Many poor people today believe that they would be happy if they were financially secure. And many who are already financially secure believe they would have fewer worries if they had more money. The Jones wish they were the Ritz’s, and the Ritz’s wish they were the Vanderbilt’s. So, Jesus’ teaching is a great paradox to what we tend to think. What did Jesus mean when He said, “Happy are the poor”?
Through the prophet Isaiah, the Lord revealed the following information to the human race several hundred years before the birth of Christ. Notice what it says in Isaiah 57:15: “For thus says the High and Lofty One Who inhabits eternity, Whose name is Holy: I dwell in the high and holy place, with him who has a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.”
The Lord says to the one who inhabits eternity that He will dwell with the humble, the one who has a humble spirit. In Isaiah 66:2, He says, “ ‘… all those things My hand has made, and all those things exist,’ says the Lord. ‘But on this one will I look: on him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, and who trembles at My word.’ ”
There are many texts in the Bible in which the Lord says that He pays attention to the person who is humble and who has a contrite spirit. Here is one more. This is the song of Mary, the mother of Jesus, after she was informed by the angel Gabriel that she would become the mother of the Messiah. “My spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior, for He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant.” Notice that she was a poor person. “… For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed.” Luke 1:47, 48.
In verse 53 it says, “He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty.” So, God has promised to be with the humble and He has promised to help those that are poor, those that are of a contrite and poor spirit. But the rich are sent away because they don’t feel any need. The person who is proud is not acknowledged by the Lord.
In Revelation the 3rd chapter, there is found a description of the Christian church in the last days. Notice the problem that was prophesied to exist in Christendom, in the church, in the last days: “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of My mouth. Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked … .” Revelation 3:15–17.
The problem with these people is that they are rich in material things, but spiritually they are “poor, miserable, wretched, poor, blind, and naked,” Jesus says. You can read in the Old Testament from the book of Job that after he obtained a vision of his spiritual poverty, and he stopped trying to justify himself, his misery and wretchedness came to an end. The Lord delivered him from the condition that the devil had brought upon him. His captivity was turned into victory and he experienced happiness again in his life.
We see the same thing in the life of the prophet Isaiah. When he recognized his spiritual poverty, he cried out, “Woe is me because I am undone!” Isaiah 6:5 literal translation. He sensed his spiritual imperfection which now appeared to him in a new and hideous light. This changed attitude made it possible for God to cleanse him from his sin and then to use him as a spokesman to others.
Something similar happened to the proud-spirited Simon Peter when he fell at Jesus’ feet. “When Simon Peter saw it, He fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!’ For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish which they had taken; and so also were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, ‘Do not be afraid. From now on you will catch men.’ So when they had brought their boats to land, they forsook all and followed Him.” Luke 5:8–11. Immediately when he acknowledged his condition, Jesus commissioned him to be a fisher of men.
The apostle Paul was once a proud and haughty Pharisee, but he changed so that he acknowledged himself to be “the chief of sinners.” 1 Timothy 1:15. When stopped in his tracks on the road to Damascus and acknowledged his sinful condition, he was elevated to become the chief of the apostles. So, recognition of our real spiritual condition and need is the first step in the beatitude ladder of spiritual progress that leads to the kingdom of heaven. Jesus said, “Blessed (happy) are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3).
The person who is proud in his heart has not taken the first step yet toward the heavenly kingdom. Recognition of sin, the crying out for pardon and cleansing from guilt are the beginning of the pathway to Zion and to happiness. There can be no blessed happy state where there is unconfessed and unforgiven sin because the Lord says in Isaiah 48:22, “ ‘There is no peace,’ says the Lord, ‘for the wicked.’ ”
So, a contrite, a humble, a penitent spirit is the first qualification for citizenship in the kingdom of God and for service in the cause of righteousness. Jesus, our Saviour, was this way Himself. He says in Matthew 11:29: “I am gentle [or meek], and lowly in heart.” The apostle Paul described the unparalleled humility of Jesus as an example that no human being could ever match. Jesus was the majesty of heaven, the king of the universe. Paul said, “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, Who, being in the form of God, did not consider it to be robbery [or a thing to be grasped] to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a servant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.” Philippians 2:5–8.
Jesus said, “I am lowly in heart.” Instead of saying, “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” He could have said instead, “Unhappy are the proud in spirit.” It would have been true. Of all people, the poor in spirit are the happiest, and the proud-spirited end up being the most miserable. The proud in spirit are exceedingly sensitive to every little slight or wrong, either real or imagined, often finding that the least little thing causes pain and discomfort. The proud in spirit are touchy and easily offended. They are miserable night and day because of hurt feelings, being too selfish to be happy. The only remedy for spiritual pride is to crucify the proud, selfish flesh. Those who are dead to sin do not become offended. The apostle Paul wrote about this in Romans. “How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?” “Reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 6:2, 11. Dead people are not sensitive.
