“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." Matthew 5:3
Someone once asked Billy Graham what did Jesus mean by we ought to be poor in spirit and shouldn't we strive to be rich in spirit? Graham brilliantly responded with the following:
"What did He mean? Simply this: We must be humble in our spirits. If you put the word “humble” in place of the word “poor,” you will understand what He meant.
In other words, when we come to God, we must realize our own sin and our spiritual emptiness and poverty. We must not be self-satisfied or proud in our hearts, thinking we don’t really need God. If we are, God cannot bless us. The Bible says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6)."
Meaning of "Blessed are the Poor in Spirit"
Blessed in this context indicates heavenly, spiritual exaltation rather than earthly happiness or prosperity. In Hebrew, "poor" means both the materially poor and the faithful among God's people. The poor in spirit are those who have the heart of the poor, the same attitude as the poor, and are totally dependent on God. This is related to the words of Christ in Matthew 23:12, "And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."
The excerpt below is taken from "From Sorrow to Joy" by Harvest Ministries (used by permission).
There is a place for laughter. And there is also a place for sorrow. Jesus said, "Blessed are the poor in spirit" (Matthew 5:3), those who see themselves as they are and then take action. The Bible says, "For the kind of sorrow God wants us to experience leads us away from sin and results in salvation. There's no regret for that kind of sorrow. But worldly sorrow, which lacks repentance, results in spiritual death" (2 Corinthians 7:10). True sorrow will lead to joy, because you see your true state, decide to do something about it, and repent. But without that sorrow, there will be no joy.
Sometimes we are sorry for the repercussions of what we have done. If you are speeding and see the highway patrol in the rearview mirror, with lights flashing, you are sorry. But it is probably not because you broke the speed limit, but because you didn't look more carefully for the highway patrol. You are also sorry because your insurance rates will go up. The question is, next time will you slow down, or will you continue to speed? Sometimes we are sorry for the repercussions, but we are not sorry for the act. We are not sorry enough to stop doing it.
Happy are the poor in spirit, the people who see themselves as they really are. Happy are those who mourn; they want to do something about that condition. They sorrow over it. They repent of it. As Romans 4:8 says, "Yes, what joy for those whose record the Lord has cleared of sin." Thus, our sorrow leads to joy.
The Beatitudes - Matthew 5:2-12
The phrase "Blessed are the poor in spirit" comes from the Beatitudes of Jesus. The beatitudes were statements of characteristics and blessings that are part of the Sermon on the Mount that Jesus spoke about and is recorded in Matthew. Each beatitude looks at different circumstances of life and how all Christians are blessed through their faith. Through these 8 Beatitudes, Jesus teaches virtues and values in life that will result in blessings and rewards.
"And he began to teach them. He said: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you."