What does it mean to be “Poor in Spirit”?

It’s Monday Grace!

“What a blessing it must be to be poor!”

Huh?

Among some of my former legalist friends, there was an idea that poor people had a special blessing from God. My friends didn’t get that blessing because they had good jobs, nice houses, and enough money to meet their needs with something extra. Those little children in third world countries who have to beg for their food are “blessed in spirit,” these friends suggested. This idea was strong enough for some that they resisted helping the poor get out of their poverty. That would rob the poor of their blessing, they said. The best my friends could do was act poor.

I believe that we will understand the Beatitudes best by picturing Jesus on that hillside with the crowds around Him. All kinds of people were there, whoever lived in the area. They came to hear the Teacher. I think Jesus always saw the hearts of the people. He knew their struggles and desires and sins.

And Jesus knew how people treated each other. He knew that some didn’t want to be around others. He knew that some kept their pain hidden so others didn’t gossip about them. He knew that some thought themselves better than others. He knew that some thought themselves to be less than others. All of this was in His heart as He looked at the multitude.

So, when Jesus speaks of the blessings, He seems to point to or look at or just have in mind a person who would be blessed. This is very real to Him.

He begins, perhaps, by seeing a poor person. We know that Jesus saw the widows and orphans and infirm. He saw them when others looked past them. On that day, Jesus saw someone who had very little of life’s bounty, and He taught something for all of us.

He said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.”

And, from that time on, some people have thought that the poor are closer to Heaven because of their poverty. But He didn’t say, “Blessed are the poor.” He specified the “poor in spirit.” I know that some people think this is about poor people being “blessed in spirit,” but that is an error. That’s what has led some to think that poverty brings some spiritual blessing. But the grammar is clear that “poor in spirit” refers to a certain mindset.

He uses the word for “beggar.” I suspect that He sees a beggar in the crowd, someone the others are pulling away from. But He makes the point that those who are “spiritual beggars” are blessed. In fact, all of Heaven belongs to them.

Picture the beggar. He holds out his hand for whatever coin the passers-by might give. They might point at him or ignore him or laugh at him. They might pity him. But he sits there in the public place hoping that someone will have mercy. In order to eat, he humbles himself to the lowest point.

And Jesus says that those who come to God with that mindset will receive the glories of Heaven. Surrounded by Pharisees and teachers and others who have worked to be noticed for their “goodness,” Jesus affirms those who come to God with nothing. The blessing does not come to those who brag to God about their spiritual accomplishments. It comes to those who bow low before the Almighty and confess that they bring nothing of their own.

When you or I think God ought to notice us for our sacrifices and offerings, for our hard work and spent time, we do not understand the nature of the blessing. The blessing is a gift of love to those who cannot earn or deserve that love. When we reach out our empty hand to God, we discover His kindness. He is gentle and welcoming.

So, those who come to God with no bargaining and no expectation of earnings receive Heaven from His hand.

Grace is about receiving. Never earning. Never deserving. Just receiving the gift of God’s love in Jesus.

2 Comments

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2 responses to “What does it mean to be “Poor in Spirit”?

  1. Steve Tompkins

    “Grace is about receiving. Never earning. Never deserving.” Well said! Well phrased. Thx!

  2. Susan McAllister

    What an insightful post! Thank you for sharing this truth with is. I want to be a spiritual beggar!

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