“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matt. 5:1
Can there be rich Christians? Or is that an oxymoron? How poor is poor enough to be a good Christian? Should Christians have no possessions at all? If a Christian is rich, should they give away all that they have? I think all Christians have struggled with these questions in one way or another and the Scriptures are not clear and explicit on this topic. For example, Abraham was a very wealthy man who owned large herds and had servants, yet he was a man of faith and was reckoned as righteous by God. Job too was quite wealthy, and was considered a righteous man when he had this wealth. On the other hand, Jesus, who is our model, seemed to have very few possessions. He had no home during His earthly ministry, which would seem to indicate that he had very few things outside of the cloths on His back. He also advised a rich young man to sell all of his possessions and to follow Him. Also, the early Christians seemed to be willing to give away their possessions, or share them with the brethren.
“Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common.” Acts 4:32
“Nor was there anyone among them who lacked; for all who were possessors of land or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, and laid them at the apostles feet; and they distributed to each as anyone had need.” Acts 4:34
Was this a unique situation for the early Christians that caused them to live this way, or should all Christians follow this way of sharing their possessions? I’m not sure what is right here. We could be missing it by not doing this, or it could be that the Holy Spirit would need to bring this about in our midst.
This is what I do know for sure: We should not set our heart on our material possessions. This is clearly stated in the Scriptures:
“Do not love the world or the things in the world. [this is very clear] If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life – is not of the Father but is of the world.” 1 John 2: 15,16
And Jesus said this:
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; [this is very clear and explicit] but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven… for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matt. 6:19-21
Our possessions can become a stumbling block to us as Christians if we allow our hearts to focus on them and let them be a source of our pride, or our security, or our hope for the future. We need to be able to give up all that we have at any given moment, should the situation arise. I like the way that the Apostle Paul said it:
“Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.“ Phil. 4:11-13
As Christians we need to make sure that internally, in our hearts and minds, we don’t allow ourselves to be strongly anchored to our possessions, or any of the things of this world. We cannot allow our abundance of things or possessions to be the source of our contentment. I believe that this was what Jesus was referring to during His sermon on the mount when He began with this sentence:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
The Greek word for poor here is “ptochos”, and it comes from a root word that means to crouch down, like a beggar, and so the word means to be without wealth or beggarly. The Greek word for spirit here is “pneuma”, and refers to the inner workings of a person; this from Strong’s concordance: “the vital principal by which the body is animated; the rational spirit, the power by which the human being feels, thinks, decides; the soul”. From this I conclude that Jesus is talking about people who are poor in the way they view the things of this world; they are detached from their possessions in their hearts. They are not finding contentment or pride in their possessions or in the accumulation of wealth.
Of course, if you are literally poor, i.e. have little or no possessions, you don’t have the issue of being attached to your possessions, but you can still love the things of this world and covet them, which could be just as problematic.
The truth is that the poor of this world should find it easier to turn their hearts to Jesus and accept His promise of eternal live in heaven. They have nothing to hold them to this world. This is a blessing in that sense.
“Has God not chosen 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
Also, God’s ways are not aligned with the ways of this world and the ways of men; rather they are contrary. The world likes to honor the wealthy and wise men, but God has chosen the poor and foolish things.
“For consider your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble (well-born or wealthy), are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the mighty; and the base (or lowly) things of this world and the things which are despised God has chosen, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence.” 1 Cor. 1:26-29
But the rich people have the temptation to abuse their riches and the authority or power that may come with it. As Christians we are admonished to be generous with what the Lord has blessed us with in this life, and we are warned about the temptations of riches:
“For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” 1 Tim. 6:9-10
And this guidance for the rich in the same chapter:
“Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy. Let them do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to give willing to share, storing up for themselves a good foundation for the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.” 1 Tim. 6:17-20
Most of us here in the United States live in a very materialistic society with a great focus on wealth and possessions. We must guard our hearts from becoming attached to these temporary possessions. We must keep our affections set on heaven and the things that are spiritual and eternal.
“Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.” Col. 3:2-4