Blessed are the Poor in Spirit


Dr. John Hoole – August 23 & 30, 2015



Over the past several weeks, we have looked at the setting of the Sermon on the Mount, found in Matthew 5,6,&7.  We have visited, by way of photos and maps, the location of the place of Christ’s message.  We have also looked at its background and have noted that the sermon begins with eight statements that have become known as the Beatitudes.  The word, Beatitudes, comes from Latin and refers to a state of happiness and bliss.


Today, we begin looking at each of the eight character qualities, and the promised blessing attached to each of them.  Matthew 5:3-10 presents us with a series of conditional promises of blessing.  Because blessedness is fundamentally an element of the character of God, when men/women partake of His nature through Jesus Christ, they partake of His blessedness.  So it becomes clear at the very beginning of the Sermon on the Mount that Jesus is speaking of a reality that is possible only for believers.  Others can see the kingdom standard and can get a glimpse of the kingdom blessing, but only those who belong to the kingdom have the promise of personally receiving and experiencing the blessing.


Seneca, a first-century philosopher who tutored Nero, wisely wrote:  “What is more shameful than to equate the rational soul’s good with that which is irrational?”  His point was that you cannot satisfy a rational, personal need with an irrational, impersonal object.”  External things cannot satisfy internal needs.


Yet, that is exactly the philosophy of the world.  This philosophy says, things satisfy, acquiring things brings happiness, achieving things brings meaning, doing things brings satisfaction.


Matthew 5:3 NKJV


3       Blessed are the poor in spirit, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.


We have examined the word, “Blessed,” in our introduction lessons.  The Greek, Makarios, speaks of the blissful happiness of the soul, which God make available to everyone that enters into the kingdom of heaven.  As we have stated several times in the last few weeks, this blessing is not a superficial feeling of well-being based on circumstances.


What exactly does it mean to be “poor in spirit?”  We tend to think of the “poor” primarily in terms of finances or possessions.  But is that what we are being told by Christ?  We can look at the phrase “poor in spirit” from several angles.  Let’s begin by examining the Greek word translated “Poor.”




The Greek word translated “poor” in this verse is PTOCHOS.  This comes from the Greek verb meaning “to shrink, cower, or cringe.”  Its use in the context of Matthew 5, it literally means “one who is bent or folded.”  Metaphorically, it speaks of “one who is utterly ashamed of their estate in life.  Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon adds: “To be thoroughly frightened to cower down or hide one’s self for fear.


Throughout the New Testament, there are three Greek words expressing poverty.  They include Ptochos and two words related to each other, Penes and Penichros.  The various derivatives of Ptochos are found 34 times in the New Testament.  The word “penes” is used by Paul in 2 Corinthians 9:9.  It is used there as speaking of a person who has very little resources – one who earns a scanty pittance.  It concerns a person who’s small meager wage is only capable of buying bread.


Penichros is related, and is used in Luke 21:2 when describing the widow who gives two copper coins.  Christ speaks of her as this poor widow putting in two mites into the temple offering.  But, in the next verse (vs. 3), Christ describes her being poor, but using the Greek Ptochos.  The reason Christ changes in His description of her poverty is because, in verse 4, we are told she gave all she hadShe had earned a meager amount, enough to sustain herself, but because she gave all she had, she was utterly destitute.



One who is PTOCHOS poor is completely dependent on others for sustenance.  They have no means to support themselves.  Material possessions have no necessary relationship to spiritual blessings.  Matthew makes it clear that Jesus is here talking about the condition of the spirit, not of the wallet.  It is not just poor, but poor in spirit.


After Christ began His public ministry, Jesus often had “nowhere to lay His head” (Matthew 8:29).  But He and His disciples were not destitute and never begged for bread.  Paul was beaten, imprisoned, shipwrecked, stoned, and often economically hard pressed, but neither did he ever beg for bread.  In the case of the apostle Paul, he made it a point to be self-sufficient.  Acts 20:34 and 1 Corinthians 9:6-18 tell us Paul worked in order to pay his own expenses.


So, what have we learned?  The use of Ptochos in Matthew 5:3 carries the idea of complete dependence on something or someone other than one’s self.  Again .let me say that while the word ptochos is often used to describe an utter lack of resources financially, Christ is speaking not of the financially poor, but rather, being poor in spirit.


To be poor in spirit is to recognize one’s spiritual poverty apart from God.  It is to see oneself as one really is: lost, hopeless, helpless.  Apart from Jesus Christ, every person is spiritually destitute, no matter what education, wealth, social status, accomplishments or religious knowledge.


