WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE POOR IN SPIRIT?
The Lord Jesus began His teaching commonly known as the “Sermon on the Mount” with a wonderful blessing: “Happy are those who know they are spiritually poor; the Kingdom of heaven belongs to them!” (Matthew 5:3). Surely, we all desire such a blessing! So, then we need to ask ourselves: What exactly does it mean to be poor in spirit, and why does being poor in spirit result in the kingdom of heaven? Why is “poor in spirit” something God wants us to be? Why would God want us to be “poor” at anything?
To understand this or any scripture, we need to know who said it, when it was said, what was the environment they were saying it in, and what would it have meant to those who heard it. In short, we need context. Matthew 4:23-25 tells us that Christ had been traveling throughout the region, teaching in the synagogues or Jewish temples. In Matthew 11, the Lord Jesus had preached the gospel in the cities of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum, but they had rejected Him. Then in verses 25-26 He said, “Father, Lord of heaven and earth! I thank you because you have shown to the unlearned what you have hidden from the wise and learned. Yes, Father, this was how you were pleased to have it happen.”
1.0 CONTEXT AND MEANING
Remember at this point in time, there was no “New Testament.” This is key to understanding the context of what Christ goes on to say in the rest of the beatitudes. What Jesus would use as His reference material as He sat down to teach would, by and large, be the writings of the prophets and the law, or what we commonly refer to as the Old Testament today. This gives some insight into where we should look to define this phrase, poor in spirit. If you have a Bible that contains references, you may even notice it contains references to the Old Testament.
Once such reference is found in Proverbs 16:18-19, where it says, “Pride leads to destruction, and arrogance to downfall. It is better to be humble and stay poor than to be one of the arrogant and get a share of their loot.” This points to an attitude of humility that we as Christians should bear. In addition, it points to the lustful pursuit of earthly riches, or “spoil,” as a pitfall that leads to destruction. While having material wealth is not a sin, this scripture reminds us that a desire to be rich is often associated with pride—the opposite of the humility we as Christians should seek.
Another reference can be found in Isaiah 66:1-2: “The Lord says, “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house, then, could you build for me, what kind of place for me to live in? I myself created the whole universe! I am pleased with those who are humble and repentant, who fear me and obey me.” God asks a rhetorical question here: What is it that man can build for Me that I don’t already have? He points out that He doesn’t want any sort of physical monuments, rather, He looks for those with humble and contrite hearts. King David, after his sin with Bathsheba, recognized this concept as well. Psalms 51:16-17 reads, “You do not want sacrifices, or I would offer them; you are not pleased with burnt offerings. My sacrifice is a humble spirit, O God; you will not reject a humble and repentant heart.”
To be poor in spirit means that we’re emptied and unloaded in our spirit. We’re made of three parts—a spirit, a soul, and a body—and our deepest part is our spirit. To be “poor in spirit” is to be emptied and unloaded in this part. This means that our spirit is emptied and unloaded before God because our spirit is the part that’s most closely related to Him. To be poor in spirit means that, instead of thinking we know a lot or that we have all the answers, we think, “Lord, I need to see and know more. I need You to show me more of what’s on Your heart and more of what’s in Your Word.”
2.0 HOW TO BE POOR IN SPIRIT
God mainly speaks to us through His Word (John 6: 63) …What gives life is God’s Spirit; human power is of no use at all. The words I have spoken to you bring God’s life-giving Spirit. We need to use our eyes to read the words of the Bible (2 Tim. 3:14-17) …But as for you, continue in the truths that you were taught and firmly believe. You know who your teachers were, and you remember that ever since you were a child, you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching the truth, rebuking error, correcting faults, and giving instruction for right living, so that the person who serves God may be fully qualified and equipped to do every kind of good deed. We also need to use our spirit to pray (Eph. 6:18) first to empty out all our old concepts so that we may become poor in spirit and to receive His words to feed us (Matthew 5:3). We need to turn our heart to the Lord to be pure in heart that we may see Him in His Word (2 Cor. 3:16 “But it can be removed, as the scripture says about Moses: “His veil was removed when he turned to the Lord.”; Matthew. 5:8 “Happy are the pure in heart; they will see God!). We need to ask the Lord to open our mind to understand His word (Luke 24:45) … “Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures”.
