Making Ourselves Poor

by Glenn Conjurske

A Sermon Preached on Jan. 31, l993—-Recorded, Transcribed, & Revised

Turn in your Bibles to the book of Proverbs, the thirteenth chapter. In verse 7 we read, “There is that maketh himself rich, yet hath nothing; there is that maketh himself poor, yet hath great riches.”

I was talking to a relative of mine some years ago about the fact that poverty has generally been one of the marks of the true church. And as I was speaking of these things, (she obviously in disagreement with me), she said to me, “Well, the Bible never tells us to make ourselves poor.” I didn’t answer her, but I began to think about it, and I finally concluded, yes, the Bible does tell us to make ourselves poor. It doesn’t exactly command us to, but it certainly advises us to. Our text tells that there is that maketh himself rich, yet hath nothing, but there is that maketh himself poor, yet hath great riches. Now if you read this verse with an unprejudiced mind, you will obviously have to come to the conclusion, It is evidently profitable to make yourself poor. The man that makes himself rich doesn’t have anything. The man that makes himself poor has great riches. Therefore, it’s evidently profitable to make yourself poor.

Obviously this is talking about two different kinds of riches. The man who makes himself rich in the things of this earth has nothing—-nothing that’s enduring—-nothing that’s worth having, whereas the man that makes himself poor in the things of this life may have great riches. He may have that inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for him—-the enduring substance which is not seen with the mortal eye—-great riches there, though he makes himself poor here.

Now the thing that I want to point out here is, it doesn’t merely say that there is a man who is poor, and yet has great riches: it says, “There is that maketh himself poor, and yet hath great riches.” This is not the man who is poor merely by circumstances beyond his control—-not the man who is poor by accident or by providence—-but the man who maketh himself poor. And so I believe that when this person said to me, “The Bible never tells us to make ourselves poor,” she was mistaken. It recommends it. It advises it—-not only in this scripture, by the way. But in this text, before we leave it, observe that there are two kinds of people: one who is rich yet poor, and one who is poor yet rich. Neither of them got that way by accident. The rich man is rich because he makes himself rich. The poor man is poor because he makes himself poor.

Now let’s turn over to the New Testament, and look at some examples of this. In James 2:5 we see a man who is poor, yet rich: “Hath not God chosen the poor of this world, rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him?” Here is a man who is poor in this world, but rich in faith. He doesn’t have any riches in his hands, but he is rich in the expectation of them. That’s faith. And he’s an heir of the kingdom. His riches are not yet in his hands, and they are not of this world, but yet he has great riches, laid up in heaven for him. There are two different kinds of riches—-the spiritual and the mundane. And the man who is making himself rich in the earthly, mundane, temporal things, has nothing, while the man who is making himself poor in the mundane things, has great riches. God, this text tells us, has chosen the poor of this world.

Now at this point somebody will always come along and say, But, it’s not necessarily so. You don’t necessarily have to make yourself poor in this world, in order to have those great riches. You can have both. Well, without stating it as an absolute impossibility that you can have both, I will say that the Scriptures generally imply otherwise. When the rich man came to Christ and said, What must I do to inherit eternal life, he said, “Sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and take up the cross, and follow me.” And he went away sorrowful, because he had great riches. He was one of these who made himself rich, but he had nothing of the true riches. Now when Christ tells him what to do to get the true riches, he tells him to part with the riches which he had. He didn’t say, You can keep these riches, and get those riches, too. What he told him to do is to make himself poor.

Now if you’ll turn over with me to Luke 12, you’ll find that Christ preached this doctrine on more than one occasion. In Proverbs 13:7 we see one making himself rich, and yet having nothing, and another making himself poor, and having great riches. In Luke 12 we see the same two things. Beginning at verse 16, “And he spake a parable unto them, saying, The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully. And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits? And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry. But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided. So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”

Here we see a plain example of a man who is making himself rich, laying up treasures. Yet as a matter of fact he had nothing. The Scripture is quite strong on this point. It says, “There is that maketh himself rich, yet hath nothing.” It does not say, “There is that maketh himself rich, yet hath but little.” It says he has nothing. This man in Luke 12 who is making himself rich has nothing. He’s going to be called into the presence of God as a naked, empty-handed fool, with nothing, though he had laid up for himself great riches on the earth. In case you didn’t notice it, the verse in Proverbs does not give us a strict parallelism. It does not say, “There is that maketh himself rich, yet hath nothing, and there is that maketh himself poor, yet hath everything.” Neither does it say, “There is that maketh himself rich, yet hath little, and there is that maketh himself poor, yet hath great riches.” It does not give us a strict parallelism. The man who makes himself poor of course does not have everything, but he has something—-but the man who makes himself rich has nothing.

