The First Beatitude
Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
The poor in spirit are those who are not self-assertive, self-reliant, self-confident, self-centered, or self-sufficient. The poor in spirit are not baptized in the waters of self-esteem. They do not boast in their God given characteristics such as their birth, their family, their nationality, their education, their physical looks, their race, their wealth, or their culture. None of that matters. The poor in spirit are those who are conscious of their sins and know in their hearts that they are completely unworthy of the grace that a most holy and loving God pours down upon them. They realize that all their righteousness is, as Isaiah said, like filthy rags before a holy God.
So poor in spirit means that we come to God, conscious of our sins and our utter lack of righteousness. It means that we profess that we are totally unqualified to commune with, and have fellowship with God, and that we do not deserve any of the gifts that God is trying to bestow upon us. The poor in spirit realize that all our assets are actually liabilities before God, and that we should view these assets as Paul viewed them–as loss, as garbage, as rubbish.
It means that we have absolutely no hope of salvation without Jesus Christ. It means to realize that we are full of sin and in desperate need of God’s grace and righteousness, and the poor in spirit realize that these can only be obtained by faith in Jesus Christ.
In Luke 15 we see how the prodigal son became poor in spirit. In his pride and arrogance he left his father’s house, wasted his inheritance and fell into great need in some far away country. During a severe famine, this son had no job and nothing to eat. At that point, the text says, he came to himself. He went back to his father and said, “I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son” (Luke 15:21). That is being poor in spirit.
We also see an example of being poor in spirit illustrated again in Luke 18 in the account of the Pharisee and the tax collector. It is the story of a man who was confident of his own righteousness and who looked down on everybody else. Jesus told this parable: Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed this about himself: God, I thank you that I am not like other men–robbers, evildoers, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of what I get.
The tax collector stood at a distance. He felt he wasn’t even worthy to look up to heaven, so keeping his eyes on the floor he said, “God, please have mercy on me, for I am nothing but a lowly sinner.” (Luke 18:9-14). That is being poor in spirit. What was the result of the prayers of these men? The Pharisee went home condemned, while the tax collector went home justified.
Only the poor in spirit will enter into the kingdom of God. Why? Because they come to God having full knowledge of their own lostness and their own sinfulness. They readily confess that they are full of guilt and are totally unqualified to enter into the kingdom of God. The poor in spirit are the ones who have put their faith and trust in Jesus Christ.