, a luxury banqueting venue the couple transformed into a fairy-tale setting with walls of freshly-cut flowers and furniture from Paris.
The 600 wedding guests were served sushi and feasted on a full European meal, which ended with the presentation of a cake taller than the couple. Elie Saab designed the bride’s 28-pound custom gown, which is estimated to cost $25,000.
For entertainment at the ceremony, the couple enlisted Sting and Enrique Iglesias to warm up the stage for none other than Jennifer Lopez.
An official price tag for the wedding isn’t available, but Harper’s Bazaar estimates it falls within the $1 billion range.
As a former pastor I have officiated at countless weddings. Some affairs were exquisitely done. Others were simple–a church fellowship hall with punch and wedding cake for refreshments.
What I remember most about these weddings is not the money spent, but the genuine support and friendship the guests had shown towards the couple.
The value of lasting friendships is the subject of Proverbs 14:20. What is friendship? How can we tell when relationships are real or based on dubious motives?
In this no nonsense proverb, Solomon cautions us against using friendships to get close to people capable of providing something for our benefit.
The King of Israel questions whether we avoid friends going through financial hardships because they may expect us to rush to their aid. In contrast, we may gravitate more towards the well-to-do because of how they may benefit us.
We are warned about rejecting friends due to their economic status
Solomon’s concern is about people who take advantage of others to “get ahead” in life. In social settings we often observe opportunists who “work the room”, seeing who is present so he or she can network and hand out business cards.
A go-getter locked into this mindset objectifies his social contacts based on whether or not others can provide him a boost to the next rung up the ladder of success.
In Proverbs 19:4 Solomon is quite outspoken about this social issue, “Wealth brings many new friends, but a poor man is deserted by his friend.” The Word of God expresses great concern regarding the fallout of a person’s low economic status and how it affects his friendships.
Face it, the affluent are self-sufficient. They are not usually asking others for money for gas or a need a lift to a doctor’s appointment. The prosperous are not griping about having to scrape the bottom of the barrel to pay their bills.
Consequently,, a person low on the financial totem pole is avoided by their close friends (לְ֭רֵעֵהוּ). To describe the rejection experienced by some people in need, the writer of Proverbs uses the word “dislike” or “hate” (יִשָּׂ֣נֵא), a word reserved for an enemy.
Can you imagine a friend hating or shunning you because you are undergoing a financial quandary?
Be honest. What goes through your mind when you spot a friend down on his luck? We repeatedly avoid them and repeat to ourselves, “What will they ask me for today? What catastrophe are they facing which needs my attention? We’ve all dodged people going through hard times to spare ourselves from being “put on the spot.”
Rather than dislike or contempt, I prefer to describe the choice to shun a poor person as being indifferent. We stop caring about a person in need because we believe helping them will slow down our ascent to the top. We have lost our compassion and sympathy for others for the sake of self preservation and self-promotion.
In the second half of Proverbs 14:20 Solomon continues this discussion by unmasking our motives for avoiding needy people.
We are exposed for exercising favoritism in choosing our friends
For a large part of my life I served as pastor of a congregation in Los Angeles where celebrities attended. I was often targeted by Christians who rove churches where superstars attend. These eager hustlers who would hand me scripts, demos and book proposals to give to my “celebrity congregants.”
Much to their chagrin, I refused. I would respond, “These people are my congregants and I am their pastor, not their manager. I am not your conduit to help you gain access to these famous individuals.”
In the second half of Proverbs 14:20 Solomon contrasts the people who despise the needy with those quick to befriend the wealthy, “but the rich has many friends.”
Solomon lays out warnings directed to the affluent and to those who seeking to befriend them.
First, we are to avoid people as friends with a hidden agenda of self-elevation. In contrast to helping the poor person (רָ֑שׁ), the opportunist is mainly interested in affluent individuals (עָשִׁ֣יר) capable of helping hem leap ahead in life.
Second, we are cautioned about stereotyping needy people as those who have little to offer. It is sinful to reduce a person to his financial woes. They can also be friends who provide care for others and are sensitive to the hurts and pain of others. By overlooking the needy because they cannot offer us an upgrade on the ladder of prosperity, we miss out on the value the Lord places on bringing these people into our lives. Thus, those not encompassed with the benefits of wealth are just as worthy of our friendship.
Third, we are alerted about falling into the trap of self-deception. Solomon admits the wealthy have many friends. If you are financially blessed, ask yourself, “Are my friends close to me because of what I can do for them? Am I well liked because I am the one who throws the parties, knows all the famous people and drives the nicest cars? Are those people truly my friends?”
The King of Israel wants the rich to be wise about their friendships and to not be deceived by those with their eyes fixed on the financial advantages of the affluent.
The depth of our relationships with those who have little can be more meaningful than the trap of superficial attraction to the wealthy we often fall into.