Monday, February 22, 2010

Gospel & the Poor

In preaching, I have been working through Matthew's Beatitudes. One of the issues that comes up is the difference between Matthew and Luke. Particularly: Matthew's "blessed are the poor in spirit" and Luke's "blessed are the poor". While not solving the difficulty here, I believe the solution lies in the OT where "poor" has overlapping context of economically poor and "spiritually" poor. It isn't entirely correct to say that Matthew "spiritualize" poverty, particularly given some of the American and 21st century connotations behind the word "spiritual". It is accurate to say that Luke does focus on economic issues. Matthew is focusing on our destitution before God, one who recognizes their condition of our heart before God. There is a inward disposition that characterizes the people of God. We recognize, no matter our economic condition, our destitution before God. We have great need of the kingdom and that's why when the kingdom of God comes the call is: "repent for the kingdom of God is at hand".

Along these lines, Timmy Brister has this excerpt from the book A Gospel Primer for Christians:

Like nothing else could ever do, the gospel instills in me a heart for the downcast, the poverty-stricken, and those in need of physical mercies, especially when such persons are of the household of faith.

When I see persons who are materially poor, I instantly feel a kinship with them, for they are physically what I was spiritually when my heart was closed to Christ. Perhaps some of them are in their condition because of sin, but so was I. Perhaps they are unkind when I try to help them; but I, too, have been spiteful to God when He has sought to help me. Perhaps they are thankless and even abuse the kindness I show them, but how many times have I been thankless and used what God has given me to serve selfish ends?

Perhaps a poverty-stricken person will be blessed and changed as a result of some kindness I show them. If so, God be praised for His grace through me. But if the person walks away unchanged by my kindness, then I still rejoice over the opportunity to love as God loves. Perhaps the person will repent in time; but for now, my heart is chastened and made wiser by the tangible depiction of what I myself have done to God on numerous occasions.

The gospel reminds me daily of the spiritual poverty into which I was born and also of the staggering generosity of Christ towards me. Such reminders instill in me both a felt connection to the poor and a desire to show them the same generosity that has been lavished on me. When ministering to the poor with these motivations, I not only preach the gospel to them through word and deed, but I reenact the gospel to my own benefit as well.

Milton Vincent, A Gospel Primer for Christians: Learning to See the Glories of God’s Love (Bemidji, MN: Focus, 2008), 38-39.

This book is on my wishlist, although it's been moving down. Looks like it just go bumped to the top.

This quote pastorally handles some of the issues with the difference between Matthew and Luke. It should also cause us to rethink some of the effects of the prosperity gospel. It certainly is a problem when we assume God promises material blessings and so a sign of God's favor--indeed the expectation I should have of God's favor--is health, wealth and all kinds of prosperity. The bigger problem of the prosperity is if you work backwards from material to the condition of the heart--under this skeme I assume that because God is blessing me my heart is ok before Him.

In other words, a true understand of the gospel is just like Vicent says, "When I see persons who are materially poor, I instantly feel a kinship with them, for they are physically what I was spiritually when my heart was closed to Christ." But if in the prosperity gospel I look at the rich person and see God's hand of blessing, I begin to make certain assumptions about spiritual conditions. Either (a) they have material blessing because they are spiritually health or (b) God 'owes' me because of a certain condition that is true of me or can be made true by my own effort. The focus on material blessing undermines our understanding of true spiritual poverty.

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"The Voyages..." Forays into Biblical studies, Biblical exegesis, theology, exposition, life, and occasionally some Star Trek...