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Beatitdues - Blessed are the Poor in Spirit

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 5:3)

This first beatitude of our Lord is a good example of how the wisdom of the Lord often contradicts the wisdom of the world.  By this beatitude, the Lord extols the blessedness of spiritual poverty, whereas the world considers any poverty to be the evidence of failure, misfortune, and misery.  The Lord’s wisdom differs from the world’s wisdom because the Lord values spiritual things, whereas the world values material things.  The Lord shows that spiritual blessedness (happiness) is not according to the world’s wisdom, but rather it is the result of an earnest expectation and desire for the kingdom of heaven.

What does it mean to be poor in spirit?  From this beatitude in Matthew 5:3, we know that spiritual poverty is a condition whereby we may receive the kingdom of heaven, and therefore it is also a condition whereby we may be made happy.  We understand that to be poor in general is to be destitute and needy.  We usually perceive poverty in terms of material possessions, but it can apply to other things as well.  For example, we may hear of a man who has a terrible disease, and so we reply, “Poor fellow!”  In such a case, we are not referring to his financial condition, but rather we are reacting to his need for physical health.  In the case of one who is poor in spirit, his destitute and needy condition is not in his finances or his body, but rather it is that he has a profound need in his spirit.

In truth, everyone has a profound need in spirit, but it is evident that not everyone will receive the kingdom of heaven.  Jesus said as much when He said, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 7:21).  Therefore, when Jesus spoke of the blessedness of the poor in spirit, He must have been speaking of those persons who not only had a profound spiritual need but were also keenly aware of that need.  Such persons recognize that they have become spiritually bankrupt because of their sins, and therefore they have become as spiritual beggars.  Any sense of pride has been drained from them, and they are humbled, crushed, and ashamed before God.

The Lord has promised to bless those who are attuned to their poverty of spirit and seek relief through His mercy.  These spiritual beggars will be made happy by the grace of God, for He is pleased with their awareness of their spiritual condition.  It is God’s will for every sinner to recognize his offenses against God and his resultant, broken, impoverished condition.  David wrote of such spiritual poverty when he wrote, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise” (Ps. 51:17).  God does not despise the poor in spirit, and He does not desire for the poor in spirit to remain spiritually destitute.  It was the divine mission of our Lord Jesus to relieve the poor in spirit – “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich” (2Cor. 8:9).  True spiritual wealth and blessings come only through the Lord Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:3), and it is only through Him that we may receive the kingdom of heaven.

Perhaps the best illustration of what it means to be poor in spirit is found in the Lord’s parable of the Pharisee and the tax-gatherer (Luke 18:9-14).  Both men went to the temple to pray, and both men were spiritually needy, as all of us are.  However, the self-righteous Pharisee prayed without any recognition of his spiritual poverty, but instead he thanked God for what he perceived to be his own righteousness.  In contrast, the lowly tax-gatherer acknowledged his spiritual poverty by confessing his own sinfulness and appealing to God for mercy.  He was a spiritual beggar whose heart was broken and contrite before God.  Jesus said that the tax-gatherer went home justified.  In terms of the beatitudes, we might say that the tax-gatherer went home blessed, for he was poor in spirit, and his was the kingdom of heaven.

Before we leave this subject, let us understand that poverty of spirit is not completely disconnected from material poverty.  Luke recorded that Jesus taught, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God” (Luke 6:20), and in contrast He said, “But woe to you who are rich, for you are receiving your comfort in full” (Luke 6:24).  Being materially poor or rich does not automatically place one into a certain spiritual condition.  However, material wealth does increase the danger of being carried away by the love of money into spiritual ruin (1Tim. 6:9-10).  The Lord said Himself, “Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Matt. 19:24).  There are too many warnings in Scripture to ignore the danger posed by material wealth against spiritual wellbeing (for example, Jas. 2:5-7; 5:1-6).  Material wealth has a way of rendering its owner insensitive toward spiritual needs, for wealth tends to foster a false sense of security (see the parable of the rich fool, Luke 12:13-21).  Righteousness is too easily impeded by affluence, so a poor man has an advantage over a rich man from a spiritual viewpoint.

Next: “Blessed Are Those Who Mourn”

Stacey E. Durham



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