The Prosperity of Spiritual Poverty
I Have A Problem – pride!
From the time we are children we are taught to become independent – and naturally we try to be indispensable, and super efficient / self-sufficient; and on top of these we are stubborn. An inner voice says, “You can do it. Show them. You don’t need anybody’s help. You can do it all by yourself.”
ILLUS.: One of our kids “I can do it by mine own!”
Of course child need to develop a certain independence.
BUT at the very heart of our problem is pride. It is our single greatest detriment to coming to Christ, as well as spiritual growth and maturity.
Human nature / philosophy has always attempted life without God. We basically want to be self-reliant. We want a good life and think if we do this-and-that we can achieve it.
ILLUS.: Even on a govt. level we think we can resolve society’s problems. Education! Education! Education! Reform the NHS. Invest more in infrastructure. Etc. No doubt these things are needed but if for one minute we think this will solve society’s ills we are incredibly foolish.
What will solve the crime problem – more police? NO! What is the cause of rising crime – not the police but the criminal. The problem will be solved when people stop stealing etc…. That requires a change of heart!!
Jesus confronted a group of Pharisees in His day with what is urgently needed in our day. “Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, were listening to all these things and were scoffing at Him. And He said to them, ‘You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God’” (Luke 16:14-15).
I have a strong suspicion that things haven’t changed.
“The heart of the problem is the problem of the heart”
ILLUS.: G K Chesterton letter to THE Times – re: What is wrong with the world? “Dear Sir, I am. Yours faithfully,…
WHAT SPIRITUAL POVERTY IS NOT.
- It is not a set of goals that we must attempt to attain – that is the essence of self-reliance – a kind of DIY salvation / humility.
- It is not a ref. To physical/material poverty – some have tried to translate this verse as “Blessed in Spirit are the poor….”. Luke says “Blessed are the poor…” and some try to argue that to be poor is to be blessed but that is to go against scripture which nowhere suggests that poverty is a good thing AND Luke is making the point that one can’t rely on worldly riches to gain the KoG, which is exactly Matthew’s point. …………ILLUS.: Some Christians are guilty of this attitude in seeing riches as unspiritual. So missionaries who are seen to sacrifice material things to go to foreign places are some how more spiritual than those who stay at home. NO! – at least not for the reason of having a simple lifestyle.
Recognise the need / problem.
You can never deal with a problem until you recognise that the problem exists.
The worse kind of disease you can have is one that effects the nerve endings so you cannot feel pain. Our culture is a culture saturated with a preoccupation with self that emphasises happiness, bliss, and all the comforts of life with no emotional pain.
Pain demands change!
Pain, in whatever form is the pressure that motivates us to look outside of ourselves for help. It provides motivation to get up and do something. God can use our emotional pain to make us aware of our spiritual poverty and promote change.
Spiritual growth doesn’t take place until there is change. We cannot stay the same and go with God. It is may be uncomfortable. We generally resist it. But our spiritual growth won’t take place until we are willing to face the need for changes.
When we stop growing, we stop living. When you stop changing you stop growing.
The truth is it is not easy for anyone to grow. There is emotional pain when we become aware of our spiritual failures. Growth never takes place in a vacuum. It comes through conflict, pressures and circumstances.
Jesus – story of the Prodigal Son – his own foolishness came to realise his need and returned home….
We too must come to the place where we realise all the riches of heaven are at our disposal – Why then sit and sulk and lament in a pigsty. All God’s riches can be our inheritance – he wants sons and daughters, not a slaves. But the only way you get out of a pigsty is to come to your senses and confess, “I have a problem.” (I am poor is Spirit)
WHAT SPIRITUAL POVERTY IS.
Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3).
Word – “poor” describes absolute and abject poverty. The root means “to crouch, or to cower.” It describes the poverty that is beaten to its knees. He is a beggar who has nothing at all. He is “so poor that he only obtains his living by begging” (R. C. Trench, Synonyms, pp. 121-22). He has been reduced to the very act of begging––covering his face with his hands in an act of being ashamed to let the giver know his identity. He is absolutely destitute. They are so oppressed and disillusioned “they are in special need of God’s help. They are poor, miserable, beggarly impotent” (Arndt, Gingrich, p. 728).
This kind of person is conscious of his spiritual destitution, and feels his need. It is a painful experience. It is the opposite of self-sufficiency. The spiritually poor person is aware of his condition and has enough pain to seek relief.
Ultimately we are talking about a man’s attitude toward himself.
The prophet Isaiah came to grips with his spiritual need. Isaiah 6:5 – Woe is me for I am a man of unclean lips. He experienced the pain of his sinfulness and depravity. He was saying, “I am not spiritually prosperous. I am guilty before God.”
The Holy Spirit brings us to the place where we realize, “I am a sinner; I have a problem and it is really worse than I ever thought. God I want Help!”
And if I never come to that place I will never get help.
It is an attitude of utter dependence upon God. Until we admit our need we can never receive what God has for us.
Poverty of spirit is the opposite of spiritual pride. Jeremiah saw the depravity of man when he wrote, “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked” Our proud, arrogant self-confidence must be broken. It is a “lowly and just estimate of our character and our achievements, based upon a clear recognition of our own needs, weaknesses, and sins.”
