Sermon On The Mount Devotional Blog 4

Sermon On The Mount Devotional

The Beggarly Poor

Read Matthew 5:1-12 (focusing on vs. 3) (ESV)

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Perhaps you have read the classic book by Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist. There is a well-known scene which has the poor young boy, Oliver, leaving his table in the dining hall, approaching the overseer. He quietly moves forward, lifting his empty wooden bowl toward the scowling man, quietly pleading, “May I have some more, please?” An audible gasp from the other children can be heard, for everyone in that orphanage knew that no one asked for seconds.

You and I may never have had to beg for a meal or fear punishment for asking for a refilled bowl but perhaps this story has more to do with us than we know. How do you see yourself spiritually? Do you see yourself as fairly self-reliant, able to take care of your own needs? In our first of the Beatitudes, in verse three, we are told, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.”

What does it mean to be poor in spirit? The Greek word for “poor” is ptochos and it comes from the verbal root than denotes “to cower and cringe like a beggar.” In classical Greek ptochos came to mean “someone who crouches about, wretchedly begging”. In the New Testament, it bears something of this idea because it denotes a poverty so deep that the person must obtain his living by begging. He is fully dependent on the giving of others. He cannot survive without help from the outside. (Hero of Heroes by Iain Duguid)

So, an actual translation could be blessed are the beggarly poor. “Blessed are those who are so desperately poor in their spiritual resources that they realize they must have help from outside sources. Poverty of spirit, then, is the personal acknowledgement of spiritual bankruptcy… Blessed are those who realize that they have nothing within themselves to commend them to God, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Duguid, pg. 17, 18)

What an anti-worldview! This world that we live in, especially in the United States, tells us that we are to look to ourselves for all that we need. Whether it is for our physical needs, pulling ourselves up by our own hard-working boot straps or emotionally, that we can make ourselves into whatever our heart desires or even spiritually, that we can strive hard enough or be good enough to earn our salvation. Jesus tells us in this first beatitude that only those who recognize their deep spiritual poverty and come to the Father with a begging spirit will be accepted and filled, living contented and full lives.

Being spiritually poor means that we have no resources in and of ourselves. Poor people in this world have very few personal possessions, certainly not enough often to even feed or cloth themselves. When we are told that we are poor in spirit it means that we do not have what we need to justify or save ourselves. This idea is illustrated for us in the story of the tax collector and the Pharisee in Luke 18:10-18. Here we read,

Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’  I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Two characters, one who recognized his poverty of spirit and one who did not. The Pharisee was filled with his own self-righteousness and so therefore did not receive forgiveness, not even seeing his need for it. The tax collector came with a spirit of poverty, seeing his sin clearly and trusting in the Lord for forgiveness.

As we have said before, not only are we dependent upon the Lord for our salvation but also for our sanctification, the process by which we are made more and more like Jesus. One writer used a wonderful illustration of a young child learning to ride a bike to make this idea clearer. If you remember back to your childhood, perhaps you can see your father or mother running along behind a bike as you unsteadily peddled down the street. They would run along behind keeping a hand on the back of the seat until you got the hang of that balancing act. Perhaps once you had gained confidence and some speed you called out, “Alright, you can let go!” Each of us at some point outgrew the need to have that steadying hand guiding and stabilizing our riding attempts. The author’s point in using this illustration was to say that after salvation we can tend to think of the Christian life like this. Once we have been saved by grace we then say to God, “Alright, I have this, you can let go!” and we hope that we are off and running! How do we live this way practically? When we pass over spending time praying in order to spend more time doing, what am I saying? I’m saying that what I do is what really counts; what God does is simply a bonus. I’m saying, “Stand back, God and watch me go!” (author unknown) To be poor in spirit, however, means total dependence on God and our prayer life should reflect this attitude.

Prayer is a recognition of total dependence on our part before the Lord. In prayer, instead of saying to God, “I have this”, we are actually saying “I don’t have this and I need your leading and empowering and motivating.” God wants us to come to Him and He wants to answer our prayers. But that can only happen as we remain in intimate touch with Jesus, dependent on God and His Word. Christ was perfect and yet totally dependent on His Father. We see in Matt 4 that Jesus was reliant on His Father while being tempted in the Wilderness by the Devil. In Luke 5 we see that Jesus went off by Himself each day to pray and commune with His Father. In Luke 4 we see that before choosing the twelve disciples, our Lord prayed. In Luke 9 we find Jesus praying before the Transfiguration and in Luke 22 we see Jesus preparing Himself for the Cross, in prayer to His Father. If Jesus needed and wanted to pray, how much more do we?

In this first beatitude, we are called to live as the beggarly poor in Spirit recognizing that Christ came to preach a message of a soul contentedness flowing from God’s approval of us in Him, a life totally reliant on Him. We are spiritual beggars who need to rely on the Lord not only for salvation but also for our daily sanctification as we are made more and more into the image of Jesus.

So, What Now?

As citizens of the Kingdom we are called to pray. Prayer shows our understanding of our neediness. When we pray we are showing our reliance on the Lord. Will you spend time today praying in spiritual neediness? Will you respond like the Tax Collector or like the Pharisee? One shows a humble spiritual poverty and neediness and the other shows an inflated view of self, pridefully self-reliant. Which will you have today?