What Does It Mean to Be Poor in Spirit?

A Daily Little Lesson

Read the transcript of this video below.

What does it mean to be poor in spirit? Today’s question revolves around something that Jesus said at the very beginning of His Sermon on the Mount as recorded in Matthew 5-7. At the beginning of that sermon, we find what have been called the Beatitudes, where Jesus says, “Blessed are the …” And He relates some characteristic and He gives the reason that those people who display that characteristic are blessed. “…because they shall,” and He tells the blessing.

Man holding empty wallet - what does it mean to be poor in spirit?

Those Beatitudes have been variously interpreted. I think it’s always best to interpret everything that Jesus said in the light of the rest of the Bible. People have Jesus saying sometimes some very bizarre things by their interpretation; things that can’t be supported by the rest of the Bible.

We know that God doesn’t change, and God’s character doesn’t change, and basic fundamental moral principals don’t change, because God is a moral Being. So you’re always much safer when you look at every verse in the light of all the rest of the Bible. So these things are not so confusing to us.

The very first of those Beatitudes, is “blessed are the poor and the spirit.” Jesus specifically says that there is the Kingdom of Heaven.

I think a mistake that some folks make in trying to interpret these Beatitudes, is they have the misconception that there are unique Beatitudes that apply to different people. We all have different gifts, and that’s true; but they look at the Beatitudes kind of like that, or some people look at their zodiac symbol. Only one of the zodiac symbols apply to me, so as I read my zodiac fate for today, again, no Christians do this, the non-Christians do this; let’s see what uniquely applies to me. So I don’t look under Aquarius or Sagittarius, because I’m a Virgo. So I’ll look under Virgo.

People say, “Well, I wonder which one of these Beatitudes is me. I’m going to look for one that’s me, so I can find out what blessing belongs to me. I’m unique and I’m going to get a unique blessing.” But the fact of the matter is that that’s not the right way to interpret the Beatitudes.

If you look at them intelligently and thoughtfully, you realize that Jesus is listing characteristics that are shared by one kind of person, and one kind of people, and those are the true believers. All true believers demonstrate all these characteristics to a greater or lesser degree. And if, in-fact, you find yourself lacking any of these characteristics, you have good reason to wonder if you are a true believer in Jesus Christ.

You see, it has to be that way, because if each Beatitude can be uniquely applied to some people and not other people, then we can have people who … Well, there is the Kingdom of Heaven, for example, for those who are poor in spirit. But if they’re not pure in heart, they don’t get the promised blessing of seeing God. So you get to Heaven, but you don’t get to see God, or that’s reversed. It becomes even more ridiculous.

Let’s say that you’re pure in heart, but you’re not poor in spirit. Well then, you get to see God, but yours is not the Kingdom of Heaven. So when you look at all the blessings, they’re really just different aspects of being guaranteed a place in God’s future Kingdom. So we can look at the Beatitudes, and look at our lives and determine if we’re among the blessed who will one day inherit God’s Kingdom, or if we’re not among the blessed. We will not inherit God’s Kingdom.

There are changes in the lives of believers, and I, of course, have said that over and over again on previous little lessons. So “blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.”

So whatever it means to be poor in spirit, it obviously means something. It’s something that defines your life. You’re poor in spirit. This is not just a one-time little event, but this identifies you. You’re a person who is poor in spirit, and therefore, you know that yours is the Kingdom of Heaven. One day, you’re going to be in God’s Kingdom in Heaven.

This is really important stuff, so it is worth our time to think about what it means to be poor in spirit. Well, sometimes it does help to go a little deeper into the Greek to find out nuances and connotations of the original Greek words. So I just dove into the word “poor” here. It’s a good translation, I would never change it. Most Bible translations have “poor in spirit.” But in the Greek, I’m not so sure I’m pronouncing it right, but it’s “ptohos”. Begins with a P, P-T-O-H-O-S, “ptohos.” And it’s from another word that means: “To crouch or to cower.” So you’re bent over, crouching, cowering. It becomes representative of the poor, in this case, who are begging.

So therefore, it means to crouch or to cower, or one who crouches or cowers, hence beggarly. Beggarly. You’re crouching and cowering because you recognize “I have a need that I can’t meet myself, so I’m looking to someone else in a very humble posture of crouching and cowering, recognizing that in myself, I don’t have the resources and I need someone else to provide what I need. I recognize I’m poor, spiritually. I’m bankrupt, spiritually. I haven’t got a chance of saving myself by my own righteousness, because my righteousness, as Isaiah said, ‘is like filthy rags.'” Even the good stuff that I’ve done, often has a bad motive, a selfish motive behind it.

So, that’s why this is a promise that guarantees “yours is the Kingdom of Heaven.” This is an absolute pre-requisite, a requirement if you ever hope to get into Heaven, you have to become and recognize your spiritual poverty. That, if you’re going to be saved, it’s going to be because God saves you, because of His mercy, because you got really nothing to offer.

So you can see, this is universally applicable to every true believer. Okay? Well, we’ve run out of time. I think on our next little lesson, we’ll explore this Beatitude a little bit further. Thanks for joining me, God Bless You.