Blessed are the Poor in Spirit.
By Pastor Don Strand.
The heart of the message Jesus delivered to His disciples and a crowd of interested people, on a hill just west of the Sea of Galilee, is eight sayings, each of which He prefaced with “Blessed are…”. Each of these eight beatitudes points to a way of living that results in the deep-seated and continuing happiness that comes from being favored or approved by God. The first Beatitude is found in Matthew 5:3. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
What does Jesus mean by the words “poor in spirit”? He does not mean those who lack material possessions. His Jewish hearers would have an Old Testament understanding of what it meant to be ‘poor.’ In the Old Testament, the poor are those who, because of their trust and obedience to God, are oppressed and persecuted (Psalm 34:6; Isaiah 41:17-18). By ‘poor in spirit’ Jesus means those who recognize their complete lack of spiritual capital independent of their economic standing. Commentator D.A. Carson says to be poor in spirit “is not to lack courage but to acknowledge spiritual bankruptcy. It confesses one’s unworthiness before God and their utter dependence upon Him.”
We see throughout Scripture that being poor in spirit is a characteristic of God’s most effective servants throughout the course of redemptive history. Moses, Joshua, Gideon, King David, Isaiah, and Jeremiah all demonstrated a poverty of spirit and acknowledged their condition before God. And in each case, God used them in mighty ways.
We see the same characteristic in the actions of the men and women recorded in the New Testament. Peter and Paul were both, at one time, bold and confident men. Yet, it wasn’t until Peter saw his spiritual poverty firsthand as he denied Jesus three times on the night He was arrested, that Jesus could use him in a mighty way. It was the same for Paul, first known as Saul. Saul was on the fast track toward the position of High Priest when he was knocked to the ground and confronted by the living Christ. Only then could Paul become a brilliant and unmatched evangelist for Christ. Paul writes in his second letter to the church at Corinth these words: “But (Jesus) said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:9–10, ESV)
Spiritual poverty is the cry of the prodigal son. “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” (Luke 15:21, ESV). The gospel of grace brings spiritual poverty to those who believe because the light of the gospel shines into the darkest corner of our psyche to reveal just how fallen we truly are without the righteousness of Christ. When we carefully consider the redemptive story God has revealed in His Word, along with the illumination of the Spirit of God, our only reasonable response is to fall on our face in worship and humble gratitude. This is why Paul closes the doctrinal section of his letter to the church at Rome with these words: “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” (Romans 12:1, NASB95)
Jesus’ message of the blessedness of spiritual poverty is, once again, found to be completely countercultural. Jesus stands the world’s wisdom on its head because the world cannot understand what could possibly be ‘blessed’ about spiritual poverty and grateful humility. But the truth is, the Kingdom of God is not for the rich and powerful, not for the self-righteously religious and not for the self-acclaimed moral. Instead, God favors or blesses the poor in spirit. It is to them that the Kingdom of Heaven belongs as Jesus says in verse 3.
It’s interesting to note that only this first and the last of the Beatitudes are in the present tense. Look at verse 3b: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”; and at verse 12a, the conclusion of “Blessed are you when other revile you…” where Jesus says; “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven…. These present tense statements show us that the Kingdom of God which is the rule of God, is something that one begins to possess in this life. We enter into the benefits of God’s kingdom while were are still here on earth. How does that happen?
While the Kingdom of God is not now fully realized, those who are poor is spirit gain the immediate benefit of knowing God more intimately because the understand who they were before God redeemed them and what they have become. Consider Solomon’s proverb: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.” (Proverbs 9:10, ESV)
John Calvin said it this way: “Our wisdom, in so far as it ought to be deemed true and solid Wisdom, consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.”
To be poor in spirit is a blessing not only because it points to being saved for eternity, but because there are physical, psychological and spiritual benefits to be found in your life now, regardless of the circumstances. Blessed are the poor in spirit for they share in the kingdom of heaven even now.
How we gain God’s favor through a spirit of poverty is the subject of next week’s blog. I hope you’ll stay tuned.