Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven – a sermon on Matthew 5:1-3 by Rev. Colin Pretorius.
Pride, passion, pretence, pain, and poverty of spirit. These are the themes of Tolstoy’s novel “Father Sergius.” As a young man Sergius had been very ambitious. He worked his way up through the Russian army and the aristocracy. He was set to marry into the royal family. But when he learnt that his royal fiancé was unfaithful, he broke off the engagement, even though it would cost him his career. He dumped her and became a monk. He dedicated himself to religion. He became poor, financially speaking, but the question that Tolstoy’s book asks, is whether he was also spiritually poor. We’re going to leave that question open and return to it a bit later.
Spiritual poorness – that’s what the first of Jesus’ 8 beautiful attitudes is about, as verse 3 says:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Friends, this isn’t just a catchy phrase. It isn’t pop psychology. It isn’t bumper sticker religion. It describes life in God’s kingdom. And as we saw last week, it is the foundation on which the other beautiful attitudes are built.
Let me just recap what the word “blessed” means for those who might have missed last week’s message (and for those who may have forgotten it already!)
If you’ve grown up with the Bible in your home, if you were brought up in a Christian home, then the word “blessed” will most likely mean something special to you. But in general society it has become a bit overused.
- In our society, if you are rich you are blessed.
- If you’ve got all the trappings of wealth, you are blessed.
- If you’re good-looking of physically attractive, you are blessed.
- If you’re popular, you are blessed.
But this isn’t what being blessed means scripturally. It also doesn’t mean just being happy. A happy person may not always be blessed and blessed person might not always be happy. Happiness is a subjective state, it has to do with feelings. But Jesus is not declaring how people feel or should feel. What He’s talking about is what they are because of what God thinks of them – they’re blessed. Or to put it this way: Happiness has to do with how you feel in yourself but being blessed is how God views you. When God blesses us, He approves of us. Being blessed means that God approves of you, it means that God is smiling at you, it means God has turned His face towards you and has shown His favour to you. A description of this state of blessedness that I personally find really helpful is that blessedness is the applause of heaven.
Against this background the questions we have to ask ourselves are:
- are we above all this striving for worldly happiness? Or are we striving to be approved by God?
- Are we looking for our own applause, or the applause of heaven?
If God’s blessing means more to us than the approval of loved ones no matter how cherished they are, or of colleagues no matter how influential they are, then the beatitudes will speak to us very personally and deeply.
Having reminded ourselves of what “blessed” means, let’s now take a bit of a deeper look at what poverty of spirit means.