Poor in Spirit (Matthew 5:3) [Outline of the Sermon on the Mount]

"As compared with God, a truly humble man is sensible of the small extent of his own knowledge, and the great extent of his ignorance, and the small extent of his understanding. He is sensible of his weakness. How little his strength is, and how little he is able to do." Jonathan Edwards, Charity And Its Fruits.

The indispensable condition of receiving the kingdom is spiritual bankruptcy. Charles Spurgeon said, "The way to rise in the Kingdom is to sink in ourselves."

To be poor in spirit is to acknowledge spiritual poverty, our spiritual bankruptcy in ourselves, before God. It is to acknowledge that we are sinners, under the wrath of God, and deserving the judgment of God. It is to acknowledge that we have nothing to offer, nothing to plead, nothing with which to buy the favor of heaven, as the hymn says, "Nothing in my hand I bring."

"He only who is reduced to nothing in himself, and relies on the mercy of God, is poor in spirit. To such, and only to such, the kingdom of God is given as a free gift." John Calvin. This blessedness is an absolutely free and utterly undeserved gift. It can only be received humbly, like a little child.
No oppressors in God's kingdom, only those who humbly acknowledge their neediness. The "poor in Spirit" ("poor" in Lk 6:20) describes an impoverished person (economically, physically, spiritually) or oppressed person who recognizes his or her need and trusts in God for full redemption. They comprehend that they must be faithful in the midst of oppression and also form solidarity with other oppressed people. They love God enough to trust God, love the self aright, and love others enough to form alliances of hope, compassion, and justice. The antithesis of the "poor in spirit" is the rich oppressor (Jas 1:9-11; 2:1-13; 4:13-5:6). The "poor in spirit" is a perfect blend of the economically destitute who nonetheless trust in God and put their hope for justice and the kingdom of God in God. In contrast, the rich who are self-sufficient struggle to enter the kingdom (Mt 19:23-24).

Turning the world upside down. From the outset Jesus contradicted all human judgments and expectations with regard to the kingdom of God. The kingdom is given to the poor, not the rich, to the feeble, not the mighty, to little children, not to powerful soldiers, to the publicans who knew they were bad, not to Pharisees, who strongly believed they were good and better than others, to those who did not know the Bible well, not to those who were sure they were the Bible experts.

A counter cultural revelation. Jesus blesses all the wrong people, those whom no one else blessed. Jesus goes against the grain. He finds all the "wrong" people on God's side and all the "right" people against God. Beginning with the Beatitudes (Mt 5:3-12) Jesus shapes the entire servant and jolts us into listening attentively. We ought to ask, "If these are the people who are in, what does that mean for me? If this is how Jesus' in-group lives, how should I live?"

Not to strive for... "Too often those characteristics (of the Beatitudes) ... are turned into ideals we must strive to attain. As ideals, they can become formulas for power rather than descriptions of the kind of people characteristic of the new age brought by Christ... Thus Jesus does not tell us that we should try to be poor in spirit, or meek, or peacemakers. He simply says that many who are called into the kingdom will find themselves so constituted." Stanley Hauerwas, on the Beautitudes.

A fulsome translation for "blessed" is "God's favor is upon..."

Christ's Portrait of a Christian: A Study of the Sermon on the Mount (John Stott)
  1. A Christian's Character (Mt 5:1-16).
  2. A Christian's Righteousness (Mt 5:17-48).
  3. A Christian's Ambition (Mt 6:1-34).
  4. A Christian's Relationship (Mt 7:1-29).