Blessed are the Paupers

For my own spiritual nourishment, I just opened a study on The Sermon on the Mount and began today with the first beatitude: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.

‘Blessed’ (μακάριος) means ‘exceedingly happy’. My aunt used to tell me that God was not concerned with our happiness, but only with our obedience. That sounds piously deep, but it hardly jives with Scripture.

I probably should have asked her to define what she meant by ‘happy’. If she was thinking of a life free of pain and rich in comfort and good fortune, or being without problems, etc., then yes, she had something going there. Gerhard Kittle, in his giant TDNT, defines the root μακάρ as a transcendent happiness. That means a happiness that is richer than the nice feeling that comes from having an easy life or by being spared hardship and suffering. It is a true, out-of-this-world kind of happiness: the sort that can only come from God – happiness that can endure cares, trials and even death. This is the exceeding happiness of someone ‘poor in spirit’.

In a lecture, Oswald Chambers said that one who is poor in spirit is literally a pauper. According to Webster’s 3rd, a pauper is “a person destitute of means except such as derived from charity”. Ah, thank you Ozzy (what are some nicknames for Oswald?) and you too, Webby! I like where this is going. The Greek word for poor (πτωχός), by the way, supports Chambers on this one (he can sometimes be a little less than hermeneutically exact in his interpretation). The word refers to spiritual destitution.

So, the spiritual pauper is exceedingly happy because ‘his is the kingdom of Heaven’. He is happy because by grace (charity) he has Heaven. As I was pondering this, I remembered something from a sermon that I preached at a conference in Asia last year:

I used to defend Christianity in all the wrong ways. When some intellectual would condescendingly attack my faith by calling Christianity things like: simple and for the simple; or whip out the Freudian, “a crutch for the weak and for those who cannot deal with reality”, I would point to the strong Christian thinkers who greatly contributed to society. I would mention geniuses like Augustine, whose thought influenced the development of Western civilization. I do not do that anymore because now I see that the Christian faith is indeed a crutch… and even more than that. It is for the weak, for the simple and for the destitute. It is for the person who has come to understand that he has neither the intellect nor the moral sense (i.e. meritorious ability) to help him deal with the reality of a holy God. He has nothing, save the precious gift of Jesus! Jesus came to heal the sick, the destitute… and to rescue the spiritual pauper…

…The one who has nothing to offer God, the spiritually poor, comes to Jesus in his helpless state, with empty hands and by faith. And in his spiritual poverty he is indeed blessed.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.

(Note on source: My change of attitude towards the Christianity crutch was surely influenced by a sermon that I read a few years ago on the same text [Matthew 5:3] by John Piper [1986]. That excellent sermon can be found here.)


2 Responses to “Blessed are the Paupers”

  1. 1 steve March 19, 2006 at 2:26 am

    Ha! How many times do we as followers hear otherwise upright learned men giving half-truth that sounds droningly correct to the pious but doesn’t jive with scripture? I’m totally with you on that one! 🙂

    Indeed, blessed are the poor in spirit! I enjoyed your sermon snippet… and I think every follower coming from a place of rote obedience to a place of grace must undergo some sort of mind-shift like that. Of course… some never leave that place at all.

    Ozzy seems a good enough nickname. 🙂

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