BLESSED ARE THE POOR IN SPIRIT
In Matthew 5:3 Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” The word “blessed” means happy. The words, “kingdom of heaven,” mean the same thing as the Church of Christ or the Church of God. To be poor in spirit is a feeling; it is something we feel. To feel poor in spirit is to feel poor in the soul. If I were called upon to name a feeling of the human heart that more than all others helps advance the religion of Christ among men, I would not, for a moment, hesitate to name the feeling of being poor in spirit. Unless men are poor in spirit, they cannot feel their need for Christ. To be poor in spirit is to feel the deep need we have for Christ. The very opposite of being poor in spirit is being self-sufficient in spirit, self-satisfied, the feeling of inner-sufficiency. Self-sufficiency is the most dangerous form that spiritual pride can assume in man and woman. Under this feeling the gospel is most always either rejected or treated with indifference. One preacher said, “Not to be poor in spirit is the most damning disease sin has left in human nature.” No person can turn to Christ without it. The first beatitude is thought to be the first public utterance of Christ, and it has been said it is the first sentence of the greatest speech ever uttered.
The first truth derived from the first beatitude is that the highest degree of human happiness is connected with being in the kingdom of heaven, whatever that is. The beatitude says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” The poor in spirit are not happy simply because they are poor in spirit, but because they are in the kingdom of heaven. If we miss this point, we will not clearly understand any of the beatitudes. People often confuse happiness with prosperity, fame, and other forms of earthly success. What Jesus is saying here is that the happiest people in the world are in the kingdom of heaven. If we don't understand clearly what the kingdom of heaven is, there is going be much confusion of mind about who these happy people are to whom Jesus refers in all the beatitudes.
The kingdom of heaven is a metaphorical name for people who have become Christians. As used in the beatitudes, it refers to no one but the devoted followers of Christ. The kingdom of heaven is the Church, of which Jesus said, “Upon this rock I will build My Church and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” The Greek word for “Church” literally means, “the called out.” The Kingdom of heaven is God's called out people in Christ all over the world. . As God called Israel out of Egypt, He has also called His church out of an unbelieving world. Christians are people whom God has called out of moral and religious darkness.
Let it be settled in all well informed minds that the “Kingdom of heaven,” mentioned in this beatitude is religious group of people who make up the New Testament church, and who wear the name, “Christian.” The Church is that kingdom predicted by the prophet Daniel. Daniel 2:44 says, “And in the days of these kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed, and the kingdom will not be left to other people; it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever.” It was established on earth in the days of the Roman Empire about 33 A.D., and it has already stood for 2,000 years. Someone might say, “But why is the church called a kingom? The church doesn't meet the characteristics of an earthly kingdom.” The church is metaphorically called the kingdom of heaven because it bears certain similarities to a temporal kingdom. Christ rules the Church like a king, and thus the Bible calls Him, “The King of Kings and Lord of Lords.” The laws by which He governs His Christian subjects are written in the twenty seven books of the New Testament. Christians are under law to Christ.
Of course, the subjects of His kingdom are Christians, and the territory of Christ's kingdom is the whole world. Do you see the similarities between the church and earthly kingdoms?. The only kingdom on the earth over which Christ will reign as a King has been on this earth some two thousand years. It is the Church of Christ, the Church of the living God. When Christ comes, He will deliver up His Church-Kingdom to God the Father, and all the saved of earth will be taken to heaven to live in the eternal and everlasting kingdom of Christ.
The second truth we learn from this beatitude is that the characteristic required of all people who are granted entrance into the kingdom of heaven is poverty of spirit. Jesus distinctly said the kingdom belongs to people who are poor in spirit. These are the kind of people Christ wants in His kingdom. Therefore, the first human characteristic that leads to happiness in this life and which is also necessary for entrance into the kingdom of heaven is to be, “poor in spirit.” They are the ones who shall possess the kingdom and to whom it belongs.
What is it to be poor in spirit?. The words poor and spirit are both familiar words. We know what it means to be poor, for it is all around us and stirs up our compassion. To be poor is to lack the needs of existence: food, clothing and shelter. Had Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in body, we would have immediately understood His meaning as neediness and deficiency of bodily needs. But He did not say, “Blessed are the poor in body, for there is no blessedness in being poor. Poverty is a curse and not a blessing. The subject of this beatitude is poverty of spirit and not
poverty of body. The spirit is the higher nature of man, that part of man's nature which was created in the likeness of God, consisting of intelligence, morality and a religious nature. Man is a two-fold being–flesh and spirit, body and soul. The body is called the outer man and the soul is called the inner man. However. the phrase, “poor in spirit” is not a familiar expreession, and it is not a well understood expression. It is rather difficult to form a precise definition of the phrase.
How shall we understand this phrase? What is this human characteristic that Jesus requires of all who enter His church-kingdom? The clue to understanding the phrase is the word, “poor.” Christ makes a comparison beteen physical and spiritual poverty. There must be some kind of resemblance. To be poor in spirit is something we feel like we feel joy or pain. It is something we are aware of deep in our soul, something we perceive in our inner-most consciousness. It is the feeling that we lack something in our lives. Something is missing. It is the deep desire within us to be better than we are. It is a feeling we have not honored God as we should. It is a feeling of insufficiency, something like the literal poor man has. He feels insufficient and deficient. A person who is poor in spirit has that kind of a feeling. As a creature made in the image of God, I am not what I should or could be. It is to have a sense of genuine need. As a human being I am lacking something in my life, and that which is lacking in my life is God. I have been living as if I had no need of Him. Poverty of spirit is a feeling of dependancy on the One who made me. He is the One lacking in our lives. Jesus said the kingdom of heaven is for people who feel a deep need for God in their lives.
