The Poor In Spirit

Richard Vanhorn

The story is told of a young American student who visited the Beethoven Museum in Bonn, Germany. The student became fascinated by Beethoven's piano that was on display there. It was a thrill to think that Beethoven had composed some of his greatest works on that piano! The student asked the museum guard if she might play a few notes on it. To help persuade the guard, she also slipped him a lavish tip. The guard agreed, and the girl went to the piano and played the opening of the Moonlight Sonata. As she was leaving, she said to the guard, "I suppose all the great pianists who come here want to play on that piano." The guard shook his head and said, "Paderewski, the famous Polish pianist was here a few years ago, and he said he wasn't worthy to touch it."

Poverty of spirit isn't something that comes naturally to us, and it is not a quality that is celebrated in our time and culture. Our culture and world emphasize and appreciate things like self-reliance and self-confidence. V. P. Black said it like this, "Blessed are the poor in spirit. This statement is so contrary to the thinking of the world. The world says, Blessed are they that are materially rich; blessed are the great and powerful; blessed are those who lay up treasures on earth; blessed are the highly educated, and those who are wise in their own conceits." I believe that poverty of spirit is absolutely essential for us to be right with God. I'm not surprised that this one is the first of a list of beatitudes. From this one, all the others spring forth. By necessity, this one must come first. No one can enter the kingdom of heaven without being poor in spirit. Poverty of spirit is the fundamental characteristic of the Christian, and all of the other characteristics proceed from this one.

What does it mean to be "poor in spirit"? To be poor in spirit is to have a humble opinion of oneself, to be aware of the fact that we are sinners and have no righteousness of our own. To be poor in spirit is to be willing to be where God places us, to bear what He lays upon us, to go where He bids us, and to do what He commands us. We could say, "Blessed are the poor on the inside." "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, A broken and a contrite heart These, O God, You will not despise." Psalm 51:17. Jesus is not talking about material poverty here, but rather the poverty of spirit necessary for the possession and enjoyment of the kingdom of heaven. The poor in spirit are those who empty the heart of self that Christ may fill it with a sense of need and destitution.

To be poor in spirit means to realize that we are spiritually bankrupt, that we cannot save ourselves. "To be poor in Spirit is not to lack courage but to acknowledge spiritual bankruptcy. It confesses one's unworthiness before God and utter dependence on Him." (Expositor's Bible Commentary). One of the best illustrations of this is found in the story of the publican and the Pharisee in Luke 18:9-14. In this parable, Jesus tells about a certain Pharisee who went to the temple to pray. Now, this is commendable. People ought to pray, right? But this man promoted himself in prayer, rather than humble himself. The Pharisee certainly had 'I' trouble, not "eye" trouble. He prayed, "I thank God I am not like other men ...I fast twice a week ... I give tithes." Note his arrogance and pride in all he has done or is doing. The Pharisee was one of those "holier-than-thou" types. He thought that God really loved him because of how righteous and holy he was. He was kind of like the guy who wrote the book Humility and How I Attained It. That, my brothers and sisters, is self-righteousness. That is not being poor in spirit.

The other man that Jesus told about in the parable was quite different. He stood back in humility ... He would not look up toward heaven ... He beat his breast as an expression of deep sorrow over his sinfulness. His prayer was not elegant, nor long. All that he could say to God was, "Have mercy on me, a sinner." Jesus said, "I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted." The publican went home justified, not because he had done more right things, but because he had the right heart he was poor in spirit. 30 Village St., Waldorf, MD 20602.


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