“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3 ESV)
So we know what blessed means. But what about poor in spirit? We could take this as materially poor. The problem is that it doesn’t say “poor in money” or “poor in wallet.” It says, “poor in spirit.” So it doesn’t matter your status, financial or otherwise; this is possible.
Poor in what way? Lacking in spirit? Impoverished in emotional resource? The promise is that the poor in spirit have the kingdom of God. Notice “is.” For theirs “is” the kingdom of God. That’s present tense. So there is a connection between poor in spirit and a present obtaining of the kingdom of God. That is why this one is so important. It is the foundation for all the others, and in some ways, the entire Sermon on the Mount. Here is the foundation of it all.
Poor in spirit means humble. Selfless. To be rich in spirit is to be full of self. We say that about someone—he’s so full of himself. What do we mean? In his heart, there is no room for caring or loving someone else because his heart is all taken up with his own needs and concerns. His heart is filled with his kingdom.
The person who is poor in spirit has emptied himself of himself. This isn’t a personality type. This isn’t being introverted or fearful or hesitant. This isn’t the sort of fake humility that wants everyone to know how humble he or she is. “To be ‘poor in Spirit’ is to realize that I have nothing, am nothing, and can do nothing, and have need of all things. Poverty of spirit is a consciousness of my emptiness, the result of the Spirit’s work within.” (A.W. Pink, An Exposition of the Sermon on the Mount, p.17).
Martyn Lloyd Jones once told the story of a man who picked him up at the train station and demanded that he carry his bags for him, and went on to tell Jones that he was a deacon in the church, and how insignificant he was in the church, how he was not a great man, “I’m not important at all.” He was proud of how humble he was.
We are born full of ourselves. Full of self-concern. Self-focus. Self-indulgence. Me. Me. Me. My 1-year-old daughter doesn’t have to be coached in putting herself first. Some people live their whole lives this way. Their beatitude is, Blessed are the rich in spirit, for theirs is their own kingdom. But the prideful person will never inherit the kingdom of God because there’s no room in their heart for it.
What brings a sinner to the point where he is willing to give up his kingdom? Pain. Heartbreak. Consciousness of sin. You have cancer. A shocking moral failure. Loneliness. Really anything that points out the emptiness of my heart kingdom. I don’t want to live for me anymore. We don’t pour out fresh milk. But what do you do when you realize that gallon of milk has gone bad? You get rid of it. You want to. This is how the Spirit of God helps us by convicting us of sin and helping us to see we need a Savior named Jesus. You have to be empty to be filled with anything else.
Now the empty heart, the impoverished self, is ready to receive a precious gift. The kingdom of God is the rule of God through Christ. When we are broken over our sin and personally place our trust in Jesus, “for theirs is the kingdom of God.” Now God fills us with something far, far better.
These two heart conditions are pictured in Jesus’ story of the Pharisee and the tax collector praying at the temple (Luke 18:9ff). The Pharisee prays, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men…like this tax collector.” (Verse 11) The tax collector is doing no comparing to others. He is only looking in his heart and he says, “God, be merciful to me a sinner!” (Verse 13) Jesus said, the tax collector went home justified before God. (Verse 14)
“For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:14) That’s not just life in the kingdom; that is how we gain entrance in the first place. Brokenness over our sin. Faith in Jesus’ work on the cross. We don’t make room in our hearts for the kingdom; we open our hearts to the King.
Here is the beatitude in song:
“Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to thy 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.” (Augustus M. Toplady, Rock of Ages)
Jesus doesn’t start his sermon with a nice story or poem. He goes for the jugular. Who are we? Who do we see ourselves to be? The only people who are granted the privilege of salvation in the kingdom of God, are those who are broken and humble, whose only hope is in God’s grace through Jesus to them. We look to him for salvation. We don’t earn it. We don’t brag about it. We’re like a beggar with hands open to receive. When a person humbles themselves before God, there is a sound in the distance. Applause. It is the approval of God, who opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. Not just grace, but salvation. And not just salvation, a kingdom. Not just a kingdom, eternal life.
Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
©2016 Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.
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