The Beatitudes comprise one of the most famous passages in the Bible. But at least for me, they’ve also been some of the most confusing verses. While we appreciate their poetic quality and enjoy the rhythmic repetition of “Blessed are ______,” do we really understand what they mean?
I decided to take some time to examine these verses more closely, and I will be doing a post on each verse for the next several weeks. I found my study quite interesting – I hope you do, too.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
What does it mean to be “poor in spirit”?
The Greek word for “poor” is pretty generic, commonly occurring in the New Testament. According to Strong’s, it means a “beggar,” “pauper,” or (figuratively) “distressed.” It is closely related to another word that means to “scare,” “frighten,” or “cause to fall or flee,” and its root literally means “to crouch.”
Hmm… So does it mean blessed are those are beggars in spirit, or those who are distressed in spirit? Could it include both meanings?
Here are some interesting cross-references:
Luke 4:18, “The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, because He has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; to proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD.”
Matt. 11:5, “The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them.”
Luke 4:13, “But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind.”
Luke 4:21, “So that servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house, being angry, said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in here the poor and the maimed and the lame and the blind.'”
James 2:5, “Listen, my beloved brethren: has God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?”
In reading these passages, I get the impression that the poor were generally looked down upon. And yet they have a special place in God’s kingdom. They are the ones who hear the Gospel. They are the ones who respond to the invitation to the banquet, because (1) unlike the others who were originally invited, they have no excuse not to come, and (2) they actually appreciate the invitation. And while they may be poor financially, God makes them rich spiritually, and heirs of His kingdom – receiving riches and splendor and honor.
Interestingly, in Luke’s version of the Beatitudes, Jesus is quoted as saying only, “Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God” (Luke 6:20b), implying Jesus was talking to the financially poor. This is reinforced by the contrasting woe He pronounces a few verses later, “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation” (6:24).
I think the emphasis is that if you are rich – or think you are rich – you think you have everything you could need or want, so God doesn’t give you anything more. But the poor – or those who realize they don’t have everything already – are much more open to receiving His gift of salvation.
Think for a moment about what we picture when we think of the poor. The picture is of someone who barely has the necessities of life. He barely manages to get by, and often relies on the kindness of others for help. To the New Testament Jews, he is grouped with the outcasts – with the lame and the deaf and the blind, who are all thought to be cursed by God. But it is to these outcasts that the Gospel is preached.
It goes along with Luke 5:32, “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” Those who recognize themselves as sinful are the ones who will be open to repenting. Those who recognize themselves as spiritually poor are the ones who will be open to receiving God’s gifts.
So, are we poor in spirit? Do we realize we are lacking spiritually? Do we humbly accept God’s help, knowing what a tremendous honor it is? Or do we put our own interests first, like those who were first invited to the banquet in Luke 4? Do we recognize our need for the Lord to provide even the necessities of our life? Do we depend on Him for our needs, whether spiritual or physical? Or do we depend on ourselves?
Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity.
(1 Tim. 4:12)