To be poor in spirit as spoken of by the Lord in Matthew 5:3 is a great blessing. It is to be emptied of all our old and preoccupying concepts and thoughts so that we can receive something new of the Lord. To be poor in this way makes us hungry for God. Luke 1:53 says, “He has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away with empty hands.” So, if we feel we are rich, having no need, God can do nothing for us. But if we are inwardly poor and hungry, He will impart to us all the good things revealed in His word, even the unsearchable riches of Christ (Eph. 3:8). In other words, when we come to God, we must realize our own sin and our spiritual emptiness and poverty. We must not be self-satisfied or proud in our hearts, thinking we don’t really need God. If we are, God cannot bless us. The Bible says, “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6). To be poor in spirit is also to be like a little child. Little children are simple and cannot do anything on their own. When we are poor in spirit, we acknowledge that we have nothing, we know nothing, and we can do nothing. When we come to the Lord Jesus and to His Word, we don’t come with our brilliant intellect, our high spirituality, or our excellent ability. Instead, we come open to Him, acknowledging our need for Him, and ready to receive His speaking and His supply. To be poor in spirit is to recognize our utter spiritual bankruptcy before God. It is understanding that we have absolutely nothing of worth to offer God. Being poor in spirit is admitting that, because of our sin, we are completely destitute spiritually and can do nothing to deliver ourselves from our dire situation. Jesus is saying that, no matter your status in life, you must recognize your spiritual poverty before you can come to God in faith to receive the salvation He offers.
3.0 SOME CHARACTERISTICS OF SOMEONE WHO IS POOR IN SPIRIT
- Always lowly in his own eyes. He does not exalt himself; he is not proud. Even though he may be considered insignificant by others, he sees it all as God’s will and rejoices that he is allowed to share in the sufferings of Christ. The sufferings of Christ mostly refer to the inner sufferings that Christ experienced when He denied and put to death… His own will when He was tempted… and chose to obey God instead. In some cases, this also refers to… It becomes natural for him to go the way of the Lamb; humiliation becomes his nourishment, exaltation his reward. (1 Peter 5:5; 1 Peter 4:13; 1 Peter 5:6)
- Loves to do all his work in the hidden and does not receive honour from men. (Matthew 6:1-4)
- Loves to occupy the lowest place, not because he desires to be more esteemed, but because he thinks that this is precisely the place that it is suitable for him. (Luke 14:7-11; Philippians 2:3)
- Reserved in his conduct – neither aggressive nor demanding.
- Loves to give up his advantages for the benefit of others. (Philippians 2:4)
- Does not seek to be anything great, whether it is on an earthly Refers to everything of this earth, as opposed to heavenly things. Example: Earthly treasures/heavenly treasures. The earthly things pass away (are temporal), but the heavenly things are eternal. (Matthew 6:19-21; … or a spiritual level; his only desire is to do God’s will from moment to moment.
- Does not seek to gain influence with people, yet his entire longing is that people might come under the influence of God. (1 Corinthians 2:1-5; 1 Corinthians 9:19-23)
- Time is precious to him – he has none to waste; yet he is calm and is never led to do anything in haste. (Ephesians 5:16-17)
- Sanctifies himself so that others, by his example, can sanctify themselves in truth. (John 17:19; 1 Timothy 4:16)
- Denies himself so that his life may not be an offense to others in any way. (Matthew 16:24)
- Satisfied with the cross God gives him to bear, and he does not complain when others bother him.
- Does not draw back in the sufferings of Christ, so that after he himself has been tested, he can be of help to others. (Romans 8:18; 2 Corinthians 1:3-5)
- Just as happy wherever God puts him – whether it is among the teeming masses or in a solitary place – because he meets God in each place by doing His will.
- Places great value on the fact that wherever he is or has been, others should find only the truth, be it in spiritual or in earthly things.
- His love compels him to contribute to the others’ good; he feels that he is indebted to everyone. His life evolves as the life of a servant, and he is more than willing to bear the others’ burdens.
- Never dreams about great things, but rather takes heed to the small things. No work is insignificant, and no one is too small to be served.
- He does not discriminate and is a servant to all. Therefore, he goes just as willingly to where sorrow prevails as to where joy is overflowing. (Mark 9:35; 1 Corinthians 9:19-23; Romans 12:15-16)
- Lives his life for the purpose of laying it down as a sacrifice. (Mark 10:45; John 15:12-13)
- Willingly steps on thorns if only he can refresh the others in their sufferings by doing so. (2 Corinthians 1:3-6; Colossians 1:24)
- His ear is open to God’s voice, not just to enjoy it in self-satisfaction, but in order to do what he has heard. (James 1:22)
Through an examination of these scriptures, we can come to a clear understanding of what Jesus Christ was teaching in Matthew 5, which applies to all of us today. No earthly sacrifice of money or material goods will help us inherit His kingdom. To be poor in spirit means to be humble, acknowledging our sins before God and recognizing that we need His mercy.