MEDITATIONS IN THE BEATITUDES – 3
Mt 5:3 Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven
We live in a world that extols greatness, strength, power, beauty, cleverness. In various disciplines involving psychology we speak of building self-esteem. Indeed when writing on parenting skills we spend much time on the need to build the self-esteem of our children. We go on courses and build up our CV so that when we go for a new job we can say how good we are. We go through annual assessments that prove how we are not only doing our job but doing it better and better, and thus we seek for promotion. Everything about life in this world is about promoting self.
It is helpful to have this awareness of the world – and we do need reminding of it – particularly when we come to such fundamental teaching as found in our verse today. When I became a Christian I went to my nearest church and attended the Bible Study where, to my surprise, everyone seemed to say that this and the following verses were impossible and therefore weren’t for today! What they failed to realize is that it is impossible to experience this verse while holding on to the world’s values of pride and self-centredness. If this and the following verses come as a shock to us, it is because we have become so rooted in the way of the world, that we have lost true perspective.
These Beatitudes of Jesus are in a purposeful order. There is nothing haphazard about them, and this first one is absolutely foundational to the whole of becoming and being a Christian. It is absolutely critical! But please note that it doesn’t say, “Blessed are the Poor.” It is true that Luke, recording a similar set of teachings, says that (Lk 6:20) but Matthew picks up the emphasis – “in spirit”. There is no glorying in poverty in the Bible. In fact, part of God’s promises of blessings, as we noted yesterday, include the blessings of provision (Deut 28:4,5,11). The absence of such provisions were part of the curses on Israel (Deut 28:17,18,38-40). Oh no, this is not blessedness of material poverty, but blessedness of being poor in spirit.
This being poor in spirit, needs to be distinguished from simple poverty of spirit. Poverty of spirit is what the self-centred, godless person has, the person who says they have no knowledge of the spiritual world, no sense of God’s presence. This person has a poverty of spirit and seems to revel in it. The person who is poor in spirit is like that other person in that there is this absence of spirituality, but the big difference is that they are aware of it! Here is the crucial element – awareness.
The Old Testament gives us many examples: Moses – “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh” (Ex 3:11 ) and “O Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.” (Ex 4:10). This was Moses’ attitude: who am I that I could do your bidding, I’m a nobody! Gideon: “how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family” (Jud 6:15 ). Similarly in Gideon – I’m a nobody!
In the New Testament, the apostle Paul rejected the things the world clings to, his pedigree (Phil 3:5), his abilities at work (3:6), all these things he considered rubbish for the sake of knowing Christ (3:8). In his first letter to the Corinthians he spelled out his ‘philosophy’: “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things.” (1 Cor 1:27,28). No, you don’t get into God’s kingdom by being strong or worldly wise, you get in by realizing, like Paul, that all these things are worthless, they count for nothing before God, He is not impressed.
How do you get into heaven? By trying hard? By working harder? By being pious? By being religious? No, by recognizing your spiritual poverty, recognizing that you are weak and poor and need God’s help, recognizing that without Christ you can do nothing (Jn 15:5), without Christ you are lost. That is the condition for getting to heaven, that you recognize your need and recognize that it is only fulfilled in Christ. Note that it isn’t mere humility which can be a simple recognition of limitedness. This being ‘poor in spirit’ seen in the context of the whole Bible teaching, is a recognition that we need Christ for salvation. I can get into heaven no other way.
Finally note that when I come to God like this, He promises that He will provide a way (and has provided a way) for me to come into His eternal presence – and that starts the moment I come to Him like that. Eternal life starts the moment we come to God recognizing our need, and recognizing that God has provided the means of satisfying that need through Christ, through His death on the Cross and by the life of his Spirit. Here on earth we get glimpses of heaven as Jesus expresses himself. When we die on this earth, our eternal future is in that other dimension, in the presence of God, called heaven.
Not only do we need to realize that to become a Christian, but if we are to go on with God then we need to be reminded of it again and again. Like Moses and Gideon and Paul, I’m not up to the job, I’m not even up to the Christian life on my own, I constantly need Christ’s help day by day. When I recognize this and turn to him, then suddenly there is a new heavenly dimension to my life, suddenly the power and presence of God’s presence through Jesus, through his Spirit, breaks through in me and in my circumstances. That is how important this verse is. It points to the requirement for us both becoming a Christian and living life as a Christian. Our starting point is a point of recognition, of realization, of awareness. May it be so!