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Thinking of God with Larry Sheehy - 'Blessed are the poor in spirit'
Larry Sheehy
Larry Sheehy

Larry Sheehy110611

Listen to Larry Sheehy read his 'Thinking of God' column.

    The opening words of the greatest sermon ever given are “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” The “Sermon on the Mount” is the cornerstone of Jesus’ teachings about the Kingdom of God. The beatitudes are the foundation of the sermon, and this beatitude is the heart of the group of beatitudes.
    The beatitudes emphasize the importance of attitude and give guidance in being a mature person, well rounded in the vital considerations of life. This leads to happiness and contentment in the knowledge of doing right. (Psalm 1) Further, it shows that happiness doesn’t depend on outward circumstances — what we do or do not possess — but on inward virtues — that is, what we are inside.
    The first beatitude shows that “lowliness is the beginning of holiness.”
    This seems contradictory to the modern mind. But Jesus shows that blessedness comes from being “poor in spirit.”
    Just who are those who are “poor in spirit”?
    First, they are not necessarily those poor in material things. Neither prosperity nor poverty is either good or bad spiritually. In fact, there is a threat to spiritual health in both conditions.
    David said, “...give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God.” (Proverbs.30:8, 9) God reminded his people through the prophet Hosea that even though he had cared for them in the wilderness, they have forsaken him in spite of his help: “When I fed them, they were satisfied; when they were satisfied, they became proud; then they forgot me.” (Hosea 13:6) When they had nothing, they complained; when they had plenty, they forgot who supplied it.
    Second, the “poor in spirit” are not the “poor spirited” – those whose spirits are low. There is no automatic spiritual value in discouragement or depression. The 10 spies (Numbers13) and the one talent man (Matthew 25) had negative and gloomy outlooks. But their
attitudes were far from godly. God’s people are not to be self-pitying, pathetic people. Paul wrote, “...be strong in the Lord, and in his mighty power.” (Ephesians 6:10)
    Who, then, can we say are the “poor in spirit”?
    1. The original word for “poor” is used most often in scripture to apply to the physically poor. Lazarus was a beggar who lay at the rich man’s table, with only scraps of food to sustain him. When used to refer to the spirit and demeanor of the poor, it carries with it the idea of desperation — something to which chronic poverty often leads. So, Jesus is saying that the godly spirit is one which realizes its desperate need for God’s mercy.   
    2. Substitute the word “ego” (or “self”) for “spirit.” We’re not to be tied up in ourselves ... not “rich in spirit” in a God-denying way. Being “rich in spirit” in this context is to be sinfully proud or arrogant. The parable of “Two men [who] went up to the temple to pray…” in Luke18:9-14 demonstrated the contrast between the arrogant and the humble among the religious in Jesus’ Jerusalem.
    3. In order to help those in Rome (and every other church) develop the right attitude about themselves in relation to their spiritual gifts from God, Paul said, “Do not think of yourselves more highly than you ought.” (Romans 12:3)
    The identity of the subjects of this beatitude the — “poor in spirit” — is those who realize they cannot face God their own merits, but only by his grace.
    The question all must face is, “Do I identify with this group of Jesus’ disciples?”

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