Blessed are the Poor in Spirit
“God, have mercy upon me, a sinner,” are the words of a man who was poor in spirit (Lk 18:13). The paradoxical reward, for one who suffers in this life with such a contrite spirit, is the kingdom of heaven (Mt 5:3). Now, there are many who claim to have an interest in heaven, but they are thoroughly unfit for it because they are not poor in spirit. What must one do to achieve such a lowly status?
To begin, we must confess we have been wrong about ourselves. Sinful human beings have a woeful record of accurate assessment about themselves. People think more highly of themselves than they ought to (Rom 12:3), and it is painful to learn the truth about ourselves. God’s assessment of humanity is low (Gen 6:5), and it is our deceitful hearts causing the problem (Jer 17:9). Our minds cannot help our hearts because they are operating in futility mode (Jer 14:14; Eph 4:17). Theologians call this, “total depravity.” It is the common, initial state of all people.
Being spiritually dead is the result of sin entering into the world at the fall (Gen 3). Sin killed Adam and Eve’s spiritual sensibilities. Their carnal minds were now focused on survival in a very hostile environment, in contrast to their spiritual minds in the original Garden Paradise (Gen 2). In Eden, heart, soul, mind, and strength were in alignment with God. Adam and Eve died a spiritual death, then a bodily death, and their progeny have all entered this death (Rom 3:23; 5:12–21).
Upon departure from the perfect place of residence, man was shattered in every way. Irony manifested with his burgeoning pride, in the squalor of sin, under the delusional power of Satan, the deceiver (Jn 8:44). Inheriting the original sin of our first parents (Rom 5:12–21), every person is naturally self-centered. Even when social norms are adhered to externally, God searches the motive of the heart. He finds lust, greed, and pride.
Corruption in the heart and mind does not only lead to wrong self-evaluation, but it also leads to wrong evaluation in general. Notorious are those who distort values. Right becomes wrong and wrong becomes right (Is 5:20; 2 Tim 3:1–9). Even the understanding of what it means to be blessed is twisted. So, what does it mean to be blessed? Who is actually blessed? How do blessing and poor in spirit relate to one another?
“Blessed” takes on a distorted meaning by many people. Because they live in the flesh, thinking with a carnal mind, blessing pertains to what stimulates them in the material realm. These are usually obvious: money, sex, material possessions, entertainment, and the power to get more of these worldly pleasures and treasures.
What is sometimes missed in Jesus’ opening sermon statement on the Mount of Beatitudes is the connection between “blessed” and “spirit.” Natural man does not think much about spiritual matters with his carnal mind (1 Cor 2:14; Eph 4:17). If he does muse on the spiritual, it is a flummoxed interest in the occult, demons, witchcraft, or even Satan himself.
People are created by God with bodies and souls. Human bodies function in a similar manner to other animal species. What elevates man above beast is his soul. He was made a little lower than the angels. The human soul is the spiritual aspect of a person. The unregenerate soul, having no life of God in it, is spiritually dead. It is void of the life of God (Eph 2:1, 12).
The soul exists, but it is dead to spiritual things. There is no interest in God (1 Cor 2:14), who is Spirit (2 Cor 3:17), nor angels, who are created spirits. There is little consternation regarding the death of the body because the soul remained dead until the body joined it. The concept of eternal hell is too spiritual for his contemplation. Natural man is in grave danger. So, what awakens a soul?
Only the truth of God’s Word can disturb the soul from its deadness. The rich man considers himself blessed because of his prowess to accumulate more of the material world. A preacher comes along and tells the man he is cursed. This disturbs him. It may even heighten his hatred of God (Rom 1:30).
Exposure to the Word of God is frustrating to the worldly man, and so he is rarely found where godly men preach. This lack of exposure is paramount to a sinful man’s demise. Hearing the words, “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” is also an agitation to him. The rich man does not understand what this phrase means, but “blessed” and “poor” seem oxymoronic to him. What should he do?
Some would instruct him to give his estate to the church and go retire in a monastery. This is not what Jesus preached. Material poverty is no better or worse than material wealth (Prv 30:8). Both are equally outside of what Jesus is referring to when He speaks of the kingdom of heaven. Flesh and blood, and their accoutrements, cannot inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor 15:50).
The kingdom of heaven is a spiritual reality in this life, “for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Rom 14:17).” The kingdom of God or kingdom of heaven is only partial here, with fullness to come when Jesus ushers in the new heavens and the new earth (Is 65–66; Rev 21–22). Those who inherit eternal life will live for eternity with resurrected bodies and regenerate souls, which will both be glorified (Rom 8:30).
The regenerate soul is occupied by the indwelling Holy Spirit (Jn 14:17; Rom 8:9, 11), who is the catalyst for bringing about the state of poor in spirit. Without the Holy Spirit living inside of one’s soul, there is no blessing from God. Blessed are the poor in spirit, so cursed are the proud in spirit. We have asked, “What must one do to achieve this lowly state?” He must be the recipient of God’s grace unto salvation (Eph 2:8–9).
The worldly man is unfit for heaven. He lives in the world, and the world is his home. He thinks about the world. He talks about the world. He fights his neighbor to get more of the world. He loves the world. The world loves him.
