Today, we shall continue our examination of the New Testament teaching on Wealth and Poverty. Having given the background to Jesus’ teaching on Wealth and Poverty in the previous post, we shall now look at the specific teachings of Jesus on wealth and poverty. I am of the opinion that any attempt to down play His teachings on this important topic will leading us to the danger zone. This is the zone of those who misinterpret the Scriptures as a result of their ignorance and for selfish reasons. What is true wealth and should a christian use his wealth? Let us begin to learn from the Lord some of the Christian values that makes on rich beyond material possessions. Thoses values are indeed what makes a man truely wealthy.
Blessed Are The Poor In Spirit (Matt. 5;3; Luke 6:20)
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” is the opening statement of what Matthew presented as part of the Sermon on the Mount. Luke’s version of what he describes as the Sermon on the Plain is “Blessed are the poor”. Here the Lord shocked the multitude who were devotees of the Scribes and Pharisees and zealously followed their example. Relying on the promises in Deuteronomy 28, the Pharisees and Sadducees a like, had always seen poverty as punishment from God and the pursuit of wealth at all cost as legitimate.
What does Jesus mean by describing the poor as happy or lucky people? Jesus literally means “O! Who can describe the happy state, the fullness of joy or the blessedness of the poor, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”; or still “How fortunate are the poor …..?” ‘ptwcoz’ (Poor) refers to someone who is completely destitute, poverty stricken, without any resources whatsoever27. The Greek words for the poor and beggar come from the same root word which means “to cover” or “to cringe”. A ptwcoz28 is one who is so poor that he has to beg. Some beggars at the time of Jesus would cover their faces and crouch as they held out their hands for alms. Begging was regarded as humiliating and therefore many of the beggars were so ashamed that they would not want the givers of alms to know their identity.
Did Jesus choose his words lightly when he said “Blessed are the poor in spiritual “, Did He mean “blessed are: the spiritual paupers; or blessed are the spiritually bankrupt who crouch for alms, or blessed are the spiritually destitute?” To be poor in spirit is the opposite of spiritual pride or feeling self-sufficient. The Pharisees were intensely proud, counting themselves to be righteous and lacking nothing spiritually, (see the prayer of the Pharisee in Luke 18:9-14). In the Psalms the pious man describes himself as poor and needy, calls on God to help against the oppressor and the Lord heard him (Ps. 12:5, 86: 1).
Hence the term ptwcod came to be a designation for the pious, humiliated and the oppressed of the society. Therefore, Christ has been anointed to bring the good news to the poor in order to show that God has not forgotten them. In the Messiah, the promises of God about their relief and liberation are not a group of accursed people under Yahweh’s punishment. In fact, those among them who accepted by faith the message of the good news of the kingdom constitute the happiest people on earth as citizens of the kingdom of heaven. This is supported by the fact that majority of his disciples were not from the rich class or the privileged ones of the society.
Similarly, Paul says that God in his eternal wisdom has chosen the contemptible people of the world to be citizens of the new Divine Common wealth. The apostle aptly sums up this idea thus: “For consider your ca11, brethren; not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many of you were powerful, not many of you were of noble birth; but God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the strong. God chose what is low and despised in the world, even the things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are; so that no human being might boast in the presence of God” (1 Cor. 1:26-29). James also declares “Has God not chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of Him? (2:5). This means that in the real sense, the Gospel was addressed to the poor. But it is not poverty as such that qualifies a person for salvation, because poverty itself is not a state of happiness, but the promises made by God and the joy of being in the Kingdom. The rich who accepts the message of the good news also has a place in God’s kingdom.
27 William Hendrikson. The Gospel of Mathew (Edinburgh; The banner of truth, 1974), 255-270.
28 J. A. Carson, The Sermon on the Mount: An expository of Mathew 5-7 (Carlisle: Paternoster Press, 1994), 18-21.