What Does it Mean to be Poor in Spirit? – Matthew 5:3

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As we begin this new series on the Beatitudes, it’s important to understand the context. Jesus taught on the Beatitudes as part of His famous Sermon on the Mount. The sermon is just 111 verses and seems to be a composite of what He taught about the Kingdom throughout His ministry. The portion on the Beatitudes, John Stott said, “…is His own description of what Jesus wanted His follower to be and do.” The Beatitudes tell us how we can be truly blessed. There were two circles Jesus was speaking to, just as He is speaking to those two circles today. There were the disciples, followers of Jesus, and there was the crowd, those who were not following Jesus. No matter what group you are in, God wants you to enter the Kingdom, enlarge the Kingdom, and enjoy the Kingdom.

The Meaning
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 5:3). Christians ought to be more happy going to heaven than the world is going to hell. You can have a life of blessing. You can experience favor, fulfillment, and purpose. What does it mean to be poor in spirit? It is not a call to poverty. It does not mean you are down on yourself or that you are a loser. You were made in God’s image. You are valuable to God. Poor here is a picture of someone who is broke. We’ve all seen those who stand on the street begging, panhandling. What the panhandler is saying is, “I have to have other people give me money to survive.” That is true of us spiritually.  We have to have help spiritually. We have to admit that we cannot survive on our own. I need help. You need help. Being poor in spirit is admitting we are broke, bankrupt, apart from Christ. Our culture rejects this truth. The culture believes you are blessed if you assert yourself, are proud of yourself, defend yourself, avenge yourself, serve yourself, or promote yourself. Jesus takes everything we think we know about happiness and turns it upside down.

The Measure
How do we measure how we are doing at being poor in spirit? Jesus said, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt. 5:45). That is the standard. Compared to God we all fall short. Think about the Ten Commandments. The first one says we should have no other gods. Have you ever put another person or anything before the Lord? The second one says that we are not to have any idols. How many have worshipped a house, a car, a child, a job? Next, we shouldn’t take the Lord’s name in vain. This is saying “oh my god”, “gosh”, or worse, “GD.” What about remembering the sabbath? Have you ever skipped church for any reason? I could keep going. James said if we have broken one, we have broken all. We can only read and live the Beatitudes through the cross. We have to come to God saying, “I am a beggar. I can’t do this, but I thank you, Jesus, that you have.” The first step to experiencing the life you have always wanted is to file bankruptcy spiritually.

The Miracle
Some people see salvation like buying a house. As long as you make the payments, you get to keep the house. When you stop paying God, you get evicted. They base salvation on works. The Bible says unless the Lord builds the house you labor in vain. God builds the house and He invites us to live with Him forever (Eph. 2:8-9). Salvation is based on Jesus’ work on the cross. Jesus told this story: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’” (Lk. 18:10-13). Which one went home justified? The one who was poor in spirit. When you admit your need for God, he moves you from death to life. We can be honest with God and He will forgive it all. You can have peace and joy wherever you are when Jesus rules in the heart.

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

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