“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
What does that mean? This statement is full of meaning and yet is subject to misunderstanding. We not only have to redefine our notions of the word blessed, but also have to understand the enigmatic phrase “poor in spirit.”
“Poor in spirit” means you recognize your poverty before God. It’s an attitude toward yourself that says you know and affirm that you haven’t lived the life to which God has called you and that you’re incapable of doing so now. To be poor in spirit is the first mark of a person who walks with God.
Becoming poor in spirit goes against the grain of our self-affirming culture. In our culture of affirmation, it sometimes seems that parents, teachers, counselors, politicians, and advertisers all conspire to tell us how great we are. Apart from a miracle of God’s grace, we’ll believe them. In dramatic contrast, wisdom calls us to trust God and doubt ourselves:
Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.
Ironically, people who are far from God will feel that they have the ability to face whatever challenge comes their way: “I can do this! I’m up for it! I can handle it!” But someone who walks with God says something different:
I have set the LORD always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.
There’s all the difference in the world between these two positions. In one case you precariously stand far away from God, proclaiming your independence. In the other case you confidently stand close to the Lord and rely on Him for strength.
People who are poor in spirit don’t flaunt their gifts. They don’t blame their sins and failings on others. They’re unimpressed with their own attempts to live a godly life.
In a world where personalities loom big and God is often regarded as a prop on the stage of our own performance, people who are poor in spirit know that they’re a small blip on the radar screen of eternity. They know God is glorious and awesome in His holiness. They know He owes them nothing, and they see that, even if viewed at their best, they’re unworthy servants who completely depend on His mercy.
Meditating on God’s awesomeness greatly affects our ability to be poor in spirit. But this Beatitude, Matthew 5:3, offers something else that should humble us: the promise of heaven. Interestingly, that’s a promise for the present. All the other blessings promised in the Beatitudes are future promises. Take a look:
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Notice that the promise of heaven breaks the pattern:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Jesus was talking about a taste of heaven you can enjoy now.
Being poor in spirit is more than just a spiritual discipline. It’s more than just a Christian character trait. It’s part of becoming like Jesus, who humbled Himself to become a servant of God’s redemptive purpose on earth (see Phil. 2:6-8). Jesus said some remarkably humble statements. The very Son of God said these words:
I can do nothing on my own, JOHN 5:30.
I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me, JOHN 6:38.
I do not seek my own glory, JOHN 8:50.
Jesus said these words about Himself. He exhibited spiritual poverty in a serious, open way. These are the words of the Son of God. How much more should they be ours? The blessedness of Jesus is seen in His gentle and lowly heart. In pursuing humility, you reflect the beauty of His life.
The apostle Paul wrote a beautiful series of verses describing Jesus’ spiritual poverty and the unfathomable act of God’s lowering Himself to become one of us.
“Though [Jesus] was in the form of God, [He] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father,”