The Expository Files

Poor in Spirit or Rich in Pride

Matthew 5:3

"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven," (Matt. 5:3).

It is important to know that this statement does not confer any particular blessing on the economically poor! There is the impression that poverty, in and of itself, is a blessing; and that to be economically poor automatically means that you are cherished and protected by God, blessed by Him and in good standing. This misconception causes some to misquote the passage: "Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." That is not what the Lord said, as written in Matt. 5:3. He spoke this good word to those "poor in spirit." (It is correct, in Luke 6:20, the reading is "blessed are you poor," and in that context the Lord speaks condemnation toward the rich. And it is true, Mark 12:37 says that "the common people heard Him gladly." But it was necessary for them to hear Him and respond to be blessed. And our focus, in Matt. 5:3, must be on a spiritual quality not an economic condition.)

What does it mean to be "poor in spirit?" It is that fundamental characteristic of realizing that you are spiritually empty, and that only by depending upon God can you fill that emptiness. This is about knowing you are spiritually poor, therefore you know your need.

It may help to think about the opposite of "poor in spirit." The contrast would be "proud in spirit;" self-sufficient, arrogantly independent. There are individuals with the attitude that says "I don't need anybody to give me any direction in life. I can do fine without any moral standard from a divine source." This is the modern spirit of humanism. In the Glossary of Humanism the concept of is defined this way: "...a view of life that is centered on man and his capacity to build a worthwhile life for himself and his fellows here and now. The emphasis is placed on man's own intellectual and moral resources, and the nation of supernatural religion is rejected."

Humanism says man doesn't need a Savior; shouldn't rely on the gospel, and doesn't need any spiritual blessing. This is opposite of "poor in spirit." And this arrogance and rebellion against God is illustrated by the Babylonian Ruler described in Isaiah 14 (Isa. 14:12-15). This same perspective is illustrated in the attitude of those who attempted to build the tower of Babel (see Gen. 11:4). The prime motive was the glory of man. They were not poor in spirit, but rich in human pride.

To be poor in spirit is to have the disposition described in Isa. 66:2 -- "But on this one will I look; on him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, and who trembles at My Word."

By Warren E Berkley
 From Expository Files 7.10; October 2000