Blessed are the poor in Spirit
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Summary of the Sermon
“[T]hese Beattitudes indicate more clearly than anything else in Scripture the utter and essential difference between the natural man and the Christian….Now there is perhaps no statement that underlies and emphasizes that difference more than this ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit.’ Let me show the contrast. This is something which is not only not admired in the world; it is despised by it….What emphasis the world places on its belief in self-reliance, self-confidence and self-expression!” (35)
MLJ then develops the concept of “poor in spirit” in concrete examples.
First, it is a matter of seeing one’s sinfulness and poverty before God — not as a matter of being better or worse than other human beings.
Second, to be “poor in spirit” is different than the emphasis on “personality” — by this I believe he means the charismatic leader type, the one who is able to gain a great deal of personal attention, attention directed to him (or her). He contrasts this to the truly great leaders of the Church, “You read the old recovers of the activities of God’s greatest workers, the great evangelists and others, and you observe how self-effacing they were. But, today, we are experiencing something that is almost a complete reversal of this. Advertisements and photographs are being put into the foreground.” (37)
He then has this footnote, “I was interested to observe, since stating the above, Bishop Frank Houghton’s tribute in The Christian to the late Miss Amy Carmichael. He points out how one who made such free use of pictures and photographs in all her books never once inserted a photograph of herself.”
Third, to be “poor in spirit” is not a groveling humility, the Uriah Heep, “I’m just a humble man shtick.”
Fourth, nor is it the suppression of one’s actual personality, it is not the crushing of one’s humanity.
What is it then: It is a human being before God:
Isaiah 57:15 (ESV)
15 For thus says the One who is high and lifted up,
who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy:
“I dwell in the high and holy place,
and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit,
to revive the spirit of the lowly,
and to revive the heart of the contrite.
That then is what it meant by being “poor in spirit.” It means a complete absence of pride, a complete absence of self-assurance and of self-reliance. it means a consciousness that we are nothing in the presence of God. It is nothing, then, that we can produce; it is nothing that we can do in ourselves. It is just this tremendous awareness of our utter nothingness as we come face-to-face with God. That is to be “poor in spirit.” Let me put it as strongly as I can, and I do so on the basis of the teaching of the Bible. It means this, that if we are truly Christian we shall not rely upon our natural birth.” 40-41