In the Beatitudes the Lord Jesus paints for us a picture of a Christian as a person distinctly different from a worldly person. He is not describing an elite class of Christians; Here He is describing for us how the Christian ought to be.
The Lord begins with this statement: “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven(Mat 5:3).”
The Beatitudes are not a set of haphazard, random sayings. There is a proper system, a pattern which follows logically. Spiritual poverty is indeed the foundation upon which all the other Beatitudes are built.
There is a fundamental principle we observe in scriptures: conviction before conversion. When we pay careful attention to every conversion account in the book of Acts, we will realise that this principle holds true.
The Jews on Pentecost were convicted by the gospel. “Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do(Acts 2:37)?”
When a person comes to the realisation that he is truly a spiritual pauper, he will see His need of the grace of God offered through the gospel of Jesus Christ.
“Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican…And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner(Luke 18:10, 13).”
David in his penitential Psalm acknowledged:
“For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise (Psa 51:16-17).”
This is just the attitude of the heart the transcendent, almighty King of heaven and earth finds acceptable. He is above all, and we must know our place—we are beneath Him, mere creatures completely dependent upon His good grace.
“For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones (Isa 57:15).”
Immediately we are aware that this attitude of being poor in spirit runs against the grain of the world’s philosophy. The world despises it. The world promotes self-reliance, self-confidence and self-expression.
The tentacles of these worldly ideas have crept insidiously into the church, entrapping many well-meaning brethren with its sweet, deceptive philosophy. In the place of humility we have men and women demanding their ‘rights’.
We judge as a worthy leader a brother who is self-assertive and confident. We appraise a preacher not so much by the soundness of his sermons but by his style. The apostle Paul would have been roundly criticised by us today. Paul went to Corinth “in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling” and preached “not ourselves but Christ” (cf. 1Co 2:3; 2Co 4:5).
To be poor in spirit does not mean we are diffident, nervous, distressed or lacking in courage. It certainly does not mean that we are to ‘play humble’ and try to drum up the ‘fact’ that we are meek and lowly.
We sometimes make ourselves out to be worse than we are (“Oh I’m nobody; I’m never going to be good enough, etc.”), hoping perhaps at the back of our minds that a friend may come along and affirm us, telling us we are not quite as bad.
But the truth is we are far worse than we could ever make ourselves out to be. That is why we need the gospel. A person who needs to remindothers in some ways that he is ‘poor in spirit’ is surely anything but that.
To be poor in spirit is to be painfully aware of our condition without the mercies of God in Christ. It is to have the veil removed from before our very eyes and see that wehave all sinned, and come short of the glory of God (cf. Rom 3:23; 1Jo 1:8).
It is to know that even after we have been added to Christ, we are still completely dependent upon Him; that we are nothing without Him. There is no room for boasting, no ambition to impress God or anyone; no climbing up the ladder for preeminence in the church (cf. 3Jo 9-10).
There is nothing in us—not our social status, not our talents, skills, intelligence and good behaviour that will stand us in good stead before God. It is all by His grace.
The poor in spirit are stripped of pride and self-reliance. They do not try to negotiate terms with God. They look to God in utter submission for His grace and mercy. These are the ones the Lord calls blessed, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.