Blessed Poverty

by Joseph Franks

The official ministry of Jesus has begun, and he is found on the mountain with his disciples. It is here that his famous discourse begins. Our version of his sermon begins with the following words:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.     (Matthew 5:3)

It is clear that Jesus is pronouncing a benediction; he offers for a blessing to certain people based upon a certain criteria. However, the question needs to be asked, “Whom is Jesus addressing and what is condition or or characteristic or criteria of those destined to receive his blessing?”

Option One: Some believe Jesus is addressing those who are poor in assets. Those who have scant assets are particularly favored by God. However, this interpretation is not to be preferred. Nowhere in Scripture does God pronounce spiritual blessing on all who are financially poor. Likewise, nowhere in Scripture does God pronounce a spiritual curse on those he blesses with wealth. An individuals balance sheet has nothing to do with an individuals blessing.

Option Two: Some believe Jesus is addressing those who are emotionally despairing. Those of a melancholy disposition are preferred by the King. However, Scripture teaches us that Jesus and his Spirit provide diligent worshipers with joy, peace, and hope.

Option Three: Most believe Jesus is addressing those who are spiritually poor. This interpretation is to be preferred over the other two, for Jesus Christ is the teacher who provides his own adjective — “spiritual.” The Preacher describes the blessed condition of those who are “poor in spirit” and not those who are poor in silver or poor in self-worth. However, this interpretation begs a couple more questions:

  • Is not everyone poor in regards to spiritual things? Is it not true that God has a divine standard, all who reach not this standard owe a debt, and all have sinned and fallen short of God’s standard? Can anyone find a man who has amassed sufficient righteousness on the credit side of the ledger? Are not all men spiritual paupers in God’s sight?
  • Consequently, are we to believe Jesus is pronouncing a blessing on all men who are spiritually impoverished?

The answer to the first question is, “Yes.” The answer to the second question is, “No.” This then leads us to our fourth option.

Option Four: Jesus is addressing those who are spiritually poor and readily acknowledge their deep spiritual poverty. Jesus offers no spiritual blessing to those who are poor in the eyes of God but rich in their own eyes. He offers no benediction to those who are righteously-impoverished but think they are righteously-wealthy. To such self-righteous, healthy, arrogant, and blind men, Jesus offers them only that which they have earned and deserved — spiritual condemnation and curse. However, to those who are spiritually poor and readily acknowledge their deep spiritual poverty, or to those who only know how to cry out, “O God, have mercy on me a sinner,” to them Jesus promises spiritual blessing than never ends. Such are the blessed citizens found in the Kingdom of Heaven.

 

Friends, do we have the “poverty of spirit” appreciated by Jesus Christ? Are we aware of the standard of God? Have we the right understanding of all his good Law requires? Do we see how we consistently miss the mark, and will consistently do so until the final day of our glorification? Are we enlightened? Are we humble? Are we worshipers engaged in consistent and ongoing repentance, petition, and Gospel prayer?

Or, are we self-impressed with our righteous portfolio? Instead of seeing ourselves as “spiritually impoverished”and bellowing out, “God have mercy on me a sinner,” do we more often find ourselves thinking, praying, and saying, Father …

  • I thank you I am not like other men …
  • I thank you I am not like those foolish ones from that other denomination …
  • I thank you I am not like those partaking of this or that substance …
  • I thank you I have never committed that certain sin …
  • I thank you I am not like those who are divorced …
  • I thank you I am not like those with an alternate sexual attraction …
  • I thank you I am not like those with children like that …
  • I thank you I am not like those with such a criminal record …
  • I thank you I am not like those on the sexual predator list …

Friends, take the blinders off and see clearly. Read the Word of God and hear the voice of God’s Law. Recognize our inability to keep his expectations before our salvation. Recognize our inability to keep his Law – in totality – now that we are saved. We needed grace before our conversion; we need it just as much following our adoption, union, and betrothal to Christ. Let us be like David and cry over our transgressions. Let us evaluate and present ourselves like Paul who claimed to be the “Chief of Sinners.” Let us admit with Saint Peter that we still do not love Jesus as we ought; we only like him somewhat. Today, again, let us see our sin and argue it not away. Then, let us call out to God, exclaim our spiritual poverty, and experience his spiritual blessing. After all, Jesus Christ comes not to bless the righteous, but sinners. It is not the healthy who experience his care, but those who are sick and needy.

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