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Poor in spirit

Updated on February 1, 2011

The first Beatitude.

In Matthew 5, Jesus relates a series of eight statements at the beginning of what is referred to as “The Sermon on the Mount.” These statements are known as the “Beatitudes.” To many people, these statements are a mysterious list of negative sounding actions that seem to produce positive but unexpected results. They are a mystery to man because they are based upon the laws and wisdom of God. Man’s wisdom is but folly when measured against God’s. (1 Cor 3:19) The Beatitudes are typical of the teachings of Christ – extremely simple at first glance, but extremely profound on many levels. They are a tool, a roadmap, a simplification, a motivation, a synopsis of what God (and Jesus) truly cares about, and also a sequence attitudes and values to seek. They reflect the nature and will of God.

The first in the list is:

Blessed are the poor in spirit,

for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matt. 5:3)

I believe that this Beatitude is listed first for a reason. Much like in the Ten Commandments and the 2 Greatest Commandments, the first, while not intended to be separate, is where you need to begin because it provides resources necessary for the subsequently listed statements. There are many progressions and sequences described in God’s Word that have a very important step, that if omitted can make the desired benefits and results very difficult to achieve. When we face times where we are experiencing problems or a scarcity of the benefits that will make us “happy,” God’s wisdom tells us to go back to the beginning or first step.

When the rich young ruler came to Jesus (Luke 18:18-23), seeking the fulfillment that seemed to be lacking in his life. Jesus pointed to the first commandment, in a not so blatant way. The rich young ruler had obviously placed “another god” before God – money. He was not willing to part with his money to gain the riches he could receive in the Kingdom of Heaven.

“But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” Matt. 6:33.

God has an order for things. When we try to reprioritize according to our desires and wisdom, we are getting away from the one resource for which all things are possible.

Blessed are the poor in spirit… On first impression of the meaning for this statement, most people would deem “poor in spirit” as being a sad and forlorn state that is based upon a state of poverty which is not an attractive state for any person.  “Blessed” has been and can also translated as “happy.” The contrast between the sad sounding “poor in spirit” and the happy sounding “blessed” have a ring of familiarity often associated with the teachings of Christ, e.g. last shall be first, leader should be a servant… However, the meaning of “poor in spirit” is not really one of lacking in happiness or things that we seek. “Poor” does refer to a state of lacking, but spirit is really that character of mankind that is the basis for sin—pride or selfishness. It is referring to tendency that we all have to “lean upon our own understanding” and not “trust in Lord with all of our heart.” The opposite of pride is humility. Selfishness and pride will lead a man to promote himself and assign value to himself above others. This will lead to separation and will harm our relationships. Pride and selfishness will ultimately lead to a state of hate. We will tend to focus upon the shortcomings of others and attempt to hide and cover up our own faults. Confrontation will occur and the happiness that we do, upon occasion, feel will be short lived, because its source is one based on the devaluing of others and the destruction of relationships for which we were designed. Those small ill-gotten feelings do not measure up to the good feelings that we inherently desire as a part of our design by God (in His Image).

So our best bet is to start off looking at our own relationship with God. We need to understand who we are especially in relation to God. Being humble (first with God and then with our fellow sojourners on this earth) will then lead us down the path towards peace, love and joy. In a self assessment, we should always be careful to compare ourselves not to others are or to how we were, but rather to the person that God wants and intends for us to be.

In Luke 18 Jesus told the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector. He was contrasting two men who had two extreme standings in the Jewish community. The Pharisee was revered and the tax collector was despised. The two men go to the temple to pray. The Pharisee stood at the center of the temple and loudly voiced a “prayer” to God that promoted himself as being better than all of those around him whose reputations were less than his. The Pharisee exhibited a proud and unrepentant attitude. The experience of tax collector is in sharp contrast to the Pharisee on several levels. He is despised; he does recognize that he has a problem; he realizes that his value compared to God is nothing; he recognizes that because of God’s love and will that he does have value to God; he has come to the place in his life where he wishes to repair his relationship with God; and in acknowledgement of God as his Lord confesses his sin and asks for forgiveness. The actions of the tax collector paint a divinely inspired illustration of being poor in spirit. The Pharisee left the tabernacle still condemned after his prayer based on pride. The tax collector went home forgiven and on a road of reconciliation. The tax collector left the temple closer to God than when he got there, but the Pharisee left even further from God.

The reward for being Poor is Spirit is The Kingdom of Heaven. What exactly are you getting? What is the kingdom of heaven?

This like many concepts that God has revealed to man has produced eons of debate. The Jews were looking for a Messiah to create an earthly kingdom that would bring physical benefits. According to prophecy, the Messiah was supposed to restore the Kingdom, so naturally the Jews were looking for the reestablishment of the earthly kingdom (which was by human standards grandiose but really never worked out quite like they thought it should have.) But the restoration that God was seeking was on a much deeper and more valuable level. God wanted to be able to restore man to a state where he again could be in fellowship with first God and also his fellow man (the way that was intended from the beginning). When Jesus gave His life to bring man into reconciliation with God, He made it plain that the Kingdom of Heaven was not an earthly kingdom where God exercised a judgment-based dominion over all. Well, it is still not plain – even to many Christians. Man is still trying to make the Kingdom into one that will still eventually be established by an all-powerful God. But Jesus said the Kingdom of Heaven is now (at hand). The Kingdom is a community of God’s people who’s King is not an earthly physical king but the King of Kings (a name attributed to Christ). This community is a community that is based on the highest form of love (Agape). This love is the love described in 1 Cor. 13. This kingdom is actually the state of being that God designed for man when he created him (and her). It is one based on healthy, giving, loving relationships with Him (God) and with all of our neighbors. It is not a kingdom of earthly domination, which would have by its nature a separation of God and of people. The Kingdom that God wants for man is one that has at its extreme and ultimate conclusion Love, Good, and even Holiness. That is what pleases God.

An earthly kingdom will have an end. It is temporal. God desires for man to be with Him now and throughout eternity. It is most for us that He seeks. As so should we…

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.


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