6. Matthew 5:3 Poor in Spirit (Part 1) Falling into the Pit of Death

Matthew 5:3
Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

I want to begin with an observation about the verbs that are used in the preceding verse. First, the word are has been printed in italics in many Bibles to show that it is a word that was added to the verse. In other words, the verb are was not present in the Greek text that was used as the basis for the Bible translation. The word are has been inserted into the text by the translators of English language Bibles to make the sentence more readable by English readers. The verbs are and is have been commonly added to many verses of scripture to help with comprehension. The problem is that sometimes the insertion of additional words also alters the emphasis of a sentence. I would like us to explore how this might be happening with verse 3 of Chapter 5 in the book of Matthew.

If the word are isn’t in the ancient Greek text that was the basis for our English translations, then how would we read and understand this verse if we removed it? If the Greek equivalent to the English word are wasn’t written down in the ancient Greek text, because Jesus didn’t speak it in Aramaic when He spoke from the Mount, then what would happen if we were to read this verse today without the word are? The punctuation marks were also not present in the Greek text and were added to help our comprehension. Adding verbs and punctuation is necessary in the English language. However, sometimes these additions can shift our attention away from the central thought of a passage.

If I were going to speak verse 3 in English and omit the word are, then I would speak it this way.

Blessed! The poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

In this way the word blessed would be spoken with power and intensity. We would experience the blazing light of God’s blessing falling upon and resting upon the entire verse, and not just on the word poor or the phrase poor in spirit.

The presence of two verbs and the presence of a colon in this verse as it is usually written in Bibles can cause our minds to divide it into two sentences with two related thoughts. However, if the first verb can be removed, because it actually wasn’t in the original text, then the sentence more accurately expresses a single thought. If we place an exclamation point or even just a period after the word blessed, then the single thought begins to emerge even more clearly.

Blessed. The poor in spirit, theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

In other words, the kingdom of heaven belongs to people who are poor in spirit.

When the word are and the colon are added to the verse, the emphasis moves away from the verb is and rests more on the verb are. The presence of the colon after the phrase poor in spirit tends to disconnect the fact that the poor in spirit are blessed, because of what belongs to them. They are not blessed, just because they are poor in spirit, but because they possess the kingdom of heaven. Most of the time when I have heard people speak this verse it is spoken with the following emphasis.

BLESSED ARE THE POOR in spirit.
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

We will be exploring what it means to be poor in spirit later in this study, but for the moment, I want to highlight the central point of the verse. Simply stated, the verse is saying: people who possess the kingdom of heaven are poor in spirit, and their blessing is the kingdom of heaven, which they possess. If I was to speak the verse as it actually appears in most Bibles, I would speak it with the following emphasis to focus attention on the verb is and the blessing that is received.

BLESSED are the poor in spirit — for THEIRS IS the KINGDOM OF HEAVEN.

The voice and mood of the Greek verb that was translated as the English word is, in verse 3, is active and indicative. This means there is a definite and direct relationship between the experience of being poor in spirit and the condition of possessing the kingdom of heaven. It is a present on-going relationship. It is not a single one time historical event that occurred in the past or an event that will happen at some distant point in the future, but is a present reality.

The same Greek verb is that is used in Matthew 5:3 also appears in the following verses. It expresses the same type of active relationship.

Mathew 6:21 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. (This truth is a principle of the kingdom of heaven and cannot be altered by man.)

Matthew 3:17 And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. (Jesus will never stop being the beloved son of the Father.)

Matthew 6:22 The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light.
(The light of the body is the eye. This condition is a fixed relationship and will not change.)

Before moving on to examine the phrase poor in spirit, we will take a close look at the single word spirit. In the King James Bible, the word spirit appears 499 times. Frequently, the word spirit refers to the Holy Spirit or to evil spirits. Being poor in spirit does not refer to the Holy Spirit of God or to spirits of Satan, but refers to the spirit of a person. It is the inner condition of a person, whether saved or unsaved, which can be broken down or built up. Among modern-day animal trainers, people speak about how it is important to gain control over the animal without breaking its spirit. In human terms, we commonly speak of our spirit as follows:

He has a free spirit.
She has lost the spirit to live.

