Blessed Are the Poor In Spirit

Return to index

Standard;Mt 5:3 – Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

The first of our Lord's eight “beatitudes.” What is a beatitude? The word means “utmost bliss,” and bliss has two definitions. It can mean happiness and it is also a synonym for paradise or heaven, and I think that's where we need to look in order to get the proper context here.   I don't know about you, but at first glance, I have a hard time associating “utmost happiness” with these beatitudes.

Listen to the eight again and tell me if you see any connection between happiness and #1 being poor. #2. Mourning. #3. Being stepped on (meek) #4. Being hungry and thirsty. #5. Extending mercy to those who don't deserve it. #6. Being pure (usually a painful process)  #7. Making peace. (getting caught in the middle between two warring factions is not my idea of a good time!) And #8. Being persecuted.

Is blessed the Greek word for miserable? Obviously not! There must be more to this term than our idea of happiness. The Lutheran commentator Lenski says  that this word is the opposite of “woe.” And in this sense it is a word of judgment pronounced by God upon the persons indicated, stating that they are judged to be fortunate. And there's a difference between being fortunate and happy.

And in this sense we can take these words of Jesus as being spoken to those who have come to faith. This is God's Judgment on them. These are the earmarks of baptized believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. Judgment is being pronounced on them. These earmarks are graces bestowed upon believers by God, and even as they are bestowed, they must be received, and if they are received they will be exhibited in the believers life.

And so these are eight responsibilities of the child of the King, and along with these responsibilities we will find associated rewards. Let's look at these 8 responsibilities again and see how this works.

God bestows the gift of a broken spirit, we receive it, and then exhibit it. The reward? Citizenship in God's kingdom.

God bestows the gift of repentance (mourning) we receive it, and then exhibit it. The reward? Being comforted.

God bestows meekness, we receive it, and exhibit it. The reward? Inheriting the earth.
God creates a hunger and thirst for righteousness, we receive it and exhibit it. The reward? Spiritual satisfaction.

God bestows mercy, we receive it and exhibit it. The reward? Mercy for ourselves.

God bestows purity of heart, we receive it and exhibit it. The reward? An accurate perception of God.

God bestows persecution for the sake of righteousness, we receive it, and experience it as we take stands for righteousness. The reward? The kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are! Indeed how fortunate! For they are fortunate to the nth degree! How full of paradise, how full of fellowship with God  are those who have received these characteristics and exhibit them in their lives.

Now let's look at each one of them. First of all how fortunate are the poor in spirit.  Who are the poor in spirit? The word “poor” here is connected to being a beggar. But not just an ordinary beggar as such you might run into in a big city. This is not someone just dressed in rags and crouching on the sidewalk holding out a tin cup and asking for money. No this beggar is more than that.

This street beggar is basically asking for your mercy because he got caught. His lifestyle caught up with him, or he is caught up in circumstances beyond his control. In the spiritual realm these beggars are motivated to turn to God because they got caught. Caught by their sin or their circumstances and so the beg God for help. When they experience some temporary relief from their tight situation, they go back to their old ways of ignoring God. All they really want is temporary relief. Not a life change.

No, the poor spoken of here by Jesus is a beggar that is not only crouching, but cringing. Do you see the difference? One feels like you (God) owe him something, the other feels like you he has nothing coming but a swift kick. This kind of spiritual beggar has come to the realization that he has offended a holy God, He knows that he deserves the wrath of God and he is begging for mercy because he knows there is nothing that he can do to avoid God's wrath. He has it coming.  

The Lutheran commentator Kretzmann says the poor in spirit are those who “are tremblingly alive to the wants and needs of their soul.”
This beggar is summed up in the words of the classic hymn, “Rock of Ages.” “Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to the cross I cling; Naked come to Thee for dress; Helpless, look to Thee for grace; Foul, I to the fountain fly; wash me Savior or I die.”

Hear what God says about spiritual beggars in Isa 66:2, “But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit (the crouching beggar) AND TREMBLES AT MY WORD. (The cringing beggar!)

As we pray for lost loved ones and realize what must take place in their heart, it's real easy to say, “Well that will never happen to so and so. They'll never crouch and cringe before God.”  Oh really? The psalmist says in Ps 116:6, “I was brought low, and he helped me.” Who or what brought him there?
It was God who brought him low, and He is able to bring anyone of us low.

And the Good News is when we cry out in our lowly spiritual state He is eager to help!

Ps 70:5, “But I am poor and needy; hasten to to me O God! You are my help and my deliverer.

I know a little bit about being brought low. I know about people who believed it could never happen to me. But it did. Drunk and in jail for the second time in my civilian life, an embarrassment to my wife, my children, my employer I woke up in that jail pretty low, about as low as I have ever been in my life.

