Poor in Spirit #5: No Confidence in the Flesh


Finally, here is the last post in a 5-part series on the first Beatitude from Matthew 5:3 – “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  If you want to catch up, here are links to the previous posts in the series: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday.


Today’s thought begins with how the Apostle Paul, who met Jesus on the road to Damascus[1], emphasized how being “poor in spirit” is universal across all demographic characteristics:

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” – Galatians 3:28
“Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is call, and in all.” – Colossians 3:11

Paul wrote these verses differently, meaning they are not comprehensive.  He simply couldn’t include every possible example of the ways Christ eliminates barriers, but provided examples of the main point, which is “all.”  Prior to these verses, he writes that “in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith” (Galatians 3:27) and that we “have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” (Colossians 3:10) This “new self” is the new identity, which is the only one that matters, that we are “sons of God”.

What does this have to do with “Blessed are the poor in spirit”?

Paul knows that Jesus provides – in full – the only way for salvation on the cross and through His resurrection.  What we think are accomplishments “in the flesh” do not make us “rich” in spirit, and in fact may make us worse off.  Paul expands on this in Philippians 3:4-7, discarding any confidence he has in the flesh as “loss”:

“Though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.”

Adding some more modern terminology, Paul is saying that his obedience to the ceremonial law of the Old Testament, his genealogy, his denomination, his nationality, and his recognition as a religious expert provided no value, in fact negative value (“loss”), toward his salvation in Christ.  From the earlier verses we can add gender and economic status to the list. His “identity” in earthly terms is a negative whenever it gets in the way of his “identity” in Christ.  When he counted on these things for salvation, they only clouded his view of what was really needed and were in the way of accepting it.  They were a distraction, wasted time.  This applies to anyone: religious pedigree, ethnicity, nationality, or any other accomplishment is at best a zero contribution, and at worst a negative one if it causes someone to refuse His free offer of His righteousness.

It also affects how we present Christ to others.  If our own definition of “poor in spirit” includes a complete lack of faith in our “flesh”, it becomes easier to offer the gospel to “all” others, to approach them in love, and therefore to reflect the kingdom of heaven.  To love our neighbor includes not limiting who our neighbor is.  In the parable of the Good Samaritan, the person beaten and abandoned on the side of the road is only identified as “a man.”[2]  If we know that our identity also did not matter in our salvation, that it may have made us even poorer in spirit, the identity of our neighbor will not matter either.  The unity and outreach of the church depend on the idea that all are equally “poor in spirit.”

Pray, or even beg, for Christ to enable you to embrace your new identity, your new Spirit, and provide new motivation to be a more faithful subject in His kingdom.

“For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” – Matthew 6:14-15
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” – Matthew 5:3


Post Script
I imagine that every Babel – every attempt at building a system of righteousness other than that provided by God – begins with a small clique of people who think: “If I bring together enough people (like-minded people like me, of course), we can do this better.”  However, one of the ways they “do it better” is by shrinking the definition of neighbor – right at the beginning of the process.  In Philippians 3 above, Paul says that he formerly saw persecution of his enemies as part of righteousness.  When you believe your identity brings you closer to righteousness, the necessity of coercing others to become like you may seem like a rational conclusion.  But “rational” is not the objective.

Also, when anyone thinks “earthly characteristics we have in common” are a shortcut to righteousness, they may end up surrounded with others who in reality are poor in spirit but are less likely to realize it because everyone around them is affirming their earthly identity.  Instead, defining “us” as all of humanity in desperate need of a righteousness beyond what they can accomplish results in a very different dynamic, where both compassion and spiritual growth are easier to come by.  Iron only sharpens iron when there is a bit of healthy diversity and disagreement.


This post continues a series on the Beatitudes. To start at the beginning, click here, and for the next post click here


[1] Acts 9:3-9
[2] Luke 10:30

Reflections on Philippians #4: Be an Example


“Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.” – Philippians 3:17

At the time of Paul’s letter to the Philippians, the gospels of Mark and John probably weren’t written yet, and the other two may not have been broadly available. New Christians couldn’t easily read about Christ, so Paul recommends learning about Him through His other followers.

Today, most will not search the Bible for God. What can people learn about Christ from you and I on our blogs and elsewhere?

Reflections on Philippians #1: Power


“And being found in human form, He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” – Philippians 2:8

On the cross, Jesus endured the powerlessness that many feel. At any moment, Jesus could have chosen to free Himself from the cross, but He actively maintained His powerlessness for hours through the torture for our benefit. Any time we think power is the answer, we must consider this.

As I wrote in The Sure Eternal Path:
“Consider this: If God wanted to change His mind about you, He’s had plenty of opportunity before now.  Hours passed while Christ was on the cross.  He was mocked as helpless and unable to save Himself, while Jesus knew at any moment, He could ask His Father to send twelve legions of angels to save Him[1]!  (Or He could just save Himself).  In those hours, Omniscient God considered all the sins of all His people over all of time and decided: “Worth it”.  The all-powerful actively chose to embrace powerlessness in the face of hours of torture to save His people.  He will not turn His back on you now, or ever, if you are His.”

The way of Christ is the way of the cross.

[1] Matthew 26:53

Living Faithfully in the Times You Have


“while the [Old Testament] prophets train their attention on the eternal, kairos drama of God’s words and actions, they remain intimately involved in the events of their historical time. Being caught between these two times can be quite painful and disorienting, particularly when it is difficult to see the hand of Providence in the daily news. Near the beginning of The Fellowship of the Ring, Tolkien articulates this predicament well. When Gandalf, acting in many ways as an heir to the biblical prophets, tells Frodo that Sauron has risen and is searching for the ring that Bilbo gave him, Frodo’s reaction to this news is quite natural: “I wish it need not have happened in my time.” Frodo would prefer to step out of his time, to escape the confusing and frightful events of chronos. In this regard, he is much like King Hezekiah, who is pleased when Isaiah tells him that his sons will be carried into captivity and made eunuchs- at least, Hezekiah thinks, “there will be peace and security in my days” (Is 39:8). Gandalf’s reply to Frodo balances empathy with a bracing call to courageously and faithfully inhabit the tension between the messy demands of chronos and the divine call of kairos: “‘So do I;’ said Gandalf, ‘and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” The biblical prophets likewise repeatedly urge their hearers to decide how to respond to the events of their time by the standard of God’s eternal word.”

From “Reading the Times”, by Jeffrey Bilbro, P. 95-96

Forgiveness: What We Need First and Most


“Forgiveness is the greatest miracle that Jesus ever performs. It meets the greatest need; it costs the greatest price; and it brings the greatest blessing and the most lasting results.” – Warren Wiersbe

Wiersbe’s quote applies universally, but the immediate reference was to Mark 2:5 – “And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.'” Four friends of the paralytic could not get him to Jesus because of the crowds, so they lowered him through the roof. Jesus healed the man’s paralysis, but more importantly healed the man’s separation from God by forgiving his sins.

Among the gathered crowd were religious leaders – scribes – who perhaps came early to investigate this new rabbi who was attracting a following. They may have considered this their duty, as outlined in Deuteronomy 13, especially noting in verses 1-2 that prophets would arise, able to perform signs and wonders, but seeking to lead people to other gods. Unfortunately, they came to the wrong conclusion because Jesus did not fit their preconceived notions.

We all have notions that require forgiveness, including the notion that we don’t need forgiveness more than we need physical healing and assistance. Fortunately forgiveness is available in Him, as well as the sure hope of future healing.

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