“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3).
To understand the “poor in spirit” you only need to understand the Hebrew word anawim. The best way to understand this word is to remember what happened to the inhabitants of Israel when they were hauled into captivity to Babylon. If you were smart, talented, healthy, and useful, you were taken captive to be used in a productive way by the Babylonians. If you were totally useless, you were simply left behind. Talk about an insult, to be told by your enemy that “Everyone useful will be taken, but we do not need you.” The word for these people was the anawim. They were the nobodies: the poor, pitiful, pathetic, worthless, useless nobodies.
The fact is we are all going to have some of those nobody moments in our lives. There will be those times we feel worthless and useless and are unable to control or change the situation. As a freshman in high school, it was being the last one chosen for the pick-up football game during P.E. As a senior, it was being told by your dream date that you are the last person on earth she would go out with and then finding out the whole school knows of the rejection. As a high school graduate, it is being rejected by your top ten college choices for “academic reasons.” Those moments only get more serious as life continues. It is your child facing a life-threatening illness, a family member with multiple sclerosis, a business going under despite everything you do, a mate who leaves you for someone else, a depression that destroys who you are. The list goes on, but the fact is, sooner or later, we all face a brokenness in our lives that far exceeds the resources we have in and of ourselves to address and repair it, and few things are more discouraging than the realization that we do not have what it takes to make ourselves or those we love whole.
Jesus’ words in this sermon [Matthew 5-7] are not about our physical condition but rather our spiritual. Truthfully, when it comes to our spiritual condition, none of us have what it takes to make ourselves whole, and the sooner we realize it, the better off we will be. Jesus’ foundational declaration in this sermon is that the blessings of God are only available to those who recognize their brokenness. While the broken have always attempted to run from God (beginning with Adam and Eve), the blessings of God are only available to those who recognize their brokenness and turn to Him. Therein lays the problem that most of the world faces: the inability or unwillingness to see the brokenness of our human condition and the realization that only God is the answer.
To be poor in spirit is the acknowledgement of that spiritual bankruptcy. It is the confession of one’s own unworthiness before God and one’s utter dependence on God. For those who understand this and are discouraged, disheartened, and despondent by this sense of their own bankruptcy, Jesus’ promise is “God helps those who cannot help themselves.” What an awesome promise: grace, power, transformation, and blessings are readily available to those who acknowledge their brokenness. We come emptying ourselves in order that we might be filled with God. In the words of Solomon, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted, and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Proverbs 34:18). God really does help those who cannot help themselves.
A vivid contrast demonstrating poverty of spirit is presented in Luke 18 where Jesus shares a story about a Pharisee and a publican. One could see no spiritual need while the other sees nothing but need. One is proud and boastful, the other penitent and broken. One stood condemned, the other stood justified. One God frowned on, the other walked away forgiven.
The poor in spirit are those who feel a deep sense of spiritual destitution and understand their nothingness before God. They understand that “none are righteous” (Romans 3:10) and that “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Such a spirit was demonstrated by Paul upon declaring “I am the chief of sinners,” by Jeremiah in stating “A man’s life is not his own, it is not in man to direct his own steps,” and by David who wrote, “When I consider Your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the start which you have set in place, who is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?”
A failure to acknowledge our spiritual poverty/our need for God only serves to alienate us from the very power and grace that can transform our lives. To acknowledge such places us in a position both to have our own spiritual cups filled and to be a blessing to others. While some form of the word makarios (blessed) is found around fifty times in the New Testament and is most often used in reference to the joy experienced when one is delivered by God, there is another way this word is used. We are told, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). In being blessed we take on God’s nature, which in turn means we become conduits delivering that same blessing to others. in fact, it is in following God that we find our true selves–that for which we were created–and in doing so we experience the blessings that are available to us. It is only in our brokenness that we understand who we are, humbly serve, and become a blessing in the lives of other broken people.
Blessed are the broken: those who understand their condition without God and what they can be with God; those who will empty themselves in order that they might be filled with God; those who accept their position as a nobody in order that God might make them a somebody; those who realize their condemnation and graciously accept God’s justification.
Blessed are the poor in spirit.
This article was written by David Swanger, who currently serves as the Outreach and Involvement Minister at the Hendersonville church of Christ in Hendersonville, Tennessee. Have you ever asked the question, “how can I get saved?” If you would like to learn more information about the Bible or Biblical topics, please be sure to check out www.alivewithchrist.com.