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LESSON 2 - THE POOR IN SPIRIT (MATTHEW 5:3)

Copr. 1998, Bruce N. Cameron, J.D.  All Scripture references are to
the New International Version (NIV), copr. 1973, 1978, 1984
International Bible Society,  unless otherwise noted. Quotations
from the NIV are used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.
Suggested answers are found within parentheses. The lesson assumes
the teacher uses a blackboard. This lesson can be found at:
<URL:http://www.cameronlaw.com>
 

INTRODUCTION: This week we begin looking at the substance of the
Beatitudes. Let's find out what it means to be "poor in spirit" and
why those people are blessed!

I. POOR

     A. Have you ever wanted someone to call you "poor?" (Other
     than when you or your kids were trying to get a scholarship?)
     "He is a poor student." "He is a poor old man." "He follows
     instructions poorly." Do you want those labels slapped on you?

          1. What does it mean to be poor (and we are not just
          talking about money here)? (It means that you are lacking
          something.)

II. SPIRIT

     A. Turn with me to Matthew 5:3. Read. This text tells us that
     those who are "poor in spirit" will have the kingdom of
     heaven.

          1. What do you think is meant by "spirit?" The Greek word
          literally means "breath."  The Bruce Cameron modern
          translation is "Those who are short of breath will see
          heaven."  Now that makes some sense doesn't it!

               a. Seriously, what does "spirit" normally refer to
               in the Bible? (The Holy Spirit.)

               b. Can this mean that those who are lacking ("poor")
               in the Holy Spirit will own heaven?  Isn't this
               just the opposite of what Paul told the Corinthians
               (1 Corinthians 14) in our studies last quarter?

     B. There has always been a debate about how (and whether) we
     should treat different classes of people differently.  We have
     historically taxed the "rich" more.  That seems to be "OK" (at
     least to those who are not rich).  "Affirmative action" has
     been a plan to help those who were thought to be lacking.  Our
     national view seems to be changing on that.  Many scholarships
     (as alluded to above) are biased towards the poor. Is God, in
     Matthew 5:3, endorsing affirmative action here for poverty of
     spirit?
          1. Does God have a special interest in the poor? Does He
          have a special interest in those who are lacking in any
          way (not just spiritually)?
 

III. POOR IN SPIRIT

     A. We have discussed what you thought it meant to be "poor"
     and what you think is meant by the "spirit."  What do you
     think Jesus meant when He referred to the "poor in spirit" in
     Matthew 5:3? (Those that sense that they are lacking
     spiritually.)

          1. Is there any connection, or similarity between the
          attitude of the financially poor and the poor in spirit?
          (There can be.  The financially poor person is likely to
          realize he "lacks" something.)

               a. Does poverty, of itself, produce humility? (No.
               We have all seen a kind of perverse pride in some
               of the poor. A proud antagonism towards those who
               are rich.)

          2. The Bible tells us in Proverbs 10:15 "The wealth of
          the rich is their fortified city,...." What do you think
          that means? (Money gives them a sense of security and
          protection. The rich are likely to trust in their money.
          This idea of trusting in something other than God is a
          frequent topic of discussion in the Old Testament. See,
          Job 31:24-28; Psalms 20:7; Psalms 31:6; Psalms 44:6;
          Psalms 118:9.)

          3. Is it a fatal flaw to trust in something other than
          God? (Mark 10:23-25. This is the problem for the wealthy:
          trust in something other than God.)

          4. I have a Catholic friend who tells me (only half-
          kidding) "I'm Catholic, Catholics don't read the Bible."
          Jews, on the other hand, call themselves "the people of
          the Book." I think our church would like to call itself
          "the people of the Book," because Bible study is
          stressed. Does that make us naturally inclined towards
          spiritual arrogance? Do we trust in our "spiritual
          wealth?" Are we open to "new truth?" Are we open to any
          truth other than the "truth" we already have?

               a. Would a church that called itself "The Remnant
               Church" likely be filled with those who thought
               they were "spiritually wealthy" or those who
               thought they were "spiritually poor?"

               b. Some churches are called "full gospel" churches,
               thus implying that other churches have a "part
               empty" gospel. Does this kind of name incline those
               churches to spiritual arrogance? Can you be "poor"
               in spirit while believing you have the "full"
               gospel, or are the "Remnant Church?"

