The Poor in Spirit, meaning
In his book, The Pursuit of God, A.W. Tozer has a beautiful chapter that he titles: “The Blessedness of Possessing Nothing.” This title is a beautiful recasting of the message of Matt. 5:3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”. Elsewhere the Bible says, “Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb” Rev. 19:9. Salvation is not for the rich but for the poor in spirit. In Mark 2:17, Jesus says, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” The spiritual blessing of the kingdom of God is reserved for those who possess no spiritual wealth at all, those who are poor in spirit.
A. W Tozer writes,
“Within the human heart “things” have taken over. . . . There is within the human heart a tough fibrous root of fallen life whose nature is to possess, always to possess. It covets “things” with a deep and fierce passion. The pronouns “my” and “mine” look innocent enough in print, but their constant and universal use is significant. They express the real nature of the old Adamic man better than a thousand volumes of theology could do. They are verbal symptoms of our deep disease. The roots of our hearts have grown down into things, and we dare not pull up one rootlet lest we die. Things have become necessary to us. . . God’s gifts now take the place of God.
The blessed ones who possess the Kingdom are they who have repudiated every external thing and have rooted from their hearts all sense of possessing. These are the “poor in spirit.” They have reached an inward state paralleling the outward circumstances of the common beggar in the streets of Jerusalem. That is what the word poor as used by Christ actually means. These blessed poor are no longer slaves to the tyranny of things. They have broken the yoke of the oppressor; and this they have done not by fighting but by surrendering. Though free from all sense of possessing, they yet possess all things. ‘Theirs is the kingdom of heaven.’
Abraham is an example of a person in the OT that was poor in spirit. We see in him, a “dramatic picture of the surrendered life as well as an excellent commentary on the first Beatitude.” Isaac was a child that was born to Abraham in his old age. So we was to him both a son and a grand son and the loved him well. If what happened to Job was done to Abraham except that Isaac was safe, he would have preferred it to sacrificing Isaac. It would have been a thousand times better for God to ask him to die. God demanded his most loved and treasured possession, a love which was bothering on idolatry. Abraham certainly went through great pain and agony to arrive at the decision to obey God. But when he did, he proved that he would not withhold anything from God. The fleshly hold of possession was broken. From then on, even though Abraham still had great material wealth, he possessed nothing. In his spirit, he knew he owned nothing, and that translated in the way he viewed everything both talents and material possession.
Contrast that with the rich young ruler in Mark 10. He refused to lay down his treasured possession. He refused the road to spiritual poverty which is complete surrender of ones will to the will of God.
Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane is a New Testament example of a person who surrendered all to God.
To truly understand what it means to be poor in spirit, use your imagination to go back in time to the time of Jesus. What did a poor person then look like?
– Dirty, wretched.
– He owned nothing.
– He was beggar on the street.
– Many of them were blind beggars.
– They poorest didn’t even own themselves. They were slaves. They depended on their masters for everything.
When Jesus uses the word “poor” in the phrase “poor in spirit”, he is painting a picture for his listeners. They had a picture of what poor is. That picture may not be the picture of poor in some places today.
Like the beggar of on the street of Jerusalem, or the poorer ones who are slaves, S. Michael Houdmann says, “To be poor in spirit is to recognize your utter spiritual bankruptcy before God. It is understanding that you have absolutely nothing of worth to offer God. Being poor in spirit is admitting that, because of your sin, you are completely destitute spiritually and can do nothing to deliver yourself from your dire situation. Jesus is saying that, no matter your status in life, you must recognize your spiritual poverty before you can come to God in faith to receive the salvation He offers.”
Being poor in spirit is recognizing that your righteousness is as a filthy rack before God. It is worthless. In the things that matter, which are the spiritual things, you own absolutely nothing. Only people with that conviction can receive God’s spiritual blessings of the kingdom of heaven. In this case, even though the phrase “kingdom of heaven” can be broad in meaning, it simply means salvation. Or at least, salvation comes with it. There is no giving of the kingdom apart from salvation. When one is saved, they receive the kingdom of heaven with the salvation. Salvation is a free gift given only to people who know they have no riches to buy it.
This realization of spiritual poverty also must of necessity express itself in a physical way. Faith without works is dead. A person who is spiritually poor has no sense of possession whatsoever. He knows that he has been bought with a price, he belongs to God, everything he has belongs to God. If he has a room in his house that is free, he is quick to invite a homeless person who needs it to use it. He would share his car with a person who needs it quickly because it doesn’t belong to him.