Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:3
It is very hard for any of us to honestly evaluate ourselves. We show all kinds of preferences toward ourselves that we wouldn’t show toward anybody else, so we tend to see ourselves as better than we are. This is especially true when it comes to our spiritual condition.
Many of us think that we are just fine, but when Jesus spoke to those in the church of Laodicea, who had become wealthy and thought they needed nothing, He told them, “You are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked” (Rev. 3:17). This is the problem with all of us—we don’t recognize our true need.
Poor in Spirit
As Jesus began speaking to His disciples in what would become the Sermon on the Mount, this attitude of self-evaluation is the first thing that He addressed: “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (5:3). What did He mean?
Some have mistakenly concluded that these words indicate a special blessing on material poverty, but we know from Scripture and experience that this is not so. Nor do they describe, as some believe, low self-esteem or low self-image.
“Poor in spirit” speaks of poverty in the spiritual realm. One who is poor in spirit sees himself or herself accurately, recognizing their smallness and sinfulness in the sight of God. The person who is poor in spirit realizes, “I am spiritually bankrupt. I am depleted.” Such a person knows that they have nothing to offer that would commend them to God.
Back in the Old Testament, David expressed this poverty of spirit when the Lord promised to establish his kingdom forever: “Who am I, O Lord God? And what is my house, that You have brought me this far?” (2 Sam. 7:18). In the New Testament, Peter expressed that same poverty of spirit when he said: “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” (Luke 5:8). Paul likewise wrote of himself, “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Rom. 7:24). All these are different ways of expressing what Jesus was talking about: poverty of spirit.
Antitheses of Proud
Poverty of spirit is the antithesis of the proud self-righteousness and self-sufficiency of today’s world. The world has its own beatitudes: “Blessed are the rich and famous.” “Blessed are the strong and powerful.” “Blessed are the bright and beautiful.” “Blessed are the hip and groovy.” Men have always extolled these things and seen them as the way to happiness and fulfillment. But those who pursue these things and to some degree attain them are rarely happy, and they certainly are not blessed.
The world’s beatitudes can’t deliver the blessings they promise.
Jesus says that the poor in spirit are the ones who are blessed. He deals at the very start of His sermon with this issue because it’s the gateway to the rest of the sermon. Before we can receive the blessing God has for us, we have to humble ourselves, admit our own spiritual bankruptcy, and ask Jesus to give us the true riches of the Spirit.