The first Beatitude is, ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.’ Why is it mentioned first in the list? Probably because it is both the basic outlook and the goal of Christian living. Poverty of spirit does not refer to poverty in spirituality or poverty in the experience of God’s grace. Rather it refers to humility. Poverty of spirit is total and ongoing dependence on God.
A person becomes humble when he realises that he has an indwelling problem that is beyond his power to overcome, and which is beyond the combined ability of all other humans to solve. Instead only God can deal with the problem, which is a sinful heart. This sense of indwelling sin causes a person to be in a permanent state of repentance.
How do we maintain an outlook that is poor in spirit? Not by comparing ourselves with others but by considering the greatness and perfection of God. Reflecting on his power and holiness causes us to see our inadequacy and our sinfulness. But humility also comes by meditating on the grace of God, for the gospel brings hope into what would otherwise be a situation of despair.
Poverty of spirit also comes by meditating on the person of Christ. He was sinless, and did not have the effects of sin that afflict us. Yet he was humble in his response to his Father’s call to die on the cross on behalf of his people. He is still humble today, although exalted to the highest place in heaven, for there he possesses the fruit of the Spirit to the full. The Saviour’s humanity is proof that humility is not dependent on circumstances, because whether on the cross or in the glory of heaven he is humble.
Jesus encouraged his disciples by reminding them that the humble possess the resources of the kingdom of heaven. If we imagine a poor person in Britain being told that all the wealth of the Bank of England was his to use, that all the strength of the British armed forces was his to protect him, that all the resources of the National Health Service was there to help him, we would have a faint picture of what it means to possess the kingdom of heaven.
All the resources of heaven are the believer’s to use in becoming like Christ: this includes the work of the Holy Spirit, the commands and the promises of the Bible, and fellowship with the Father who has given each of his children the right to all the privileges of his family. The power of heaven is engaged in our defence, which includes the effective intercession of Christ and the ministry of angels sent by him to defend us. The healing of heaven is there for our sin-affected souls.
These blessings, and many more, are the Christian’s help. But they are only given to the humble. This shows not only the sinfulness of pride but also the stupidity of pride. Self-sufficiency is the biggest barrier to a fruitful Christian life whereas humility and poverty of spirit is a self-emptying that leads to fullness from God.