Whether some financial profit, a good meal, an ideal day, or finding our lost keys, we’ve all said it. And those things are blessings. But, too often we risk throwing around benedictory phrases with a shallow, man-centered carelessness.
What does it mean to be “blessed”? What does God consider “blessing”? God’s definitions of blessing might not always fit the pop-definitions. One in particular, perhaps, counter-intuitive blessing is described from what is considered the greatest sermon ever preached: the Sermon on the Mount. Christ opened it with the declarative blessing, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 5:3). What is the essence of this blessing?
“Blessed.” It does not refer to emotions of happiness which could change in five minutes, but a permanent state of God’s favor, regardless how we feel. It refers to the state of spiritual well-being before God, by the grace of God. The “blessed” are those privileged beneficiaries of God’s saving mercy.
We are blessed if we are “poor in spirit.” The original word in Mathew 5:3 which is translated, “poor,” referred to a poverty beyond struggling to pay the bills each month. In ancient Greek, there was a word to describe that; the poor person who had to be frugal due to lack of resources and one who had no property. But our Lord chooses a different word. This word refers to a beggar; someone in complete destitution, unable to provide a thing for themselves. Many impoverished people can provide for themselves; they work and bring home a bit each month. But this individual is destitute of both provision and the ability to provide. The word refers to an individual who bowed and cowered down due to their deprivation. If you were to see this individual, they would be the raggedly covered (if covered at all) beggar, cowered over with head down and hand out (TDNT, 6:886).
Charles Quarles writes of this word, “Beggars were often crippled or otherwise incapacitated and completely unable to provide an income for themselves. [They] lived in a state of absolute dependence on the graciousness and generosity of others.”
Beggars perpetually existed one step away from death. In ancient times, there were no state systems to help beggars. Like the prodigal son, they would gladly feed on “the pods that the pigs ate” (Luke 15:16). Without a handout, they perished unnoticed in the gutter. Survival for this individual depended entirely upon another who possessed both resources and the benevolence to fill his hand.
Beggars can provide nothing for themselves. Beggars have nothing to offer others. Beggars are unable to have dependents, for they themselves are entirely dependent. Beggars possess nothing to merit attraction from others. A beggar’s only hope is that some individual might be moved by his wretched state so as to place a handout in his empty hand before he starved.
This is a poverty that is extreme and abject.
Now, Christ qualifies this poverty as “in spirit.” Thus, he speaks of a destitution at the spiritual and moral level; the seat of our will and desires. All that we think, say, and do come from the spirit. It’s the me-steering wheel. As we are in spirit, so we are.
So then, how do we know that we are blessed? Christ says that we are blessed if, before God, we know ourselves to be nothing more than a cowered over, head down, hand out, moral beggar, dependent entirely on Another. We are to declare, “I am blessed!” if we understand ourselves to be destitute, spiritual gutter-dwellers, unable to provide spiritually/morally for ourselves. Blessed are the moral mendicants.
Yet there is amazing news for moral beggars: “theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 5:3). Generally, it means to be a kingdom citizen; a subject of the King of kings and Lord of lords, with heaven in the future. To know one’s moral impoverishment before God is the passport for heaven and mark of God’s children. It means to truly be “blessed.”
This means that those going to heaven know they are not wealthy in personal morality, but infinitely in the negative.
Those who are truly saved have not come to God with a robust portfolio of personal moral success, but one with innumerable moral violations.
Those in God’s favor did not come to him as well-to-do morally/spiritually, but as moral vagrants and vagabonds.
Genuine Christians have not come to God with a history of tidy morality, but a total mess of sin which only he can clean up.
It means that we’ll able to discern genuine salvation, not when we suppose that God is impressed by how much Bible we know, but knowing he’s offended by how much sin we’ve committed.
We come to God, not morally prosperous, but as moral panhandlers.
If we are a true Christian, we will not think of ourselves as bringing to God a decent amount of good works, but a colossal amount of sin.
Those genuinely converted to Christ did not come to him with some decent moral savings from periodic investments made, but a devastating moral debt from ceaseless and flagrant sin.
Those saved and going to heaven did not earn God’s favor because of their impressive moral wealth, but only earned his wrath by their offensive moral filth.
There is no such thing as a kingdom-citizen who is indifferent, casual, or giggly in the face of his sin. Heaven’s future citizens are presently characterize by a genuine sense of their moral paralysis before heaven’s king. If we do not come to God as moral beggars, then we do not come at all. If we approach God supposing that our works put us in the moral black, then we may not come to God. No one enters into God’s favor with a robust moral portfolio. We enter with moral destitution; hands out, all spiritual accounts flagrantly in the red, with one cry from our lips: “God, be merciful to me, the sinner!”
But why? Why are these the “blessed”?
Because we understand something of the holiness of God. We have fled delusions of our moral finesse before him. We understand our need. And we understand his mercy. We are ready to receive the extravagantly wealthy Son of God, who lavishes us with the riches of his righteousness. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich” (2 Cor 8:9). By faith alone in Christ alone, God extravagantly lavishes moral beggars with the infinite righteousness of His Son. God only saves moral mendicants.
So, are you blessed?
Simply to thy cross I cling;
Naked, come to thee for dress;
Helpless, look to thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Savior, or I die. (Augustus Toplady)