---- Matthew 5:3
“The Church consists of the spiritually poor. The only condition of eligibility is destitution. The rich are sent away empty. We have to acknowledge our spiritual bankruptcy: that we have no merit to plead, no strings to pull, no power to save ourselves. To such, Jesus says, 'Blessed are the poor in spirit; the kingdom of God is theirs'.” --- John R.W. Stott
I do not remember a time in my life when I was not in church. From the time I was born in Memphis, Tennessee, my parents enrolled me in what was called then the “Cradle Roll.” I’ve heard stories of my “pre-memory” days when the ladies in the nursery of my parents’ church would take me from them and I would not cry a tear. The first 19 years of my life were filled with memories of people who were remarkable across the spectrum. I’d be less than honest if I did not admit that some of them still influence my life today!
You don’t grow up in the church, though, without noticing the wide variety of personalities --- proud, odd, humble, haughty, twisted, and otherwise --- who made up both clergy and laity. Perhaps it was because from a relatively early age I had the impression that God wanted me in the vocational Christian ministry, I always noticed the personalities of church leaders. Growing up as a Baptist, ministers, deacons, teachers, committee chairmen, and other leaders always impressed me. I noticed their demeanor, the way they dressed and carried themselves, the way they spoke before groups, and the way they communicated with others. Their language and vocabulary did not go unnoticed, either!
From my earliest years, one thing that stands out to me still was that ministers had a special “language of the kingdom.” Our particular brand of Protestantism seemed to liberally sprinkle its verbiage with words like “Dear Brother” and “I’ll have to pray about it” and a whole host of phrases involving the name “Jesus” --- “Dear Jesus” or “Trust Jesus” or “Give it to Jesus” or “Let’s just talk to Jesus.” The way things looked to me, we just seemed to have cornered the market on spirituality and Christian living!
From my perspective, our church’s leaders were generally well-dressed people who really had few problems in life (because they “trusted Jesus” and “counted it all joy” when challenges occurred). I don’t remember specifically being told that our beliefs were the best or most Biblical, but I certainly got that impression over the years. Have any of you present and former Baptists ever heard the question, “If you weren’t a Baptist, what would you be?” Answer: “Ashamed!” Frankly, I don’t remember a wholesale market for being “poor in spirit.” Seemed to me we were pretty proud of who we were and what we were.
Before you think I’m taking cheap shots at people who aren’t around to defend themselves, I must say that I don’t think many of us then or now aspire to be “poor in spirit.” We live in a Hollywood world where performers are stars and a persona means more than character. The world surrounding us genuinely believes that we should “toot our own horn” and “be our own best friend.” We are trained from childhood to “be somebody” --- if not in actuality, then in appearance. Even little children learn to “strut their stuff” in front of others in daily life. Our already fragile egos could hardly stand the additional blow of being “poor” in anything!
YET --- that’s exactly what the Lord Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount! The Church is to be an “institution of destitution.” The “poor in spirit” are the ones who know their weaknesses, their fatal sins and shortcomings, their propensities towards evil, their love for certain sins, and their innate powerlessness to make themselves truly Godly. The “poor in spirit” are the ones who come to God echoing the words of the Prodigal Son, “I have sinned against God and against others, and am not worthy…” One of the strangest ironies in the Scriptures is that only when people know their own helplessness and unworthiness is there any moral and spiritual help and advancement for them!
The “poor in spirit” are kingdom people --- that is, they live in light of the kingdom’s values and ethics. They live in the shadow of the King of the Ages whose reign extends to their lives and actions. They never get beyond the fact that they are not worthy to be citizens of this kingdom, yet they are. Their citizenship in this kingdom is due to the adoptive action of the King. Like Moses in the Old Testament, they inherently are common people of the bulrushes, yet they’ve been plucked from their doomed existence by the authority and grace of the King and made members of the royal household. They live humbly and faithfully in order to please the King, to bring honor to His name, and to insure that their lives are commensurate with what is expected of those in the royal family.
So, what’s the expectation of God for us this week? It’s that we’ll lose our habits of strutting around like religious peacocks and focus, instead, on living humbly and faithfully. It’s to refocus our attention from ourselves, our accomplishments, our titles, and our external accoutrements of success to wholeheartedly serving God and His people. Now that I’ve been in the ministry for over 30 years, I can say honestly that many of the people whose manner used to impress me have proven to be great disappointments. The cheesy smiles, the greasy religious manners, the flamboyant personalities, and the acquired demeanors leave a distinct ring of egotism and unreality. What the world is looking for is a real person of faith!
BE that person this week! Be who you are and do what God Providentially allows you to do. Do it for Him rather than for career progression, public acclaim, or ego building. Serve God and His kingdom, and you’ll be amazed what He will accomplish in the lives of others through you!