The Beatitudes: Spiritually Poor

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Matthew 5:3 Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Some have observed that there may only be eight Beatitudes. Some would even argue that there are really only seven distinct features of character in the Beatitudes. It has been noticed by several critics, who by the sevenfold character thus set forth have rightly observed that a complete character is meant to be depicted in the Beatitudes. Seven means “complete” and by the sevenfold blessedness attached to it, a perfect blessedness is intended.

“Blessed” this word occur at least fifty-five times in the New Testament, it is important to understand its history, which is interesting because it is one of those numerous words which exhibit the influence of Christian association and usage in enlarging and dignifying their meaning. Its root is supposed to be a word meaning “great.” Its earlier meaning appears to be limited to outward prosperity; so that it is used at times as synonymous with rich. Nevertheless, even in its pagan use, the word was not altogether without a moral background. The word “blessed” is exactly represented in the story of Zechariah. In the story of Elizabeth we see the story of Zechariah. When it was time for Elizabeth to have her baby, she gave birth to a son. On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him after his father Zechariah, but his mother spoke up and said, “No! He is to be called John.” They said to her, “There is no one among your relatives who has that name.” Then they made signs to his father, to find out what he would like to name the child. He asked for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s astonishment he wrote, “His name is John.” Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue was loosed, and he began to speak, praising God. Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied: “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come and has redeemed his people.” Here, the word has moved to mean more than great, it includes “happy” a “great happiness.”

It is opposed to pride, and vanity, and ambition. Such are happy! Other teachers had taught that happiness was to be found in honor, or riches, or splendor, or sensual pleasure.

Likewise the word “poor” is important to understand. The word expressing poverty is found in the New Testament 34 times. Luke (21:2-3), calls attention to the widow who bestowed her two mites on the poor. She now has nothing to live on! Luke also does a strange thing with the Beatitudes, Luke doesn’t say “poor in spirit” only “poor.” Nevertheless, there is a distinction, one who “earns a scanty pittance,” “to crouch or cringe,” and therefore conveys the idea of utter destitution, Such as one who lives by alms. Hence, it is applied to Lazarus and rendered “beggar.” The gospel by Jesus was preached to the poor. Those who were begging for more of God’s spirit.

This concept of “poor” was not difficult to understand. Riches produce pride, anxiety, and dangers, and not the least is the danger of losing heaven by them.
To be poor in spirit is to have a humble opinion of ourselves; to be sensible that we are sinners, and have no righteousness of our own; to be willing to be saved only by the rich grace and mercy of God; to be willing to be where God places us, to be willing to be in his hands, and to feel that we deserve no favor from him. The explanation of this lies in the fact that it is generally “the poor of this world” who are “rich in faith” and while it is often “the ungodly” who “prosper in the world”.

Thus this passage becomes very graphic, denoting the utter spiritual destitution, of the believer in the kingdom of God which cannot be relieved by one’s own efforts. But only by the free mercy of God. The man who knows his sins is greater than one who raises a dead man by his prayer.

“The kingdom of heaven” here means the reign of God in the heart and life of God’s people. Once more, as “the kingdom of heaven,” which is the first and the last thing here promised, has two stages: 1) A present and a future, 2)An initial and a consummate stage. For theirs is the kingdom of heaven. The poor in spirit not only shall have the kingdom, they already have the kingdom.

So the poor in spirit are enriched with the fullness of Christ, which is the kingdom in substance. When He shall say to them from His great white throne, “Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you….” A closed hand cannot receive. “To the angel of the church in Laodicea writes: These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm– neither hot nor cold– I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.

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