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          With John’s Apocalypse behind us,[1] we now turn our attention to Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi. The Youth Minister and I are sharing the preaching during this four-week series.

          On its surface, Philippians appears to be a preacher’s dream come true. No dense theology to unravel, no ancient customs to explain, no esoteric argumentation to simplify. Instead, this little gem serves up one memorable phrase after another:

  • To live is Christ, to die is gain (1:21).
  • Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! (4:4).
  • Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God (4:6).
  • I can do everything through him who gives me strength (4:13).

Each phrase is worthy of its own, independent sermon; each slogan can be, and often is, ripped from its context and made into a bumper sticker. No wonder the “epistle of joy” is a perennial favorite.

          Once this first naïve reading is completed, however, the true character of Paul’s little letter becomes more evident. These memorable passages are not timeless slogans designed to encourage positive thinking. Rather, they are a part of a larger conversation that originated when God “began a good work in” them (1:6) and will end at “the day of Christ” (1:6, 10; 2:16; and see 3:20).

          What is the nature of that work? What is Paul’s goal for this Christian community? How will Paul know that he “did not run or labor for nothing” in the City of Philippi? (2:16).

          The Spirit’s work within all of us is transformation. On that day, we want to be “pure and blameless” (1:10; 2:15). Today we are anything but. Therefore, we have a process of spiritual overhaul to which we must submit.

          Paul’s goal for this Christian community is clear: “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” (1:27). How is that humanly possible?

          Once this question is faced, then we are ready to move past the naïve platitudes and dig into the meat of Paul’s challenge to the church:

  • Be of the same mind, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind (2:2, emphasis mine throughout).
  • Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, be thus minded: and if in anything ye are otherwise minded, this also shall God reveal unto you (3:15).
  • I exhort Euodia, and I exhort Syntyche, to be of the same mind in the Lord (4:2).

Paul is drawing upon ancient understandings of friendship in order to challenge this community in Christ. According to these ancient understandings, friendship involves “two bodies sharing the same soul [or mind].”[2] If this level of friendship is achieved, then complete harmony is possible, so said the ancient philosophers. Something often quoted and idealized in literature but seldom, if ever, seen in reality.

          As was often his practice, Paul takes a grain of wisdom from his culture and baptizes it into the Christian faith. For Paul, true harmony within a diverse human community is possible—by God’s supernatural grace.

          How do individuals, programmed from birth to value individualism, learn to live in perfect harmony with other, diverse, equally programmed individuals? Humanly speaking, they don’t. They may coexist, they may be civil toward one another in public, they may even go years without a visible fracture or an outward split, but they will never truly become one with one another.

          Why? Because while they may share the same space they don’t share the same mind.

          However, if each member of the community repudiates the mind programmed to value individualism and embraces the mind of Christ, then true Christian community can flourish, so says Paul by the inspiration of God’s Spirit.

          Thus we have Paul’s primary exhortation and every church’s most profound challenge: “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus” (2:5, KJV).

          A church filled with people embracing the mind of Christ? Now that is a preacher’s dream come true!


[1] A nine-sermon series available to hear and download on our church’s website at http://www.3chopt.org.

[2] Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Philosophers 5.20.

This Sunday (10/28/12) I will preach my final sermon from John’s Apocalypse—the Book of Revelation.[1] We will cover chapters 21-22. This will be the ninth sermon in this series. I covered the entire apocalypse, with the exception of chapters 15-16, in just nine sermons. Wow. I didn’t think I could do it, but I did.

Upon careful scrutiny, the artistic beauty and structural genius of John’s masterpiece come to the forefront. It truly is a magnificent work of art. Here is a look at the structure of the drama:

_________________________________________________________________________________________

Act One:

1. The Prologue, 1:1-20.

2. Scene One: The Church in Imperfection – The Seven Letters to the Seven Churches, 2:1 – 3:22.

3. Scene Two: The Authority of God over Evil Explained – The Seven Seals on the Scroll, 4:1 – 8:6.

4. Scene Three: The Warning Judgments – The Seven Trumpets, 8:1 – 11:19.

Act Two:

* Center Scene: The Lamb, God’s Answer to Evil – The Seven Unnumbered Figures and Angelic Messages, 12:1 – 14:20.