I will not attempt to define or describe the human spirit, instead, I will simply provide a few scriptures to confirm that we have a spirit and that the human spirit can either be built up by the events of life or can be broken down. In the next set of verses, notice the words that describe the condition of the human spirit. What is happening to the spirit of these people?

Luke 1:47 And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.

John 11:33 When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled,

Genesis 45:27 And they told him all the words of Joseph, which he had said unto them: and when he saw the wagons which Joseph had sent to carry him, the spirit of Jacob their father revived:

Luke 10:21 In that hour Jesus rejoiced in spirit, and said,
I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes:

Acts 17:16 Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was stirred in him, when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry.

Acts 18:5 And when Silas and Timotheus were come from Macedonia, Paul was pressed in the spirit, and testified to the Jews that Jesus was Christ.

Luke 2:40 And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him.

2 Corinthians 7:13 Therefore we were comforted in your comfort: yea, and exceedingly the more joyed we for the joy of Titus, because his spirit was refreshed by you all.

John 6:63 It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.

Matthew 26:41 Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.

The human spirit must be present in a person to maintain physical life. James clearly indicates in the following verse that if the spirit is not present, then the person is dead.

James 2:26 For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.

The relationship between the presence of the spirit as it relates to life and death is shown in these verses. What happens when the spirit leaves a person or returns to a person? In the following verses, notice the words that describe what happens to a person when the spirit leaves or returns.

Luke 23:46 And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said,
Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost.

Acts 7:59 And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. 60 And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep.

Luke 8:52 And all wept, and bewailed her: but he said,
Weep not; she is not dead, but sleepeth.
53 And they laughed him to scorn, knowing that she was dead. 54 And he put them all out, and took her by the hand, and called, saying,
Maid, arise. 55 And her spirit came again, and she arose straightway: and he commanded to give her meat.

Being Poor in Spirit

We were all once people who delighted in selfishness and sin. Pride ruled over us and we gladly submitted to every call to satisfy the lust of the flesh. We strove to be independent and to walk far from God. Nevertheless, God sustained our lives and patiently watched us as we slid ever closer to the pit of death.

Our spirit was puffed-up by self-effort and the desire to become what we thought we should be. We ignored the desires of God, denied the existence of God, hated God, and worshipped at the altar of pride and personal preference.

Eventually, we fell under the weight of our own sin. We were once great in our own estimation, but then we were brought low. Our spirit shrunk and melted. Our spirit withered and dried up. We lost the vitality of life and faced death. We had no hope in us. We had no strength. Our sickly and feeble spirit seemed like it was incapable of supporting life and it would soon leave us to die in the dry cistern of death.

When an unsaved man or woman is poor in spirit, the person has been made ill by the sickness of sin. The human spirit weakens and crumbles under the weight of sin and approaches death. The person is very close to death, because when the spirit leaves, the person dies. When a person is poor in spirit and the spirit has been weakened by sin, then we are infirm and crippled, and death is not far off. Sometimes when we are brought very low by the consequences of our sin, a person may sense impending death, but more often than not, people do whatever they can to quench the experience of foreboding and judgment that accompanies their rebellion and sin. Drugs and alcohol, sexual excesses and perversions of all kinds, and every other form of addiction can distract us from impending spiritual death, while promising to relieve us from the anxiety caused by a withering and dying spirit. Eventually, despite our resistance and denial, the experience of impending death breaks through. The following verses describe the relationship between sin and death.

James 1:15 Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.

Romans 5:21 That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord.

Romans 6:16 Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?

Romans 6:21 What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death.

Ps 143:7 Hear me speedily, O LORD: my spirit faileth: hide not thy face from me, lest I be like unto them that go down into the pit.