     (God is looking for "students." Those who have the idea that
     they are lacking spiritually, those who are studying the Bible
     for a greater understanding of who God is and who God wants
     them to be. If you are a teacher, you are in danger of having
     the attitude that you know something instead of having the
     proper attitude that you desperately need to learn something.)

IV. ADVANTAGE: POVERTY?
 
     A. As you consider Jesus' life, didn't He seem to cater more
     to those who were "lacking" in some substantial way? Tax
     collectors, prostitutes, the sick, unrefined fishermen? (See,
     e.g., Mark 2:16-17)

          1. Consider Luke 4:18. Jesus says He was anointed to
          "preach good news to the poor," and follows this up with
          a list of those who are lacking. Why did Jesus preach
          especially to the poor?

          2. In James 2:5 we find, "Has not God chosen those who
          are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and
          to inherit the kingdom He promised to those who love Him?
          Is James saying that those who are literally poor are
          chosen to have great faith? (If you look at the context
          of this text, there can be no doubt James is talking
          about money.)

     B. Is it your goal to "get rich?"  Maybe you have the wrong
     goal! It might be better (and easier) to have your goal to
     "get poor?" (Perhaps your spouse is working hard on that
     goal?)

     C. I'm not sure we have hit this nail directly on the head.
     Does God prefer the poor?  Can poverty be an advantage? (James
     2:1 says that God does not show favoritism. God does not favor
     the poor. However, I believe those who are poor are more open
     to receive the Word. They have a need. This explains the James
     2:5 comment.)

V. BLESSED

     A. We went right to the heart of the issue: "What is meant by
     the "poor in spirit?" We skipped the beginning and end of
     Matthew 5:3.  Read Matthew 5:3 again.  What do you understand
     "blessed to mean?"

          1. Is it an emotion?

          2. Is it a state?

          3. Is it external? Internal? (It seems to be both.
          Strong's says (in part) the Greek means "fortunate, well
          off." Thayer's says (in part) "happy." In Rick Warren's,
          "The Purpose Driven Church" he notes (p.100) that the
          purpose statement of Disneyland is "To provide people
          happiness." Hundreds of thousands flock to the Disney
          properties to find "happiness." Christ says "happiness"
          can be found in realizing our spiritual poverty.)

VI. THEIRS IS THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN

     A. Matthew 5:3 tells us that the poor in spirit are citizens
     of the kingdom of heaven. They own heaven!

          1. What is the attitude of those who rule the kingdoms of
          the earth? Do rulers generally embrace poverty?

          2. Of all the things that Jesus could say about the poor
          in spirit, why did He choose to say they would have the
          kingdom of heaven?

               a. Was He thinking, "The poor, who have very little,
               will like best to hear that they own heaven?"

     B. Is a true understanding of the wretchedness of our
     character necessary to go to heaven?

          1. Instead of Jesus thinking, "What can I say about the
          poor in spirit that will make them feel good about their
          future," perhaps He is laying out a "first principle:"
          unless you realize you are nothing, you cannot enter
          heaven. What do you think about that?

     C. Read Matthew 5:38-41. What are the reasons that you would
     resist an evil person? Someone who abuses you? Someone who
     takes your stuff?

          1. Is it pride?  This is MY stuff, not yours!  This is my
          body, not yours!  You are treading on my space and not
          respecting me as a person.  I have dignity that you need
          to recognize.

               a. Isn't this (my stuff, my body, my dignity) the
               philosophy of the world?

               b. Is it your philosophy too?

               c. Can this philosophy of the world be squared with
               being "poor in spirit?"  Does an attitude of being
               poor in spirit allow us to turn our cheek?
               Willingly let people take "our stuff?" (I told you
               last week this is the "Ten heavy!" Aren't you glad
               you are saved by grace?)

               d. Are you willing to have the Holy Spirit come in
               and change your attitude so that you are "poor in
               spirit?"

                    (1) If you are not willing, are you an unfit
                    candidate for heaven?

     (If Jesus just decided to say something positive to the poor
     to make them feel better, than this is a pretty harmless
     beatitude. I think He is saying that we must acknowledge our
     need. We must feel and understand our spiritual poverty.
     Nothing so brightly shows up our spiritual poverty as when
     someone attacks us, abuses us, or shows us disrespect. The
     more "tools" life has given you to fight this kind of thing,
     the more difficult it is to simply accept it!  We need to pray
     that we will see ourselves as God sees us. Thankfully, when
     all is said and done in the judgment, God the Father will see
     Christ (instead of me!)

VII. NEXT WEEK: THE MOURNERS. Study!