4. Scene One: The Consummated Judgments – The Seven Bowls of Wrath, 15:1 – 16:21.

3. Scene two: The Authority of God over Evil Exercised – 7 Descriptions of God’s Authority, 17:1 – 20:15.

2. Scene Three: The Church in Perfection, 21:1 – 22:5.

1. The Epilogue, 22:6-21.

_________________________________________________________________________________________

I can’t get the editor on this blog page to cooperate, but if I could, I would progressively indent each scene in the two acts so that you would notice that the structural frame forms the left-hand side of the letter “X.” This is called chiasm, from the Greek word for the letter “X” – chi. John has created a chiasmus with the structure of his apocalypse.

The drama is presented in two acts: act one is comprised of chapters 1-11; act two is comprised of chapters 12-22.

Notice how each scene in act one moves us toward the center scene—chapters 12-14. This is the center of the drama and the heart of John’s message: the Lamb of God is God’s answer to evil.

Then notice how each scene in act two mirrors—in reverse order—each scene in act one. Again, this is artistic genius at its finest.

Recognizing this structure helps in the interpretation of the work. For example, much debate and speculation surrounds chapters 21-22. There John describes the holy city with its gates of pearl and its streets of gold (21:21).[2]

Is this a description of heaven? Many people believe so. I have sung many songs about heaven’s streets of gold and I have heard many jokes that begin at the “pearly gates” of heaven. Saint Peter is there with the keys into heaven and the authority to allow us in or deny us access.

But if this is a description of heaven, then it is a very awkward one. Why? Because the city John describes is “coming down out of heaven” (21:2). How is that possible?

And, this city is referred to as “a bride beautifully dressed for her husband” (21:2). That sounds like the church, doesn’t it?[3]

So is this a description of heaven or is it a description of the church? Which is it?

I am convinced that it is the church, not heaven. How can I be so sure? By carefully looking at the structure of John’s work.

In act one, scene one (chapters 2-3), what is John talking about? The church. No question about that.

Now look at the scene in act two that mirrors act one, scene one. Remember, act two progresses in reverse order; therefore, the corresponding scene in act two will be the final scene—chapters 21-22.

What is John talking about in the final scene of act two? Well, maybe heaven and maybe the church, for many it is not 100% clear. There are arguments that cut both ways.

But for my thinking, examining John’s structure removes any ambiguity. In both acts John is talking about the church. In act one, he is talking about the church in a state of imperfection; in act two, he is talking about the church in its perfection. Any ambiguity is eliminated once John’s structural framework is brought to bear on the question.


[1] The title is singular, Revelation, not plural, Revelations. Sorry, just a minor, technical pet peeve of mine.

[2] In fact, John says that there is only one street—singular—that is made of gold. He doesn’t mention any other streets.

[3] See Matthew 9:15, John 3:29, Romans 7:4, 1 Corinthians 6:15, 2 Corinthians 11:2, Ephesians 5:22-33 for examples of Jesus being referred to as the “bridegroom” and his people, the church, being called his “bride.”

Artwork by Pat Marvenko Smith, copyright 1992. From the series “Revelation Illustrated.” Used by permission. It is available in fine art prints and visual teaching materials. Call 1-800-327-7330 for a free brochure or visit her web site at http://www.revelationillustrated.com.

Lucifer image copyright @ Caelicorn

Much of what the early church believed about God it learned from Judaism. Likewise, her beliefs about Satan flowed out of the same mindset.

Today, much of what we believe about Satan does not come directly from clear explanations of the origin of Satan found in the Bible. Instead, it comes from tradition, both Christian and Jewish, inferences from a smattering of passages, and from a strange exegesis of some passages in the Hebrew Bible, namely: Isaiah 14:12-17 and Ezekiel 28:12-19. The exegesis of these passages is strange because neither is referring to Satan, the Devil, or even anything supernatural. Both are specifically referring to human beings. Isaiah is addressing the king of Babylon and Ezekiel the king of Tyre.

General Discussion of Isaiah 14:12-17.

