Blessed Poverty: A Paradigm Shift

Blessed Poverty: A Paradigm Shift

Part 9 of the Living Waters Series

Dear brothers & sisters,

The beatitudes are probably some of the most well-known of Jesus’ sayings, yet we so easily read right over them, not really asking ourselves what he means. But when we put in the effort to listen, we are often quite surprised and even puzzled by what Jesus has to say. Possibly one of the most radically paradoxical and subversive of the beatitudes is the first one:

Blessed are the poor in spirit,

for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:3

Blessed are you who are poor,

for yours is the kingdom of God.

Luke 6:20

Whether you prefer Matthew’s version or Luke’s version, Jesus is clearly trying to get us to think in a totally new way. He’s creating a paradigm shift where it’s actually the poor (not the rich) who are blessed by God. This goes against everything that we think we understand: isn’t wealth a sign of God’s blessing–not poverty? The culture of Jesus’ day certainly thought so, and our modern culture continues to believe this as well (even if it’s sometimes expressed in more secular terms). So let’s take a moment to explore what this first beatitude really means.

Looking at Strong’s Concordance, we learn that the word “poor” in both Matthew and Luke is translated from the word “ptwcoj”: “a beggar… i.e. pauper (strictly denoting absolute or public mendicancy)”. (Mendicancy means “the condition of being a beggar” according to Merriam-Webster.)

So another way to translate Matthew 5:3 and Luke 6:20 would be “blessed are the beggars who live off handouts“!

Living in Blessed Poverty

What does this mean for us as disciples of Jesus? It means that at the very least, many of us need a bit of a paradigm-shift on what kind of person is favored by God. Rather than looking down our noses on street beggars, we should learn to see them through the loving eyes of God.

But we shouldn’t stop there… Just because many of us are not poor now, does not mean that we cannot voluntarily adopt a lifestyle of blessed poverty. This brings us back to a few of our earlier posts in the Living Waters Series where we discussed what it means to practice Jesus’ command to forsake all our possessions (Luke 14:33) by selling what we have and giving the proceeds to the poor (Luke 12:33) and then working for God instead of money (Matthew 6:24). If you haven’t read these already, we strongly encourage you to check them out now for an idea of how you, too, can begin your discipleship journey into a life of blessed poverty the Jesus Way!

In first world countries, poverty virtually does not exist. We can say this because we know from personal experience: we are well below the poverty line of the United States where we live because we have chosen to live very simply by practicing Jesus’ teachings (more on that below). We have learned to live on less by sharing with others in Christian community and giving up little things like TVs, eating at restaurants, and even big things like living in houses/apartments. Despite this fact, we do not plead poverty because we have abundant access to all the necessities of life. For example, we have more than enough food for each day, and it’s mostly very healthy food, too. We also have access to health care, shelter (our little old RV), and transportation.

Poverty in first world countries is mostly just a matter of perspective, which is where Matthew’s version really rings true: blessed are the poor in spirit. Sure, we could try to keep up with the insatiable materialism of our country, demanding things like TVs, a multi-bedroom apartment/house, two or more cars, the latest devices, etc. But we would probably have to stop working for God full time, get a “normal” job somewhere, and thus become trapped in the vicious cycle of making money just to spend it on things we really don’t need, never having enough time (or energy) to do God’s work.

There are many ways to simplify our lives. Our way of going about it is inspired by the teachings of Jesus, but we certainly don’t have the monopoly on minimalist living! In fact, we even know people who live much more simply than us even here in the States. (Click here to learn about “the man who quit money”.) We would say, however, that if you’re interested in becoming Jesus’ disciple, then it may be wise to consider trying some of the methods that we use to embrace poverty because we use Jesus’ teachings as our framework. The more we learn about and get to know others who are embracing the poor-in-spirit lifestyle, the more inspired we get and the easier it becomes to be content with the basics (Matthew 6:32-33, 1 Timothy 6:6-8).

All this being said, however, we must not forget that Luke’s version isn’t talking about those of us who have the privilege of choosing to live without the excess luxuries of our wealthy society. Here, Jesus really is challenging our preconceptions about who God sees as the blessed ones.

