Theme: The Poor in Spirit and Those Who Mourn
This week’s lessons on the Beatitudes teach us that true happiness comes by living in a way that is contrary to the world and even to our natural way of thinking.
Scripture: Matthew 5
When we read the phrase, “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” we think of somebody in material poverty and we assume that the Lord is saying that it is better to be poor than to be rich. But our Lord never said anywhere that it is better to be poor than to be rich. He did have many warnings about being rich. He said, “It is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 19:23), for the obvious reasons that in an unregenerate state a rich man has his mind set upon his riches. But He did not say that one is happier by being poor. As a matter of fact, in the Scriptures you find that material prosperity is one of the blessings of God. David was blessed with riches. So was Abraham. If we are talking about material riches, most of us would probably agree with the actress Sophie Tucker, who said, “I’ve been poor. And I’ve been rich. And, believe me, rich is better.”
But that is not what our Lord is talking about. What does it mean to be poor in spirit? It means the opposite of being rich in pride. And that is where the happiness of the new life begins. It begins, not where we stand before God and throw out our chest and say, “Well, look at what a great guy I am. I am building my life all by myself, and I am doing quite well.” It is not that attitude at all. It is the attitude in which we stand before God in our sin, acknowledge our need, and say as the publican, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” The publican was a tax collector, and most tax collectors were rich. Yet, this was a man who, though he may have been rich, was poor in spirit because he recognized his poverty before God. If you want to be happy, begin at this point. Lay your pride aside, stand before God, and say, “I am a needy man (or I am a needy woman). If I am ever to be happy, my happiness has to come from you.”
Second, Jesus talks about mourning. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (v. 4). What kind of mourning is this? It could be a mourning over one’s personal experience of sorrow or tragedy—the loss of a loved one, such as a husband, wife, or child. Or maybe it could be mourning over sickness or personal dismay. In the midst of such circumstances God provides certain comfort and blessing for His children. Indeed, we grow in suffering. The Arabs have a proverb that goes, “All sunshine makes a desert.” Those of us who live in areas where there is more rainfall say, “Into each life a little rain must fall.” Suffering is inevitable and can be beneficial. But that is not the primary meaning of the beatitude.
Other people think that when Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn,” He was talking about mourning for the world. That is, “Blessed is the one who is sensitive to this world’s need.” I think of Lord Shaftesbury, the British statesman who was used by God in the last century to produce many genuine social reforms. He mourned for the misery in which other people lived their lives. He identified with others’ sorrow.
I think, however, that the primary meaning of the beatitude is that those people are blessed who mourn for their sin. In the Beatitudes, there is a logical sequence. In the first beatitude we stand before God, not in our pride, but in poverty of spirit, recognizing our need. As we stand before God we see Him in His holiness and are inevitably conscious of our own sin. So in the second beatitude Jesus says that we are not only to see that sin, but to mourn for it. Then He gives us this promise: Those who mourn for their sin will be comforted as God deals with that sin through the work of Christ.
What does it mean to be poor in spirit? How do we practice it?
In what different ways has the idea of mourning been explained? Which understanding is preferred for this particular beatitude?
Reflection: Is your Christian life characterized by both a poverty of spirit and a mourning for sin?