  • Isaiah 14:12-17 has been used to explain the origin of Satan since the second century AD.[1]
  • The Hebrew phrase הֵילֵ֣ל בֶּן־שָׁ֑חַר  (Helel ben Shahar) found in Isaiah 14:12 is notoriously difficult to translate. It seems to mean:
  • Helel – “The Shining One” or “The Bright One” (derivative of the verb hll, “to shine”).
  • Ben-Shahar – “son of the dawn” or “son of the morning.”
  • It seems to refer to the morning star—the first “star” visible in the morning, Venus (technically a planet).
  • The Greek uses ἑωσφόρος (heosphoros – phosphorus), which means “light carrier.”
  • The Latin word for the Greek heosphoros is lucifer, which was used in the Latin Vulgate, the foundational text for the King James Version in English. Hence, the KJV renders Isaiah 14:12 thus: “How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning!” (notice the capitalization of the word, making it a proper name).

Christian Evolution of the Understanding of Satan (the Devil).

  • The idea of Satan has evolved within Christianity and Judaism through the centuries.
  • Many argue that not all of this evolution is the result of sound exegesis of Scripture, particularly when various Old Testament passages are applied to Satan.
  • Regardless, the following appears to be the basic Christian understanding of Satan and his origins (again, not every assertion can be clearly established by Scripture):
  • Satan was originally an angel, created by God and serving God in heaven, whose name was Lucifer (from Isaiah 14:12).
  • Lucifer was perhaps the greatest, most beautiful angel God had created—“the brightest in the sky” (again from Isaiah 14:12).
  • But, his pride led him to refuse to bow to God, as all the other angels did.
  • In his self-worship, Lucifer sought to rule heaven himself and rebelled against God.
  • Other angels followed Lucifer in this rebellion against God.
  • This understanding is derived in part from the following passage in Ezekiel:

You were the model of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. 13 You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone adorned you: ruby, topaz and emerald, chrysolite, onyx and jasper, sapphire, turquoise and beryl. Your settings and mountings were made of gold; on the day you were created they were prepared. 14 You were anointed as a guardian cherub, for so I ordained you. You were on the holy mount of God; you walked among the fiery stones. 15 You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created till wickedness was found in you. 16 Through your widespread trade you were filled with violence, and you sinned. So I drove you in disgrace from the mount of God, and I expelled you, O guardian cherub, from among the fiery stones. 17 Your heart became proud on account of your beauty, and you corrupted your wisdom because of your splendor. So I threw you to the earth; I made a spectacle of you before kings. 18 By your many sins and dishonest trade you have desecrated your sanctuaries. So I made a fire come out from you, and it consumed you, and I reduced you to ashes on the ground in the sight of all who were watching. 19 All the nations who knew you are appalled at you; you have come to a horrible end and will be no more.’” (Ezekiel 28:12-19, NIV).[2]

  • Following his fall from heaven, Lucifer took on other names and identities:
  • The Devil. This term comes from the Greek διάβολος (diablos), which means slanderer or accuser.
  • Satan. In the New Testament, “Satan” occurs 35 times in 33 different verses.[3] In Revelation 12:9 and 20:2 the terms are used side-by-side and refer to the same being, hence, the Devil is Satan, the accuser.
  • Beelzebub.The New Testament uses the name Beelzebub seven times.[4] This is a contemptuous name given to a Philistine god whose original name has been reconstructed as most probably “Ba’al Zabul,” meaning “Baal the Prince.” He was the head of the house, the lord of the house, or the “master of the house” (Matthew 10:25). However, the house over which he was master was demonic; hence he is the prince of the demons. His household was also considered to be made up of garbage or, worse, flies and so he is known as “The Lord of the Flies.”
  • The Serpent. Revelation 12:9 and 20:2 refer to Satan, the Devil, as that ancient serpent.
  • The Deceiver.Revelation 12:9 refers to Satan as “the Deceiver.” Hence, it is assumed that Satan is also the serpent in the Garden of Eden who deceived Eve into eating the forbidden fruit.
  • The Prince of this World.John 12:31, 14:30 (prince of the world), 16:11.
  • Prince of the Powers of the Air. Ephesians 2:2 (the spirit that now worketh in the sons of disobedience (ASV)).
  • The god of this World. 2 Corinthians 4:4.
  • The Accuser of the Brethren. Revelation 12:10.

Popular, Non-Biblical Works that Contribute to Our Understanding of the Devil.

