This is the 2nd post in the series of posts on the Beatitudes—a section that spans from Matthew 5:3-12, where the Lord Jesus describes 8 attitudes that should be present in the life of everyone who claims to be his follower. Click HERE for the 1st post that introduced this subject.
The Lord Jesus opens the sermon on the mount with this remarkable statement, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” [Matt 5:3]. This is the foundational attitude, “poverty of spirit.” While the world exalts the strength of spirit, the Bible calls believers to display the poverty of spirit. That’s counterculture living!
We need to understand, “poverty of spirit” does not refer to someone who is weak-spirited or weak in the faith. Neither does it refer to going around saying, “I’m nothing,” either. On the contrary, it’s believing and saying, “God, I don’t have any spiritual resources to live up to your standard. I don’t have what it takes to live a life that you’ve called me to live! I need you for everything. I depend on you for everything. Apart from you, I’m spiritually bankrupt!”
You see, that Greek word translated “poor” was used to describe one who had no material resources whatsoever and, as a result, was entirely dependent upon someone else for basic survival [see Lk 16:19-20]. The picture is that of a beggar who is bowed down, has his face so close to the ground, with his head covered, and is ashamed even to look up but stretches out his hand for money.
However, in Matthew 5:3, since Jesus also adds “in spirit” to the word “poor,” we know he is not referring to material poverty. He is mainly referring to spiritual poverty [see Rev 3:17-18]. A spiritual emptiness. Both the rich and the poor have sinned. Both don’t have the resources to live a God-acceptable life. Both need to understand this truth and turn to Christ to provide for them what they don’t have. That’s what poverty of spirit means!
The best possible illustration of the poor in spirit as the only ones who will enter the kingdom of heaven is illustrated by the “Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector” Jesus taught in Luke 18:9-14. The self-righteous Pharisee was so full of his own spiritual achievements, he was utterly blind to see the need for being forgiven of his sins.
On the other hand, the tax-collector who saw nothing but his sins against a holy God kept beating his chest and crying out, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner” [Lk 18:13]. That is the picture of a spiritual beggar—another way of describing those poor in spirit. No wonder he was the one who went home being forgiven of his sins and not the Pharisee, who, because of his pride, failed to see his spiritual emptiness.
As long as we see ourselves as having what it takes to be spiritually right with God, we will never look to Christ for the forgiveness of sins. And this means we will never receive eternal life and thus never be able to enter God’s kingdom. But when, by the grace of God, we can see ourselves as spiritually empty, we will turn to Christ alone for the forgiveness of sins. And as a result, we will receive eternal life and thus enter God’s kingdom.
However, the poverty of spirit attitude doesn’t stop with conversion. We are to remember even though we are saved, we still cannot live the Christian life on our own strength. We simply don’t have what it takes to please God on our own. We are to continually depend and cry out to God to help us live out the life he has called us to live through the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit.
And this is where we fail. We’re often like the little kid who starts out learning how to ride a bike with training wheels and then gets to a point where the training wheels can be removed, and he can drive on his own. While we would never say it, we often tend to do the same. We tend to do things on our own, fall, and then lean on God.
Yet, if I read these words of Jesus rightly, he says only those who display this poverty of spirit attitude as a lifestyle are the true citizens of the kingdom of heaven. So, we are to take this seriously. With the power of the Holy Spirit, we must desire to live this kind of lifestyle—not to gain entrance into God’s kingdom—but to make sure we are indeed citizens of the kingdom!
Finally, the reward for those who pursue poverty of spirit as a lifestyle? “Theirs is the kingdom of heaven” [Matt 5:3] or better translated as “theirs and theirs alone is the kingdom of heaven.” Only they are the possessors of the kingdom of heaven or the kingdom of God, which is the same.
In other words, those who are poor in spirit will, in this life, experience the spiritual blessings of heaven. This means experiencing joy, the happiness of knowing God has accepted them and working in and through them even now as they live under the rule of King Jesus. And in the future, they will also experience the fullness of these blessings and much more when King Jesus returns to sets up his earthly kingdom.
