Blessed Are the Beggars
Good News Magazine
July 1976
Volume: Vol XXV, No. 7
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Blessed Are the Beggars
D Paul Graunke  

   Christ presented many important truths to His followers in the form of paradoxes. "He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake will find it" (Matt. 10:39); "If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all" (Mark 9:35) are two examples. In both, Christ juxtaposes opposite terms in a relationship that at first glance may seem absurd. But further thought reveals an important principle that becomes more intelligible and valid when it is practiced as well as pondered.
   Such is the case with the first beatitude given in the so-called sermon on the mount. "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 5:3).
   Christ cannot mean that we should be impoverished of the Holy Spirit. A Christian is by definition someone who has the Holy Spirit: "Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him" (Rom. 8:9). We are exhorted to " be filled with the Spirit" (Eph. 5:18) not destitute of it.
Similar to Meek? Several translations render "poor in spirit" as "humble" or "humble-minded." This creates the impression that "poor in spirit" in verse 3 and "meek" in verse 5 are closely related, if not synonymous. The two terms do share a common connotation of humility. But if Christ was trying to convey only one concept, then verse 5 is somewhat redundant. As it is, the New Testament Greek uses two different words in verses 3 and 5, for Christ was emphasizing two distinct but very complementary attitudes of mind.
   The Greek word for "meek" in verse 5 is praus. It means "gentle," "pleasant," "unassuming." It connotes a person who calmly accepts the vicissitudes and injustices of life, who perhaps is oppressed and bowed down (see the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol. VI, pp. 645-649).
   The Greek word for "poor" in verse 3 is ptochos. In earlier Greek usage the word meant "beggar." In New Testament times the word had expanded to mean any poor person. Yet it is often used in reference to literal beggars, such as Lazarus in Luke 16. If we take the word in Matthew 5:3 in this sense, it suggests a number of significant concepts. The following exposition follows from this interpretation even though it is not the only possible connotation in the context.
   In our Western culture, where we continually wage wars on poverty and promote various kinds of welfare, the word "beggar" sometimes conjures up the image of the social misfit or work-shy. But this is not what Christ intended to convey to His hearers. No, He was speaking in a culture where the disparity between rich and poor was very great, where beggars were numerous and in genuine need. He used the word ptochos metaphorically to mean "happy are those who in spiritual matters are obviously and consciously in need, who realize their utter dependence on God's grace and beneficence. "Thus, The New English Bible renders verse 3: "How blest are those who know their need of God...."
Nothing Apart From Christ. To be a beggar in spirit is to be keenly aware of your dependency upon God, to realize that your relationship with God is not a convenience or a luxury but a life-or-death necessity. It is to realize that you don't have within your own resources the power to do God's will, but must be dependent upon God supplying His Spirit. "As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me," said Christ. "I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing" (John 15:4-5).
   The opposite of a beggar is, of course, a rich man. Some expositors see in the first beatitude an implicit warning to those who enjoy an adequate or abundant supply of worldly success and possessions. The Bible has much to say in other places about the pitfalls of coveting or possessing great physical wealth. Not that riches, per se, are evil. But they can create a false sense of security and self-sufficiency. They can lead to pride and pretensions of superiority. Riches can distract people from realizing how utterly dependent they are on God. It can destroy the beggar-inspirit attitude that Christ proclaimed to be beneficial.
   "In God We Trust" is the motto found on American money. But too often people trust more in what money can do than in what God can do. They desire financial gain over godliness. That is why the apostle Paul wrote: "There is great gain in godliness with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world; but if we have food and clothing [i.e., the basic essentials to sustain life], with these we shall be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and hurtful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the [a] root of all evils; it is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced their hearts with many pangs" (I Tim. 6:6-10).
Proud in Spirit. But there is another warning implicit in the first beatitude. It is directed to those who desire godliness, but have missed the mark in terms of the approach to religion that God approves. Such people think they are endowed with "spiritual riches," but are not. They find security and pride in their own religious knowledge and religious deeds, and have lost sight of their need and dependency upon God. In a purely spiritual sense, the opposite of the "beggar in spirit" is the "proud in spirit" the self-righteous.
   The parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector in Luke 18:9-14 contrasts the "beggar-in-spirit" and "proud-in-spirit" attitudes.
   "He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others: 'Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, "God, I thank thee that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get." But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, "God, be merciful to me a sinner!" I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.'"
   What the Pharisee said about himself was strictly true. But God looks at the inner heart not just the external deed. And what he saw in the Pharisee was anything but humility and a desperate feeling of dependence upon God. The man obviously had great faith in his own righteousness, as if he could "earn" salvation by merit.
   He believed he had fulfilled the law by going through the motions of observing specific parts of it. But in actuality he missed completely the whole point of God's law, falling woefully short of what God really wants: "... And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness [margin: steadfast love], and to walk humbly with your God?" (Micah 6:8.)
   The publican, on the other hand, knew exactly where he stood with God; he realized his desperate plight and threw himself upon God's mercy. His prayer got results. He went home justified that is, forgiven of his sins and reckoned righteous. He was found acceptable by God but the Pharisee, for all his great religious deeds, was not!
Christ Our Only Gain. The moral of the parable is not that we must always be wretched sinners in desperate need of forgiveness. "Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means!" exclaimed the apostle Paul (Rom. 6:1-2). He then proceeded to describe the new life in the Holy Spirit we are to live. A key factor in that life is a deep, abiding respect for God's righteousness arid an absence of self-righteousness. It operates under the premise of total dependency upon God with no delusions of spiritual self-sufficiency.
   Paul continually gave credit to God for everything. He prized only his relationship with Christ wherein Christ accomplished whatever good he, Paul, did. "If any other man thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more," he stated in Philippians 3:4. He then proceeded to enumerate his credentials for boasting, which included "as to the law a Pharisee" (verse 5). But he went on to say: "But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, in order that I may gain Christ" (verses 7-8).
   A beggar in spirit is always conscious that he has no spiritual resources or wealth he can call his own. He is totally dependent on God. This continuing sense of spiritual poverty is the basis of his salvation, the factor Christ claims is crucial to obtaining the blessing of the Kingdom of God.

   Prefacing Jesus' "sermon on the mount" (Matt. 5-7), the beatitudes are among the heart, root and core of the teachings of Christianity. The Worldwide Church of God publishes a full-color booklet expounding and explaining each one. Read our free publication entitled What Is a Real Christian?

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Good News MagazineJuly 1976Vol XXV, No. 7