This is the point of the first beatitude.  The poor in spirit are those who recognize their total spiritual destitution and total dependence on God.  They perceive that there are no resources in themselves for salvation and that they can only beg for mercy and grace.  They know there is no spiritual merit in themselves, and know they can earn no spiritual reward.  Their pride is gone, their self-assurance is gone, and they stand empty-handed before God.  This is true humility, not mock humility.


It describes the person about whom God, through the prophet Isaiah, says:


Isaiah 66:2 NKJV


2       "But on this one will I look: On him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, And who trembles at My word.


It describes the person who is “brokenhearted” and “crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18).  It is the person who has “a broken and a contrite heart” before the Lord (Psalm 51:17).


Jesus told the parable of the Pharisee and the tax-collector (publican).  As the Pharisee stood praying in the Temple, he proudly recited his virtues and gave thanks that he was not like those who are sinful, especially the publican who was nearby.  The publican, however, wasn’t even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, “God be merciful to me, the sinner.”  The publican, Jesus said, “went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled, but he who humbles himself shall be exalted” (Luke 18:9-14)The Pharisee was proud in spirit; the tax-collector was poor in spirit.


When God called Moses to lead Israel out of Egypt, Moses pleaded his unworthiness, and God was able to use him mightily.  Peter was still aggressive, self-assertive, and proud, but when Jesus miraculously provided the great catch of fish, Peter was so overawed that he confessed, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Luke 5:8).  Even after he became an apostle, Paul recognized that “nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh” (Romans 7:18).  He referred to himself as being the chief of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15) and that the best things he could do in himself were rubbish (Phil, 3:8).




There are several people mentioned in the Bible that seem to display a “poor in spirit” character.  I believe that when we see how they exhibited this trait, it will show us what poor in spirit really is.  Let me list some of them that I believe exhibited being poor in spirit.




When Abraham was dealing with the Lord about Sodom and Gomorrah, he said: “Behold, I have taken upon myself to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes  (Genesis 18:27).




When Jacob returned to the promised land after spending 20 years in exile, he wrestled with God in prayer and said:  “I am not worthy of the least of all the steadfast love and all the faithfulness which thou has shown to thy servant, for with only my staff I crossed this Jordan; and now I have become two companies” (Genesis 32:10).




When God came to him with a mission to lead his people out of Egypt, he said, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the sons of Israel out of Egypt?  Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, neither heretofore nor since thou has spoken to thy servant; but I am slow of speech and of tongue” (Exodus 3:11; 4:10).


We know from Scripture that God got angry at Moses.  But it was not because of his humble assessment of his own abilities, but of his lack of faith in God’s ability.  God responded and said to Moses, “Who made man’s mouth? ... Is it not I, the Lord?  Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak” (Exodus 4:11-12).




I mentioned this statement earlier, but allow me to mentioned it again.  In Psalm 51:17, David said, “The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.”


When the collection for the temple was being taken, David prayed: “Who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able thus to offer willingly!  For all things come from thee, and of thy own have we given thee”  (1 Chronicles 29:14).


In other words, even when David and his people were performing an act of virtue, David did not yield to the impulses of self-esteem.  Instead he was carried away by the impulses of sovereign grace.  David said, in effect, that he should not receive any praise, for everything David had had come from the hand of the Lord.




1 Kings 3:7 NKJV


7       Now, O Lord my God, You have made Your servant king instead of my father David, but I am a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in.




Job 42:5-6 NKJV


5       "I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, But now my eye sees You.

6       Therefore I abhor myself, And repent in dust and ashes."




Isaiah 6:5 NKJV


5       So I said: "Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, The Lord of hosts."


John the Baptist


John 1:27 NKJV


27     It is He who, coming after me, is preferred before me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose."


John 3:30 NKJV


30     He must increase, but I must decrease.


Could this be why Jesus said, “Among those born of women, none is greater than John (Luke 7:28).



The Centurion


Luke 7:6-9 NKJV


6       Then Jesus went with them. And when He was already not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to Him, saying to Him, "Lord, do not trouble Yourself, for I am not worthy that You should enter under my roof.

7       Therefore I did not even think myself worthy to come to You. But say the word, and my servant will be healed.

8       For I also am a man placed under authority, having soldiers under me. And I say to one, 'Go,' and he goes; and to another, 'Come,' and he comes; and to my servant, 'Do this,' and he does it."

9       When Jesus heard these things, He marveled at him, and turned around and said to the crowd that followed Him, "I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!"




Romans 7:18 NKJV


18     For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find.


2 Corinthians 4:7 NKJV


7       But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.


The ten biblical men who’s statements we have just perused were greatly used by God.  They all realized that in themselves there was absolutely nothing that would commend them to God.  Each realized that any accomplishment they did was only because God had given them strength.  They understood that all the resources and abilities they had was given them from God.


In Nazareth, Christ was given the scroll for Isaiah, and was asked to read.


