Being Poor, Yet Rich
In the letter written to the church of Smyrna, Jesus begins His exhortation to the believers in that ancient city by telling them that He knows their afflictions and their poverty. Right away, He tells them that they are rich, even though they are poor. During the first and second centuries after Christ, true Christians went through terrible persecution because of their faith. Persecution meant exclusion from social structures, from job opportunities, and even from receiving any kind of aid from neighbors. These believers had experienced persecution under Nero and Diocletian, to name a few of the tyrannical Roman emperors who delighted in the death of believers in the early church.
Yet, Jesus comforted those believers by telling them that He knew very well what they were going through, promising a victory crown for the overcomers. We can almost hear the Lord telling them that He knows their severe poverty condition is making them rich. Countless Christians testify that rough times lead them to grow in their faith and therefore become spiritually rich. Spiritual poverty is the worst condition of a human being, since it is characteristic of persons with no faith and no spiritual understanding of their eternal destiny without Christ as their savior. The seven letters written to the churches in the book of Revelation address believers who suffer from spiritual blindness, among other problems. It is the very spiritual blindness of a person, often caused by ignorance of what the Bible teaches about salvation and faith, that leads to spiritual poverty—lack of faith. Personal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is what leads to becoming spiritually rich.
On a much broader scale, we can easily read about the growth of the gospel in very poor countries in Africa and Latin America: countries where extreme poverty reaches more than 40% of the population, but where most believers come from very poor economic conditions. Poverty is not an impediment for a person to becoming spiritually rich. This is precisely what we find in the church of Smyrna: believers with a strong faith, undergoing tribulation, and yet holding on to their faith.