Beatitudes: Blessed are poor in spirit (pt.1)

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matt 5:3-12).

Today we are starting to read through the beatitudes with “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Many believe Jesus is speaking to the materially poor because “in the spirit” is left out in Luke 6:20, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God,” but careful hermeneutics proves differently. When passages seem to contradict one another, best practice dictates that the clearer one is to be taken. Now, that does not mean there is no parallel between financial poverty and those poor in the spirit, but in this case, Jesus addresses spiritual poverty.

Let me explain it this way. If Jesus were actually saying that those who are poor financially are blessed and then not include the rich, there would be profound implications. First, by excluding the wealthy, He would be saying that they will never be blessed and could not enter the Kingdom of heaven. Now, while Jesus does say it is hard for them to do so because of the distractions wealth can bring, He also says anything is possible with God. Matt. 19:23-24; 26, “And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of GodMatt. 19:26, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

The poor do have an advantage because they are not distracted by “toys,”arrogance,” and “pride,” but to say only they are blessed and will enter the kingdom of heaven is incorrect. There were rich men in the Bible that died blessed. Job was wealthy. “And the Lord blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning. And he had 14,000 sheep, 6,000 camels, 1,000 yoke of oxen, and 1,000 female donkeys” (Job 42:12).  Solomon was staggeringly rich. 2 Chr. 9:22, “Thus King Solomon excelled all the kings of the earth in riches and in wisdom.” And they were among many wealthy, blessed people the Bible speaks of, so being rich is not necessarily bad. Having an abundance comes with certain “selfish” dangers, but it is by no means an automatic “Go to jail” sentence.

Deut.15:11, “For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.”  Note that the scripture mentioned above is not condemning the rich but rather instructing them to help those in need. 1 John 3:17, “But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” It is our Christian duty to help those in need, but if we don’t and instead store up our treasures for ourselves on earth, we do risk damnation (Luke 16:19-31).

The second implication would be that poverty would be a requisite state for salvation, but the Bible clearly does not teach that. If only the poor were blessed, God would instruct us all to give up everything we have and live in dire financial need in order to attain our goal of being in heaven with Him. We would also see no instruction to help those in need since their current status assures them blessings and entrance into heaven. An important lesson we should derive from our reading thus far is that neither the rich nor the poor can earn salvation on their own. Both need Christ, without whom neither have any hope.

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