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Blessed Are the Poor in Spirit

Jesus said: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:3).


In the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord Jesus teaches that to begin to walk with Him means to start at the bottom by being poor in spirit. The way up is the way down. People are spiritually approved by God when they are poor in spirit. Some may take this to mean that they must give up all they have and depart to a monastery for the rest of their lives, giving up all worldly possessions. While that may be the Lord’s direction for a few, as the Lord leads, the focus here is on the poverty of spirit, not financial poverty. All over the world, some feel unworthy and beaten down by this world’s system. They can take hope! To them is given the kingdom of heaven. Those who acknowledge their own need have positioned themselves to access what God has in store for them in His kingdom.


When people come to a place in their lives where they feel at the end of themselves, it is then that they begin to look up and cry out to God. This brokenness is like the bottom of the ladder in a spiritual sense. Brokenness is the place of poverty of spirit. In the original Greek language, the word ptochus is used, which means "to cower and cringe like a beggar." Commentator R. Kent Hughes gives us insight into why Jesus used this word rather than a different Greek word regularly used to describe someone poor:


"The New Testament echoes this idea because it denotes poverty so deep that a person must obtain his living by begging. He is wholly dependent on the giving of others and cannot survive without help from the outside. Thus, an excellent translation is "beggarly poor."[1]


Why would Jesus specifically choose this word, which illustrates being “beggarly poor”? We are saying that when people come to themselves and realize that they have nothing to commend themselves before a Holy God, i.e., no righteousness of their own making, and beggarly poor in spiritual standing and bankrupt of spiritual resources, then that’s their place of commendation with God. “God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5-6). In a different passage of Scripture, the Lord Jesus shared a parable to explain the first Beatitude, i.e., the lowest rung of the spiritual ladder:


9He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: 10“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:9-14).


The truth is that people do not come to God the Father unless they come to Him through humility and poverty of spirit, begging God to forgive them of their sins, proclaiming their brokenness and bankruptcy before a holy God. The Greek text is emphatic on the concluding statement in the sentence, Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven, for theirs alone is the kingdom of heaven. This need for humility should draw us all to the cross and ensure that we have genuinely repented, acknowledging our spiritual poverty (Matthew 18:25). In this way, we have right standing with God. When we recognize our need for forgiveness, the Father responds to us and clothes us with His righteousness through the redemptive power of the cross. This is not an upgrade; it is a total exchange of our righteousness for His perfect righteousness. The video teaching of the Beatitudes is found at the following link:


Keith Thomas

[1] R. Kent Hughes. The Sermon on the Mount. Published by Crossway Books, Wheaton, IL, 2001. Page 17.


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