Matthew 5:3 Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. The word poor does not generally conjure up happy thoughts. We do not associate being poor with being happy. “Poor in spirit” is an interesting phrase, but it certainly does not sound like something that would make us happy. As I emphasized in the prior blog post it is not the poverty of spirit that produces happiness but the promise. The poor in spirit are happy because theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
The promise is a delightful thought. The condition is another thing. We certainly want the kingdom of heaven but this poverty of spirit is something we are going to have to think about. While we consider the condition we are imperiling the promise!
I think that properly understood the idea of being “poor in spirit” in conjunction with the promise will cultivate a desire to embrace the idea that admittedly, on its face, is not very appealing. In order to facilitate our understanding of what it means to be poor in spirit and appreciate the fact that in doing so we are made happy we need to consider three areas.
What it means to be poor in spirit
Examples of being poor in spirit
The promise to the poor in spirit
WHAT IT MEANS TO BE POOR IN SPIRIT
First, let us consider what it does not mean. It does not mean meekness. Meekness is addressed on its own merit in verse five. It does not mean being mournful. Mourning is addressed on its own merit in verse four. It does not mean exhibiting mercy. Mercy is addressed on its own merit in verse seven.
The word “poor” here actually encompasses the idea of crouching, like a beggar who is cringing, to be a pauper.
The word “spirit” is pnuma which has reference to a current of air, breath, breeze and by implication has reference to mental disposition. The context usually makes clear in what way the word is being used.
To be “poor in spirit” is to be as a beggar/pauper in our mental disposition. Beggars see themselves as needy. Beggars are dependent upon others. Beggars are, as a rule, thankful for the least kindness. Beggars do not see themselves as worthy or respectable. Beggars, as a rule, are lowly in their approach to others. There is nothing more offensive than an arrogant, ungrateful beggar!
So what conclusion are we to draw from this? We are to have the demeanor of a pauper. We are needy creatures. We are dependent upon others. We are to be thankful for the least kindness that is shown us. We are not to see ourselves as worthy. We are to be lowly in our approach to others. All of this flies in the face of the modern psychobabble that tells us we are to love ourselves and respect ourselves. Self-love, as I see it, is anathema to being “poor in spirit”. There is in fact one word that may come very close to summing up the idea of being “poor in spirit”. That word is humility! In fact, it may be that poor in spirit is a fitting definition for humility.
Being poor in spirit is a matter of understanding and embracing the revealed truth about ourselves.
Physically we are dust!
Genesis 2:7 And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.
Genesis 3:19 In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.
Psalm 103:14 For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust.
Ecclesiastes 3:20 All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again.
2 Corinthians 4:7 But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.
Spiritually we are corrupt!
Jeremiah 17:9 The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?
James 1:14-15 But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath
conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.
Isaiah 64:6 But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.
Romans 7:18 For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not.
We must live and have our being in the context of the divinely revealed realities!
Psalm 144:3 LORD, what is man, that thou takest knowledge of him! or the son of man, that thou makest account of him!
1 Corinthians 15:10 But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.
Ephesians 2:8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:
Matthew Henry wrote, “to be poor in spirit, is to think meanly of ourselves, of what we are, and have and do; . . . It is to acknowledge that God is great, and we are mean; that he is holy and we are sinful; that he is all and we are nothing, less than nothing, worse than nothing, and to humble ourselves before him, and under his mighty hand.”
Strong words that can tend to raise our ire revealing that we are not poor in spirit!
EXAMPLES OF BEING POOR IN SPIRIT
In the Old Testament
Abraham in Genesis 13:8-9. In this passage Abraham defers to Lot.
Joseph in Genesis 45:1-8. In this passage Joseph refuses to harbor malice in the face of extreme injustice.
David in 1 Samuel 26:5-12. In this passage David forfeits the opportunity to end his suffering at the hand of Saul.
In the New Testament
John the Baptist in John 1:27 and John 3:30. John the Baptist rejoices at the growing influence of Jesus even though it signaled his diminishing influence.
Epaphroditus in Philippians 2:25-30. Epaphroditus was concerned that others were concerned about him.
Stephen in Acts 7:59-60. Stephen prayed that the sin of his enemies would not be laid to their charge.
This by no means is an exhaustive list but a small sampling of some who at the particular time mentioned was modeling the virtue of being poor in spirit.
THE PROMISE TO THE POOR IN SPIRIT
Let us think about the promise in the context of a future reality. The scripture is abundantly clear about the ultimate role of believers in time to come.
In 1 Corinthians 6:2 we are told that the saints shall judge the world.
In Daniel 7:18 it is revealed that the saints of the most High shall take the kingdom and possess it forever.
In Daniel 7:22 it is further revealed that judgment was given to the saints of the most High.
In Revelation 20:4 we are reminded that judgement will be given to the saints and the will live and reign with Christ for a thousand years.
The poor in spirit are destined for greatness. The poor in spirit is a pauper waiting to become a prince.
But what about now? Is there any reward now? Actually the poor in spirit have a very present opportunity!
In Luke 17:21 Jesus instructs us that “Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.
In being poor in spirit the laws of the kingdom are operative in our own heart. Being poor in spirit provides us the opportunity to bring the influence of the kingdom of heaven into our own realm of influence. It is the exercising of kingdom realities that makes one happy, not just in the future but right now! This is why there are so many accounts of rejoicing martyrs!
If we are poor in spirit, we can have nothing taken from us. The poor have nothing to take. The poor have nothing to defend. The poor have nothing to protect. The poor have nothing to sustain.
If we are poor in spirit our happiness will rise above earthly, temporal circumstances. We cannot be offended. We cannot be “hurt”. We cannot be affected by ill treatment. We cannot be caught in a cycle of bitterness and malice. We cannot be adversely affected by unkind remarks. We cannot be disturbed by uncharitable actions.
Being poor in spirit we have no fear of being humbled. As a pauper we are simply thankful for the slightest expression of kindness. As a beggar we understand our unworthiness. When the truth is spoken we acknowledge it with humility. When a lie is spoken we accept it with dignity and grace.
Barnes wrote in his commentary, “There is more real enjoyment in thinking of ourselves as we are, than in being filled with pride and vanity.”
Oh to have the reality of the kingdom in our hearts to such a degree. The poor in spirit do!
Poverty of spirit is not something that is easily maintained. About the time we thing we have acquired it circumstances unfold that reveal just how proud we really are. We ultimately bear the cross of poverty of spirit looking to another day when we will reign with Christ. Having humbled ourselves we will be exalted. And, when we are exalted it will be without the baggage of the flesh and we will reign in purity of heart, without the slightest hint of arrogance of pride!