This is my most critical to understand blog on the topic of poor in spirit. If you do not understand what is discussed here you will not understand the concepts and application that will following the remaining blogs (and I expect this may be a multi-year project because the Scripture is full of the rule of being poor in spirit).
Blessed (happy, to be envied, and spiritually prosperous – with life-joy and satisfaction in God’s favor and salvation, regardless of their outward conditions) are the poor in spirit (the humble, who rate themselves insignificant).… (Matthew 5:3, Amplified, emphasis added)
The first Beatitude is the key to the Beatitudes that will follow. By living this first Beatitude a Christian disciple begins to obtain spiritual fullness, prosperity, or happiness. The Master Rabbi implies that this Beatitude is designed to be first (by placing it first) and if the Beatitudes were listed in any other order Christian character cannot be brought to completion. The layout of the Beatitudes makes it clear: the building process of Christian character cannot be accomplished until you follow the plan laid out by Christ. Our God is a God of order, not disorder or confusion (1 Corinthians 14:33), and we can rely upon His Spirit laying out the plan of Christian character in His Word. As such, we start from the beginning with this Beatitude.
The first beatitude describes the beginning of the process of Christian character-building by the use of being poor, destitute, or helpless of spirit. Let us examine in a little detail how the word poor in this passage has been translated and then we will see how this applies to building Christian character.
Poor has been defined in this verse by Greek Scholar Marvin Vincent in Vincent’s Word Studies as “…denoting the utter spiritual destitution, the consciousness of which precedes the entrance into the kingdom of God, and which cannot be relieved by one’s own efforts, but only by the free mercy of God.”
John Wesley in John Wesley’s Explanatory Notes said the following when addressing poor in spirit, “They who are unfeignedly penitent, they who are truly convinced of sin; who see and feel the state they are in by nature, being deeply sensible of their sinfulness, guiltiness, helplessness. For theirs is the kingdom of heaven – The present inward kingdom: righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost, as well as the eternal kingdom, if they endure to the end.”
Matthew Henry in Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary stated “The poor in spirit are happy. These bring their minds to their condition, when it is a low condition. They are humble and lowly in their own eyes. They see their want, bewail their guilt, and thirst after a Redeemer. The kingdom of grace is of such; the kingdom of glory is for them.”
The Complete WordStudy Dictionary adds that this word is used as, “Poor and helpless…someone in abject poverty, utter helplessness, complete destitution.”
We need to recognize that being poor or destitute in spirit is where the entrance to the kingdom of heaven begins. All Christian character and real lasting fruit for the kingdom derive from the Beatitudes, but start with being poor in spirit. This Beatitude can be seen as the emptying of the Christian disciple while the remaining Beatitudes are the manifestations of the spiritual fullness of Christian character. You need to empty the container of its contents before you fill it, or what you have put into the container will be contaminated or diluted by the other substance. In our present discussion that means that there needs to be an emptying, or dumping out, of pride from our lives. In Christian counseling there is a principle known as get rid of and replace. For every bad habit, for instance, you replace it with a good one. Paul used this principle in his writing (for examples see Romans 13:12-14; 1 Corinthians 5:6-8; Ephesians 4:22-25; Colossians 3; 1 Timothy 6:11; and 2 Timothy 2:22 for instance). James (James 1:21) and Peter (1 Peter 2:1-2) also use this principle to a lesser extent.
Jesus the Christ starts His discourse in the Sermon with the same principle: get rid of and replace or empty and then fill. Christian character cannot be built without emptying oneself of the world and its harmful ways. Paul said it best,
That you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man, which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:22-24; NKJV, emphasis added)
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is good and acceptable and perfect will of God is. (Romans 12:1-2, NKJV, emphasis added)
There is the old life that has been corrupted by the world. But we can be renewed in the spirit and take on the new life, the new nature. This nature is Christian character. How is it accomplished? It is accomplished only in the spirit; and it starts with becoming poor in spirit. Bringing yourself to God as a sacrifice, the sacrifice of self is poor in spirit.
Pray today that the Holy Spirit will start to empty you of the pride in your life and the harmful influences of the world that hold you back from becoming blessed by becoming poor in spirit.