Beatitudes Series #3: Poverty of Spirit
“Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:3 This is the first of Jesus’ Beatitudes. Jesus is not talking about material poverty. There is no moral virtue in being poor or wealthy.
It’s true that Jesus taught in Matthew 19:23-24 that it is hard for a rich man to be saved. Why? Because of the deceitfulness of riches. Matthew 13:22 The wealthy, in general, have a difficult time seeing any need for God. Psalm 73:1-12 describes how the typical rich man thinks. “Why do I need God? I can take care of myself.” is their thinking. It’s true that some rich people gain their wealth by taking advantage of the poor. In James 5:1-9 he warns about this. Actually the poor can be every bit as covetous as the rich. In fact, some poor people are actually proud of their poverty and feel self-righteous about it. They tend to look down in disdain and envy on the rich.
In this Beatitude, Jesus is not talking about being religious.
Many religious people are proud and self righteous and obnoxious towards others whom they feel have not attained their spirituality. That is not poverty of spirit. In fact, it is exactly the opposite of it. The Bible gives some examples of this anti-poverty of spirit.
First the self-righteous Pharisees. Jesus gave an example of this in Luke 18:10-14. The Pharisee went into the temple to pray and observed a lowly publican. The Pharisee thanked God that he was not like the publican. He went on to tell God all his supposed good points. The publican bowed down before God and begged for His mercy. Jesus explained that the Pharisee went out just as he came in, still lost in his sin and self-righteousness. The publican, coming in poverty of spirit, went out forgiven, justified and blessed.
The Laodicean Church
Another example of anti-poverty of spirit is the church of Laodicea described in Revelation 3. They were a miserable group of self-righteous, arrogant snobs who thought they had need of nothing. God cannot bless such a church. When will we ever learn that growth, wealth, lots of activity and excitement are not always evidences of God’s blessing. Praise God for growth, wealth, activity and excitement if God is glorified, if His Word is honored and preached without compromise, if sin is dealt with, if souls are saved and Christians are strengthened in their faith.
Nothing to do with natural temperaments
Poverty of spirit has nothing to do with our natural temperaments. We are all different. Some are quiet and shy and tend to be introverts. Others are outgoing and aggressive, take-charge type people. They demand attention and they demand to be heard and followed.
Both kinds of people need poverty of spirit. Nathaniel was a quiet thinker and somewhat cynical. We meet him in John 1:45-49 He did not evidence poverty of spirit until he met Jesus, then things changed. God gave him a new heart that evidenced poverty of spirit.
Being given a position of leadership can result in pride or humility. If one lacks poverty of spirit, it will lead to pride. If one has poverty of spirit it will lead to humble dependence on God to carry out his responsibilities.
Certainly not fake humility
Only a genuine Christian can have poverty of spirit. On the other hand, a hypocrite trying to act like a Christian and trying to appear humble is so phony it is ridiculous. Fake humility is one of the worst forms of pride. It reminds me of the dirty, smelly man from skid row who crashes a beautiful wedding reception and then goes off and sits quietly in the corner with his head bowed in order to try to appear humble so people won’t think too highly of him.
So then what IS poverty of spirit?
It is the very opposite of what the world demands and admires. The world demands equality and a fair deal. They shout in anger, “I have my rights!” “I demand my rights!” The world admires self-expression and self-assertion. The world glories in ancestry, attainments, gifts, education, and their own politically-correct standards of morality that are not based on God’s Word; but on popular opinion.
The one who has poverty of spirit recognizes himself as a helpless, lost sinner undeserving of anything but the wrath of God. He rejoices in the grace of God and in his salvation through Christ. The more he grows in the grace and knowledge of Christ, the less he is impressed with his own attainments and the more he is impressed with Jesus. His motto is that of John the Baptist. Speaking of Jesus he said, “He must increase: I must decrease.” John 3:30. Poverty of spirit is recognizing I am nothing and deserve nothing. Romans 7:18 Poverty of spirit is bringing our empty cup to Jesus so that He can fill it. Christ can fill only empty vessels.
Poverty of spirit is foundational to having any of the other beatitudes. It is pre-requisite to spiritual growth. Only as we have poverty of spirit can we be filled with the Holy Spirit. Ephesians 5:18
Some of the great men of the Bible, such as Moses and Gideon had poverty of spirit. That’s why God could use them. Peter went from being a proud, loud-mouthed braggart to becoming a broken, humble servant whom God powerfully used. How do we know that Peter was a humble man with poverty of spirit? Paul tells us in Galatians 2:11-21 how he had to rebuke Peter sharply and publicly for some hypocrisy in his life. The normal man would have held that against Paul the rest of his life, but Peter did not. Later Peter spoke lovingly of Paul in II Peter 3:15. He could do that because he had poverty of spirit. Paul went from being a proud, self-righteous Pharisee to becoming a broken, humble, faithful servant mightily used of God. Finally, Jesus is the personification of meekness and poverty of spirit. Matthew 11:28-30 Philippians 2:5-12
How do we attain poverty of spirit?
By reading and meditating on the Word of God and learning to know Christ. It’s then that we see ourselves as we really are; helpless, hopeless, unworthy sinners with no righteousness to offer God. We receive the Gift of His Son Jesus and He becomes our righteousness and our life. Even as mature Christians, we never lose that poverty of spirit that brought us to know Christ.
Thank God for the assurance we have that if we have come to Christ in poverty of Spirit, we know we are born again, that we have been delivered from the kingdom of Satan and have entered the Kingdom of Heaven. Colossians 1:13 Matthew 5:3. One day we will be with Jesus and see Him face to face in our glorified, sinless bodies. Philippians 3:20-21 I John 3:1-3
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