Illustration for John Milton’s “Paradise Lost“ by Gustave Doré, 1866

Several popular works have contributed to our understanding of the Devil, Satan. It is often difficult to discern which of our beliefs come from the Bible and which come from these popular works. Here is an abbreviated list of the most influential:

  • Dante Alighieri, Inferno (1321).
  • Christopher Marlowe, Doctor Faustus (1604).
  • Joost van den Vondel, Lucifer (1654).
  • John Milton, Paradise Lost (1667).
  • C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (1942).

Satan in the Hebrew Bible.

  • The Hebrew word satan occurs over 30 times in the Hebrew Bible.[5]
  • It means adversary or one who opposes.
  • When the New Testament links Satan with the Devil, it is clear then that he becomes the accuser (See Revelation 12:10).
  • Sixteen times[6]the word “satan” appears in the Hebrew Bible with the definite article.
  • Standard rules of grammar would normally require these passages to be rendered, “the satan,” the adversary, or the one who opposes.
  • However, the direct article in these passages has been omitted and the term satan has been capitalized (Satan), thus leading to the conclusion that a specific person is being indicated.
  • For example, Job 1:6 reads in English: “One day the angels came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came with them.”
  • It seems clear, however, that these texts are referring to a role being played or a function being carried out rather than the proper name of a specific being.
  • Based on this data, most biblical scholars assert that, “Nowhere in the [Hebrew Bible] does Satan appear as a distinctive demonic figure, opposed to God and responsible for all evil.”[7]
  • According to this view, the present understanding of Satan as a distinctive person did not develop until the inter-testamentary period.[8]

Summary of My Understanding of the Development of Our Understanding of Satan.

  • I agree that neither Zechariah nor Job refer to Satan as a specific, known person.
  • Instead, they both indicate that a role of an Accuser existed within the divine council.
  • By the time of the New Testament it is obvious that there is one person who fills that role—the person to whom we refer as Satan.
  • Many biblical scholars argue that this conception of Satan did not develop until inter-testamentary period.
  • I disagree. I assert that the Hebrew Bible contains evidence that this conception of Satan developed before the inter-testamentary period.
  • Specifically, this conception of Satan was in the mind of the Chronicler when he revised Israel’s history for the post-exilic community. He inserted a specific reference to the person Satan, the archenemy of Yahweh, by clearly using his proper name in 1 Chronicles 21:1.

[1] Such early interpreters as Origen (184/185 – 253/254 AD), Tertullian, (160 – 225 AD) and Augustine (354 – 430 AD) used the text in this way.

[2] As mentioned, the king of Tyre is being addressed in this passage.

[3] Matthew 4:10, 12:26 (twice), 16:23; Mark 1:13, 3:23 (twice), 26, 4:15, 8:33; Luke 10:18, 11:18, 13:16, 22:3, 31; John 13:27; Acts 5:3, 26:18; Romans 16:20; 1 Corinthians 5:5, 7:5; 2 Corinthians 2:11, 11:14, 12:7; 1 Thessalonians 2:18; 2 Thessalonians 2:9; 1 Timothy 1:20, 5:15; Revelation 2:9, 13, 24, 3:9, 12:9, 20:2, 7.

[4] Matthew 10:25, 12:24, 27; Mark 3:22; Luke 11:15, 18-19.

[5] According to my research in the Hebrew Bible, the Hebrew word satan occurs 33 times, in 6 different forms, in 28 verses as follows: Numbers 22:22, 32, 1 Samuel 29:4, 2 Samuel 19:23 (19:22 in English), 1 Kings 5:18 (5:4 in English), 11:14, 23, 25, 1 Chronicles 21:1, Job 1:6, 7 (twice), 8, 9, 12 (twice), 2:1, 2 (twice), 3, 4, 6, 7, Psalm 38:21, 71:13, 109:4, 6, 20, 29, Zechariah 3:1 (twice), and 3:2 (twice).

[6] Job 1:6, 7 (twice), 8, 9, 12 (twice), 2:1, 2 (twice), 3, 4, 6, 7; Zechariah 3:2 (twice).

[7] T. H. Gaster, “Satan,” The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible: An Illustrated Encyclopedia (New York, New York: Abingdon Press, 1962), 224.

[8]  Ibid., 1377. “The earliest texts that indisputably contain the proper name Satan date to the second century BCE.” The texts that do contain such references are The Assumption of Moses 10:1, Jubilee 23:29, and possibly Sirach21:27, all of which are clearly dated within the inter-testamentary period.