“Poverty” in America vs. True Poverty

We mentioned earlier that real poverty does not exist in first-world countries. It is true that there are people who are on the streets even here in the United States who are in desperate need of help. But what kind of help do they need? Are they struggling to get enough food for themselves and their families? Do they have access to functional clothing? Are they able to take shelter somewhere? Is it possible for them to get enough money for any of these things? We know that very few homeless people here in the United States are struggling to get enough food, clothes, money, shelter, you name it. (And we’d be happy to share our experience with you if you’re not as confident about this as we are. Just leave a comment below.)

So what’s the deal? The fact is, most of the homeless population in the United States is the result of addiction or mental illness. So yes, homeless Americans do need serious help, and fortunately, this help is available. Both of these tragic conditions (addiction and mental illness) can be treated by many organizations that exist here in the States if the homeless person is truly interested in getting help.

Unfortunately, these kinds of “safety nets” do not exist in third-world countries where people stay desperately poor no matter how hard they work, simply because the world economy has been rigged against them.

We feel that this is a very important point to keep in mind when deciding where to invest our resources as Christians in charity. If you have a heart for the homeless here in the United States, there is certainly nothing wrong with responsibly sharing your time or money to support the organizations that exist to help them. However, we would strongly encourage you to consider learning more about the needs of those who do not have enough of the absolute necessities of life and consider helping them as well. We trust that you will find that there is greater need in developing countries than in the United States. Here’s a great place to start: World Vision.

The Good News

At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, he read from Isaiah 61, saying “The Spirit of the LORD is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor,” and then commenting that “The Scripture you’ve just heard has been fulfilled this very day!” (Luke 4:18-21). So Jesus is claiming that he has been anointed to bring the Good News (i.e. the Gospel) to the poor. And yes, that word “poor” from the Isaiah passage is the same one Jesus uses in the beatitudes (Strong’s Concordance)!

We don’t think it’s a mistake that Jesus didn’t mention that he would also be preaching the Gospel (Good News) to the rich. As much as we at Faith Worker Ministries try to “heal the blind” by teaching the rich to see the Good News of Jesus’ teachings (i.e. the Gospel), the truth is that it really isn’t very Good News for those of us with relative wealth and power (when compared to the rest of the world). We are much more like Roman citizens than we are like the outcasts of an oppressed and occupied country (e.g. the Jewish lepers, tax collectors, and prostitutes) who became Jesus’ closest friends and disciples. We, with our imperialistic privilege (like the Romans) and great religious pride (like the Pharisees), really have a long way to go in humbling ourselves before the one who we so strongly proclaim as our Lord and Savior, learning to truly live in accordance with his teachings.

But as we talked about towards the beginning of this article, even those of us who are not among the ptwcoj (poor/beggars) of the world can learn to see through God’s eyes and thus embrace the Gospel. We can learn to see how it actually is Good News for us to choose a life of poverty by practicing the clear teachings of Jesus that we mentioned earlier (Luke 14:33, 12:33, and Matthew 6:24).

Check out our articles about these teachings by following the links provided at the end of this paragraph. These articles will also explain how choosing to become one of the ptwcoj by following Jesus’ teachings helps us embody the ultimate goal of the Christian life: love for God, neighbor, and each other! So please do take the opportunity to read through these articles from our Living Waters Series: Entering the Next Dimension, 2 Simple Steps to Gain Heavenly Treasures, and Who’s Your Ma$ter?

Another way to look at this whole issue of the Gospel (Good News) being for the poor and not the rich is this: our planet is quickly deteriorating due to the insatiable demands for resources that the wealthy have created. The fact is that everyone could live much more simply and efficiently, and the fate of our planet would look much less grim. But the whole world cannot live like we do here in the United States and other first world countries. We can barely even sustain this tiny population (less than one billion people live in first world countries) as it is! So when we look at it from this perspective, it becomes obvious that the bad news is how we currently live, even if it’s convenient and familiar. The good news is that we may still have time to turn things around and learn to live happily on less. Jesus’ teachings about materialism provide the perfect framework for us to learn how to do exactly that.

This has become quite a long letter! Thanks for sticking it out with us, brothers and sisters. We’ve covered a lot of ground, and yet we’ve only just scratched the surface of this first beatitude. How do you see this beatitude playing out in your own life? Is there anything you think you can do differently? What stands out to you when you read, “blessed are the beggars (ptwcoj)”? Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below, or you can email us at

We hope to catch you again next week!

