Summary: The poor in spirit are those who REALIZE that they are spiritually BANKRUPT before a Holy God and are in NEED of his Grace.

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“The Poor in Spirit”

Matthew 5:3


I. Introduction

A. Review

As we continue our study of the Sermon on the Mount, we are reminded that this sermon is a Constitution for those who enter Christ’s new Kingdom. It is filled with guidelines for how to live as God’s chosen people.

These guidelines begin with what are commonly called the Beatitudes. They are called beatitudes from the Latin word beatus, which is the word for blessed.

B. Some translations prefer to use the word “happy.” It is true that a person who is “blessed” will be profoundly happy. However, we must be careful not to reduce blessedness to merely being happy (Carson, 16).

II. Defining “Blessed”

A. To be “blessed” means to be approved or to find approval. In this case, approved of God. And there can be no higher “blessing” than to have God’s approval.

B. The fundamental question that everyone who reads the Sermon on the Mount is faced with is, who’s approval will you seek? Will you seek man’s approval, or God’s approval?

The Sermon on the Mount is Jesus teaching us how to receive God’s approval.

[Something else to keep in mind is that the beatitudes are not eight separate and distinct classifications of Christians. They are eight qualities that every Christian should display. (Stott, 13)]

III. Poor in Spirit

A. “Poor” — “extreme poverty.” — Blessed are the poverty of spirit.

B. Sometimes, a good way to determine what a concept means is to determine what it is not.

1. NOT being shy.

2. NOT financial destitution or material poverty.

3. NOT a lack of the presence of the Holy Spirit.

4. NOT a lack of spiritual awareness.

There is something COMMENDABLE about being poor in spirit.

C. Old Testament, or Hebrew expressions, can help us determine what this concept means.

1. “poor” included being “lowly” or “humble.”

2. Proverbs 16:19 — “Better to be of a humble spirit with the lowly, than to divide the spoil with the proud.”

a. It is the opposite of pride.

b. Pride says, “I don’t need God.”

c. It was the essence of man’s fall in the Garden. The temptation was “you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” There was something appealing about that temptation and it was that they would no longer be dependent upon God. Everyday of their lives, up to that point, were examples of being totally dependent upon God. The reason for the fall is that they no longer wanted to be dependent upon anyone but themselves. And we’ve been living that way ever since.

d. “Poor in spirit” = being totally dependent upon God.

3. Psalm 51:16-17 — “[16] You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. [17] The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”

D. “Poverty of spirit is the personal acknowledgment of spiritual bankruptcy. As such it is the deepest form of repentance.” (Carson, 17)

Example: The Publican in the Temple, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” (Contrast the Pharisee’s prayer)

E. It is not a man’s confession that he is insignificant, or personally without value, because that would simply not be true.

1. Rather, it is a confession that we are by nature sinful, rebellious, and in need of God’s mercy and forgiveness.

2. It is admitting that we are nothing without Him.

IV. Practical Criteria for being Poor in Spirit.

A. Poor in Spirit is not thinking POORLY of yourself, it is thinking PROPERLY of yourself.

1. “I can’t do .... (this or that).

False humility is as bad as the pride that breeds it.

2. Poor in Spirit is knowing yourself, accepting yourself, and being yourself for the glory of God.

B. Being Poor in Spirit means NOT looking down on others.

1. Why? Because if you are poor in spirit, you realize that everyone else has the same need for God’s grace and mercy that you have — that you are no better than anyone else in God’s eyes.

2. To look down on someone else is to say you are better than them and that is pride, which is the opposite of being poor in spirit.

3. If I am poor in spirit, when others succeed, I am happy for them. When they fail, I encourage them. If I find myself happy when others fail and sad when they succeed, then I am NOT poor in spirit. (Weirsbe, 32).

C. Poor in spirit does not look for the “big opportunities” to serve God.

1. Poor in spirit looks for whatever opportunity God sees fit to place before him and accepts it.


The first beatitude brings us to the reality that we do not have the spiritual resources to put any of the Sermon’s precepts into practice. We cannot humanly follow these standards. Therefore, we must come to Him and acknowledge our spiritual bankruptcy, emptying ourselves of our self-righteousness (Carson, 18). That is what it means to be poor in spirit and that is the spirit that gains entrance into the kingdom of God.

I know that when we pray that God reveal sin in our lives that he will. Maybe our prayer today should be, “Lord, show me areas of pride in my life so I can repent and become poor in spirit.”

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