Here then are 4 principles to consider putting into practice to help us display this “poverty of spirit” attitude as a lifestyle.
1. We must commit ourselves to daily diligent prayer. Since prayer is a means through which we acknowledge our need for the Lord at all times, we must unashamedly cry out to him regularly to help us—be it to overcome sin or any other issues. The more we pray, the more we realize how sinful we really are [which is another way of saying how spiritually bankrupt we indeed are]. Such a realization, in turn, will cause us to cry out to God even more in prayer and confession.
2. We must commit ourselves to do nothing that contradicts God’s will. Those who are poor in spirit must tremble at God’s word [Isa 66:2] and shudder to think of doing anything contrary to God’s will as revealed in the holy scriptures.
3. We must commit ourselves to refrain from thinking thoughts that exalt the self. Our thoughts drive our actions. Sinful living is a result of sinful thinking. So, we must be deliberate in cultivating a godly thought life by allowing God’s word to control our minds [Rom 12:2] and hearts [Prov 4:23].
4. We must commit ourselves to see the trials of life as God’s way of making us depend more on him and less on ourselves. Rather than despising the trials of this life, we should learn to see them as coming from the hand of a sovereign and loving God—the same God who not only put his Son on the cross for us but also puts us, his other children through trials—sometimes even through fiery ones—to make us depend on him alone and not in our own strength [2 Cor 1:9-10, 12:7-10].
Having said these, lest we despair or come to a wrong conclusion, let me add this as well: None of us can ever keep this beatitude or any other beatitudes for that matter perfectly. There is one who kept them perfectly on our behalf: the one who spoke these words—the Lord Jesus himself!
If anyone didn’t need to pray, that was Jesus. Yet, nobody gave more attention to prayer than Jesus—despite being the busiest man to have ever lived. After all, none but he had the enormous task to finish—saving the world!
If anyone wanted to do anything he wanted, that was Jesus. Yet, he was the one who never did anything without consulting the Father. Not only that, he always delighted to do his will—even when that took him to the cross.
If anyone had a right to think thoughts of self-exaltation, that would have been Jesus. In his case, it would not have been a sin since he is the greatest. Yet, he described himself as “gentle and humble in heart” [Matt 11:29]—“in heart”—the seat of all thoughts.
If anyone endured through every trial and never fell into temptation, that was Jesus.
That’s why it is through Jesus, God accepts us in the first place. And it is through Jesus we continue to remain accepted by God. So, let’s not fall into the trap of thinking that we ought to perfectly display this poverty of spirit to gain acceptance with God or stay accepted by God. Instead, let us look at him as our model as we run this race—as the Holy Spirit works from the inside to change us to become more like Jesus [2 Cor 3:18].
Yes, the world may define good as “all that heightens the feeling of power, the will to power, power itself in man,” and define bad as “all that proceeds from weakness.” The world flexes its muscles and prides itself on its own strength.
Yet, we who are poor in spirit—without shame—with all our weaknesses—must constantly lift up our empty hands heavenward and keep crying out to him, “Lord, I need you. I can’t make it without you. Help me.” We need to continually remember God’s power works through our weaknesses and that God’s glory is magnified through our weaknesses. We don’t need to worry if the world laughs at our poverty of spirit lifestyle. It is, after all, a counterculture lifestyle. We can rest in the fact that we have God’s smile of approval on such a lifestyle.
We need to continually remember only the people who live a counterculture lifestyle can hear Jesus say, “Blessed are you.” Others will only hear Jesus say, “Woe to you. There is a terrible judgment that awaits you.” So, you see, the choice is between eternal happiness and eternal sorrow, between eternal peace and eternal pain. Let’s be wise and choose the eternal bliss that Jesus offers over the temporary “happiness” the world has to offer!
The past is the past. Today is a new day. We can start again by believing and acting upon this great truth: Blessed indeed are the poor in spirit…the spiritual paupers…for theirs, and theirs alone is the kingdom of heaven!
CLICK here for a sermon associated with this beatitude.