What Does it Mean to Be Poor in Spirit as Mentioned in the Beatitudes?

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." ~ Matthew 5:3

Updated Oct 04, 2023
What Does it Mean to Be Poor in Spirit as Mentioned in the Beatitudes?

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

The phrase "poor in spirit" comes from the Bible, specifically in the Sermon on the Mount, as recorded in the Gospel of Matthew 5. This is one of the Beatitudes, a set of teachings by Jesus Christ that describe the characteristics and attitudes of those who are considered blessed or fortunate in the eyes of God.

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"

Being "poor in spirit" does not refer to material poverty or a lack of physical possessions. Instead, it has a more profound spiritual and moral connotation. 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." 

To be "poor in spirit" means:

  1. Humility: It signifies a humble and contrite heart, acknowledging one's spiritual poverty and dependence on God. It is the opposite of arrogance, pride, and self-sufficiency.

  2. Recognition of Need: Those who are "poor in spirit" recognize their need for God's grace, forgiveness, and guidance in their lives. They understand that they cannot achieve righteousness or salvation on their own merits.

  3. Openness to God: Being "poor in spirit" implies a willingness to submit to God's will, to be open to His teachings, and to be receptive to the transformation of one's character by the Holy Spirit.

What is Kingdom of Heaven? 

Jesus teaches that those who are "poor in spirit" are blessed because they will inherit the "kingdom of heaven." IThis phrase refers to the realm or domain where God's rule and presence are fully realized. In Christian theology, it often represents eternal life with God, salvation, and a close relationship with Him. So, when Jesus says, "for theirs is the kingdom of heaven," He is promising that those who are "poor in spirit" will experience the benefits of God's kingdom, both in this life and in the afterlife.

Blessed in this context indicates heavenly, spiritual exaltation rather than earthly happiness or prosperity.  In other words, they will experience the richness of a deep relationship with God and the ultimate reward of eternal life.

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,

This excerpt  is taken from "From Sorrow to Joy" by Harvest Ministries (used by permission).


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