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The Poverty Gospel

Let’s face it, the prosperity preachers have an appealing shtick: “God wants you to drive the best car, live in lavish luxury, and be independently wealthy.” Unsurprisingly, that message coincides very conveniently with my own innate self- indulgence, covetousness, and vanity. Nevertheless, the most formidable opponent of this prosperity gospel is the Bible. In the Beatitudes (Matt. 5:3-12), Jesus preached a contrary message. His gospel involves poverty, mourning, meekness, hunger, purity, peacemaking, and persecution. The primary characteristic of the blessed disciple is poverty of spirit. Jesus proclaimed the poverty gospel: “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:3).

True Humility

To be poor in spirit is to be humble. True humility is rare and increasingly undervalued. Even when it is pursued, it proves elusive. There are so many counterfeits. The one who understates his abilities and accomplishments in order to appear humble betrays how certain he is that the truth would impress you. Self- deprecation may be a ploy to coax out compliments to feed a ravenous ego. Genuine humility must be grounded in reality and rooted in the heart. We don’t become humble by distorting the mirror or obscuring the truth.

The starting place for humility is the starting place of the Bible: “In the beginning, God” (Gen. 1:1). He is central; we are peripheral. Humility recognizes that all reality, seen and unseen, is under his authority. “He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way” (Ps. 25:9). “The way to become poor in spirit is to look at God” (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones). The humble man sees God as he reveals himself in his Word and forms his self-assessment in the light of that revelation.

Rags and Riches

How this poverty of spirit is good news shines brilliantly in the Gospels. When the Pharisee and the tax collector entered the temple to pray, only he who “standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner'” went home justified (Luke 18:9-14). On the other hand, the rich young ruler lacked the one thing necessary. He was not poor in spirit. Had he recognized the Pearl of Great Price, he would have gladly parted with this world’s bobbles to have him. The woman with the discharge of blood spent all she had on useless physicians and was left weakened, destitute, and desperate. Yet, in poverty of spirit she ventured to touch just the hem of the Great Physician’s garment and was immediately healed (Luke 8:43-48). In every case, blessing hinged on the perception of their dire need and Christ’s abundant provision.

Blessed with Poverty

Notice, Jesus does not say the poor in spirit will be blessed. No, they are blessed. Grace has begun its work in their hearts, and its culmination can be confidently anticipated. They are heirs of the heavenly kingdom. “Poverty of spirit is the foundation stone on which God lays the superstructure of glory” (Thomas Watson).

If material poverty is despised by the world, far more are those despised who are poor is spirit. The world esteems power, autonomy, self-confidence, and meritorious success. In contrast, the believer in Christ is keenly aware of his weakness, dependence, sinfulness, and inability. Whatever signs of successful labor there may be, he must confess, “it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me” (1 Cor. 15:10).

Yet, that confession forms the earthen vessel into which God pours his treasure (2 Cor. 4:6-7). The more it is emptied of self, the more God fills it with the Spirit of Christ. “The poor in spirit, who have lain all their lives at the gate of mercy and have lived upon the alms of free grace, have died rich in faith, heirs to a kingdom” (Thomas Watson). Oh Lord, please make us poor in spirit.

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