Mar 08




Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.1

More and more frequently we are witnessing the phrase “first world problems” uttered or written when a comment is made directed at somebody else’s concerns which the commentator considers of ‘trivial’ importance.

Urban Dictionary gives the following definition and example:

Problems from living in a wealthy, industrialized nation that third worlders would probably roll their eyes at.

Oh no, I don’t know which 1 carat diamond encrusted platinum ring to buy!


I am reminded of the time when I was shopping for Viv’s engagement ring and can properly vouch for the genuine nature of the monumental problem before me, that is, the vast collection of diamond rings at each of the major jewellery retailers.

As much as I accept the premise that certain problems in the third world are matters of life and death, I am concerned for this growing trend of apathy found amongst our own, those from the privileged, western world.

We are correct not to forget the misfortunes of the vulnerable, to continue to carry out our God-given mission to love one another2, by acting justly with mercy and humility3 or by defending the cause of the fatherless, the widow, the foreigner or the poor4. These are valid notions of charity and social concern which form an ongoing work-in-progress us as disciples and members of a universal church.

Yet it would be improper to shrug off the needs of local citizens as trifle.

In John 2:1 – 12 we learn about the miracle of turning water into wine at the marriage at Cana.  Regardless of the cultural importance of being depleted of wine at a banquet (which I’m sure is the norm for many a cultures, western, middle-eastern and oriental alike), it is quite clear that Judea at the time of Jesus’s ministry was not lacking in the poor or the sick.

In another example, in Matthew 17:24 – 27, Christ dealt with the temple tax through the drachma obtained from a fish’s mouth, albeit telling Peter that, he was, as the Son of God, exempt from such tax.  It is commonly believed that Christ did so to avoid offending authority and prolong his ministry.

In either case, losing face or offending the bureaucracy may seem like trivial matters even in the cultural context of first century Israel.

There were without doubt bigger problems in the world.  Indeed, the Jews considered their biggest problem to be political oppression by the Romans.

However, Jesus’ ministry reflected an approach not on placing merit in the magnitude of the problem that was dealt with, but the people to whom the problems troubled.

At a time when we are made all the more aware of the awful and sometimes downright saddening aspects of humanity, which may make us apathetic towards others around us with ‘less dramatic’ or catastrophic bothers, it is important to reflect on Christ’s empathy for every person – in singular focus.

This attitude is not only something to admire to, but is consistent with the fourth commandment, to keep the Sabbath.

God did not overstate the importance of rest, reflection and meditation by setting the fourth commandment, nor should it be seen an obsolete religious observance.  It is just as important in our Christian lives to regularly slow down and resist temptations to become chronically discouraged, bitter, apathetic, narcissistic or discontent, than it is to refrain from doing evil, i.e., killing, stealing, slandering etc.

The world stinks in many ways, but we must take care not to perpetuate the stench.  God commanded us to keep the Sabbath, a Holy day of rest, to take a step back and wash off the fatigue that is now all the more bothersome in a world with the 24 hour news cycle.  Use the Sabbath to rejuvenate and reinvigorate a care and concern for each brother and sister around you, no matter how ‘trivial’ their problems may first appear.

Entrust yourself with the task of being your brother’s and sister’s keeper, if you do so well, God might entrust you with the job of keeping the multitude.

-Kevin Zhang

References from http://sermons.centralpc.org/the-gospel-for-firstworldproblems/

A well recommended read/listen.


1 Exodus 20:8-11

2 John 13:34

3 Micah 6:8

4 Deuteronomy 10:18, Zechariah 7:10