How much money does a person need? Many poor people believe that they would be happy if they were well-fixed financially and many who are comfortable believe that they would have less worries if they had more money. The Jones family wish they were like the Ritzes, and the Ritzes wish they were wealthy like the Vanderbilts. 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. “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” (Isaiah 57:15).
The One who inhabits eternity, says, “I dwell with the one that 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.’ ”
So, the Lord says that He looks on the person who is humble. There are many Bible texts that reveal that a person who is proud is not known by the Lord. After Mary, the mother of Jesus, was informed by the angel Gabriel that she would become the mother of the Messiah, she says, “My spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. For He has regarded the lowly state [poor person] of His maidservant; for behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed. … He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty” (Luke 1:47, 48, 53). God has promised to help those who are poor and are of a contrite and poor spirit, but the rich are sent away because they don’t feel any need.
In Revelation the 3rd chapter, there is found a description of the Christian church in the last days. It 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 vomit [spue] 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—” (verses 15–17).
These people are rich in material things, but spiritually they are “miserable, wretched, poor, blind, and naked.” After Job 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 problem 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, for I am undone” (Isaiah 6:5)! 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 for others (see Isaiah 6).
Something similar happened to the proud-spirited Simon Peter when he fell at Jesus’ feet. In Luke 5:8–10, it says, “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.” Notice, 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 when he was changed he acknowledged himself to be “the chief of sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15). When he 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. In the first beatitude Jesus said, “Blessed [that is, 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 yet taken the first step toward the heavenly kingdom. Recognition of sin, the crying out for pardon, for cleansing from guilt, are the beginning of the pathway to Zion and to happiness. There can be no blessed or happy state where there is unconfessed and unforgiven sin. Isaiah 48:22 says, “ ‘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. Notice what He says concerning His own character: “I am gentle [meek] and lowly in heart” (Matthew 11:29).” He was not proud. Notice what the apostle Paul says about the humility of Jesus: “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery [a thing to be grasped] to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, 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). This example of humility by Jesus, the majesty of heaven and king of the universe, is one that no human being could ever match.
In Jesus is an example of unparalleled humility. Jesus said, “I am lowly in heart.” He might have stated this beatitude in the negative. 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 most happy, and the proud-spirited end up being the most miserable. The proud in spirit are exceedingly sensitive to every little slight or wrong, real or imagined, that causes pain and discomfort. The proud in spirit are touchy and easily offended. They are miserable night and day because of hurt feelings and are often too selfish to be happy. The only remedy for spiritual pride is the crucifixion of the proud, selfish flesh. Those who are dead to sin do not become offended. The apostle Paul said, “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 who 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 all are suffering with proud flesh. Sinful flesh is always proud. It was impossible for Jesus to keep from offending His hearers because they were so sensitive and proud in their spirit. At the close of one of His sermons, almost everybody fled from Him (see John 6). The Pharisees were continually 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.
However, a person who is poor in spirit can be corrected, and if willing to be corrected, then they are in position where they 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. “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’ ” (Luke 18:9–14).
Notice, the Pharisee did not pray to God. Jesus made it very clear that he prayed a boasting speech to himself. It was not even a prayer at all, but a boast of his inbred and acquired righteousness. He did not even make a request. He simply thanked God that he was everything that he should be. He was grateful that he was different from others, especially from the poor publican.
The publican, however, was poor in spirit. He 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’re justified by faith, then we have peace with God. Oftentimes we don’t realize that this same spirit of Phariseeism is the common spirit in Christendom today. The first beatitude is “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” This beatitude is very up to date because pride of spirit, self-sufficiency is more prevalent in the Christian world today, perhaps, than ever before. Phariseeism is not extinct. In fact, when Jesus speaks of the condition of the Christian church in the last or remnant phase of its existence, it is described as a church with a Pharisaical attitude. As already seen in Revelation 3:15–17, this attitude leads Christians to believe they need nothing when in reality they have need of everything.
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 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, “I’m about to vomit you out of My 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 says 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 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” (verse 18). He’s talking about spiritual gold and spiritual clothing, and spiritual eye salve. The gold, spiritual gold, represents the amount of faith and love a person has. Gold enables a person to get whatever they want. In the spiritual world, faith enables you to get whatever you need. In the physical world, if you have gold, you are wealthy. In the spiritual world, if you have love, you are wealthy. The Bible says that love is the bond of perfection (Colossians 3:14). But Jesus also says, “Buy from me white garments.” The Bible says clearly in Revelation 19 that the white garment is the righteousness of the saints that is imparted to them by Jesus Christ.
Then there is the eye salve which is needed today more than ever before. The modern church, in its own attitude and condition, shows that we are in desperate need of eye salve, which is the ability to discern and tell 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. The robe of His spotless righteousness and the anointing with the spiritual eye salve will restore spiritual vision to be able 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. They, as well as everyone else thought that they were poor, but notice what Jesus says about them: “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” (Revelation 2:9).
Spiritual wealth awaits those who feel poverty-stricken in spirit. Many of the poorest people in this world are spiritually rich. In the same way, many of the richest people in this world are moral paupers and spiritual bankrupts. True riches, those 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 has promised to them who love Him” (James 2:5)?
Paul says, “I know that in me (that is, in my flesh), there dwells no good thing” (Romans 7:18, literal translation). Whom Christ pardons, He first makes penitent. If you have a sense of your deep soul poverty, if you know that you have no goodness of your own, you may find righteousness and strength by looking to Jesus. Notice this promise that was given to the poor in spirit. It reads, “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” (Matthew 11:28–30).
Do you recognize your spiritual poverty, and would you like to exchange that poverty for the riches of His grace? It does not matter what your past experience has been or however discouraging your present circumstances might be. Come to Jesus just the way you are – weak, helpless, and despairing – and you will find that He will take you in. He said, “The one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out” (John 6:37). 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. Trust Him!
(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 in Wichita, Kansas. He may be contacted by email at: email@example.com, or by telephone at: 316-788-5559.