I was recently asked a question about Jesus’ words, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.”
- Does this refer to actual poverty or spiritual humility?
- Does “blessed” mean “happy”?
I shared a few thoughts and decided to post them for others.
Blessed or happy?
I do not prefer understanding “blessed” as “happy.” Jesus was not making statements about the emotional well-being of his audience. This is a bit of an anachronism. Western culture is preoccupied with analyzing moods and feelings but “blessed” is much deeper and much more than an assessment of emotion. I view Jesus’ “blessed” as a declaration of divine approval.
The beatitudes are the qualities of the true disciples of Jesus. What do true believers look like?— poor in spirit, mourn, meek…. I agree with Lloyd-Jones in seeing these even as progressive spiritual experiences with lasting character transformations. Note that the eight beatitudes are sandwiched in a literary envelop between the repeated phrase “theirs is the kingdom of heaven”.
Jesus described those to whom heaven belongs
Who will inhabit heaven? Look at the beatitudes. This is true Christianity. Whatever superficial substitute you’ve seen must be measured by these qualities. Blessed—approved of God—are the poor in spirit. To be poor in spirit is to recognize one’s spiritual bankruptcy before God. It is to stand before God, broken and empty without anything to commend me to His approval.
It is to beat oneself upon the chest and plead for God’s mercy– “I tell you,” Jesus said elsewhere, “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.” (Luke 18:14). Nothing of spiritual consequence happens in life apart from poverty of spirit.
It is equally important to notice that Jesus shifts from third person address (”theirs” is…”they” shall….) in 5:3-12 to second person address in verses 13-16: “You” are the salt of the earth; “You” are the light of the world. Who is Jesus talking about? The ones he just described in the beatitudes. Who can claim such a role in the world as salt and light? Only those described by Jesus in the beatitudes.
“Poor” vs. “Poor in spirit”
Luke’s gospel uses the socio-economic designation without the spiritual addition. This fits with the overall emphasis in the gospel of Luke. And, “Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?” (James 2:5).
“Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. ( I Corinthians 1:26-29).
Why is it that our material need often helps us see other needs?