We see that in the rich man in Luke chapter 12, and you’ll see it again in Luke chapter 16, in the account of the rich man and Lazarus. Observe, by the way, how often God uses a rich man as the prototype of a lost soul. One of those examples is the “rich man” that we just referred to in Luke 12. Another is the rich young ruler, which we referred to a little bit ago. And here is another example in Luke 16, “a certain rich man.” God names the poor man, Lazarus. He is a man who is “known of God.” The rich man he doesn’t name—-just calls him a rich man, and tells us he “was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day.” Do you think he got there by accident? No, he made himself rich. He could have found something else to do with his money. Lazarus lay at his gate hoping to be fed with the crumbs that fell from his table. He could have done something to take care of poor Lazarus, but no, he just let him lie there at his gate, with the dogs to lick his sores. “And it came to pass that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom.” He was poor, but he had great riches. “The rich man died also, and was buried. And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments.” He had nothing—-couldn’t even get one drop of water to cool his tongue. All he could get from Abraham was this word: “Thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things.” Now if you can find some way to wiggle into the kingdom of heaven, and still hold on to “thy good things in thy lifetime,” you go ahead, but I’ll tell you you are on mighty dangerous ground. The Bible presents this matter as an either/or thing, not as a both/and thing. You either make yourself poor and have great riches, or make yourself rich and have nothing. In Luke 6:24 the Lord says, “But woe unto you that are rich, for ye have received your consolation.”

But back to Luke 12. We saw here a man who made himself rich, and had nothing, but Christ now gives us a prescription on the other side. He tells us to make ourselves poor. He says in verse 33, “Sell that ye have, and give alms; provide yourselves bags which wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that faileth not, where no thief approacheth, neither moth corrupteth.” You want treasure in the heavens? Sell what you have, and give alms! Sell what you have, and give the money away! Now doesn’t that look like making yourself poor? And the result is great riches. When you sell what you have and give away the proceeds, what you do is to provide for yourselves bags which wax not old—-a treasure in the heavens, secure from all the exigencies of this world. You provide for yourself what the Scripture calls an “enduring substance.” How do you get it? By making yourself poor. Isn’t that what it plainly says?

Now then, we see in Luke 12 that Christ very explicitly confirms in his doctrine what Proverbs 13:7 says. “There is that maketh himself rich, yet hath nothing. There is that maketh himself poor, yet hath great riches.” He also confirms this doctrine in the other scriptures which I referred to. This is the doctrine of Christ. But Christ also confirmed this by his example. You’ll find this in II Corinthians, chapter 8. It says in verse 9, “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.” As I said earlier, I do not know that I could contend that the Bible commands us to make ourselves poor, but it advises us to. In the verse just before the one I just read, he says, “I speak not by commandment,” and in the verse immediately following, “And herein I give my advice, for this is expedient for you.” He advises us. This is profitable for us. Giving is not something sternly required, but a matter of grace. Yet those who make themselves rich, instead of giving, have no grace. “Ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor.” Paul holds him up here as our example, and John says, “He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked.” (I John 2:6).

Now consider two things: first, how rich he was, and then how poor he made himself. He possessed all the glories of heaven—-streets of gold. If you were going to write down the worth of a street of gold in dollars and cents, you’d have a string of numbers as long as the street. But he possessed all that. The earth and the fulness thereof, the sun, the moon, the stars, the universe, the pearly gates, the many mansions, the worship of the angels. He possessed it. But he made himself poor. He gave all of that up. Philippians 2 tells you that though he was in the form of God, he emptied himself—-literally, that’s what the Greek says—-and was made in the likeness of men. Then being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross—-a criminal’s death, a death of shame and agony. He gave up all the glories of heaven, and came down here to become a man, and was laid in a borrowed manger for a cradle when he was born, was laid in a borrowed tomb when he died, and had no place where to lay his head while he lived. And all this while he could have been walking on the streets of gold in the midst of the many mansions, surrounded by the worshipping throngs of holy angels, free from poverty and weariness and pain and reproach. He made himself poor. And Paul says, “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 2:5). He made himself poor for your sake. You make yourself poor for someone else’s sake.

