“Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:1-3 (ESV).
Jesus Christ’s Sermon on the Mount is one of the most extensive and significant collections of His teaching that is recorded in the Bible. This foundational message begins with a series of traits or ways of thinking called Beatitudes, which, when practiced, yield joy and peace of mind. The first is “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Since Jesus is the one giving the sermon on the mount it is no accident that the first beatitude is about being poor in spirit. This is a primary trait for a Christian—a fundamental requirement to following God’s way of life. A humble spirit enables us to develop the rest of the characteristics that Jesus lists in the sermon on the mount.
When used in the spiritual sense, “poor” refers to someone who is humble enough to recognize how powerless he or she is compared to God and someone who is willing to submit to that power. Compared to God, we are nothing. The poor in spirit don’t compare themselves to others: “Not that we dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who are commending themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding.” (2 Corinthians 10:12 ESV). After looking at how insignificant one is compared to God, it’s impossible not to feel humbled. Psalm 39:4-7 says, “O Lord, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am! Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths, and my lifetime is as nothing before you. Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath! Selah Surely a man goes about as a shadow! Surely for nothing they are in turmoil; man heaps up wealth and does not know who will gather!“And now, O Lord, for what do I wait? My hope is in you.”
After God gave Job a glimpse of His greatness through the creation, Job declared, “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:5-6 ESV).
There are many reasons God requires this deep humility. An example is Psalm 25:9 which tells us that the humble are teachable: “He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way.” The humble are repentant: “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:18 ESV) And the humble acknowledge and accept their dependence on God and recognize His greatness: “Thus says the Lord: “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool; what is the house that you would build for me, and what is the place of my rest? All these things my hand has made, and so all these things came to be, declares the Lord. But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.” (Isaiah 66:1-2 ESV).
- Describe a time when you felt especially poor in spirit—a time when you were keenly aware of your need for God. How did He meet you?
- Where do you especially need to grow in humility? (at work, as a parent, in your marriage, in the way that you approach church, etc)