Thoughts on the Beatitudes, Part 3

How then do we apply the life of the kingdom as we begin to explore the beatitudes? We are going to consider only the first beatitude because the first beatitude establishes a foundation for how are to understand the others.

And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:

[3] “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

There are many who believe that these are just ideals that we cannot achieve, but Christ demands that we live in this manner. These are not hypothetical commands, so that we can try and get a taste of what it looks like to be poor in spirit, no, these are commands given to us as people to achieve by the grace of God. Just as the kingdom of heaven is a real manifestation–not some ethereal and abstract idea–so our call to be poor in spirit is a present reality.

The kingdom of heaven is the coming down of God’s world to earth. The heavenly kingdom comes to earth so that throughout time earth might become like heaven, and one day heaven and earth will come together to form one holy city, the New Heavens and New Earth. The kingdom of heaven is the earthly taste of the New Heavens and New Earth.

Jesus says that the poor in spirit possess the kingdom of heaven. “It’s really the gateway to the rest of the beatitudes. You see—if you don’t get being poor in spirit right, then there is no way you can be properly meek or mournful or hungry or thirsty or pure in heart or peacemaking or persecuted for rightousness’ sake.”a So, what does it mean to be poor in spirit? To be poor in spirit is to recognize your dependence upon God; your dependence upon His riches. Your life and your goods are nothing apart from the author of your salvation. Those poor in spirit are those who truly understand the justification of God; that apart from God’s work in us we would never be able to follow and obey Yahweh. How do I know that I am justified in Christ? Because I live in utter dependence of His grace. Being poor in spirit is not an optional character trait, it’s the basic orientation of the justified believer in Christ. The poor in spirit knows their need for God.  How well do you know your need for God?

The contrast to “the poor in Spirit” is to be “rich in Spirit.” Biblically, this is not a positive trait, because the rich in spirit live independent of God. They view themselves justified apart from the grace of God and so they live in their self-sufficiency and in their pride. The rich in spirit person is always aware of people’s shortcomings and deficiencies. He is always content that he is not like the others. He is quick to find fault in others, but he never looks at his own sins (Mt. 7:3-5). He lives arrogantly and proud of his own accomplishments without ever finding joy in other people’s joy. The rich in spirit are full of themselves. They walk around looking for people to criticize and they can’t wait to tell so and so someone else’s mistakes.

The rich in spirit have a deep sense of their own self-sufficiency. They don’t need the community; they refuse to be a part of the body. They live for themselves and they go their own separate ways.

How different is the picture our Lord portrays with this little phrase “poor in spirit?” The poor in spirit considers others more significant than themselves. This is what I meant when I said that Jesus’ message in this sermon is upside down. There’s nothing in our bones that inclines us to consider others more important than ourselves. Our natural inclination is to think more highly of ourselves than we ought, and to think that we are more important—more essential—more valuable—than others. But Jesus has baptized you and he has called you to believe something that goes against your natural inclinations, and he expects you to do it. He has given you the grace to do it. He expects you to grow in the grace that he has given you, which necessarily means becoming poorer and poorer in spirit. This is how Christ lived. He lived his life for the sake of others. He esteemed others and he was sacrificed for others, because Jesus became poor in spirit for you.

  1. Notes from Pastor Jeremy Sexton  (back)
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