Love & Prayers,

Luke & Allie

Your Map to Blessed Living

Your Map to Blessed Living

Part 8 of the Living Waters Series

Dear brothers & sisters,

So far in our Living Waters Series, we have discussed what Jesus taught about love for God & others, as well as what it takes to begin the journey of discipleship. What we’ve discovered so far is that everything Jesus ever taught reveals the way to love more perfectly. So now that we’ve covered some of the fundamentals, we’d like to jump right in to the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew chapters 5, 6, & 7) and make our way through each of Christ’s teachings there. We’ll be a little flexible, jumping around the rest of the four gospels where we feel led and where it seems appropriate, but for the most part, we’ll be sticking to Matthew 5-7 for the next good chunk of our Living Waters Series.

That means we’re starting with the beatitudes! The goal of our Living Waters Series is to reveal how everything Jesus said really is Good News (i.e. the Gospel), and part of that revelation is how all of his teachings show us better ways to love God, our neighbor, and each other. It may seem obvious that the beatitudes are Good News, but on closer examination, many of us (especially in first-world countries) don’t quite fit the description of those who are called blessed. Not only that, but when you really think about what Jesus is saying, it’s all very counter-intuitive!

That’s because Jesus is introducing a new Kingdom–the Kingdom of God–a new Way of life. Those who we normally think of as being blessed/privileged (e.g. citizens of first-world countries), these people are actually set at a disadvantage–according to Jesus–in entering his new Kingdom (Luke 18:24-28). Our privilege makes us comfortable, less interested in the new Way of life that Jesus teaches about. In contrast, those who are oppressed, impoverished, and suffering have an easier time seeing the Good News of Jesus’ teachings without needing to be shown by others (like what we’re doing in this series). These blessed ones are much more likely to accept Jesus’ Way of life and the Kingdom of God that his teachings herald.

However, this does not mean that those of us who were born in first-world countries cannot learn to adopt the attitudes that Jesus identifies as truly blessed. So that will be the main point that we discuss as we journey through the beatitudes together: how to live more like the beatitudes! And of course, we will continue with our usual theme of how to love God & others better using Jesus’ teachings.

The problem that often comes with some of the more familiar teachings of Jesus (as with anything that gets repeated over and over) is that we often lose sight of what it actually means. So when the meaning of a word or a phrase or a whole passage begins to break down, we need to slow down and think deeply about what it’s actually saying. That’s why we will explore each verse on its own over the next few weeks, really taking time with each line of the beatitudes to make sure we don’t miss any nuggets of wisdom from the Word of God who is Jesus (John 1:1 & 14, Revelation 19:13)! We’ll use Matthew’s version as our chronological structure, adding the parallel from Luke’s version where one exists.

But for now, we’ll just brush over the beatitudes together to get the whole picture fresh in our minds. We started practicing this slow reading with the beatitudes ourselves, and one of the things that became apparent to us is that Matthew’s version seems to be focused on the state of one’s spirit (with the possible exception of the last bit about persecution), whereas Luke’s version seems to be focused on the physical state. We’ll quote the two passages side-by-side so you can see what we mean.

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
    for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
    for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
    for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
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 5:3-12

Blessed are you who are poor,
    for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who hunger now,
    for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now,
    for you will laugh.
Blessed are you when people hate you,
    when they exclude you and insult you
    and reject your name as evil,
        because of the Son of Man.
Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.

Luke 6:20-23

Does this mean that one version is wrong and the other one is right? That may be a discussion better left to those who are more qualified to speculate on the historical reliability of the gospels. For us as simple disciples of Jesus, we will file this revelation away in a folder titled “Awaiting Further Light”. And in the meantime, we will take both versions as equally true. And anyway, that just feels right, doesn’t it? Jesus’ life & ministry seems to focus a lot on finding the right balance between spiritual and physical. So it would make sense for us to also focus on trying to achieve this balance between spirit & matter: both our spiritual and physical sides need to be brought into proper standing.

And that’s what the beatitudes are all about! Jesus describes for us what the most excellent state of being is. He’s telling us what kind of person is blessed, and the amazing thing is that anyone can adopt this lifestyle! Anyone can choose to develop these blessed characteristics, thus moving us all closer to that ideal of love for God & others that we first set out to accomplish at the beginning of our Living Waters Series.

Now that we’ve brushed over both versions, we’re ready to go line-by-line through the beatitudes to see what we can uncover together. So join us next week as we explore how each verse reveals a beautiful way of life which improves our ability to love God, our neighbor, and each other!

Love & Prayers,

Luke & Allie

Faith Worker Ministries