Luke 4:17-18 NKJV


17     And He was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah. And when He had opened the book, He found the place where it was written:

18     "The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, Because He has anointed Me To preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,  To proclaim liberty to the captives And recovery of sight to the blind, To set at liberty those who are oppressed;


                   He was anointed to preach the gospel to the poor (Ptochos).


Augustine was a prolific writer, and in his CONFESSIONS he makes is clear that pride was his greatest barrier to receiving the gospel.  He was proud of his intellect, his wealth, and his prestige.  Until he recognized that those things were less than nothing, Christ could do nothing for him.


Until Martin Luther realized that all his sacrifice, rituals, and self-abuse counted as nothing before God, he could find no way to come to God or to please Him.


William Carey


Let me tell you about William Carey (August 17, 1761 – June 9, 1834).  He is regarded as the father of modern missions, and served 42 years in India  The secret for William Carey was not self-esteem.  He was poor in spirit to the very end.  His secret was in the last line of his epitaph: “On Thy kind arms I fall.”  He called himself “A wretched, poor, and helpless worm.”  And yet, he translated the Bible into 6 different languages, and oversaw the translation of 36 others.


King David began his penitential psalm with the plea, Be gracious to me, O God, according to Thy lovingkindness; according to the greatness of Thy compassion blot out my transgressions … for I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me (Psalm 51:1, 3).


Until a soul is humbled, until the inner person is poor in spirit, Christ can never become dear, because He is obscured by self.  Until one knows how helpless, worthless, and sinful he is in himself, he can never see how mighty, worthy, and glorious Christ is in Himself.  Where self is exalted, Christ cannot be.  Where self is king, Christ cannot be.  Until the proud in spirit become poor in spirit, they cannot receive the King or inherit His kingdom.


Here are a few other translations of Matthew 5:3.  They don’t change the meaning of what Christ says, but puts the words differently


Matthew 5:3 (NLT)


3       God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him,  for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.


Matthew 5:3 (God’s Word Translation)


3       Blessed are those who recognize they are spiritually helpless. The kingdom of heaven belongs to them.


                   These two are essentially expressing what we have already determined.


How, then, do we become poor in spirit?  Almost by definition, it cannot start with us, with anything we can do or accomplish in our own power.


Perhaps the word humility is another way of saying “poor in spirit.”  But it does not involve putting ourselves down.  We are already down – humility simply recognizes that truth.  His will is to get us out of that condition and into blessing.


I think it was Andrew Murray who said that humility is that grace that, the moment you think you have it, you have lost it.  Too many people are like those in the Laodicean church, who thought of themselves as being “rich, and increased with goods, and having need of nothing” (Revelation 3:17)And like the Laodiceans, they know not that they are “wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.”


To be poor in spirit means knowing that in myself I am bankrupt, but in Christ I am rich.  It means discovering the placed God wants me to fill and filling it for His glory.  The person who is truly poor in spirit knows that every place of God’s choosing is an important place.


In that great hymn, “Rock of Ages,” we find verse 3 speaks of this definition of “poor in spirit.”


Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to Thy cross I cling;

  Naked, come to Thee for dress, Helpless, look to Thee for grace,

    Foul, I to the fountain fly, Wash me Savior, or I die.


Warren Wiersbe, in one of his books, said:


“True poverty of the spirit is the soil out of which the fruit of the Spirit can be cultivated.”


What have we learned about Poverty in spirit?


•  It is a sense of powerlessness in ourselves.


•  It is a sense of spiritual bankruptcy and helplessness before God


•  It is a sense of moral uncleanness before God.


•  It is a sense of personal unworthiness before God.


•  It is a sense that if there is to be any life or joy or usefulness, it will have to be all of God and all of grace.


The reason I say it is a SENSE of powerlessness and a SENSE of bankruptcy and a SENSE of uncleanness and a SENSE of unworthiness, is that, objectively speaking, everybody is poor in spirit.  Everybody, whether they sense it or not, I powerless without God and unworthy before God.  But not everybody is “blessed.”


The Result of Being Poor in Spirit


Those who come to the King in this humility, realizing they are spiritually bankrupt without God inherit His kingdom, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.  God has gladly chosen to give the kingdom to those who humbly come to Him and trust Him.


Luke 12:32 NKJV


32     Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.


Those who come to the Lord with broken hearts do not leave with broken hearts.  God wants us to recognize our poverty of spirit, so He can make us spiritually rich.  He wants us to recognize our lowliness so that He can raise us up..


James 4:10 NKJV


10     Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.


It is in giving up of their own kingdom that the poor in spirit inherits God’s kingdom.


Most of you are probably aware of what missionary Jim Elliot said before he was martyred by the Auca Indians in Ecuador.  He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose."