Read: Matthew 5:1-12
Consider: The first Beatitude in Matthew 5:3 seems to speak only of spiritual things (poor in spirit), yet in Luke 6:20 the first of the Beatitudes is rendered as:
Looking at his disciples, he said: ‘Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God’. This gives us two very distinct and possible meanings.
Taking Matthew’s rendition of the first Beatitude we have to conclude immediately that it cannot be advocating that once we are Christians we are to be ‘poor in spirit’, in the sense that we are spiritually poor. This would fly in the face of other Scripture where it is clear that God wants us to be mature and strong spiritually. So what exactly is Jesus getting at?
Rather, to be poor in spirit is pointing out that when we come to God we are completely bankrupt spiritually. We are powerless to save ourselves and must put our faith in the one who is able to save us. It is understanding that we have nothing of worth to offer God, nor is there anything we can do to earn salvation. Being poor in spirit is admitting that, because of our sinfulness, we can do nothing to save ourselves. Jesus is saying that we must recognise our spiritual poverty before we can come to God in faith to receive salvation. This links very clearly to what Jesus says in Mark 2:17 – ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but those who are ill. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.’ Spiritual poverty is therefore knowing our complete emptiness before God and our dependence on him for salvation.
Turning to Luke 6:20, the emphasis is clearly on material poverty. The Greek word used here for ‘poor’ is the same as that used in Matthew 5:3 and seeks to convey a sense of destitution, abject poverty. Jesus, however, cannot be commending poverty, nor would he be condemning riches. To make sense of this we should remember that Jesus spoke elsewhere against putting our trust in wealth. What he appears to be saying is that whatever our financial state, we should not make wealth our primary goal.
Commentaries on these passages refer to being poor as being humble and this gives us an insight into an attitude of mind, rather than a physical condition. In light of this what Jesus would be saying is that we should be humble before God, recognising our abject poverty before him.
Pray: Father, help us to see the hopeless state we were in before we accepted Christ. Anything we might try to do to earn salvation is meaningless in comparison with what you achieved through your Son. Amen