Posted in Bible, guest voices

Poverty of Spirit

Chale Atikonda

Dear readers:

Today we have a guest voice here on Theology in Overalls.

Chale Atikonda is a Master of Arts in Religion student and serving as Teacher’s Assistant at Africa Nazarene University in Kenya, Africa. He is an aspiring writer in the area of Theology. He is a Youth Pastor of Chiimba Church of the Nazarene and he is from Malawi, Africa.

His paper, entitled “Poverty of Spirit,” was edited by Eileen Qui.

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Matthew 5:3; Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Μακάριοι οἱ πτωχοὶ τῷ πνεύματι, ὅτι αὐτῶν ἐστιν ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν).

INTRODUCTION

There have been a good number of interpretations of what Jesus meant when He said that the “poor in spirit” are blessed. Some people believe that Jesus recommended physical poverty as a merit to enter into the eternal Kingdom of God. Others believe that Jesus meant one must suffer under the guidance of the Spirit, such as punishing the body by denying it food, sleep or good clothing, and in extreme cases, even punishing the body by beating it, causing bleeding wounds to make one poor in obedience to what they believe to be the leading of the Spirit of God. Before I embark on explaining what I believe Jesus meant when He called us to the poverty of the Spirit so that we are able to attain the Kingdom of God, let us begin from the original language in which this verse was written in.

GREEK UNDERSTANDING

GREEK LITERAL MEANING TRANSLATION
Μακάριοι blessed, happy Blessed
πτωχοὶ (of one who crouches and cowers) beggarly, poor are the poor
Πνεύματι wind, spirit in spirit,
αὐτῶν Self (emphatic), he, she, it (used for the third person) for theirs
Βασιλεία kingdom, sovereignty, royal power is the kingdom
οὐρανῶν Heaven Of heaven.

Although the Greek word πτωχοὶ basically means “poor”, this text appears many times in Hebrew scripture and the usage of its equivalent Hebrew word is broader than the Greek word. The Hebrew word עני” meaning “poor” describes a person who can do nothing on his/her own and is totally dependent on other people to provide all their needs. Ryan Shaw concurs by stating that “in Hebrew ‘poor’ reflects the humble and helpless putting their trust in God. The ‘poor’ admit Spiritual bankruptcy.”[1] In addition to this, the Bible hub comments, “Poverty in any shape helps to stir in man a sense of need, a disposition to consider himself as dependent….”[2] Therefore,  in the original language, the word “poor” describes someone who cannot do anything on his/her own and all needs must be provided by someone else. A good example can be a baby who always needs an adult to give them what they need and be at their service all the time. However, the difference from a baby is that the “poor,” as described in the original language, know that they are unable to do anything for themselves. Therefore, they must become attached to someone who has the ability to provide for their needs.

THEN WHAT DID JESUS MEAN?

In this verse, Jesus meant that the blessed are those who know that they cannot do anything on their own and therefore, recognize that they always need God to meet all their needs. The poor in spirit recognize their spiritual bankruptcy and are humble enough to completely submit themselves to a master who is rich in everything to provide for their needs. The logic behind this is that one cannot submit oneself as a poor person to a master/provider to provide for him/her without some form of worship or service to this master/provider. Adele Ahlberg Calhoun concurs, “Everyone worships someone or something…. Human beings cannot help but assign ultimate value and worth to someone or something. Of course that does not mean everyone worships God. One’s ultimate devotion can rest in money, success, a person, a garden, a creed, a cause so forth. Ultimately, what we are devoted to will shape our lives.”[3] That is why there are numerous people who worship their jobs and give their all in serving or working.  They work hard not because they love what they do or take pride in their work, but because they know that their job provides them with what they need. Without their jobs, they cannot get what they need and make ends meet. They are poor in the eyes of their job. Ryan Shaw argues in agreement that “Poverty of Spirit means I need God for everything. It is confidence in God, not natural circumstances or abilities.”[4] So Jesus meant that blessed are those who come to this state, see themselves weak and insufficient without God and they, therefore, join themselves to God with humbleness in living, service and worship. Such people qualify to attain the Kingdom of God.

Continue reading “Poverty of Spirit”

Posted in reflections

Time for some righteous rebellion?

Rebels often get smacked down. Jesus was a rebel, and he knew if we followed his example, we could expect the same treatment:

“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” – Matthew 5:11-12 (NIV)

In the United States, Christians throw around the term “persecution” far too lightly. It is a sacred word, dripping with the blood of the martyrs, and when we toss the term out nonchalantly, we cheapen it. This is why the Beatitude is clear: the blessing is only for those who are mistreated “because of me.” We’re not talking about a negative reaction from others that we’ve merited because of our own silly behavior in the name of Christ, such as the Florida pastor who in April 2012 threatened to burn the Koran. He should have been censored.  That’s not persecution; that’s public accountability.

But let’s not be naive. The drift of Western culture on multiple fronts is such that those who resist the tide, however quietly, will necessarily stand out. As a preacher rightly pointed out: “We’re upstream Christians in a downstream world.”

There are dangers in group psychology when those who before were culturally dominant become a cultural minority. This seems to be the moment we’re living in, both in the United Kingdom and the United States. The knee-jerk reaction for the believer can be to withdraw from broader society, like a turtle who – when you poke his head with a stick – draws back into his shell. But how can we be salt and light if we remove our loving influence at the very time when it’s most needed?

A second reaction is anger, a temptation to lash out at those we perceive as marginalizing us. This may show up on FaceBook as angry status updates or bitter criticisms of politicians. Time to add a new verse to the children’s song: “Oh, be careful little fingers what you type!”

A superior path is the path of righteousness. Want to rebel? Be holy! By doggedly modeling the values of love and integrity, no matter what, we can make a difference. Rather than disengaging, our commitment – in obedience to the Great Commandments to love God and neighbor- must be to re-engage our culture. Because the stereotype is that Christians are brittle and hateful, we must go the second mile to show that the stereotype is just plain wrong.

A good example of this was Sandra Bullock, the actor who played the mom in the 2009 film, The Blind Side. She turned down the role three times, fearing it was just another example of Christians grandstanding about good deeds, while on-the-side living low-down like too many others. But after she met the real-life Christian family behind the film and spent extended time with them, she concluded: “I finally met people who walk the walk.”

When “everyone else is doing it,” when Christianity has been compromised, it’s time we put a little rebellion in the mix. Follower of Jesus, are you ready for some righteous rebellion?

“Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold, but let God remold your minds from within, so that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good, meets all his demands and moves towards the goal of true maturity.” – Romans 12:2,  J.B. Phililips paraphrase

Let’s rebel against the low road, whether it’s the low road of non-believers or Christians who don’t act like it. It’s time to take our faith to the next level. It’s time for some holy rebellion. Are you ready to be a righteous rebel?

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Photo credit: Blue Cheddar