In the original context in its Greek form the word “blessed’ denotes the transcendent happiness of a life beyond care, labour and death, extols human happiness; possession and happiness are inseparably connected here; one who has a good spirit; a leading philosophical term for inner happiness; one who is provided or favored with a happy destiny.
a person or persons who have had a distinctive and direct experience with or from God; one who has known and followed the will and commands of God; one who has received promises from God as the Giver of all blessedness; the fullness of life as it relates first to earthly blessings, a good wife, children, beauty, honor, wisdom, reputation; God’s will is known to His people Israel; this is its privilege and the basis of its blessedness; the one who trusts in God, who hopes and waits for Him, who fears and loves Him; inner happiness not subject to life circumstances, tribulation, trial, or earthly difficulty.
(Friedrich Hauck and Georg Bertram, “Μακάριος, Μακαρίζω, Μακαρισμός,” ed. Gerhard Kittel, Geoffrey W. Bromiley, and Gerhard Friedrich, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964–)
The First Beatitude
“Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven”
To begin with, it is important to take note of how this sermon/teaching opens. No one had heard any Rabbi teach like this. Christ began not by condemning and cursing the wicked, but by proclaiming blessings and benedictions on faithful – caring – loving – serving people – genuine followers. This would come to characterize the new message of the Kingdom of God – the message of Jesus. This would become Jesus being Jesus – leading His followers forward – making a way to move away from personal pre-occupations, pre-suppositions, and the obsession we have with ourselves and with our feelings. Away from selfish and self-focused emotion… Nothing more than feelings. Moving followers towards mercy, compassion, peaceful, righteous, pure hearted. This message astounded the people because it was not like the message of judgment and condemnation they and those before them had walked in for centuries. It wasn’t that judgment was no longer reality – it was that love, mercy, and the righteous goodness of God would now come first. Very strange.
Isaiah 28:21, 22
For the LORD will rise up as on Mount Perazim; as in the Valley of Gibeon he will be roused; to do his deed—strange is his deed! and to work his work—alien is his work! Now therefore do not scoff, lest your bonds be made strong; for I have heard a decree of destruction from the Lord GOD of hosts against the whole land.
For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
How strange then is the next word, “blessed or happy are the the poor in spirit”? Who, previously, had ever regarded them as the blessed ones of earth? And who, outside true believers, does so today? These opening words signal the arrival of the fulfillment of the law and the departure of the religion of men. All Christ’s subsequent teaching carry this message: it is not what a man does – but what he is and who he is that matters most in the Kingdom of God.
What does it mean to be poor in spirit?
It is the opposite of arrogant, self-assertive, and self-sufficient attitude and elitist mind-set that the world embraces and rewards. It is also the very reverse of that independent and defiant attitude that refuses to bow to God, that foolishly determines to defy and rebel – that says with Pharaoh, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey His voice” (Exodus 5:2).
Poor in spirit is to realize that apart or separated from Christ – I have nothing, I am nothing, and I can do nothing, and I have need of all things. Poverty of spirit becomes evident in a person when he or she is returns to the dust before God to acknowledge human frailty and mortal limitations – a healthy helplessness. It is the first experiential evidence of God’s work of grace within the soul, and indicates the awakening of the prodigal son in the far country when he “began to be in want” (Luke 15:14).”
Poor in spirit is one who is not wise in his own eyes, or driven with pride. One who knows his or her place in and with Christ and is secure and confident in that place. There are circumstances and experiences that feel better in a moment or minute of time, but God knows how to bring us back. And in His faithfulness and love He will do so, for the place of humble selflessness before God is the place of blessing for His followers and true believers. How to cultivate this God-honoring spirit is revealed by Jesus.
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
Poor in spirit is blessed because the true follower takes on a new attitude and mind-set that is opposite of that which was his or hers by nature. Poor in spirit is the first sure evidence that God’s grace is at work within. His work in the true follower causes one to look outside of him or herself for value and self-worth because we are valued and given our self-worth in Christ Jesus as a family member of the Kingdom of heaven.
Poor in spirit is a consciousness of one’s emptiness and the nagging need for something bigger, better, and other than ourselves (the active working of the Holy Spirit) within the human heart, mind and soul.
We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
That is indeed a life-changing revelation and is typically followed with an awakening to the reality that even my best days in and of myself – done for myself are unacceptable (actually an abomination) to the righteousness of God the Father. So, one who is poor in spirit is also living in the reality that what we deserve from God for who we are and how we have lived and what we have done with the gift of life is overwhelmed by the love and mercy we have freely received in Christ Jesus.
Poor in spirit is certainly not a negative expression of our faith – but rather a positive sign of spiritual depth and much needed understanding of God’s best and intended uses for His provision and the reasons for His strange or paradoxical system of value. It is the final realization that we end up nowhere with our worthless wanderings and our inflated sense of self-worth before Christ and our journey of purpose-filled faith in Him. It is the work of the Spirit emptying the heart of self, that so Christ may fill it with the heart of Him.
Blessed are the poor in spirit; for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.
[Reference and Resource]: The Beatitudes: An Exposition of Matthew 5:1-12 by Thomas Watson; The Beatitudes by Arthur W. Pink; Reading The Sermon on the Mount by John Stott; An Exegetical Study of the Sermon on the Mount by Abernathy, David, Tehan, Thomas; Lexham Theological Word Study by Magnum, Douglass, Brown; Word Studies i
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