Friday, December 27, 2013

Musings on the Mount, Part 1: Blessed are the Poor in Spirit

I've been slowly mulling over the beatitudes, inspired by a friend of mine who has just recently done the same thing. For all of my years in church, I haven't really meditated on Jesus' words much, and never have I meditated on his sermon on the mount. Now, Spurgeon's sermons? Picked them apart. Tozer's sermons? Dissected. Francis Chan's sermons? Devoured them. Jesus' sermons? Not so much.


While I don't anticipate doing an in-depth write-up of each verse due to my relatively immature (but growing, I hope) understanding of them, I will be thinking "out loud", as it were, and marking down my thoughts and research here.

DISCLAIMER: I am just a layman, not a trained theologian. I am here presenting to you my journey into knowing Christ deeper. I may say some (unintentionally) heretical things along the way (correction of which I welcome), but I am happy to have those who would join me in this pursuit!

"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for there's is the kingdom of heaven." Matthew 5:3

I take "blessed" to mean what it usually does, "how happy are..." or "how enviable are...", in this case, the poor in spirit. The poor in spirit have a position in life that should render them happy; and is also enviable, that should be desired by those who are not in the same position. But why should anyone a) be happy with being, or b) want to be, or c) recognize themselves as being poor in spirit? "...For there's is the kingdom of heaven". These "poor in spirit" have given to them, within their grasp - even at their fingertips - the kingdom of heaven.

"Poor" has two general meanings, "lacking sufficient money to live at a standard considered comfortable or normal in a society", or "worse than is usual, expected, or desirable; of a low or inferior standard or quality". The first definition matches that of the general sense of the Greek word πτωχός (ptōchos), "reduced to beggary, begging, asking alms". In other words, there is an actual, substantial, measurable lack of something that must be provided to them. Namely, spirit.

What does it mean to be poor in spirit, though? I think this can be answered by looking at what Jesus offers as the answer to their disposition. Their disposition: being poor in spirit. The answer: the kingdom of heaven. What the poor in spirit lacks, the kingdom of heaven has. What is the opposite of poor? Rich. So, by inference, their are riches in this kingdom that the poor in spirit lack. What are the riches of the kingdom of heaven? What wealth is contained in heaven's vaults and treasuries? Not gold, for the streets are paved with it; not pearls, for the gates are constructed from them; not jewels, for the walls are built with them; spiritual lack cannot be provided for in material abundance. So, what are they? What are heaven's riches?

I believe that, in a word, the riches of heaven are actually one thing, or rather one Person: Christ. That seems like a nebulous answer, I admit, but think about the term Jesus uses: the poor. What do the poor need?  Food, water, shelter. These are all things that any human needs in order to sustain their life, and none of those things are found intrinsically or, for the poor, are even at their immediate disposal. Their waning life-force, the one they were born with, wasn't even obtained by them in the first place, but was given at birth. And so the poor person goes forward as a beggar, desperately asking others to provide what they cannot in order to sustain the life that they are slowly losing. Likewise, the spiritually poor have no way of obtaining or sustaining spiritual life unless the necessary sustenance is given to them. Who is the source of spiritual life? Jesus! Who is the sustainer of that life? Jesus! Who gave his life to us that we might live? Jesus! Part of the puzzle is that the spiritually poor need life, and we have briefly stated (presupposing that Jesus words are true in John 14:6) that Jesus is the life they need. But what does that have to do with Jesus being the riches of the kingdom?

In the Old Testament, "riches" are used almost exclusively in a material sense, occasionally within contexts that show the spiritual consequences of those who rely on these riches over God. But the New Testament, while often using this same sense, also refers to riches as: the glory of God (Rom. 9:23; Phil. 4:19 - here, Paul says this glory is in Christ), salvation (saved from death to life) for the world and the Gentiles (Rom. 11:12), and God's grace (Eph. 1:7, 2:7) and mercy (Eph. 2:4) among other things. These are all described as being God's riches, and all of these are fulfilled in Jesus - he is the radiance of the glory of God (Heb. 1:3), he is the salvation of the world (Matt. 1:21), he is God's grace and mercy manifested and given to us (Eph. 2:5, 2:8; 1 Peter 1:3). All the riches of God, who dwells in heaven, is visibly seen and made tangible in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

In summary,

  1. the poor in spirit are lacking what the kingdom of heaven has; 
  2. the kingdom of heaven has Christ, who, among other things, is life (John 14:6) and offers that life in abundance (John 10:10), and who is the riches (grace, mercy, glory, salvation) of God made manifest; 
  3. therefore, the poor in spirit are lacking Christ
Blessed are the poor in spirit! How blessed are they, for they receive, as an answer to their spiritual poverty, Christ himself, the riches of the kingdom of heaven!

What does this mean for the unbeliever?

If the unbelieving person is willing to acknowledge to God that they are actually lacking something in their spirit, namely life, the kingdom of heaven and all of its riches, namely Christ, will be theirs.

Are you tired of fighting, friend? Are you ready to admit that you have nothing to offer, nothing to give, nothing to bargain with? Are you willing to come to Christ as a beggar so he can give you all the treasures of the kingdom of heaven: grace, mercy, and life? As soon as you call for him, you'll find that he has been calling for you.

What are some practical applications of this truth for the believer?
  • Practice identifying every instance where God is displaying to you his riches in Christ: forgiveness, grace, mercy, love, kindness, patience, gentleness, knowledge, wisdom. Imagine how that situation/circumstance would have been different if God had not been merciful, gracious, etc. towards you. Alternatively, if any of these qualities are manifested in you (you are kind, forgiving, loving, gracious, merciful, etc. towards others), imagine how those times would have been different if you were still in your spiritually impoverished state. Afterwards, thank God that he has given you everything pertaining to life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3).
  • Prayer, prayer, prayer. Although we have been made to live in Christ (Gal. 2:20), we are still not the source of life. Every second we are still in need of Jesus. If he were to take himself away from us we would return to spiritual poverty. So pray, not that he would stay with you (we already known he will, cf. Heb. 13:5), but that he would make known to you how deeply desperate you are, and that this would in turn result in worship. If you find yourself lacking grace towards others, go to God as a beggar, "Please God, I need more grace"; if you lack humility, "Please God, humble me"; if you lack wisdom, "Please God, give me wisdom"; if you lack love, "Please God, help me love". Remember, "it is God who works in [us], both to will and to work for his good pleasure" (Phil. 2:13).
I suppose that, to conclude, I would say this: we have nothing apart from Christ. Yet in him we are given life, and that in abundance, the very life of God himself - the same life that can make light shine forth from inky darkness, that can raise the dead to life, that can heal the sick of their diseases, and that can establish overwhelming peace in the midst of chaos. This very God is for us, and gladly takes in those who will come to him, poor in spirit. 

This makes me one thankful, happy beggar.

P.S.: Again I admit to you that this is a fresh thought to my mind, still in need of development, and still in need of the Holy Spirit's light. But it is one that God has been making real to me over the past 3 or 4 days, and I wanted to share it with you, too. I welcome your thoughts, insights, and experiences in the comments.

P.P.S.: It's also interesting to note that Jesus did not say, "blessed are the poor in spiritual knowledge". There are many who have knowledge of spiritual realities, but that does not mean that they have spiritual life. To put it analogously, just because I know how the lottery works does not mean that I automatically possess the winnings. In the same way, knowing about spiritual truth and knowing what spiritual life is does not mean that one possesses that life (and all that flows from that life: grace, mercy, forgiveness, love, wisdom, discernment, etc.). 


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