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What Does it Mean to be Poor in Spirit?


Lori Colbo loves to write about her Christian faith and the Bible to encourage and inspire others.


Two Important Facts About the Beatitudes

"Blessed are," is the first two words of every Beatitude. The word "blessed" means "happy." In this passage, it speaks of "a prolonged state of supreme happiness," "blissful," and "to be enlarged." It is a deep and abiding joy and spiritual vitality. At first read, the term "blessed are," is confusing, as Jesus says the way to have this kind of happiness is to be "poor in spirit," "mourning," and "meek," for starters. What can this mean? Let's dig deeper.

What are the Beatitudes? Simply put, they are the be-attitudes of the followers of Christ.

1. The Beatitudes are put in a sequential order. They are not random. The first Beatitude leads to the second and so on. This will clarify the message Christ is trying to convey.

2. The Beatitudes are not commands. These Beatitudes are what a true Christian is supposed to be. They are the character of a Christian (not for non-Christians) - those who have asked Jesus to be Lord and Savior of their lives and are filled with His Holy Spirit.

Blessed Are the Poor in Spirit

The Beatitudes in Matthew 5 are a gift to us who desire to be His disciples.

The opening two verses of Chapter 5 say:

Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them saying... (NIV).

The Message version clarifies who Jesus was addressing more clearly:

When Jesus saw his ministry drawing huge crowds, he climbed a hillside. Those who were apprenticed to him, the committed, climbed with him. Arriving at a quiet place, he sat down and taught his climbing companions. This is what he said...

Jesus was talking to His disciples here. Not just the twelve, but all those who had been following Him, the committed. While the crowds were building below, he sought to teach His true followers. So He and the disciples (I love how The Message calls them His climbing companions) climbed a hillside and sat in a quiet place. He wanted their undivided attention with no interruptions. Thus, He was about to give the greatest sermon in all of history.

Verse 3 is where His sermon beings. The NIV version says:

Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the Kingdom of God.

Blessedness, being happy, is a deep and lasting happiness, regardless of the circumstances of life. I heard one preacher insightfully offer this example of the beatitudes according to the world today.

Blessed are the beautiful, for they shall be admired.
Blessed are the wealthy, for they have it all.
Blessed are the popular, for they shall be loved.
Blessed are the famous, for they shall be followed

Quite telling don't you think? The happiness people find in those things are fleeting and temporary. Eventually, they will come to a point and say "Is that all there is?" and "What can I do next to fill this empty hole?" Without Christ, that emptiness, those shallow things, will not fill the void or bring a deep and abiding happiness.

To be poor in spirit does not mean to be financially poor. To be poor in spirit means to be broken and humble before God. The Message version of this verse says it this way:

You're blessed when you're at the end of your rope. With less of you, there is more of God and his rule.

The language here grasps the concept of what it means to be poor in spirit. Have you ever been at the end of your rope after a lifetime of trying to do it your own way? I have. When we try to find happiness in our own self-sufficiency, talents, and abilities, and all the stuff in life, we eventually come to the place where we feel spiritually, mentally, emotionally bankrupt. Our spiritual bank account is overdrawn. The end of our rope, indeed. But this is good news because then we are broken and humble before God. It is in that state where there is less of us, and more of God. This is the time where we are finally able to get out of our own way and allow Him to show us how really great and awesome He is; that He alone is all we need; that we cannot do life without Him at the center of our life.

Yes, "Blessed is the poor in spirit." In our brokenness and humility, we come to repentance and receive God's forgiveness. We become truly blessed, truly happy, deep in the marrow of our souls. Jesus said, "Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls" (Matt. 11:28-29). Sin and self sufficiency is the greatest burden to bear. But when we repent, humble ourselves, and take His yoke upon us, He will give us rest for our souls.

The parable of the proud pharisee and the humble tax collector.

The parable of the proud pharisee and the humble tax collector.

The Contrast Between Pride and Humility

Luke 18:10-14 tells the story that describes the state of one who is poor in spirit, and one who is full of himself and living all those things the world thinks will bring them happiness.

Also, He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men-extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise 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, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (NKJ).

Pharisees were the Jewish religious leaders of the day and were revered by the people because of their daily performances of piety. Praying aloud in the streets, flaunting their knowledge of Torah, making a show of how they obey the law. When they gave to the poor, they put on a very overt public display. But in this portion of Scripture, Jesus reveals the truth about one prideful, arrogant, self-important Pharisee. I deliberately chose the New King James Version of this passage because it reveals the true selfishness and hypocrisy of this Pharisee as he's praying. Notice it says, that "He prayed thus with himself." Rather than truly speaking to God, he was speaking to himself, patting himself on the back for how much better he was than everyone else.

Tax collectors, on the other hand, were considered the dregs of society. They stole, deceived, threatened, and blackmailed to fill their pockets. They were detested by everyone. But in this story, the tax collector standing before God could not even look up to heaven as he prayed for God's mercy and forgiveness. I like the picture of him beating his chest in sorrow as he cried out to God. A graphic portrayal of a truly repentant sinner. Paul said, "Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death" (1 Cor. 7:10).

The difference between the Pharisee and the tax collector is that the Pharisee deceived himself, seeing himself as the complete opposite of what he was. He was more righteous than all others to his own thinking an he was sure God knew that. The tax collector saw himself as he truly was, a wretched and selfish thief and deceiver in need of salvation. Someone once said, "Many would be scantily clad if clothed in humility." Ouch! The truth hurts sometimes doesn't it.

