Perhaps this is one of Jesus’ statements which has puzzled many people up to now, even myself. I even had to google it and look for sermons and other resources poised at the topic from people and organizations I find credible.
Many of us use the passage thinking it’s a solid argument against those who believe in Prosperity Gospel. In a sense, yes, it is, but in another, it’s not. But before I explain, allow me to depict the social climate at the time when it was first said.
The phrase was said by Jesus at that time when Israel was under the Roman Empire. Roman gods and goddesses were brought to the country for all the Jews to see. This was unacceptable for them — for those who have been taught that there is only one God, the act was an utter defilement. But then again, weren’t they the ones who brought the subjugation upon themselves for praying to Baal and for upholding religious practices of their pagan neighbors?
The Jews were oppressed. They prayed hard for the promised Messiah, who would vanquish all their oppressors once and for all, and would lead Israel back to glory. They didn’t just pray; they even staged revolutions and plotted in secret.
And when Jesus came, they all hoped for an Alexander-the-Great sort of ruler. They were anticipating for Jesus to spearhead a revolution and establish a most powerful earthly kingdom, or at least to introduce a fail-proof military strategy which would send the Romans back home with their tail between their legs — if they would spare anyone at all.
You could imagine the look of disappointment on their faces as Jesus called the poor in spirit blessed. After all, what they needed at that time were military and political power, not some absurd shenanigans about poverty, meekness, and peacemaking. Or so they thought.
To put it bluntly, Jesus wasn’t talking about money. What he was referring to was a spiritual dependence for God, as a person too poor to fend for himself that he doesn’t have any choice but to rely on his government’s, or his king’s financial support. It doesn’t necessarily mean not having money at all, or dismissing any thought of possessing it. What Jesus meant was that every breathing moment you have, you thank God because you know that he could take your life away anytime he wants to. It means that every decision you would have to make, you will ask and submit to God because you are aware of your inability to make the right decisions for yourself, and that you are afraid of messing up and ultimately putting to waste your opportunity to live a meaningful life. It means that you need God like you have never needed anything before.
To be sure, I do not identify myself with those who practice and preach Prosperity Gospel. I once did, but not anymore. I believe in the example set by Jesus in the Bible, and I know he lived as a poor man. If he wasn’t, then why did he have to tell his disciples to fish just so they would be able to pay for their taxes? But I on the other hand do not believe that being poor gives glory to God. After all, why would God give us the ability to produce wealth if he abhors it?
I am reading the book Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki. I am learning many things about how to manage our finances wisely, and although it’s not a religious book, but I am gaining a different definition of wealth and approach to money.
In the example set to me by the people I know, I can see that people have contrasting definitions of wealth. For others, being wealthy means you can buy your own luxury house, drive your own sports car, wear designer bags and expensive clothing, and travel to different places in the world.
Others, like Robert, believe otherwise.
For example, they believe that all those mentioned above are liabilities and not assets. Heck, they would far rather live in a cheap apartment than buy their own house. And even if they owned real estate (which they do), they would far rather live in a simple house than reside in the most glamorous property they have. They don’t care about looks; I know many rich people who wear very casual clothing and drive ten-year-old cars. Even having money in the bank isn’t even their priority — where they put their money on are the things that haul in more money for them like real estate, stocks and bonds, business ventures, etc.
In short, they try to amass as much money as they can because they think they are not rich — at least in their own standard. But I cannot speak for them, and it is not even my intent to advertise their mindset of wealth.
God neither wants us to be rich nor poor simply because our parameters are very different from God’s. The Bible tells us that our transformation begins in the renewing of our mind. That should mean that our standards are very different from God’s, and more often than not, we mess up not because God didn’t give us the right answers to our questions; our questions were really wrong to begin with.
What we need is the godly perspective on money — something which I am still struggling to understand. And where else to turn but to the lives of the people God used in the Bible?
For example, God delighted in blessing David with wealth, but he also was pleased in the Apostle Paul’s fiscal problems. Jesus welcomed Zacchaeus in all his wealth but got twelve unremarkable people as disciples.
If there’s one thing I’m certain, it’s that God views money only as a means to accomplish his purpose.
He showed through David that his kingdom is an abundant one and that his earthly dwelling place needs to be amply funded, while Paul’s life is a proof that he doesn’t require for people to be rich before they are sent; one needs only be willing to be able to accomplish his purpose.
God wants us to be fully dependent on him and not on what we have on our hands, for it is our faith which makes it possible for us to please him. Sometimes a person is given a lot of money for him to become a vessel to mobilize God’s agenda, while another experiences drought for him to rely fully on God, and to show that our King does not operate on worldly economy.
Indeed, for us to treat money rightly, we have to first get our thinking correctly. Most of us fall into the trap thinking that money is an end, when it is only one of the means that God uses to accomplish his purpose. Also, money is one of the surest way to reveal a person’s real personality, as well as the god he serves.
By and large, to the Christian, the simplest definition of wealth is this: God. For if I have God as my shepherd, then I will want nothing else. And if there’s one kingdom that we must store up treasures in, the one soon coming would have to be it.