Sermon: How to Inherit God’s Kingdom
Scripture: Matthew 5:3
In this week’s lessons, we learn what it means to be poor in spirit.
Theme: Poverty of Spirit
There are not many things I know about Sophie Tucker, the actress, but years ago I heard a statement of hers that I have since remembered. On one occasion, the actress was asked about her early struggles for success and whether or not she had found a certain special happiness in her years of poverty. She answered, “Listen, I’ve been rich, and I’ve been poor. And believe me, rich is better.” For years I have found this remark interesting. I remember it today because at least on the surface, it seems to be the direct opposite of the first great principle taught by the Lord Jesus Christ about how you and I can find happiness. In the first of the Beatitudes, Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:3). According to Jesus, happiness is related to some sort of poverty, and the heirs of God will be those who find it.
In all fairness to Sophie Tucker, I must admit that when Jesus Christ was talking about a poverty of spirit he was not talking about poverty in the same sense that most of us talk about it. He was not talking about the opposite of being materially rich. This is the sense in which many commentators on Matthew’s Gospel have taken Christ’s saying, but this is not its true meaning. There would be some justification for this interpretation if Luke’s version of the Beatitudes were all that we possessed in our Bibles, for Luke reports Jesus as saying: “Blessed be ye poor; for yours is the kingdom of God” (Luke 6:20). This could be material poverty. But it is not. Matthew rules out this meaning by quoting Christ’s full saying, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” To be poor in spirit is to be poor in the inward man, not in outward circumstances. Consequently, to be poor in spirit is to recognize one’s poverty spiritually before God.
If it were true that Matthew 5:3 refers to material poverty, then it would be an unchristian thing for a Christian or any other person to seek to alleviate the burdens of the destitute and the suffering. For it would mean seeking to abolish that which actually brings them closer to God and to his happiness. If this were the meaning, it would not be right to attempt to relieve those who are starving in West Africa. It would not be right to try to provide for the refugees left homeless by natural calamities and wars. There could be no social programs within the Christian churches. There could be no orphanages, no hospitals or inner city missions. None of these things would be Christian if this verse taught that spiritual blessedness was to be derived from material poverty.
The verse does not say this at all. And what is equally important, God does not sanction poverty in any other biblical passage either. It is true that there are verses that teach that riches can be a bad thing. Christ said that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. A person can be so caught up in the material things of this world that he can miss all of God’s spiritual benefits. That is true. But if it is true that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven, it is also true that it is sometimes difficult for a poor person to enter also. The poor man can be equally materialistic, even though he does not possess the things for which he craves. No, the first beatitude is not talking about either material riches or material poverty.
What kind of poverty is Jesus talking about?
Why is it true that it is not only the rich who can fall into the sin of materialism?
Reflection: Do you ever find yourself being more interested in possessions than you ought?