However, we well know that the average person in the world is lacking in this feeling, and the first example of it is seen in the first man and woman. They were lacking in this sense of dependance on God. Adam assumed he was self-sufficient to make decisions independent of God. Man thought he,
rather than God, knew what was best for him, and he brought death on the entire human race. What was it that caused Adam and Eve to make such a mistake? It was pride and self-exaltation. The direct opposite of being poor in spirit is to be proud in spirit. Humility is essential in man's return to God and entering into the kingdom of heaven. It is by being humble that he renounces any idea that he is self-sufficient in knowledge or righteousness. To be poor in spirit is to be humble in spirit; it is not think more highly of himself that he should. The combination of pride, high-mindedness, self satisfaction and self exaltation is the worst of all diseases that afflict mankind, whether physical or spiritual.
My third comment comment on this beatitude is that people who first heard Jesus speak this beatitude were sadly lacking in being poor in spirit. Who were the first people to hear this beatitude? He first delivered this remarkable saying to His own nation, the nation of Israel. Beyond all dispute the Jews were the proudest people who have ever lived on this earth. Who heard it first? It was the proudest nation on earth, and a people who had the best reason to be proud. They were Israelites of the seed of Abraham. If any other people on this earth had a right to be proud, Israel had greater reason. What other nation had an Abraham in their genealogy? . All of God's promises of eternal life to mankind have come through this man. Who else in the world wrote law like Moses? What nation had a prophet like Daniel, who could foretell historical events thousands years before they happened. Whoever wrote songs like David? What nation was delivered out of slavery from the most powerful nation on earth? Who, except Israel, was fed with angel food, manna from heaven for forty years? What land flowed with milk and honey like the land God gave to Israel. America is a land flowing with milk and honey, but it is a land that God has providentially blessed and, like Israel, it has made us a proud and high-minded people.
Jesus first spoke these words to self-important Pharisees, conceited scribes and lawyers of the law of Moses, , affluent Sadducees, and proud Herodians who despised the Romans. However, to these proud people, Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in Spirit, for they are the ones who will have a part in the Messianic kingdom on earth.” They shall be the ones who shall be in My kingdom. Who accepted this message of Jesus? Not the Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes, Herodians, and not most of the common people of the nation. . They, in effect, said to Jesus, “ We feel no need to serve you, and instead of feeling poor in spirit, we feel proud because of our heritage. We are God's chosen people. God has exalted and raised us up above other nations, and we are better than other people. And yet you ask us to be poor in spirit.” They felt self-satisfied, self-sufficient and lacked nothing. Nevertheless, Jesus let them know that unless they did become poor in spirit, they would have no part in His Messianic Kingdom, the new called-out people of God.. The first beatitude is thought to be the first public utterance of Christ, and the beginning statement of the famous sermon on the mount It has been said that this first sentence is the first sentence of the greatest speech ever uttered.
My final comment on this beatitude is that the modern world today has not, for the most part, responded any better to this beatitude than did the nation of Israel. Today we live in a world in which there is much pride.
The pride of man underlies many philosophies and theories that command the respect of the world. One noted Atheist said about God and the Christian religion, “For myself I do not need this belief, and I would regard it as an affront to my dignity as a human being to put my faith in something supernatural.” This man was so proud that he thought his philosophy furnished a basis of human dignity. Without God, man thinks of himself as no more than an animal. What human dignity does a monkey's descendant and the cousin of an ape have? The Atheistic theory of Evolution declares that life was an accident and man descended from the fish. That man is a descendant of apes is accepted by many to day because it appeals to the pride of man. He would agree that every house is built some one, but he is too proud to admit that He who built all things is God. Is it harder to build a house than a universe?. No house ever came into existence by accident Why not also agree that a house can accidentally evolve into existence without a builder? Of course to remove God from the universe takes away man's guilt. If we descended from the animal world and were not created by God, then there is no absolute standard of right and wrong, and no responsibility to God as the Bible declares. With this belief, there is no need to be poor in spirit.
I agree with James Bales, one of our noted preachers who said the poor in spirit in the first beatitude were, “spiritual beggars who had abandoned pride and the sense of their self-sufficiency in knowledge or righteousness. Acutely conscious of their own spiritual bankruptcy, they realized that God and God alone could meet their spiritual needs. Therefore, they were willing to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.” The poor in spirit are the best possible prospects to become Christians. Conversely, proud, high-minded, and self-satisfied people are the poorest prospects to become God's New Testament, called-out people.
If you have the feeling that something is missing in your life, if you feel unfulfilled and unsatisfied, if you feel poverty of spirit, you can find your peace and happiness in the kingdom of heaven, dwelling among Christians who are the happiest people in the world. If you would like to know how to enter the kingdom of heaven, open the New Testament to the book of Acts and read chapter 2:36-41. Then do exactly what the first 3,000 people did who first entered the kingdom of heaven. Better still read the entire second chapter of Acts, for it records when the kingdom of heaven was first established on this earth. Blessed are he poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.