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, 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.” 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
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.