Only when we are willing to admit his ourselves and to God are we in a position to receive help.
SPIRITUAL POVERTY AND THE NON-BELIEVER
Nicodemus was a devoutly religious man who was spiritually dead (John 3:3, 5). He had been born physically and he needed to be born spiritually. There is no difference between Nic and any other person. He had to come to a sense of his spiritual need. Jesus told him,
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.” (John 3)
He was a highly educated, cultured, moral, religious successful man who had to realize that he was spiritually dead. “The wages of sin is death.”
Jesus told another story that drives home this need in Luke 18:9-14. The writer Luke begins by telling us why Jesus told the story. “He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt.” Two men went up to the temple to pray one a Pharisee and the other worked for the Internal Revenue. He was a tax–collector. This is how they were praying.
The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’ I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:11-14).
One man realized his poverty. The other remained arrogant.
John 3:16–17 makes it very clear that we must believe on Christ as our Saviour. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge/condemn the world, but that the world might be saved/rescued through Him. Whoever believes on him is not condemned BUT whoever does not believe stands condemned already….”
It is not that we will be judged is we fail to believe in Jesus … rather we are condemned // sentence has been passed but not yet executed // Jesus comes to offer mercy / clemency.
Romans 5:6–8 reminds us of why Christ died for us. “For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” If there is no sense of poverty there is no recognition of our need for the gift of salvation. We are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone.
Lloyd-Jones.. “that there is no more perfect statement of the doctrine of justification by faith only than this Beatitude: ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs (and theirs only) is the kingdom of heaven.’ … this is the foundation of everything else.”
John R. W. Stott: – “Indeed, the very first beatitude proclaims salvation by grace not works, for it pledges the kingdom of God to ‘the poor in spirit,’ that is, to people who are so spiritually poverty-stricken that they have nothing in the way of merit to offer. . . . To be ‘poor in spirit,’ is to acknowledge our spiritual poverty, indeed our spiritual bankruptcy, before God. For we are sinners, under the holy wrath of God, and deserving nothing but the judgment of God. We have nothing to offer, noting to plead, nothing with which to buy the favour of heaven.”
Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to thy cross I cling;
Naked, come to thee for dress;
Helpless, look to thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Saviour, or I die.
This is the language of the poor in spirit.
SPIRITUAL POVERTY AND THE CHRISTIAN
No one can live the Sermon on the Mount in and of themselves – it is only possible by God’s gracious help.
The Apostle Paul wrestled with the reality of his spiritual poverty. “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin” (Romans 7:vv. 24-25).
The Holy Spirit must bring us to this place of honesty before we can grow spiritually.
William Barclay translates our text, “Blessed is the man who has realized his own utter helplessness, and who has put his whole trust in God.”
If you will recognize your spiritual poverty you can become spiritually prosperous by receiving Christ.
Is it worth the pain?
That is determined by the blessing. The spiritually prosperous person is poor in spirit so that he can receive the kingdom of heaven. Remember the blessing that comes with this beatitude? “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” The pauper is rich! He is under the sphere of God’s rule where at any given time His rule is acknowledged.
We cannot have that if we are self–righteous. The poor recognize and submit to the sovereignty, royal power and dominion of the Lord. He rules over the hearts of those who are poor in spirit.
Therefore, all the rich benefits and blessings of His kingdom belong to its subjects. That is the paradox. I am poor, yet I am rich! In no sense can we merit the kingdom. We are too poor. But being what we are we possess it. Jesus said it is “theirs alone.” “Those who are not poor in spirit can never have membership in the kingdom” (Morris).
Entrance into the kingdom of God is by the new birth (Matthew 18:3; John 3:5). The greatest blessings conceivable are found in the kingdom of God. Note the emphasis Jesus gave––it is now. It is not merely in prospect, but in present possession.
“For this is what the high and lofty One says – he who lives forever, whose name is holy: ‘I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is lowly and contrite in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite’.” Isaiah 57v15.
God desires to live with us – The only requirement is that we are poor in spirit – “Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to thy cross I cling …”
That is the key àthe cross of Jesus –“…the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ … though he was rich, yet for our sakes he became poor so that we, through his poverty, might become rich.” 2 Corinthians 8v9
“Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Edited Notes from Wil Pounds at South McGehee Baptist Church, McGehee, Arkansas.
John Stott – Christian-Counter Culture – In the BST Series.
D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones – Studies in the Sermon on the Mount
D A Carson – The Sermon on the Mount
M Green – Matthew – in BST Series
THE PROSPERITY OF SPIRITUAL POVERTY
1. I have a problem – PRIDE!
2. What Spiritual Poverty is not.
- Not DIY Humility
- Not the spiritually blessed poor
3. Recognising the Need.
- Admitting the pain
- Willing to change
4. What Spiritual Poverty is.
- Nothing to offer God.
- Knowing I’ve nothing to offer.
5. Spiritual Poverty & the non-Believer.
- The way out faith alone
by Grace alone in Christ alone
6. Spiritual Poverty and the Believer.
- Utter reliance on God’s help in our complete helplessness
7. The Benefits of Spiritual Poverty
- The kingdom of Heaven NOW (in part) and future (fully)
- Rich Paupers!