Poverty

by Mike Ratliff

41 Καὶ καθίσας κατέναντι τοῦ γαζοφυλακίου ἐθεώρει πῶς ὁ ὄχλος βάλλει χαλκὸν εἰς τὸ γαζοφυλάκιον. καὶ πολλοὶ πλούσιοι ἔβαλλον πολλά· 42 καὶ ἐλθοῦσα μία χήρα πτωχὴ ἔβαλεν λεπτὰ δύο, ὅ ἐστιν κοδράντης. 43 καὶ προσκαλεσάμενος τοὺς μαθητὰς αὐτοῦ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς· ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν ὅτι ἡ χήρα αὕτη ἡ πτωχὴ πλεῖον πάντων ἔβαλεν τῶν βαλλόντων εἰς τὸ γαζοφυλάκιον· 44 πάντες γὰρ ἐκ τοῦ περισσεύοντος αὐτοῖς ἔβαλον, αὕτη δὲ ἐκ τῆς ὑστερήσεως αὐτῆς πάντα ὅσα εἶχεν ἔβαλεν ὅλον τὸν βίον αὐτῆς. Mark 12:41-44 (NA28)

41 And having sat opposite the Treasury He was observing how the crowd put copper coins into it; and many rich people were putting in much. 42 A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins which is a penny.  43 And having summoned His disciples He said to them, “Truly I say to you that this poor widow put in more than all the others who put into the Treasury; 44 for everyone else put in out of their surplus, but she, out of her poverty, put in all she had to live on.” Mark 12:41-44 (translated from the NA28 Greek text)

In the passage above the word “poverty” translates the Greek noun ὑστερήσεως (hysterēseōs) the genitive, singular, feminine case of ὑστέρησις (hysterēsis), which means, “need, poverty.”  This refers to a beggar, someone who was completely destitute, having nothing.

Another word for “poverty” in the New Testament is πτωχεία (ptōcheia), which we find in 2 Corinthians 8:2, 9.

2 ὅτι ἐν πολλῇ δοκιμῇ θλίψεως ἡ περισσεία τῆς χαρᾶς αὐτῶν καὶ ἡ κατὰ βάθους πτωχεία αὐτῶν ἐπερίσσευσεν εἰς τὸ πλοῦτος τῆς ἁπλότητος αὐτῶν· 2 Corinthians 8:2 (NA28)

2 that in a great test of affliction their abundance of joy and the extreme depth of their poverty abounded to the wealth of their liberality. 2 Corinthians 8:2 (translated from the NA28 Greek text)

9 γινώσκετε γὰρ τὴν χάριν τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ, ὅτι διʼ ὑμᾶς ἐπτώχευσεν πλούσιος ὤν, ἵνα ὑμεῖς τῇ ἐκείνου πτωχείᾳ πλουτήσητε. 2 Corinthians 8:9 (NA28)

9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich. 2 Corinthians 8:9 (translated from the NA28 Greek text)

A dramatic occurrence of ptōcheia is in Revelation 2:9, where our Lord speaks of the believers in Smyrna.

9 ‘I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich), and the blasphemy by those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Revelation 2:9 (NASB) 

Materially, those believers were destitute. Standing for Christ in Smyrna meant no job, no money, and few possessions. If that was the price we had to pay in our time to stand for Christ I wonder how many professing Christians would actually “pass the test.”

However, as I have been saying here and on my FB page for months now, what are true riches anyway? Where are believers to have their hearts set? Is it on this lost and dying world and possessions or is it on the eternal, the spiritual? True wealth is not in material things but in spiritual things. And as the Lord goes on to say to the Smyrnan believers, “I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich)…

Paul referred to his own hardships in the same way: “As poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things” (2 Corinthians 6:10). The reverse of this is also true. Just look at the contrast between the Lord’s messages to the Smrynans and the Laodicians. The Smrynans were materially poor, but spiritually rich, but to the Laodicean believers he said something quite different.

17 Because you say, “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, Revelation 3:17 (NASB) 

There is a great encouragement and challenge here for every believer. Which type of riches do we desire: material or spiritual? Would we rather be rich in man’s eyes or in God’s? Are we willing to be materially destitute for the cause of Christ?

Soli Deo Gloria!

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