The Necessity of Poverty

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Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  Matthew 5:3

Sometimes I think we look at God’s word as good prescriptions for living.  And I think that’s the way the “Beattitudes” have been looked at.  And I have some grounds to say that.  I remember a Vacation Bible School curriculum someone gave me once and it was teaching the beatitudes.  The whole idea was that they were “attitudes” we needed to “be.”  But it’s so much more than about attitudes.  Somehow we’ve gotten somewhat removed from Jesus’ real focal point.  Do you realize that even the word beatitude is one language removed, well, actually two?  Jesus certainly didn’t speak in Latin.  And it’s not a Greek word.  That’s from the Latin vulgate translation.  Maybe we just need to go back to the original intent of the original speaker.

Jesus didn’t stand on the hill that day and open his mouth and say, “OK, everyone, I’m going to teach you some beatitudes today. “  He opened His mouth and taught from His own heart, His own mind, His own will, His own actions.  But all of these were based in the heart, and mind, and will, and actions of the Father.  He was not only telling us and them, but He was living it out for us by flesh and spirit example.  We can hear His words and we can see Him as we watch Him living these words out.

As the Father sent Jesus, so Jesus is sending us.  This isn’t a suggestion and it’s not an attitude.  This is an absolute necessary way of life for a believer.  Paul reminds us in 2 Corinthians 8:9, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you by His poverty might become rich.”  So it is imperative to my walk as a believer that I understand what it is to become poor.  Because if I don’t understand, if I don’t live in this truth, I won’t be complete in Christ.

Jesus, You said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit…”  It’s not that You are saying that the poor in spirit will receive a blessing or be blessed because they are poor in spirit.  You are saying that those who are truly poor in spirit will live in this perpetual “state” of bliss, completeness, satisfaction, joy.  And that’s all tied into the fact of the way they are choosing to exist in this poverty of spirit, just as You did.

Understanding this reality of poverty in my life is important.  It’s mentioned in the the Hebrew texts over 88 times.  James reminds his beloved brethren, “did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?”  Jesus used it again here, “The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the Gospel preached to them.  And blessed is He, whosoever shall not be offended in Me.”  (Matthew 11:5,6)  Why would He end with that last thought?  Because this kind of living and thinking is offensive to our human nature.  This is an offensive call to living.  But this is what God requires.

Poverty.  Jesus introduces this truth for living first.  Poverty.  Can we truly follow Jesus without poverty of spirit?  Can I truly follow Jesus without understanding what this means, without exhibiting this in my life, and coming to understand my own poverty?  Why did You, Jesus, confront that rich young man this way?  “Jesus said unto him, ‘If you will be perfect, go and sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven: and come and follow Me.”  (Matthew 19:21)  Was that only a lesson for that rich young man?   Or was that a lesson for all of us?  Because if my Master was poor in spirit and poor in earthly wealth, what bearing should that have for me on the things I value in my life?  What does my Master value most?  What do I value most?

But what is this poverty?  The Greek word here is ptochos.  And it means utter poverty like a dependent beggar who has no other means of living but is wholly dependent upon the grace of others.  There is absolutely no way that this beggar can meet his basic needs on his own.  He is utterly dependent on others.  This is total destitution.  This is not someone who has the ability to struggle to make ends meet.  That’s a different poverty.  This is someone who is in danger of starving.

I can’t help but think about You, Jesus, and how You became poor like this for me.  I mean You weren’t just physically poor but You, the God of the universe, of creation, exhibited utter dependence on the Father for my sake.  You continually demonstrated Your dependence.  You continually pointed out examples in people of that dependence.  Like the poor widow who threw in her last two mites.  We have to understand that this is what our life will be like as a believer.  My life must be like Yours, Lord.  In Matthew’s account a young scribe came to You.  He said, “I will follow You wherever You go.”  And this is Your answer to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.”  In other words, “Are You really ready to follow Me into My kind of living?  Are You really ready to follow Me?  Have You counted the cost?  Because Your life will be utterly changed.”

Scripture tells me, Jesus, that You were a man of sorrows, despised and rejected by men, acquainted with grief, like one from whom men hide their faces, despised, unasteemed.  (Isaiah 53:2) You became a beggar for my sake.  You accepted this treatment for my sake, for my good, for my acceptance.  You possessed everything, but none of it mattered compared to my redemption.  You accepted poverty to make me rich.  You suffered sorrow so You and I could rejoice together.  And this is what You call me, each of us, as believers in You to live like, in utter dependency upon the Father.

Just like You, when I come to this state of understanding my utter dependence upon You, it brings me sorrow, yet I can rejoice.  And at times in my life that bring me to sorrow, You remain forever mine and forever the One in control of my present circumstances and my future and I can continue to rejoice in You.  In my poverty, I learn to esteem others and my desire is for their benefit, just as Yours is to me.  I can let go of everything and yet possess everything I need in You.  (2 Corinthians 6:10)

Yes, “God has chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which He has promised to them that love Him.”  (James 2:5)  I need to know where I stand.  And I need to know that I don’t stand at all.  I am kneeling, face to the floor in utter dependance upon You, Lord.  I am not rich.  I don’t have anything of my own that is of value.  I am in great need.  I am wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked without You.  I have no money to buy Your gold but I hold out my hands in utter dependence to You.  And the more than beautiful truth and reality is, that when I come to You in this way, You meet my needs.  You share Your gold with me in abundance!  And it’s OK that I must go through the fire for it because You go through the fire with me!  And You take off my nasty rags and clothe me in white and You take away the shame of my nakedness!  And though I was blind, You anoint my eyes with salve so now, I can see!  (Revelation 3:17,18)

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  The poor in spirit commit themselves wholly to You.  (Psalm 10:14)  There is One alone who I cry out to and know that He hears.  (Psalm 34:6)  We realize we are continually poor and needy.  We know that You are for us, that You alone are our help and deliverer.  (Psalm 40:17)  I realize my poverty and sorrow and You alone can lift me up.  (Psalm 69:29)

This is a radical way not only of thinking, but a radical way of living.  It’s why people like the disciples, left their jobs and followed You, Lord, in a life of dependency.  If I can get by with serving my own needs with my own hands, if I can eek out my own living, then I’m not dependent.  I need to get to the point of having nothing at all, but You.  That’s when I come to being poor in spirit.  And it doesn’t just happen.  You can wait for it, but it won’t just come.  It’s a choice.  I must make the deliberate choices daily.  It’s not just about being lifted up on the cross once.   This is my life, just like it was Christ’s.  And it is only supplied and fulfilled in You.  It’s not just feeling my spiritual need, but living in that neediness.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  If I’m destitute, I have no influence, power, or prestige of my own.  I am utterly vulnerable, dependent, unimportant, taken advantage of like a child.  But this is the only place that total trust will be found and exhibited.  And if this is what it takes, this is where I want to be taken, this is where I want to be.  And the only way I can get here is by submitting with everything I am to the supernatural work of Christ.

Until I understand my poverty I can’t understand You, Jesus, or Your way of living.  C.H.Spurgeon commented on what it meant to be “poor in spirit”.  “Learn this lesson–not to trust Christ because you repent, but trust Christ to make you repent; not to come to Christ because you have a broken heart, but to come to Him that He may give you a broken heart; not to come to Him because you are fit to come, but to come to Him because you are unfit to come.  Your fitness is your unfitness.  Your qualification is your lack of qualification.”  If this doesn’t cause you despair, then you aren’t ready to come to Jesus.    If I’m not in desperate need, in utter dependency, then I’m not truly in need at all.  Where am I today with You, Lord?

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