Poor, and Yet Rich

Wim Malgo (1922-1992)

An interpretation of the last book of the Bible. Part 19. Revelation 2:9.

The reason for the church in Smyrna’s poverty must have been its testimony for Jesus, since the believers certainly would have been able to build a good existence for themselves in the large commercial city. Yet they accepted social disadvantage; it was the consequence of their discipleship. But it required absolute willingness to practice self-denial. That’s an important point. Who is willing to accept economic disadvantage for Jesus’ sake today? It’s quite the opposite. People want to conform to today’s social system, with all its crazy demands. But depending on financial, earthly things—on wealth—always results in spiritual poverty. It’s hardly a badge of honor for us if we can flaunt a degree of prosperity.

Is it wrong to own things? Paul says, “I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound” (Phil 4:12a). But as soon as we become attached to our possessions; as soon as we become demanding, we accordingly become spiritually poor. Why aren’t we suffering from external poverty? Because Jesus’ requirement that we make His experience our own and take up His cross in all its aspects, presupposes willingness to practice self-denial. But the Lord doesn’t require it of everyone. So, whom does He ask to practice self-renunciation? Those He knows are willing. Are you willing? Willingness to practice self-denial is expressed in willingness to sacrifice. That’s renunciation in action.

When the Lord says to the church in Smyrna, “I know thy…tribulation, and poverty” (Rev 2:9), He’s saying that they have taken Jesus’ poverty upon themselves. Second Corinthians 8:9 speaks of Jesus’ poverty: “For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich.” Does that mean that we all must become poor? No, it’s not about righteousness by works. But it means to internally disentangle ourselves from our property. We’re allowed 
to enjoy everything we’ve received with thanksgiving, but at the same time we should be laying it on the altar! In other words, ready to forego it at any time.

The church in Smyrna didn’t have to walk this path of poverty and tribulation. But they willingly accepted every disadvantage, every postponement for Jesus’ sake. Their poverty must have been great, because the Greek word used here for “poverty” is ptocheia. It was always used when picturing the stooped form of a beggar. That’s how miserable the believers in Smyrna were. Yet because of their willingness to practice self-denial, the Lord immediately adds, “but thou art rich” (Rev 2:9). This contrasts with what He says to the Christians in Laodicea, who were neither cold nor warm, but tepid: “Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked” (Rev 3:17).

The church of Laodicea was in deep spiritual poverty because it was clinging to its wealth. It is, as the Lord Jesus Himself said, “easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God” (Matt 19:24). Did he mean that we can’t be rich? No, definitely not. But the rich person should consider himself the steward of his possessions. Woe to the one whose heart is attached to his property! So we have the rich poor of Smyrna and the poor rich of Laodicea before us.

This begs the question: how willing are you to practice self-denial for Jesus’ sake? To what extent are you ready to draw nearer to the mind of Christ? He says, “Whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33). Maybe that’s why He’s passing you by with His complete demand: because you evade the real thing, and love your own life above all else. He doesn’t force anyone to relinquish his life. But the divine principle is, “He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world [for Jesus’ sake] shall keep it unto life eternal” (John 12:25).

This isn’t an order; it’s the communication of a divine principle. The church of Smyrna voluntarily accepted tribulation and self-denial, because they loved Jesus above all else. Smyrna is one of two churches that the Lord doesn’t have to reprimand and call to repentance, such as the Ephesians, to whom 
He shouts: “Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love” (Rev 2:4).

Again, I’d like to be emphatic that the Lord doesn’t command us to love Him, because love is always voluntary. The church of Smyrna loved Him. That is why He encouraged them so profusely, as well as in view of the hardship that lay ahead of them: “Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days” (Rev 2:10). And then comes the incentive: “be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.”

The believers of Smyrna are in the “force field” of His wonderful abundance of promise! That made them happy: in the midst of their tribulation and poverty, in their trials and fears, in their trembling and apprehension, the Lord’s promise outweighed any difficulty in their lives. Oh, that you would allow the Lord’s promise to outweigh everything that is difficult in your life! Paul wanted to make the same thing clear when he said: “We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed” (2 Cor 4:8-9).

He rejoiced in the assurance of victory, and that the Lord was with him.

Midnight Call - 05/2021

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