This title is one which you won’t likely find on the New York Times Bestseller’s list for financial success, however it’s principle is found in ancient scripture. While many bookshelves all over the world are stacked high with books for equipping others on how to acquire earthly wealth, very little books direct us on how to acquire eternal riches, which is of far greater value. Jesus made a clear distinction between these two different types of wealth. That is to say, that which is perishable from imperishable, temporal from eternal, and earthly from heavenly:
“Therefore if you have not been faithful in the use of unrighteous wealth, who will entrust the true riches to you? – Luke 16:11
Before you continue reading I want to ensure you that I am not promoting the need to sacrifice one type of wealth for the other. On the contrary, earthly wealth and eternal riches can and do co-exist in the lives of many. Let us not fool ourselves, throw the baby out with the bathwater and conclude that the wealth we earn will ultimately produce spiritual bankruptcy. Indeed, it was Jesus himself which called the wicked and lazy servant the one which did not understand how to build wealth and gain a return by leveraging the principle of interest:
“But his master answered and said to him, ‘You wicked, lazy slave, you knew that I reap where I did not sow and gather where I scattered no seed. ‘Then you ought to have put my money in the bank, and on my arrival I would have received my money back with interest. – Matthew 25:26
With that in mind, the purpose of this teaching is to answer the following questions:
- How do we obtain true riches from God?
- What are some road blocks which prevent us from receiving?
- What does being poor in spirit truly mean and how is it related to being rich is Christ?
True riches are obtained by spiritual poverty
Its paradoxical yes, but in the kingdom of God spiritual wealth is obtained by acknowledging our spiritual poverty. Consider the following:
Listen, my 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? James 2:5
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. – Matthew 5:3
The Spirit of God spoke through a man named Isaiah, a priest who lived in the Kingdom of Judah during the 8th century BC, and described in detail what the work of the Messiah would look like. A sneak preview if you will centuries before the live show began.
The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners…- Isaiah 61:1
The first objective of His mission was instinctively clear: Preach the good news to the poor. The problem is when Jesus stepped foot on the scene and the show began, not everyone He preached to was poor. Does this mean He deviated from the original assignment? Was the sneak preview inaccurate? Herein lies the difference between spiritual and physical poverty.
An example of a poor wealthy man
Simon Peter, often acclaimed as a lowly fisherman, was actually a successful business owner of an international fish trading company with several ships, employees, and a group of business partners:
When they had done this, they enclosed a great quantity of fish, and their nets began to break;
so they signaled to their partners in the other boat for them to come and help them. And they came and filled both of the boats, so that they began to sink. – Luke 5:6
And so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not fear, from now on you will be catching men.” – 5:10
Further historical and archaeological evidence uncovered in the last century tells us at one time he possibly owned multiple houses in Capernaum and along the coast of Galilee (likely sold them off later). Not poor by any stretch of the imagination. No wonder it was easy for him to leave his nets and follow Jesus; he had employees to delegate his work to! But why would Jesus select Peter, an apparent wealthy man, to be a pillar in the world changing movement of the kingdom of God, if as we read earlier, He was sent to preach to the poor? What made him so special? It is because it wasn’t Peter’s physical wealth Jesus was after; it was his spiritual poverty. Peter was poor in spirit and as such the kingdom of heaven belonged to him. In other words, it was Peter’s deep inner realization of his own sinfulness and need for God that caused him to be a prime candidate as a disciple.
After experiencing a miraculous financial breakthrough (a massive catch of fish) on the glistening waters of the Sea of Galilee, it wasn’t shortly afterwards Peter was at the sandals of Jesus declaring “I am a sinful man, get away from me!”. Grace exuded. The riches of Christ in that moment was offered in exchange for Peter’s poverty. Then came the call, “Come Simon, follow me, and I’ll make you a fisher of men”.
Power in poverty before meeting Christ
Peter’s example teaches us there is power in poverty before meeting Christ. Like an engine being primed for use, it prepares our hearts to receive Him. When we become poor in spirit, we come to the place where we acknowledge and embrace our own self destructive behaviors and sinfulness. To justify ourselves out of the necessity of Christ’s cross is to withhold His justification from our own lives. No sin, no need for a savior. It is in the confession of our own sinfulness (not individual sins) we are forgiven (1 John 1:9), but if we say we have never sinned, the truth does not abide in us (1 John 1:10). This was the fundamental issue with the religious leaders in Jesus’ day, and unfortunately, continues into the present. They claimed they could see, so they were blind. They claimed they could hear, so they were deaf. They claimed they were flawless in respect to the law, so their sin remained. A disease never acknowledged and brought to the attention of a doctor will never receive the remedy to reverse its condition.
Around 3,400 years ago (1393-1273 BC) Moses was commanded to construct a bronze serpent, put it on pole, and lift it high among the Israelites as they traveled through the wilderness. He then instructed the people bitten by poisonous vipers to gaze upon the serpent so that they may receive immediate healing and eviction of the poison infecting their bodies. Unfortunately, not all acknowledged their condition, nor the healing instrument being offered at that time. As a result, they died from their infections. Likewise, all of the human race has been infected by sin through Adam. We all have been bitten and tasted of its poison. But it is only when we acknowledge this, and gaze upon Jesus of Nazareth who was put on a cross and lifted up among us ages ago, do we immediately receive our remedy. For by His stripes, beatings, torture, floggings, and nails, we are healed.
The reason why Messiah said it is difficult for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven is not because he is rich. The reason why the entry is difficult lies in the inherit risk of becoming blind to our spiritual need for God at the expense of all other needs and desires fully realized. It is the temporal blessings which so often blind us from the eternal ones.
Power in poverty after meeting Him
After initially coming face to face with the Christ, receiving His stripes offered for our sin and taking our first step toward following Him, we must continue in our poverty, but just not in the same way. On this side of the Kingdom we embrace our poverty not by being mindful of our sin, but by constantly acknowledging our ongoing need for His power, grace, and work in our lives to become who we were created in Christ Jesus to become. In other words, we are to be as children completely dependent upon our Father.
How earthly wealth can consume our spiritual poverty
As previously mentioned, earthly wealth and spiritual poverty can co-exist. But like a box of matches in a dry forest, the danger and risk in wealth consuming our dependence must be carefully mitigated and managed. The church in Laodicea learned this lesson the hard way.
‘Because you say, “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, – Revelations 3:17 (NASB)
Jesus then proceeds to present a business offer on the table: “buy from me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich”. Immediately the connection between the wealth and affluence of their city and their own spiritual condition became clear. The change in the Laodicean’s had to begin with their understanding of spiritual poverty. They were to labor (buy) by expending self-sufficiency and regaining dependence for an exchange of the riches (refined gold) of Christ.
Men, we are not called to throw our wealth out the window, but we are called to throw our independence out. Becoming a man of God is less about building our kingdoms on the shifting sands of self-reliance, but more about complete dependence upon our heavenly Father for all needs, wants, and desires, whether they be spiritual or physical, and whether they be realized or not.