Admitting We Are Poor
Jesus exalts what the world despises and rejects what it admires.
That is the great challenge of the Beatitudes, and nowhere more so than in Jesus’ teaching here on wealth. We live in a world that cries for us to make much of ourselves, particularly in the realm of finances and material wealth. Comfort is king in our consumer culture, and that culture is the water in which we all swim.
So it confronts us that Jesus begins His teaching in this sermon by saying, “Blessed are you who are poor.” What is He doing? Is He suggesting that material poverty is somehow the key to salvation? Absolutely not! Rather, He is explaining that those who truly become aware of their spiritual poverty will enter the kingdom of God.
There are, of course, those who claim Jesus was teaching that if you’re poor, you ought to be really glad because you’re automatically a part of the kingdom of heaven. But that kind of poverty is not the key to entry into God’s kingdom, nor are riches themselves the main reason for someone’s exclusion. Indeed, poor and rich alike are welcomed into the kingdom upon realizing their need for forgiveness and coming to trust in Jesus as their Savior. If this were not the case, then a woman named Lydia, who lived in Philippi as a prosperous merchant, would never have had her eyes and heart opened to the truth of the gospel (Acts 16:11-15). No, it is an awareness of our spiritual poverty apart from Christ that is needed.
It is important to notice, however, that financial poverty may well be a means of spiritual blessing. Such poverty often leads men and women to discover their utter dependence upon God not only for physical and material needs but also for spiritual blessings. For this reason, poverty tends to yield a far greater response to the gospel than affluence. Enjoying plenty materially can so easily blind us to our deepest need: to be brought into the kingdom of God. Wealth is often the ground in which pride blooms, so that our hearts forget that for the rich just as much as for the poor “like a flower of the grass” we “will pass away” (James 1:10).
As John Calvin explained, “He only who is reduced to nothing in himself, and relies on the mercy of God, is poor in spirit.” Poverty brings its trials; but have you ever realized that wealth does too, in its temptations to pride, self-reliance, and spiritual complacency?
So are we willing to admit our spiritual poverty? Or are we too self-assured and satisfied with our earthly riches? Here is one way to know the true answer to those questions: can your heart echo the prayer of Agur in the Proverbs: “Give me neither poverty nor riches” (Proverbs 30:8)?
20And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said:
“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
21“Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied.
“Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.
22“Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! 23Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.
Jesus Pronounces Woes
24“But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.
25“Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry.
“Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.
26“Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.
Love Your Enemies
27“But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic2 either. 30Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. 31And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.
32“If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. 35But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. 36Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.
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