Beatitudes · Poor in Spirit

W3: Poor in Spirit: Definition

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Matthew 5:3

At first, when reading the list of Beatitudes, it seems like Jesus repeats himself with Poor in Spirit and Meek.  The word “humble” is frequently applied to both, which seems appropriate.  However, if we look at the Greek words used, we see a stark difference in meanings.  The Greek word used for “poor” in Poor in Spirit is “ptochos” which means “to crouch or cower as one helpless”.  For Meek, the word used is “praus” which means “strength under authority” or “power under control”.  So there really is quite a bit of difference between the meanings of the two Beatitudes!

Poor in Spirit implies poverty.  And poverty implies having nothing.  It implies insignificance.  It implies complete dependence on the benevolence of someone else.  To be Poor in Spirit is to recognize that without God we are nothing and have nothing.  It is the humility that comes from acknowledging our dependence and helplessness. 

Do you think there is some significance in Jesus beginning His list with Poor in Spirit?  I do!  I believe that this realization that we are reliant upon God is critical for us to have hearts prepared for the other Beatitudes.  Recognizing our depravity sets us up for gratitude at what God has done for us in kindness, and this kindness leads us to repent.  Without repentance, why would we even want to bother with anything else of God?

“Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?”

Romans 2:4

If we are rich, do we really need the kindness of others in order to get by?  Without being Poor in Spirit, I think it is easy even for Christians to fall into an attitude of pseudo-self-sufficiency.  We can fool ourselves into thinking we can earn our salvation through our efforts and talents.  We can forget that all we have is due to the grace of God, and therefore we do not recognize our own spiritual poverty.  We can think we have all the answers and therefore stop asking God for direction.

But how do we really know we need God?  How do we recognize our own complete dependency on Him? 

“Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.”

John 1:3

So, if He made everything, and we can make nothing, it sounds like everything is God’s.  All of the earth and all of the air, all of the justice and all of the mercy, all of the tangible and all of the intangible.  That leaves us with nothing that He has not given us.  We are poor and indebted to Him.  Additionally…

“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”

Romans 3:23

That means all the glory is His too, as is any redemptive power.  We cannot make anything ourselves and we cannot save ourselves.  We are poor and indebted to Him.

We have nothing and can be nothing without God.  When we recognize this, and live with a posture of humility that this brings, we are Poor in Spirit. 

To think and pray about this week:

  1. What reminds you of the greatness of God and your insignificance?
  2. Do you think your sin helps you to remember that you are nothing without God?  Or does it get in your way?
  3. If poverty of spirit is actually a blessed identity to have, why do you think it seems so unattractive?

Dear Lord, thank you for this week.  Thank you for showing us that spiritual poverty actually leads to spiritual blessing.  Please help us to understand this better as we seek to give up control to you.  Let us be stewards of what you have given us, not owners, so that we may recognize our dependence on you.  Let us be humbly aware of our short-comings, but also peacefully grateful that you love us anyway.  In Jesus’ Name, Amen!

Here is a great song that reminds us that we need God!  Give it a listen and see if it gets stuck in your head like it does mine! 

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