Lesson 1 – Poor in Spirit

Poor in Spirit

 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  Matthew 5:3.

We were introduced to the attitudes of a happy person in the introduction. Now we will study each emotional attitude individually in order to understand how they are developed. We also want to see how the blessing Jesus attached to each emotion is a present reality for Christians. Finally, we want to understand how these two entities give us a happy life in the face of tribulations.

The first one is “blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” The teachings of Jesus are set forth in a few words; consequently, we need to define each word. The word “blessed” is commonly replaced in our daily language with the word “happy.” In the context of Jesus’ declaration, blessed and happy are synonyms.

“Poor” is a relative term; therefore, two variable points must be considered to set up a proper context for a study of this word. The opposite of poor is rich. God admires Christians who are rich in faith and poor in spirit (James 2:5). How rich or how poor, someone may ask? Jesus was speaking about the emotions of a person in our text.

“Spirit” is from a Greek word that suggests “a wind.” It is something unseen. Spirit is generally used to depict the opposite of the physical. However, Jesus meant for the term “poor in spirit” to depict a person whose vision of the future was better than the present. It is an emotional attitude about improving the status quo. This is about a person who sees his or her present situation in light of how they want things to be. They want to improve themselves. They have a view of a better end than things are at the beginning.

Now let us attempt to restate this emotional attitude in our common language. To have a healthy outlook, mentally, we will need to be willing to give our own abilities an incomplete rating. We will be willing to examine our spiritual person and admit to being “poor.” The non-physical part of us is the inner man. This involves our personality and character; that is, every part of us that does not cease to exist at our physical death. In the light of God’s kingdom Christians understand some parts of our “self” need to be changed, fixed or dispensed of.

Since “poor” is a relative word, my attitude of being “poor in spirit” is that my personality is lesser in healthiness than some other persons. Of course, we need only to consider the person, Jesus Christ, to find a “perfect other” measurement. Certainly, all Christians will accept the fact that our “self” is “poor in spirit” in relation to Jesus Christ. We have a spirit of “I want to be like Him.” Does Jesus mean Christians should adopt a “poor in spirit” attitude in our relationships to all people or just Him? Another question; is there no time or place one can maintain the attitude of “rich in spirit” and still be happy? Probably not, will be our answer after we consider all the attitudes taught by Jesus in what is known as the Sermon on the Mount.

Jesus spoke of “poor in spirit” as an emotion. It is something people develop or don’t develop as they respond to their environment in their effort to satisfy one or more of their inherent needs. These emotions are developed as pleasure or displeasure tones. They become fixed as an attitude that makes up our personality. Therefore, people who have learned the “poor in spirit” attitude will have this view toward God, mankind and the universe. The opposite attitude is “I know it all.” We have all been there at one time or another. It was not a satisfactory encounter.

It was suggested earlier that faith is one of the foundational attitudes out of which other healthy attitudes are developed. How can we know whether or not the teachings of Jesus are right? When it comes to heaven or hell we will wait and see, but when it comes to happiness, we can know now. Can’t you just hear Jesus saying, “Go on and try my teachings and just see if they work?” When it comes to happiness we must have an experimental faith.

Let us do a mind experiment with this attitude of “poor in spirit.” Let us produce a situation resulting in happiness for a person. Suppose a Christian is aware of a person whom he or she believes has a more integrated personality and stronger character than they feel they possess. They could become saddened and discouraged which would result in inferior emotions. This certainly would not lead to happiness. They could, and more probably would, admire what they saw in this other person. This could give them a vision whereby they could improve themselves. They have a choice to make and they will make it. Whether they realize it or not an emotion will be born from within. If they choose to take the “poor in spirit” route happiness will result according to Jesus. Jesus invites us to experiment with faith in His principles of life. This is one of the laws of life offered in the new covenant.

We recognize it is important to have a vision if we will achieve higher goals in life. They must be achievable visions. We will want to study the personality of Jesus to know the healthy emotional attitudes of an integrated happy person. We must not try to reinvent ourselves with the wrong vision. Christians have faith Jesus revealed truth (John 1:17). We must believe God’s new covenant is being fulfilled as our personality is changed to be like Jesus Christ.

Now back to our word experiment with the “poor in spirit” attitude. We meet another fellow human being. If we have the attitude of “poor in spirit” we will look for a vision in each person we meet. In other words, we will be trying to learn from every person and every situation in which we find ourselves. The “poor in spirit” is a learner spirit. A learner has many friends because nearly everybody likes to play the part of a teacher about things they understand. Since people are social beings, happiness is the result of our encounters with fellow human beings.

We can see right away that being “poor in spirit” helps to fulfill the drive of achievement. Happiness is the result of fulfilling our desires, drives or urges. God wants to help us fulfill our inherited drives. He created these urges in all human beings and He provided the means for their fulfillment. When we let God rule our lives we can have satisfaction and fulfillment.

Now let us consider some more words in Matthew 5:3. The reward for being “poor in spirit” is the kingdom of heaven. Kingdom suggests a rule. This rule is from heaven in contrast to earth. In other words, the “poor in spirit” have a heavenly power ruling in their lives. The “poor in spirit” is able to capture a vision of a Heavenly person. They develop their own personality like this vision which is the personality of Jesus Christ.

The more we adapt our “selves” to the personality of Jesus Christ, the more we have the forces of heaven as a rule in our lives. Ours is the kingdom of heaven. The other side of the coin would be to have the forces of this world rule in our lives. This is not good. It leads to unhappiness.

The “poor in spirit” attitude also helps us in our study of the laws of the universe. Can you imagine a student of science approaching nature with a “know it all” attitude? He would probably destroy himself in his own laboratory. Many people have destroyed their happiness by failing to take the “poor in spirit” attitude about their own character. The Apostle Paul got it right when he said, “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Phil. 3:13, 14.

Questions for Discussion

  1. Define the following words: Blessed, poor and spirit as they were used by Jesus in our text.
  2. Who is the perfect person by which Christians measure the healthiness of our personality?
  3. How can we know if the teachings of Jesus work to bring happiness in our lives today?
  4. How does being poor in spirit provide a vision by which we can improve ourselves?
  5. Explain the circumstance that creates an emotion.
  6. What is the importance of having the right vision?
  7. Explain how being poor in spirit might gain a person many friends.
  8. Name the inherited drives being poor in spirit help us fulfill.
  9. What is the present and eternal reward Christians receive when we maintain a poor in spirit attitude?
  10. What is the opposite attitude of the poor in spirit?

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