The pit has various possible meanings. It can mean a literal pit that is dug in the ground or a cistern cut into the rock for collecting water. It can mean a prison, or the state of being brought into complete captivity and being led into exile. When a person falls into a pit or a dry cistern, it becomes his prison, and he cannot climb out by himself. If he does not receive help, then the pit becomes his grave.

We will finish up part 1 of our examination of being poor in spirit by looking at scriptures that describe the experience of being poor in spirit from a variety of perspectives. Even though these verses do not all use the word “pit,” they describe the experience of what it feels like to have fallen into the pit. Have you ever felt this way?

Joshua 5:1 And it came to pass, when all the kings of the Amorites, which were on the side of Jordan westward, and all the kings of the Canaanites, which were by the sea, heard that the LORD had dried up the waters of Jordan from before the children of Israel, until we were passed over, that their heart melted, neither was there spirit in them any more, because of the children of Israel.

2 Corinthians 7:10 For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death.

Proverbs 15:13 A merry heart maketh a cheerful countenance: but by sorrow of the heart the spirit is broken.

Job 6:4 For the arrows of the Almighty are within me, the poison whereof drinketh up my spirit: the terrors of God do set themselves in array against me.

Psalm 77:3 I remembered God, and was troubled: I complained, and my spirit was overwhelmed.

Jeramiah 51:34 Nebuchadrezzar the king of Babylon hath devoured me, he hath crushed me, he hath made me an empty vessel, he hath swallowed me up like a dragon, he hath filled his belly with my delicates, he hath cast me out.

Job 15:28 And he dwelleth in desolate cities, and in houses which no man inhabiteth, which are ready to become heaps.

Ecclesiastes 11:3 If the clouds be full of rain, they empty themselves upon the earth: and if the tree fall toward the south, or toward the north, in the place where the tree falleth, there it shall be.

The preceding verse leads me to think about the final state of being poor in spirit, which is the state of physical, emotional, moral, and spiritual collapse. In this condition, a person has poured out all worldly sorrows and has no more tears to cry. He is melted and has no resources to stand up and fight again. He is like an old rotten tree that has been blown down by the wind. It stays where it has fallen and can move no longer. It may still have green leaves, but it has been cut off from its foundation and is rapidly dying.

I remember an oak tree that fell into the tidal stream behind a house that I once owned. The tree fell in a spring storm. The tree trunk was lying in a horizontal position suspended in the air above the mud by some of its branches. Even though the tide would come in twice a day and sea water would swirl under the tree for many hours, the branches and leaves that were above the water remained green all summer, because there was a small band of bark that continued to connect the root system to the fallen trunk. This connection was just large enough to supply nutrition to the tree in its last days of life. The tree looked alive, but it was obvious to any observer that it would soon die. It was literally stuck in the mud and was not going anywhere. Ducks and geese floated under the green canopy that was above the water at high tide and enjoyed the sense of protection that it offered, but the tree was dying. It was in the pit of death and only an act of God could have given it new life.

Fortunately, trees and men have different value in God’s eyes. Trees fall and die every day as part of God’s natural plan for his non-human creations. God did not send His Son into the world to prevent trees from perishing, but Jesus was born to be the Savior and King of men. He came to pull men and women out of the pit of spiritual poverty. He gives new life to those who repent and believe, and prevents them from perishing.

John 3:15 That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.

Our next study will focus on the remaining portion of the verse in Matthew 5:3, “
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
” We will consider scriptures that explain how men and women are raised from the certainty of death in sin, and are brought into the kingdom of heaven. Today, we focused on the poverty of spirit experienced by those who are still lost in their sins and held captive by Satan. Next time we will examine the poverty of spirit that marks the life of a believer in Christ Jesus the King. We will see how on-going humility before God establishes a foundation for the remaining blessings in this section of Matthew’s Gospel.

Please meditate upon the following verses in preparation for the next study. They contain key words for understanding the work that God does in the heart of a person who is broken and crushed, and cries out to God from the pit.

Psalm 34:18 The LORD is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit.

Isaiah 57:15 For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.

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