Summary: There are rich Christians who live in utter poverty says Jesus. But to the church in Smyrna He says, "I know your afflictions and your poverty-yet you are rich!" So you have in the judgment of Jesus your poor Christians who are rich, and your rich Christians who are poor.
One of the great paradoxes of life is the fact that the poor can be richer than the rich. Poverty is no
necessary hindrance to being wealthy. Wealth, on the other hand, is no guarantee of being truly rich.
Even rich Christians are often not rich just because they have wealth. Charles Schultz, the richest
cartoonist in history, with his comic strip Peanuts has terrible limitations in spite of his wealth of
many millions. He can afford to go anywhere anytime, but he has a form of agoraphobia that makes
him fear to go places. The very thought of walking through a hotel lobby makes him sweat with
fear. He has his own jet, but he avoids travel and spends a lot of time just being depressed. All his
millions do not make him happier.
He is in a sort of perpetual state of grief, but it is called good grief, for out of his sadness he is able to
produce laughter, for he can see the funny side of failure, which he is constantly depicting in the life
of Charlie Brown who fails in romance, sports, flying kites, and life in general. Losing is funny
when it is happening to Charlie Brown and not to us. This laughter at life's misfortunes has made
Schultz a fortune, and he is good at portraying it because he lives it.
When he portrays Lucy saying to Charlie Brown, "Don't let you team down by showing up," he is
expressing what he experienced in his own childhood. His father's barbershop was where O'gara's is
now on Snelling Ave. in St. Paul, MN, and he writes of his experience there as a child. "I
remember when I use to go into my father's barbershop for a hair cut. If a paying customer came in
while I was in the chair, I 'd have to step down and wait for my father to cut his hair. There I would
sit, with half a hair cut, feeling ridiculous." We could go on and on about his feelings of rejection
and failure which he cannot escape even as one of the richest people in the world.
The point his life illustrates is one of the major points of the Risen Lord to his churches. Poverty
and wealth are very relative terms, and people with riches can be poor, and people with little wealth
can be rich. It works both ways for Christians also, for Jesus says to the church of Laodicea in 3:17,
"You say, I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing. But you do not realize that
you are wretched, pitiful, poor blind and naked." There are rich Christians who live in utter poverty
says Jesus. But to the church in Smyrna He says, "I know your afflictions and your poverty-yet you
are rich!" So you have in the judgment of Jesus your poor Christians who are rich, and your rich
Christians who are poor.
In other words, Jesus had a different standard of values than the world. Christians are pretty
much a product of their culture, and most cultures judge riches by material possessions. The church
with the biggest buildings and most land, and where the parking lot is filled with the most expensive
cars is the rich church. It would be folly to assume that every church like that is in reality poor in
their spiritual wealth, but it is equally folly to ignore Jesus and assume that sort of wealth makes a
church spiritually rich. It is also jumping to conclusions to assume that the poor struggling church is
a gold mine of spiritual wealth. The only thing we can know for sure is the value of any church to
Christ is not one that can be determined by its net worth in dollars.
Jesus is saying that richness is more a matter of attitude than accumulation. He is not saying
accumulation is evil, but He is saying it is meaningless without the proper attitude. If you have a
wrong spirit that is not pleasing to Him, you can have gold plated pews and diamonds studded
hymnals, and you will still be poor to Him. On the other hand, you can have wood pews and hand
me down hymnals and be rich if your attitude is one that pleases the Lord of the church. Jesus just
loved this church of Smyrna. He had not a critical word for them which he had for the others. It was
a suffering church; a persecuted church; a church where loyalty to Christ could very well mean
Jesus loved it, but American Christians hate this kind of church. Vance Havner wrote, "It is not easy
to preach on Smyrna nowadays. The average American congregation is in no mood to appreciate