We live in a world that encourages its citizens to trust no one but themselves, to think highly of themselves, and to promote themselves. One has only to read modern curricula vitae or personal statements when people apply for a job or a scholarship to understand this. Pride and arrogance are common in our modern materialistic and self-indulgent society. There is also a growing sense of entitlement—that the world owes us things that we deserve.
Such values have also infiltrated the church. It is seen in the presumptuous confidence on church ‘stages’, and in the focus of spirituality as ‘performance’ and ‘achievements’. It is sometimes not clear who we are really worshipping in our services. Are we worshipping ourselves, our prowess, our wealth, our popularity, our institutions—or are we worshipping the true and living God?
The way to answer these questions is to ask whether our worship services are characterised as “poor in spirit”. It is difficult to be poor in spirit amid the noisy applause in church. No wonder Chrysostom, that ancient bishop of the fourth century, banned applause in his church in Constantinople.
The practices in church reveal the level of seriousness with which we take to heart what the Lord is saying. Too often, we exhibit a worldliness that enters subtly into our thoughts and attitudes and the unexpected message we proclaim. Instead of humility, we may be trumpeting human pride. D A Carson highlights one practice that mindlessly follows the ways of the world.
Why is it that we constantly parade Christian athletes, media personalities, and pop singers? Why should we think their opinions or their experiences of grace are of any more significance than those of any other believer? When we tell outsiders about people in our church, do we instantly think of the despised and the lowly who have become Christians, or do we love to impress people with the importance of men and women who have become Christians? Modern Western evangelicalism is deeply infected with the virus of triumphalism, and the resulting illness that destroys humility, minimises grace, and offers too much homage to money and influence and ‘wisdom’ of our day.
It is the poor in spirit who will receive the kingdom of God. You cannot enter the kingdom of God without that humility and brokenness and trusting dependence with which we must approach God.
Without spiritual poverty we will be locked out of the kingdom. But should we, by the mercy of God, enter into the kingdom, we must be careful that we remain in that same attitude of spiritual poverty. The moment we lose that attitude, we will fall from grace (Galatians 5:4) and find ourselves outside the reality of that kingdom.
The way of the kingdom is to empty ourselves of all that is of the flesh—and its pride, arrogance and self-sufficiency. It is when we are poor in spirit that we enter into the realm of the kingdom of God. We are reminded by John Calvin that “He only who is reduced to nothing in himself, and relies on the mercy of God, is poor in spirit.” This is at the heart of the Sermon.
Without emptying ourselves in repentance and humility, trusting Christ alone, we can never be filled with the life of the kingdom. This experience of being poor in spirit marks our entry into the kingdom, and every step we take along the royal road in that kingdom.
What spiritual disciplines can you think of that would help us to become and remain poor in spirit? Why did Jesus connect poverty of spirit and being in the kingdom of God?
Excerpted and adapted from The Sermon of Jesus by Robert Solomon. © 2013 by Robert Solomon. Used by permission of Armour Publishing. All rights reserved.
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