And I was crouching before God, I got caught. But this time it was a little different. This time I realized that smething was wrong with my life. This was not the way it was meant to be.  Oh, I had crouched before. There were other times in my life when I bartered with God for the jams I had gotten myself into, but each time I returned to my old ways.  

But not this time. This time I finally cringed and crouched. Through the preaching of the Law, (through the ministry of Jimmy Swaggart) I was finally convinced of my sinfulness and of the fact that I deserved nothing but God's wrath. And I trembled.

Not because I got caught, not because I had sinned against others, but because I had sinned against a holy God. And for the first time I saw that I was a  sinner deserving of the wrath of God and I had nothing to bring to the table to appease Him.
Having been brought low, God opened my ears to hear the Gospel, and even though I deserved His wrath, He forgave me of my sins. Oh how fortunate are those who by an act of God have been brought crouching and cringing before Him,  for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. And if God could save me, He can save anyone.

Now let's not forget the third part. Not only does God bring us low, not only must we receive this humble estate, but we must now exhibit it. In other words we must continue in it. We are to never think more highly of ourselves than we ought.

Rom 12:3 says, “not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.”

In other words, even though you may feel like you have cleaned up your act, never forget that you are still a miserable sinner, worthy of God's wrath. Let the prayer of the publican take up permanent residence in your heart. “Lord, have mercy on me a sinner.”

It is so easy to look around as the Pharisee did, and gloat over your righteousness, but when you do, you cease being poor in spirit and if that attitude is not corrected, the kingdom of heaven is no longer yours.  

Yes, make no mistake about it here, Jesus opened His mouth and with this first beatitude did some surgery. If you have not received the gift of the poor spirit or if you've received it but cease to exhibit it, you are sliced out of the action. It's the poor in spirit and only the poor in spirit who possess the kingdom. The phrase “is theirs” is used in the sense that it is theirs alone.

So what is this “kingdom of heaven.”  Is it something way off in the future or is it something that you can have now? The answer is, you can have it now. Lenski says that Christ's kingdom is one of grace and glory combined. The grace is here and now, the glory has not yet fully been revealed.

This kingdom centers in the King.....Jesus Christ. You can have Jesus now! Just receive God's gift of lowliness and continue in it, and all that emanates from Christ to you shall be yours. This kingdom is the sum total of all the gifts of God found in Christ Jesus

This kingdom is the pardon of sins, the adoption as sons and daughters, the justification and sanctification of your soul “all the spiritual blessings of Eph 1:3 “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.”

Now here is the danger for all of us. We are so quick to forget our beggardly condition. We get this idea  that now that we are Christians, we really aren't so bad

 Lu 18:10 "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.
 11 "The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, 'God, I thank You that I am not like other men--extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector.
 12 'I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.'
 13 "And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me a sinner!'
 14 "I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."

Now we may not be as extreme as that Pharisee, but anything beyond the publican's stance of abject humility and we cease being poor in spirit. And if not corrected, the kingdom of heaven will be snatched away.  We need to take the publican's stance every single day of our born again life.

Lenski says, “Not that these gifts now end the attitude of the beggardly in spirit, so that this term no longer describes them. The case is this: as long as we live in this world of sin and in spite of all grace, “sin daily.” so long our poor hands are stretched out to God's grace in Christ, daily receiving grace for grace. And the flow of God's rich grace goes out and can go out to us only as long as we keep that attitude to which God Himself has brought us and in which His grace works to keep us.”

Make no mistake about it. God's grace flows freely. It keeps coming at us like Niagara Falls, however it is only received by the outstretched arms of the beggar heart. Theirs and theirs alone is the kingdom of heaven.  God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble. It behooves us therefore to be on guard against spiritual pride.

Mark Adams pastor at Redland Baptist Church in Rockville Maryland listed some warning signs about pride that we would do well to note.

1. Spotty prayer life - this suggests that we don't actively rely on God because we proudly think we can do it on our own without His help, which leads to a second symptom:
Weariness - the inevitable result of pridefully trying to do it all on our own strength.
Anger - can indicate that we are not trusting God's sovereign plan and timing and are upset when things don't go OUR way-and they never do when we ignore God's guidance.
A critical spirit is often found in prideful people - You see, the act of bringing others down especially when we do this to lift up ourselves points to an inflated sense of self.
 Taking responsibility for success, accomplishment, or financial prosperity - this may mean we have lost sight of God's gracious and undeserved provision.
Impatience about having to listen, wait, serve, be anonymous, or be led by someone else also hints at an overdeveloped sense of importance-or PRIDE.

When these symptoms show up.....and they show up every day don't they? Then run to the cross! Pray that you will remember your beggar status when you first met Jesus, and assume that position again. Kneeling before Him with the publican, “Have mercy on me....a sinner.