Oswald Chambers wisely said, "Humility is not an ideal; it is the unconscious result of the life being rightly related to God and centered in Him." What stands out to me there are the words "unconscious result". Humble people don't know they are humble. As soon as they do, they are no longer humble. Working at being humble doesn't work. You find humility when you see the greatness of God, and the smallness of you; smallness not meaning without value, but small in comparison to the Sovereign King of heaven. We can't think humility into existence, we can't muster it up. We must surely ask God to make us and keep us humble by being obedient and honest with God and self. And when we are, there will be a result of walking in the Spirit and seeking and putting God first. This is when the Kingdom of Heaven becomes ours.

"For the LORD takes delight in his people; he crowns the humble with salvation." (Psalm 149:4).

Your Love Broke Through - Keith Green

© 2010 Lori Colbo


Lori Colbo (author) from United States on September 28, 2019:

Thank you for your response, Elijah. I appreciate your sharing. All I can say is that I go by how the original language defines "blessed." If one studies the Bible it's beneficial to find out what is meant in the language is spoken. Strong's Concordance and other biblical word studies are an accurate source.

Poor in spirit also does not mean monetary. In the context of the whole passage and through word study, it means a spiritual condition of utter humility as opposed to pride.

I didn't understand your connection to environmental issues but I agree with some of your assessments on the state of mankind.

Elijah A Alexander Jr from Washington DC on September 28, 2019:

Lori, You made some very valid points and I thank you for presenting them. However, my experiences has proven the word "blessed" means to be between happy and sad. As a matter of fact, now I generally say "bless" means "to be less than civilized" because, after living as environmentally as the law will allow, I've found how easy it is to accept what people normally call atrocities.

Once I went through the "New Birth" Genesis 3:24 calls "going through the flaming (for purifying our minds of good and evil) sword (for cutting us away from all attachments per Matthew 19:29) to return to environmental living" I learned everything happens for a foreordained reason. In studying the other animals I found they are not angry that another animal use them for food and the animals they get most of the time are weak so it keeps the specie strong.

I've discovered human, in our selfish greed of money, are willing to destroy other human, animals and environment. Not only are human cursing ourselves but the environment and animals only because we want to comfort ourselves from things we don't accept such like cold, rain, heat, raw foods and to needlessly coverings for our bodies. That is what Psalm 1 is tells us about man who "walk not in the counsel of the ungodly, stand in the way of sinners nor sit in the seat of the scornful." It then say their "delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law do (they) meditate day and night". What we don't usually see is "law of the Lord" for man are the words in Genesis 1:26-29 but once we became human and/or woman (Gen. 2:23) The Lord began to impose other laws on us.

In that light, I find to be "Poor in Spirit" means "once human live in the spirit they become man who no longer need the wealth of human kind."

Audrey Hunt from Pahrump NV on September 06, 2014:

To be humble is to be teachable. Your beautiful message is so needed today more than ever. There is only one road to the Kingdom of Heaven and that is Obedience. Thank you Lori.

Dianna Mendez on September 06, 2014:

Your thoughts on humility are so true. It's those who act from obedience and love who know what it is serve others without any agenda. They are blessed. It is what I hope to accomplish in life. Thanks for the inspiration today.

Frank Slovenec from San Francisco, CA on August 12, 2013:

Well done! The poor of spirit what a contrast to the world view today as it was in the time of Jesus. Human nature continues to dwell in the pit. when following Jesus in obedience brings the Lord pleasure and brings us freedom! Thank you

Lori Colbo (author) from United States on June 06, 2013:

Thank you blondey. The most powerful sermon and instruction in the Bible and for all time, I'd say. We serve a wonderful Savior.

Blondey on June 06, 2013:

Hi friend,

"how really great and awesome He is" yes!

A lovely story of the details of the sermon on the mount

God bless you

Lori Colbo (author) from United States on January 22, 2013:

thanks for visiting Mekenzie. It is truly amazing to think of actually having been there listening to Jesus teach the most powerful sermon every preached. To sit at his feet...you are right, some day we will. I appreciate your comments. God bless.

Susan Ream from Michigan on January 22, 2013:

Wouldn't it be awesome to be one of those climbing disciples. Seeing Jesus teach on the Mountaintop? We do live with hope .. someday we will see our Savior face to face.

Thanks for the quote from Oswald Chambers, "Humility is not an ideal; it is the unconscious result of the life being rightly related to God and centered in Him." I have heard it said that as soon as we think we are humble there is pride. I love this definition .. humility is not something we 'do' at all ... it happens when a life is lost in Him.

Good and applicable teaching here lambservant. Thanks!


Lori Colbo (author) from United States on January 14, 2013:

Good insights Jackie. Humility today is looked at as a weakness and poor self esteem. Thanks for stopping by.

Jackie Lynnley from the beautiful south on January 14, 2013:

Very beautiful, and true. Being humble sort of goes against what we are all taught today isn't it? Such a shame the ones who want us to think we are so grand don't know we are nothing without Christ. But, as long as we do.

Lori Colbo (author) from United States on December 09, 2012:

Thanks for stopping by with your comments shofar.

shofarcall on December 08, 2012:

Great hub and what a great track at the end. I shall be looking out for more of his music. Thank you

ariseandshinesl on July 19, 2012:

Beatitudes builds christian character and helps us to conform ourselves to Christ.Thanks.

liswilliams from South Africa on September 29, 2010:

Bless you, love the beatitudes

Regan Clem from Ohio on September 23, 2010:

The post I just read before this one was on patience. I think God is trying to tell me something. I really think it is wise to wrestle with those passages that don't make sense. You learn things like this. Good job.

Isaiah Michael from Wherever God leads us. on September 10, 2010:

Rated up, useful and beautiful. Great work here! Glad I took time to hub hop and find this writing.

ecoggins from Corona, California on September 10, 2010:

Thank you for this moving devotional. A professor from Regent University Dr. Bruce Winston wrote a book called Be a Leader for God's Sake which examines the Beatitudes in the light of leadership. He says good leadership begins with humility.

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