Jesus speaks in present tense to teach that the blessedness of the kingdom alreadyexists for those who are poor in spirit. It’s a present reality. Let that sink in for a minute. Those who are poor in spirit – whomever they are – are already blessed, because they already have the kingdom.
We previously saw that blessedness is a state of sufficiency, of satisfaction. Essentially it is a “more than enough”state that recognizes God and what He gives as thoroughly sufficient in every situation. Aristotle used the word as an antonym to “needy”; it’s a state of fullness – fullness from God. When He fills us we are no longer needy, but satisfied – “blessed”.
Glance ahead in the passage and you’ll see that not all the Beatitudes are present tense. Most, in fact, use that wonderful word “shall” – a promise of something to come in the future. The blessedness is present, but the reason for it hinges on a future event – what John Piper calls “Future Grace.”
Not so for those who are poor in spirit (v. 3) or persecuted (v. 10). To these individuals belongs the kingdom of heaven. Not “shall be”, but “is” – they already have the kingdom. With such a rich assurance at the heart of Jesus’ message, let’s look more deeply at what it means to be “poor in spirit.”
The word “poor” is not a Greek word referencing relative poverty; instead, the original word refers to utter destitution. It’s a word used to reference crouching like a beggar and can mean abject poverty, utter helplessness, and complete destitution. Picture blind beggars in a third world country and you begin to understand the level of poverty intended by this word.
“Poor in spirit” thus means literally, “spiritually destitute.” However, to get a full grasp of the meaning of the phrase we have to lay the parallel passages of Jesus’ sermon side by side. Matthew and Luke both record a lengthy teaching by Jesus at this point in His ministry, and they share so many of the same verses that the two passages almost certainly record the same message (commonly called the Sermon on the Mount or the Sermon on the Plain, referencing a flat place on the mountain where Jesus is thought to have stopped to teach His disciples).
Matthew, written to a Jewish audience, emphasizes spiritual poverty in contrast to the “spiritual elite” that Jesus consistently confronts throughout the Gospels but especially in Matthew’s record. “Blessed are the poor in spirit”, in the larger context of Matthew’s Gospel, references those who are not the spiritually elite Pharisees and scribes, but whose hearts represent spiritual helplessness. This type of spiritual poverty is pictured in a beautiful story recorded in Luke:
(Luke 18:9-14 ESV) - He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: "Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.' But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner!' I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted."The spiritually elite Pharisee emphasizes his worth; the spiritually destitute tax collector emphasizes his need for mercy. To see ourselves as spiritually needy is to be poor in spirit.
But Luke’s version of the Sermon on the Mount adds an additional dimension to the overall definition of poor in spirit. Luke’s record of the Beatitudes includes not only blessings but contrasting woes. Writing to a Gentile audience in the highly materialistic Roman Empire, Luke records Jesus’ words:
God’s heart for the poor is evident throughout the Bible. He clearly lines out His heart for them and our responsibility to them. We have an eternal responsibility to share the Gospel –absolutely. But we also clearly have a temporal responsibility as well, to meet their practical needs and relieve their suffering in whatever way we can now. (Seehttp://thejustlife.org/home/resources/scripture-lists/the-bible-on-the-poor/for some of the key references).
From a kingdom perspective, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” reveals to us that the kingdom of God isn’t dependent on the elites of the world. We can never forget Paul’s words to the Corinthians that remind us where our boasting should lie-never in any person, but in God alone:
Finally, from a relational perspective, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” tells us how God wants us to come to Him. Whatever our personal or financial condition, our hearts must be fully cognizant of our need. We can’t be spiritual elitists. We need to have hearts like the Sons of Korah.
Korah was part of a rebellion by Levites who sought a position beyond what God had granted them (see Numbers 16). God brought judgment on the men and many of their family members, but spared the sons of Korah (Numbers 26:11). Their descendents would go on to pen some beautiful, God-exalting psalms (see Psalm 42, 44-49, 84-85, and 87-88). One passage in particular reveals the heart of these men who learned through their family history to rejoice in the special place God planted them, rather than aim for a more “spiritually elite” position. As I sought the Lord on what “poor in spirit”can look like in the life of a believer, I believe God drew me to this passage.
(Psalm 84:1-12 ESV) - To the choirmaster: according to The Gittith. A Psalm of the Sons of Korah.
Review the bold verses in light of lesson of Korah. His descendants learned well that what they had in the courts of God, even just serving as a doorkeeper, was great. God wasn’t holding out on them. There was no need to grasp for a spiritually elite position. They were simply happy to serve, and saw God as one bestowing favor and honor.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” After we realize our spiritual poverty and come to know His grace, may we realize that we never stop needing Him – and may that realization overflow into worship as we rejoice that we have everything we need in His presence.