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Blessed are the poor in spirit:
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
What does “poor in spirit” mean? Jim Forest explains, “Without poverty of spirit, none of us can begin to follow Christ…It is my awareness that I cannot save myself, that I am defenseless, that neither money nor power will spare me from suffering and death.”
Martyn Lloyd-Jones says, “If one feels anything in the presence of God save an utter poverty of spirit, it ultimately means that you have never faced Him. That is the meaning of this Beatitude.”
The Sermon on the Mount and especially the Beatitudes tell us that without Jesus Christ, none of us could ever be saved. Since Christ came to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10), He wanted to communicate the complete depravity and sinfulness of the human race.
Only in Matt. 5:3 is the word “poor” used for anything else other than monetary poverty. Those who are poor in spirit are those who deny their own spirit so that God’s spirit would be rich in them. It is the condition that is required for us to die to ourselves and live for God.
Born again believers are, as J.M. Boice said, “spiritually bankrupt.” As a result, we have, present tense, the kingdom of heaven. Spiritually poverty is the first step to being where God wants us to be: saved.
God’s Standard: Perfection
Later in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus commanded the disciples to be “perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect.” Even if we define perfect as “to be fully grown, mature, complete,” we are impossibly challenged to be as mature or perfect as our Father in heaven.
To understand the word “perfect” look at Matt. 19:21. Jesus told the rich ruler, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”
Was Jesus telling the man that selling all and giving to the poor is the way to sinless perfection? Is that what it takes to be saved? No! Jesus was trying to show the proud man, who thought he had kept all of the commandments, that he too was imperfect.
Contrition and Humility
God’s standard of perfection leads us to profound humility. People today view God far too casually, certainly in comparison to those who saw God in the Bible. Here are some Old Testament parallels.
Psalms 34:18 “The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart, and saves such as have a contrite spirit.”
Psalms 51:17 “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, A broken and a contrite heart-- These, O God, You will not despise.”
Proverbs 16:19 “Better to be of a humble spirit with the lowly, than to divide the spoil with the proud.”
Proverbs 29:23 “A man's pride will bring him low, but the humble in spirit will retain honor.”
Isaiah 57:15 “For thus says the High and Lofty One who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: ‘I dwell in the high and holy place, with him who has a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.”
Isaiah 66:2 “…but on this one will I look, on him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, and who trembles at my word.”
“Contrite” can also mean lame, stricken, crushed, broken, even destroyed. It is with that type of spirit that is the first step to salvation and also to happiness and blessedness.
Theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven
What is the Kingdom of Heaven? It is more than going to heaven or even salvation. John the Baptist said the Kingdom of Heaven (KOH) is “at hand,” revealed in part during Jesus’ early ministry (10:7).
There is a present tense (5:3, 10; 11:12) and a future tense (8:11).
There is a spiritual sense (13:11) and a physical sense (11:12).
There is an earthly realm and a heavenly realm (16:19).
The KOH and Old Testament: Keeping the commandments is important and brings great praise (5:19-20), but the Law ended with John and the KOH came into being during Christ’s ministry (11:12 with Luke 16:16). The KOH includes Old and New Testament believers (8:11), but we have a greater understanding because of Christ (Matt. 11:11).
The KOH and unbelievers: The KOH is a powerful change, and the mighty take hold of it strongly (11:12). The mysteries of the KOH are hidden from unbelievers, but are revealed in part through the parables of Matthew 13, 19 and 22. The KOH is given solely by grace (22:10), but not to everyone (22:11). We cannot have the KOH through legalism (23:13).
The KOH and believers: Entrance to the KOH requires conversion (18:3) and doing God’s will (7:21), but even a child can enter by faith brings the greatest praise in the KOH (See Matt. 18:14 and 19:14). It is hard but not impossible for the rich to enter (19:23, 26). Sacrifices made have results in the KOH (19:12), but the KOH is not given by works (19:30-20:16).
The Kingdom of Heaven is going to heaven but so much more. It is for believers right now, Christ reigning in our hearts. The poor in spirit are blessed because we receive the KOH (salvation).