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What Even is “Poor in Spirit?” | Matthew 5:3

What does "Blessed are the poor in spirit" really mean?

This week we are going to start with the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5. Listen along to the episode here or on your favorite podcast app

[2:45] When I was younger, I wrongly thought that the Beatitudes in Matthew didn’t apply to me.  All those blessed rewards were not things that I was or could do.  I had a pink Precious Moments Bible that had an illustration about “Blessed are the Peacemakers” and I didn’t know if I was a peacemaker.  It wasn’t until I was in my 30s that I found out what all the characteristics of the blessed ones were.  Here is a plug for you to be in Bible study with a godly woman (or man) that is IN THE WORD.  Eternally grateful for Karen Rosa for teaching me what these attributes and attitudes really mean.

Anyone else have the
Precious Moments Bible growing up?

[7:00] First, we need to know that Jesus had been gaining recognition.  He was, as Matthew said at the end of chapter 4, healing all manner of sickness and disease among the people.  That was the reputation he was setting for himself.  Matthew Henry’s commentary says, “miraculous healings performed in Galilee were intended to incline people to receive instructions from the one whom there appeared so much divine power and goodness.”  I would argue that Jesus’s goal was to draw attention to himself.  He was setting himself apart from the rest.  As folks were being healed, or watching the miracles unfold, they were also hearing his teaching. 

The Sermon on the Mount is 3 chapters.  John the Baptist and Jesus were preaching repentance.  This sermon shows the characteristics of a repentant lifestyle.  It’s the next step, if you will.  There were crowds present, but Jesus begins speaking to his disciples.  They were the ones he addressed because they were the ones that left their boats (remember?).  He taught them because they had already shown they were willing to be taught.  The same holds true for us.  If we are willing to be taught, to be shown where we are getting it wrong, then Holy Spirit will teach us.  

Most of the commentaries say that the Sermon on the Mount was the modern equivalent of Moses coming down with the Ten Commandments.  That Jesus was showing he was the fulfillment of the Law and that you obeyed these commandments by living by these characteristics.  The message had been that the kingdom of heaven was near.  The Kingdom of Heaven was used by the Jews to refer to God.  They had so much reverence for God that they didn’t speak or write his name.  So, we can translate this God is near.  He’s coming.  You better get your act together.  

[10:23] The first Beatitude is “Blessed are the poor in spirit; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  The first thing we need to know is the tense, “for theirs IS the kingdom of heaven”.  That’s present tense, ya’ll.  What if we read it this way:  Blessed are the poor in spirit; for God is theirs.  Oooooooo.  Just gave myself chills.  I gotta be poor in spirit ASAP.  Now, what does that mean exactly?

I looked up the Greek word that was used for blessed.  It is makarios and means “when God extends His benefits (the advantages he confers) enviable position from receiving God’s provisions (favor) which extend his grace (benefits)”. Used in Matthew 5:3-11 is like saying Congratulations!  It is more than happy.  The Passion translation looks at the Aramaic word (that is the language Matthew would have written it in).  It is toowayhon and it means “enriched, happy, fortunate, delighted, blissful, content, blessed”.  Passion expands the notes with “Our English word blessed can indeed fit here, but toowayhon implies more – great happiness, prosperity, abundant goodness, and delight.  Toowayhon means to have capacity to enjoy union and communion with God because the meaning of the word goes beyond merely being ‘blessed’.”

[11:34] See?  I think we get this wrong.  I think we start off not understanding what this is because we don’t even fully comprehend what blessed or happy really is.  Kay Arthur has a FANTASTIC study on the Beatitudes that I have done several times.  I cannot recommend it enough.  I really want to copy it all out for you, but that would be silly.  I will just sum it up with this, “happiness depends on circumstances- blessedness takes you through every circumstance.”  Her point is that we don’t even truly understand what happiness is.  We base our definition on what the world says and not what God says and shows.  

[19:01]To have happiness we can’t really fathom we need to do some things.  The first one is being poor in spirit.  I used to think this meant sad or down in the mouth.  (Is down in the mouth or poor mouth a phrase everyone understands? Or is southern? Do you get what I mean?)  That is not even close to what it means.  Poor in spirit is knowing your place.  It is knowing God is God and you are not.  The Message says it is when you are at the end of your rope.  The Bible scholars agree that it means to be dependent on God.  To recognize our ongoing need for divine intervention or our ongoing state of dependency.  John MacArthur says poor in spirit is the direct opposite of being self-sufficient.

Here is another disconnect.  Aren’t we told to be independent?  We’re taught to have a can-do attitude.  Learn to take care of yourself.  I don’t need any help.  I got this.  Isn’t that what I have been telling my children?  Haven’t Jim and I been harping on it for Jake and Bo?  You are in college now, you have to learn how to take care of yourself.  Be a man!  Take charge.  I am an independent woman, I don’t need a man!  Yes, we have to mature and grow up, but we can’t grow out of or outgrow our need for God.

“Poor in spirit is to be in spiritual poverty, to be conscious of one’s continual dependence on God.  Kingdom people recognize their own inadequacy and insufficiency apart from him.  As long as you think you are rich in spirit, you’ll actually be independent and proud.  So become a spiritual beggar.”   Tony Evans

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