Inside the New Jerusalem

My preaching ministry has me in the middle of a nine-sermon series from John’s Apocalypse–the Book of Revelation. My teaching ministry has me teaching Isaiah for the second quarter in a row.

Obviously, I have run up against the biblical teaching on “last things”–eschatology for the theologians and seminarians.

Many scholars assert that the Bible does not present a consistent picture of what will happen at the end of time.

  • Some argue that the gospels do not coincide with what Paul presents.
  • Others claim that John is in opposition to Paul.
  • Some even argue that Paul is not consistent with Paul! (e.g., his eschatology in 1 Thessalonians is different from his eschatology in 2 Thessalonians).

I can’t sort out all the nuances of each school of thought but this is clear: no consensus exists among biblical scholars regarding Scripture’s presentation of the end of time.

And this is equally clear: the average person sitting on the pew thinks very little about the nuances of the issue. The basic understanding of many Christians seems to be:

  1.  Christ will return,
  2. The dead in Christ will rise first,
  3. Then those who are left alive will be gathered together
  4. And all will be taken up “in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.” (1Thessalonians 4:17, NIV).

End of story. Seems pretty clear. What’s the problem?

Jesus confirms this in John 14:1-3 when he says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”

Finally, Peter weighs in on the conversation to tell us what will become of the earth: “But the day of the Lord will come as a thief; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall be dissolved with fervent heat, and the earth and the works that are therein shall be burned up.” (2 Peter 3:10, ASV).

So Plato and all those Greek philosophers were correct. Our bodies die, decay, and are never more. Our souls go to heaven to live with Jesus forever and this nasty ol’ material creation is disposed of as it should be. End of story; what’s the problem?

Well, the biblical story is not that clear cut.

First, according to the New Testament, our physical bodies are going to be raised from death, just as Jesus’ physical body was raised (1 Corinthians 15). Second, there are a number of passages that talk about a “new heaven and a new earth.”

Take the 2 Peter passage as an example—the classic proof-text for a “the world is going to be burned up” position on the matter. If we keep reading, just two verses later we see that “according to his promise, we look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.” (2 Peter 3:13, ASV).

Isaiah talks about a new heaven and new earth that follows God’s judgment (Isaiah 65:17, 66:22).

John does too in his Apocalypse. In fact, the new heaven and the new earth is the precise climax to which John leads the reader of Revelation (see Revelation 21).

According to these passages, the hope we have is not to wind up floating around the clouds in a vaporous realm in the sweet by and by, but rather an entirely new creation in which God’s perfection finally prevails (“wherein dwelleth righteousness,” to quote Peter again).

So where do a new body, a new heaven, and a new earth fit into the mainstream Christian understanding that at the end of time our bodies go into the ground, our souls go to heaven, and all matter will be destroyed? That we go to live with God in a non-material realm and leave this terrible place in the far reaches of our memories?

And what exactly does Paul mean when he says, “The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God”? (Romans 8:19-21, NIV).

That sounds a whole lot like a new earth following God’s judgment, which would be consistent with other passages on the subject.

At this point I have more questions than answers. And I have a much deeper appreciation for those scholars who wrestle with this and come away scratching their heads.

I remember a Bible teacher many years ago telling us his view:

  1. We will get new bodies at the resurrection
  2. In those bodies we will go to heaven to live with God forever
  3. God will then re-create the earth
  4. So we can all sit around in heaven and watch re-runs.

At the time I thought he was joking. Now I’m thinking, “Maybe not. Maybe he is on to something.”

Artwork by Pat Marvenko Smith, copyright 1992. From the series “Revelation Illustrated.” Used by permission. It is available in fine art prints and visual teaching materials. Call 1-800-327-7330 for a free brochure or visit her web site at http://www.revelationillustrated.com.

Back in February I wrote a blog post about Charles Siburt. For the final three years of his life, Charlie was battling IgM Multiple Myeloma. In February, the information being provided by his family was that he had reached the end of his options. For several days after receiving that news, several people posted tributes to Charles. We were all prepared for the worst.

Then, Charlie made a radical comeback. His counts improved, his strength returned, he participated in the May commencement at ACU, and even taught his Maymester course to the incoming D. Min. students. Charles was a fighter.

