Some of the teachers of the Law of Moses were Pharisees, and they saw that Jesus was eating with sinners and tax collectors. So they asked his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
Jesus heard them and answered, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor, but sick people do. I didn’t come to invite good people to be my followers. I came to invite sinners.” -Mark 2:16
“Blessed are the beggars in spirit! For the kingdom of heaven belongs to them.” -Matthew 5:3
“Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners–of whom I am the worst.” Paul the Apostle, former “good person” and Pharisee. -1 Timothy 1:15
“God isn’t looking for golden vessels. He isn’t looking for silver vessels. He’s looking for yielded vessels.” -Kathryn Kuhlman
In the Beatitudes (Matthew 5), verse 3 is commonly read as “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” The word “poor” here literally means “beggar.” The Greek word paints a picture of a beggar crouched over in distress, pleading for help. Jesus says these people are blessed. Why is that? Who wants to be a beggar? Who wants to be in need, hunched over in distress?
Jesus was speaking about the spirit of a person, not about the financial situations of people. It is true that riches can be a snare, but they can also be a great blessing as the Bible shows. But Jesus wasn’t talking about money here. He was referring to the person inside, in the spirit. Only beggars need God. “Good people” are full of themselves, they are already righteous. They have no need of God in this life, and are too full of themselves to think about needing anything in the next life. Just like Jesus said, “They have their reward.” And it’s a very shallow reward.
Paul was a “good person.” He said so himself— he was religious fanatic– zealous, fervently serving his God, devoting his entire life to study of the scriptures and doing good works. He was so zealous for good works that he was willing to punish and persecute anyone who didn’t follow his zealous religion. But then Jesus got a hold of Paul, gave him a good shot of reality. And Paul realized how very, very poor before God he was indeed. God does not need “good” people who have good hygiene, are nice to other people, donate money to charities, and who go to church. God does not want the empty shell of servitude. God wants the heart. And deep down inside, stripped of wealth and health, man knows that he is a terribly needy person. It is so easy to be arrogant when you have riches to buffer the reality of life. This was Paul. He was so arrogant and insolent that he was serving a godless religion– a religion of good works but no heart, no God. He was full, of himself and his own zeal, with no room for God.
I’ve been a Christian a long, long time now. I know that some people seek God because they have financial problems, or family problems, or problems with addictions. And God loves all people and will help them all. But so many times, once people get the money or get their family problems fixed or conquer their addictions, they forget God. They were beggars for temporal things, not beggars in spirit, not beggars for God.
Jesus was saying: Being a beggar does not necessarily mean that you must be poor or destitute. It means that you realize how much you do need God, how very much you need him for your life, because you know that your own heart has been tried and been found wanting. You know that you hurt people, you blow it, you get bitter and unforgiving and are selfish, and people turn around and hurt you, too. Being a beggar means that you realize that the world does not revolve around you, and that your little environment that you have created could go up in smoke. God is bigger than anything you are and have made for yourself. A beggar, finding riches, throws himself into his treasure, and he changes his lifestyle to reflect his new success. A sinner, seeing his great lack, finding Christ, throws himself into this treasure, and he changes his lifestyle to reflect his new life. This is the kingdom of heaven, or, as we sometimes call it, mere Christianity.