The Psalmist wrote, “Great peace have they which love Thy law: and nothing shall offend them.” Psalm 119:165 KJV. Offense naturally thrives where sin abounds. It was a proud and sensitive angel who committed the first sin, and the more he sinned, the more sensitive he became. We live in a world where the whole world is suffering with proud flesh. Sinful flesh is always proud. It was impossible for Jesus to avoid offending His hearers because of their sensitive proud spirit. At the close of one of his sermons, almost everybody fled from Him. (See John 6.) The Pharisees were always offended at His teachings. In fact, even the disciples were often grieved. Truth always offends those who are in error and sinners resent their shortcomings being pointed out. But a person who is poor in spirit can be corrected. If you are willing to be corrected, then you are in a position where you can be blessed.
Jesus illustrated the contrast between the poor in spirit and the proud in spirit in a story He told about two worshipers who went up to the temple to pray. Luke 18:9–14 says, “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 abased, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.’ ”
The Pharisee did not pray to God; Jesus made it very clear that he prayed to himself. He gave a boasting speech to himself that was not a prayer at all but a boast of his inbred and acquired righteousness. He made no request, but simply thanked God that he was everything that he should be and grateful that he was different from others, and especially different from this poor publican.
The publican, however, recognized his spiritual poverty. He cried out, “God be merciful to me, a sinner.” He alone was justified and justification leads to happiness, because the Bible says that when we are justified by faith, then we have peace with God. Often when we read this story we don’t realize that the same spirit of Phariseeism that this Pharisee had is the common spirit in Christendom today.
The first beatitude of Matthew 5:3 is more relevant to the modern Christian world because of prevailing spiritual pride and self-sufficiency, which is more prevalent today than ever before. Phariseeism is very common in the Christian world. In fact, Jesus speaks of the condition of the Christian church in the last or remnant phase of its existence, describing it as a church with a Pharisaical attitude. In Revelation 3:15–17, Jesus says, “ ‘I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of My mouth [or more literally, vomit you out of My mouth]. Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’— and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked … .’ ”
The spirit of Phariseeism is the natural spirit of human nature and it is just as prevalent now as in the days when Jesus was among men. The church in its present condition is proud in spirit. Its members do not recognize their spiritual condition; in fact, they even boast of their spiritual wealth. In their own estimation, they are rich and increased in goods. They have need of nothing. They believe they are ready to go to heaven, when in reality they are wretched, miserable, poor, and blind, and naked, spiritually, and the Lord says that He is about to vomit them out of His mouth. In other words, you are about to commit the unpardonable sin.
The message that describes the spiritual pride of the last-day church also provides a complete remedy. Notice what Jesus goes on to say to the church of the last days: “I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white raiments [or white garments], that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see.” Revelation 3:18. Jesus here speaks about spiritual gold and spiritual clothing, and spiritual eye salve. What do these symbols represent? The spiritual gold represents the amount of faith and love a person has. Gold enables people to get whatever they want. In the spiritual world, faith enables you to get whatever you need. In the physical world gold represents wealth. In the spiritual world, if you have love, you are wealthy. The Bible says that love is the bond of perfection (Colossians 3:14).
Jesus also says, “Buy from me white garments (Revelation 3:18).” In Revelation 19:8, the white garment is the righteousness of the saints that is imparted to them by Jesus Christ.
The modern church in its own attitude and condition shows that it is in desperate need of eye salve, the ability to discern the difference between good and evil. The solution to our situation is to see and behold the character of Jesus Christ. The more we see in Him, the less we will see to esteem in ourselves. Just as soon as the modern church changes its attitude toward its own condition and needs, Jesus will abundantly supply His people with the pure gold of faith and love. He will clothe the members with the robe of His spotless righteousness, and provide the anointing with the spiritual eye salve that will restore spiritual vision to tell the difference between good and evil.
There is a poverty that makes rich. There was another church described in Revelation that was a very poor church. Everybody thought that they were poor, but notice what Jesus says about them. Revelation 2:9 says, “I know your works, tribulation, and poverty (but you are rich); and I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.”
Spiritual wealth awaits those who feel poverty-stricken in spirit. Many of the poorest people in this world are rich spiritually. In the same way, many of the richest people in this world are moral paupers and spiritually bankrupt. True riches, the riches that the Lord wants to give you, are the heritage of those only who recognize their spiritual need. The Bible says, “Has God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?” James 2:5.
You see, whom Christ pardons, He first makes penitent. If you have a sense of your deep soul poverty, if you know that you don’t have anything good in yourself, the apostle Paul says, “I know that in me, that is in my flesh, there dwells no good thing.” If you know that you have no goodness of your own, you may find righteousness and strength by looking to Jesus. Notice what He promised to the poor in spirit in Matthew 11:28–30: “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
Do you recognize your spiritual poverty, and would you like to exchange it for the riches of His grace? No matter what your past experience has been, however discouraging your present circumstances might be, if you will come to Jesus just the way you are, weak, helpless, and despairing, you will find that He will take you in. He said, “He that comes to Me, I will in no case cast out.” John 6:37 literal translation. While you are a great way off, He will come to you and impart to you His righteousness that will change everything in your life.
(Unless appearing in quoted references or otherwise identified, Bible texts are from the New King James Version.)
Pastor John J. Grosboll is Director of Steps to Life and pastors the Prairie Meadows Church of Free Seventh-day Adventists in Wichita, Kansas. He may be contacted by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org, or by telephone at: 316-788-5559.