I have been following the book, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, by Martyn Lloyd-Jones. A very good book!
The very first line in the sermon, and the beginning of what is called the Beatitudes, is this line: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” You may question Jesus for starting out this way; but if you study it, you will find that it is entirely right; for His sermon is a sermon for believers—what a true believer should be like and how he can be blessed by God when he is totally surrendered to Him. A true believer, then, is one who is poor in spirit; and that one will be blessed by God (happy) and will indeed share in the kingdom of heaven—now and later.
Now the question we are asking here is, what does it mean to be poor in spirit? This question is very important because this tells us what it means to be a Christian. Also, since this line is at the beginning of the sermon, it is believed that it is the key to the entire sermon; that is, that all things that are spoken after it will fall in line with it, or be somehow connected with it.
So what does it mean to be poor in spirit?
Well, we know what it means to be poor, but the term “spirit” is not so easy to understand. However, I think we can look at it this way. Our spirit is the part of us that is eternal and that may have a connection with God. When you put the two words together, poor with spirit, it is even harder to comprehend. But I will give it a try. A person that is poor in spirit is a person who is lacking the likelihood of his spirit connecting with God, or having a positive relationship with God. So we may say that he, in and of himself, can do nothing in a God honoring way; he can do nothing to please God apart from God. Lloyd-Jones in his book gives several ideas of what being poor in spirit means. I have combined my notes into four points.
- Being poor in spirit means to have a humble opinion of self—to feel that we have no righteousness of our own. I think Isaiah says it well: “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousness are as filthy rags” (Isa. 64:6). Indeed, if we are poor in spirit we continue to feel our sinfulness and unworthiness, especially while we are in God’s presence.
- We are spiritually bankrupt without Him. We are aware that we have nothing good in us (of no value) apart from God.
- We are aware that we cannot make any headway with God. That is, we cannot do anything good apart from Him.
- Because we know we can do nothing good, in and of ourselves, we allow Christ to meet all our needs. We are totally dependent on Him. We submit all to Him. We are aware that He alone is our entry in His kingdom.
Combining all the above, one who is poor in spirit sees his own spiritual poverty, and therefore his inability to enter the kingdom of heaven. Surprisingly though, this attitude is the very thing that will give this poor man happiness, because he will find that, with it, God has welcomed him into His kingdom.
Here are six men who have given us examples of being poor in spirit:
Paul. He did not speak with great self-confidence. He spoke in weakness and in fear, and in much trembling. People said of him, “His appearance is weak and his speech contemptible.” He never attempted to exalt himself, but exalted Christ Jesus the Lord.
Gideon. He never thought he was very great. He knew that he belonged to the lowest tribe.
Moses. He felt deeply unworthy to lead his people out of bondage.
Isaiah. He said, “I am a man of unclean lips.” He was deeply aware of his sins.
Peter. Peter was a man who was naturally gifted and self-confident. But when he saw the Lord after His resurrection, he said to Him, “Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”
Jesus. Though God, He lived as a man—a poor man. He said of Himself, “I can do nothing of myself.” He said, “The words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself: but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works” (Jn. 14:10).
One Last Thought
I don’t think that it is wrong to be self-confident and to be aware of our giftedness, but when it comes to our relationship with God and Christ, we must surrender it all to Him. And when we serve the Lord, and when we do anything in life, we must give it all (give all of ourselves) to him. If we don’t then we may be guilty of self-righteousness and pride. We may have many gifts and talent, but it is up to us to pray over them, realize that they are from the Lord, and make sure that they are used to please him. Be aware, your gifts may be your downfall!