Then, things turned bad again. Charles was out of treatment options. Hospice was called and the family gathered at his side.

Charles A. Siburt, Jr., affectionately referred to by many as “Chainsaw Charlie,” passed from this life on July 11, 2012.

In the long career of Charles Siburt, a career that has touched hundreds of people and churches, I am a “Johnny Come Lately.” My relationship with Charles began in 2001 right after I returned from the mission field. But in the short time I knew him, Charles had a profound influence on me, my family, and my ministry.

Several people have paid tribute to Charles and provided information about his life, his ministry, and the details of his illness. These people are more qualified than I am to pay proper tribute to this great servant of God:

  • Mike Cope served as a preacher under Charles’s leadership. I appreciate Mike’s insight.
  • Ron Hadfield shared some very helpful information about Charles’s life.
  • The Christian Chronicle has an article on Charles.
  • One of Charles’s sons, John, is keeping us up-to-date on his Facebook page.

By all standards, Charles was a great man. He has a great family, exhibited a great faith in a great God, and loved people as few men do. He will be missed.

Providence is God’s invisible hand that He uses to guide all things to His predetermined conclusion. By definition, physical eyes cannot see Providence at work. And, as we’ve already said (Seeing God’s Providence, May 21, 2012), even the eyes of faith must rely on hindsight to see God’s Providence.

But there is still more to say about seeing God’s Providence. Here it is in a tweetable, bottom line:

Providence and Piety Go Hand in Hand.

Said another way, without piety as a developing character trait we will never see God’s Providence—hindsight or no hindsight.

Piety is an extravagant church word that I would never use except that it begins with “p,” which makes it easier to remember in a conversation about Providence.

Piety is our reverent, faithful, humble obedience to God. It is our self-emptying devotion to God, our self-denying submission to God, our unconditional compliance with His claim on us and on all of His creation. Piety expresses itself in a life of love for God above all else and a love for others.

Without piety, the Providence of God remains invisible. Without piety, life becomes raw survival. Without piety, I become the center of my universe.

As we navigate life’s curves and bumps and consistently refuse to look for Providence, much less trust it, our self-absorption and overpowering urge to survive  gradually edge God out of the picture. Too often, the self-directed person never thinks about God. And when she does, she concludes that God is either an absentee landlord at best or a vindictive tyrant at worst.

Bitterness, anger, and even hatred toward God rule the day.

But when piety is maturing within us, God’s goodness—His loving nature and compassionate character—become evident to us. As we trust Him we learn to trust Him more. As we love Him we learn to love Him more. In the end, He becomes the reason for our existence, the glorious end for which we strive.

And life becomes a thing of beauty as piety and Providence learn to flow together, hand in hand.

 

After relating the message on my heart from God to the church yesterday, a man approached me and said, “Bob, I don’t understand. You said Boaz was ‘poor in spirit’ even though wealthy in material goods. How can being poor in spirit be a good thing? I thought we were supposed to be rich in the Spirit.”

I used an expression and assumed people knew what I was talking about. I was wrong.

Poverty of spirit is different from poverty of Spirit. Being filled with God’s Spirit is the goal; emptying ourselves of our own is the means of getting there (if we properly define what we mean by “our own spirit.”)

I think those who suggest we translate this beatitude as, “Blessed are the poor in ego, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” are on to something. Several modern Bible students have suggested this translation but I think Rubel Shelly is the first person I ever read who did so. His thinking helped me understand what the Lord was getting at.

Ruth was poor in material goods—destitute, in fact. She had no resources to her name and nowhere to turn to obtain any resources, except God. And so she turned to God in humble, obedient faith and He came through for her.

Boaz was blessed with material goods—wealthy, in fact. He had all the resources he needed to live a comfortable, prosperous life. And yet he knew that nothing this fallen world has to offer could give him what he really wanted, what he really needed. And so he was spiritually destitute, spiritually poor, he was poor in ego. And so he turned to God in humble, obedient faith and He came through for him.

What do we mean by “ego?” That which edges God out. Reliance on self, dependence upon one’s own abilities, trusting in one’s own resources.

It is only when those things that edge God out of our lives have been eliminated that God can come and make His abode with us. It is only when I stop trying to save myself that God can save me in Jesus Christ.

God give me poverty of spirit today so that your Spirit might come and live within me and through me.