The worldly man does everything he can to prolong his stay in this world. He eats right, and he exercises. He tries to make wise decisions which will keep him alive. He buys lots of insurance to protect his accumulated interests in the world, but he has no genuine interest in God (Rom 3:11). He does not value God because He does not love God (Jn 5:42). He does not love God because he has not received the love of God in his heart (Rom 5:5; 1 Jn 4:19). For as many as received Jesus, he gave the right to be called, “children of God” (Jn 1:12).
The Bible calls the worldly man: “a child of wrath;” “a child of the devil;” “sons of disobedience;” “wicked;” “unrighteous;” “sons of the evil one;” “sons of this age;” “children of the flesh;” “children of a bondwoman;” “illegitimate children; “accursed children;” “vessels of wrath;” “without God;” “hopeless;” “fool;” “enemy of God;” etc. The friend of the world has positioned himself as God’s enemy (Jas 4:4). Why is the fleshly man unable to see his poor alignment? The simple answer is that he thinks he is blessed, when in truth, he is blind (2 Cor 4:4).
Who then is poor in spirit? When a man receives the Holy Spirit, he is receiving the third person of the blessed Trinity. How could he not be blessed as a result? In fact, the spirit-filled man is blessed in whatever he does. Even his afflictions come with blessings because God is working all things together for his good (Rom 8:28). Neither poverty nor riches are idyllic to this spiritual man. He trusts God for his daily bread. Even his daily portion is considered grace to him. He knows he is worthy of nothing.
The attitude of the poor in spirit is self-loathing. This is not some selfish deprecation, however. It is honest evaluation. He recognizes the truth about himself and about all people. He observes deceived, wretched creatures who think nothing of their accumulated daily sins against God. For this reason, the poor in spirit hates his life in this world (Jn 12:25). After all, the kingdom of heaven is fully his upon departure. There is no comparison.
The kingdom of this world, in this present evil age (Gal 1:4), is doomed (2 Pet 3:10–12). The wrath of God is being kindled against the earth and all of its inhabitants (Mt 3:7; Lk 3:7; 1 Thess 1:10). The poor in spirit laments his birth certificate in the family of Adam. The lies, the pride, the fighting are all an embarrassment to him. This causes his spirit to be poor. It is the indwelling Spirit convicting the world of sin and righteousness (Jn 16:8). The poor in spirit grieves in his soul, as Paul did, “O wretched man that I am (Rom 7:24).” In addition, he identifies himself with Paul’s self-assessment, “chief of sinners (1 Tim 1:15).”
The paradox of a cursed pedigree, coupled with a blessed inheritance, is almost too much for him. He asks, “What am I that God has looked upon me?” Being poor in spirit causes him to walk in humility (Eph 4:2). He has not received from God what he deserves. He has received from God what he does not deserve. One is mercy and the other is grace. The poor in spirit internalize the sentiment, “I am a worm and not a man (Ps 22:6).”
His existence as a new creation is a mystery (2 Cor 5:17). The hidden wisdom of God has somehow been imparted to him. He grieves those who claim to be poor in spirit and boast of their prowess in “deciding” to follow Jesus. Where does their pride come from? Why would anyone deny the grace of God in favor of human choice and wisdom?
The poor in spirit cower at such arrogance. It is the antithesis of their own experience of regeneration. The poor in spirit has nothing to boast in except what Christ has done for him (Gal 6:14). The poor in spirit knows he was blind, but now he sees. The poor in spirit knows he was dead, but now he is alive. How did this happen? Jesus.
He calls upon this name above every other name (Phil 2:9), whereas he formerly despised it. He marvels at the transformation he has experienced. This new life is manifesting in him, being daily renewed with greater vigor. His former interests do not charm him, for his concern is in higher things…things of God.
The poor in spirit wish to depart from this world (Phil 1:23). This irritates the worldly man. The poor in spirit is peculiar, even appearing to be a lunatic to the carnal observer, “Paul, your great learning has caused you to go mad (Acts 26:24)!” Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world,” and the poor in spirit have set their minds on things above (Col 3:2), where Christ reigns as King of glory.
Thomas Watson wrote, “I am indigent, but Christ is infinite.” Charles Gabriel understood the poor in spirit when he wrote:
There’s One Who can comfort when all else fails,
Jesus, blessèd Jesus;
A Savior Who saves tho’ the foe assails,
Jesus, blessèd Jesus:
Once He traveled the way we go,
Felt the pangs of deceit and woe;
Who more perfectly then can know,
Than Jesus, blessèd Jesus?
We have considered much in regard to the poor in spirit and how they are blessed. We have learned they are blessed because they have the Spirit of Christ dwelling in them. We have learned they are poor in spirit because they have the Spirit of Christ revealing the sad truth of man’s temporal existence in a fallen world of sin. They loathe the presence of sin in them and in the world around them. In humility, they pray God would deliver them and fit them for heaven.
Every person should take heed to self-examination to know his own spiritual status. Some do not care. Some are distracted. Some are simply deceived. The poor in spirit have peace, joy, and the knowledge of a righteousness given to them in the Holy Spirit. The King of kings has summoned them home, and they have begun the journey to meet Him face to face.
The shame of honest recognition is mingled with the thoughts of what he or she will be in His presence. When a skeptic crosses the path of one poor in spirit, and inquires, “Where are you going?” The lowly man replies, “To the kingdom of heaven.” “And what makes you, of all people, think you have a place there?” queries the scoffer. The man who is poor in spirit simply replies, “I am truly blessed.”
Spokane Valley, Washington
March 14, 2021