Now I want to describe what this means to make yourself poor. It has been very well said that God does not look at how much you give. He looks at how much you have left for yourself. I believe that is the absolute truth, and I believe it’s the doctrine of the Scriptures. You know, there was a widow who had two mites. And Christ stood over against the treasury in the temple, watching all the people put in, and it says there were many who were rich who put in much—-and the Lord didn’t take any notice of it. You know why? They were rich. There was no sacrifice in their giving. They put in much, but they had much more left for themselves. But then comes this woman who has almost nothing—-just two mites, her whole living—-and she put it all in, and had nothing left for herself. And immediately the Lord took notice. Immediately he called his disciples around him, and praised what she had done. And he told them that this poor widow had put in more than they all—-more than the many who were rich, who had put in much. In the Lord’s eyes she had put in more than all of them put together—-and all she had put in was two mites. The Lord didn’t look at how much they put in, he looked at how much they had left. There are many whom the world calls philanthropists, who give great sums—-and God doesn’t take any notice of it at all. They don’t make themselves poor to give. They just give a little out of their abundance—-give without even feeling it.

Christ was rich, and made himself poor, and he says, “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.” The mind of him who had everything, and gave it all up. You know, I get tired of modern Christianity. You try to preach the Bible doctrine of self-denial, you try to preach to people that they ought to give up this or that, and they always come back with “What’s wrong with it?”—-assuming that they shouldn’t have to give anything up unless there’s something wrong with it. But the Bible says, “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus, who being in the form of God—-” Now let me ask you, What’s wrong with being in the form of God? Nothing. What’s wrong with the glories of heaven? Nothing. What’s wrong with the golden streets and the pearly gates and the many mansions? Nothing. But he gave it all up. Where would you be, where would we be, if God the Father had come to his well-beloved Son, and said, “Will you give all of this up, for the sake of the perishing sinners on earth?”—-and the Son of God had looked up to the Father and said, “What’s wrong with it?”

Back to II Corinthians 8. Earlier in this chapter he holds up the example of the saints in Macedonia, “How that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their DEEP POVERTY abounded unto the riches of their LIBERALITY. For to their power I bear record, yea, and BEYOND THEIR POWER they were willing of themselves, praying us with much intreaty that we would receive the gift, and take upon us the fellowship of the ministering to the saints.” Here we see folks that are in deep poverty, giving to their power, and beyond their power. Paul saw this. He saw their deep poverty, and he saw that they literally could not afford to give what they were giving, any more than the poor widow could afford to give her whole living. Paul evidently therefore did not want to take the gift from them—-evidently tried to refuse it. And what was their response? They prayed him with much intreaty that he would take the gift. Now there is only one possible reason why they would have had to pray him with much intreaty to take the gift. Paul did not want to take it. He saw that they were in deep poverty, and that they were giving beyond their power. What does that mean? I think the only thing it can mean is that they deprived themselves of the necessities of life in order to give. They gave beyond their power—-gave what they could not afford to give—-and pressed Paul with much intreaty to take the gift. They were following the example of the Lord Jesus Christ, who though he was rich, yet made himself poor.

Now I’ll tell you, if these same people had given the exact same amount which they did give, but had given it out of abundant riches instead of deep poverty, Paul would not have taken any notice of it. It would not have been worth noticing. He didn’t look at how much they gave: he looked at how much they had left. They were not exactly making themselves poor, for they were already in deep poverty. But they were making themselves poorer, in order to meet somebody else’s need.

Now the plain fact is this: the Bible does teach us to make ourselves poor. This is the prescription which the Bible gives us by which to provide for ourselves the “great riches” in the heavenly kingdom. Take that “mammon of unrighteousness” which God has put into your hands, and use it for the cause of Christ, and in so doing you will provide for yourself bags that wax not old, a treasure in the heavens, where no thief approacheth, nor rust corrupteth.

Now back once more to our text in the book of Proverbs. The text does not speak merely of those who are rich, nor merely of those who are poor. Some people are rich by no effort of their own, and some are poor by no virtue of their own. The text does not speak of those who are rich or poor, but of those who make themselves so. The question is not how much you have in your pockets, but how it got there, and whether you are endeavoring to add more to your pockets, or to give out what happens to be in them. Paul speaks to those who are rich, and says, “Charge them that are rich in this world…that they DO GOOD, that they be RICH IN GOOD WORKS, READY TO DISTRIBUTE, WILLING TO COMMUNICATE, laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.” (I Tim. 6:17-19). In plain English, by making themselves poor, those who are rich may lay up in store for themselves a good foundation for the life to come. This is the plain doctrine of Christ and of Paul. Those who refuse it shall find in the end that they have nothing.

Glenn Conjurske