Beatitudes: The poor in spirit

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Matthew 5:3
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

The Sermon on the Mount is widely regarded as a foundation for Christian doctrines. In that one long sermon (Matthew 5:3-7:27), Jesus lays out an approach to living that fulfills the spirit AND the letter of God’s law by addressing how we THINK about sin and how we FEEL about God. The sermon begins with a series of declarations about who can expect to be blessed by God. Flying in the face of the traditions of the Pharisees, Jesus explains that God’s blessings are not for those who think of themselves as “holier than thou,” but rather that God blesses those who DON’T think of themselves as holy.

I find it interesting that the first blessing (Matthew 5:3) is almost always translated exactly the same in English, from the old King James version of 1611 to the 2001 edition of the English Standard Bible. When I went back to look at a more literal translation, I didn’t find much difference, but looking at the Greek I did find an interesting word: “ptochos”. That word is always translated simply as the noun “poor” – as in “poor people.” But the root word comes from “ptosso”, which is a verb meaning “to crouch” – as in the attitude of someone who is begging. So let’s look at a slightly different but still valid translation of this verse:


Matthew 5:3 (alternate translation)
“Blessed are those who beg for the Spirit,
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

That’s a little different, isn’t it? In the common translation, those who are “the poor” are simply lacking spiritual fulfillment. But in this alternate translation, “those who beg” not only lack spiritual fulfillment, but they also SEEK God’s Spirit. The “poor in spirit” are no longer simply passive, standing along the sides of the road with no notion of what they are missing. When we look at the poor in spirit as those who KNOW what they lack and who SEEK God’s Spirit, we suddenly see that we ALL should be included in this first blessing.

We must always remember that God’s blessings are for those who seek Him. If we are just passively lacking His Spirit and do not seek His face, then we will turn from His way and simply seek anything to fill that void in our souls. I am sure we all know more than a few people who seek spiritual fulfillment in just about anything they can find, and yet they never seem fulfilled. But we are meant to realize our spiritual poverty and turn to Jesus Christ – the One who not only will fill us up, but who also promises to share His glory with us.

This first blessing in the Sermon on the Mount is in essence the same as Jesus’ first sermon:


Matthew 4:17
From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

When we repent, then we empty ourselves of worldly desires and things that hamper our connection with God. We put off the so-called “riches” of this world and put ourselves in subjection to God. We become spiritual paupers who now KNOW we lack God’s blessings and God’s Spirit. In such a state, we kneel down and reach out to Him and place our fate in His loving hands. And what does God do? He sends His only Son to bring us to His glory as co-heirs with Christ in the kingdom of God. (See Galatians 4:4-7)

This, then, is the blessing we are offered: Blessed are those who realize they are truly poor in their own spirit and who seek God’s Spirit, for they shall be co-heirs with Christ Jesus, King of kings and Lord of lords, Son of the Most High God. Let us therefore humble ourselves and kneel in prayer as we seek the only wealth that matters: the rich blessings of our Father God.

Lord God Almighty, we praise Your holy name, for You alone provide the riches we seek. Teach us to be humble, Lord, that we will know our true poverty. And help us to know our true worth, as Your sons and daughters through the adoption You have offered through Christ Jesus. Amen.

© 2009 Glenn A. Pettit

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