Poor in spirit
January 5, 2012
Matthew 5:3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
What does it mean to be ‘poor in spirit’? This is a difficult question not because it is hard to understand the words that frame it but rather it is a difficult question because we are so far from its reality. Our lives seem to be in control. We are well fed. We have good jobs. We live in nice houses and we have good clothes. We are not poor materially and any anxiety we may feel is about loosing what we have gained. The experience of poverty in any sense is not a reality until things go wrong. Barnes’ Notes describes our condition; “Riches produce care, anxiety, and dangers, and not the least is the danger of losing heaven by them. To be poor in spirit is to have a humble opinion of ourselves; to be sensible that we are sinners, and have no righteousness of our own”. Yet as life proceeds, we age, we decrease, we have accidents, we get sick and we loose control. This is real life – a journey of loss. The flesh rebels, and pride blinds us to the reality.
When I was young, my wife and I raised meat birds in our back yard with some neighbour friends. These chickens provided much needed meat to our young family of four – we had two small children. The birds had all their needs supplied; food, shelter, water and a pen to enjoy themselves in. When the birds were grown up and mature the day of slaughter came. Not being very skilled it was my job to chop off their heads and pass the dead bird up the processing line. At first the birds struggled and put up a fuss but as the flock thinned out, the last bird to die always seemed to give out a resigned ‘bawk’ just before the axe came down. Perhaps this bird after seeing the fate of all its brothers and sisters somehow came to realize that it was born to die, raised to die and bred for destruction. Not in any cognitive way – birds aren’t that smart, but in its flesh, its last ‘bawk’ was a bitter cry of despair. If it were possible for a bird to realise it’s poverty – the futility of its life – the last bird to die would be that bird! All flesh goes the way of the meat bird.
We are more than our flesh! I am more than the sum of my parts. You are more than the sum of your parts. Because of this, our real journey through life is one of subtraction not accumulation. Meat birds accumulate; they grow large and plump. Their righteousness is in their flesh – in their fat. A person doesn’t live solely in the flesh. Jesus said; “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4) Our spirits are fed by God’s Word; Jesus teaches us; “It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life” (John 6:63)
Our journey in life is to come to the realization of the poverty of flesh; of empty accumulation and simply growing larger; “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. ” (1 John 2:16) As Jesus said; ” . . . , That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:2) The righteousness of the flesh, the pride of the meat bird and of the scribe and Pharisee leads to death. John the Baptist said of his relationship to Jesus; “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30) John the Baptist knew the real journey was the way of subtraction. To be poor in spirit is to confess as Paul did; “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not.” (Romans 7:18) Paul was not a meat bird!
Victor Frankl, a man who knew about loss, said; “Everything can be taken from a man or a woman but one thing: the last of human freedoms to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” Before it is all said and done, before the day is over and night has come, His Word exhorts; ” . . let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1,2) As the race proceeds, the distance decreases and as our flesh fails, our spirit can choose His way; ” . . . I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.” (John 11:25,26)
The flesh and the meat bird cannot know His way but you can! Praise the Lord!