Lesson 2 April 5 - April 11
The Poor in Spirit
READ FOR THIS WEEK'S STUDY: Matt. 5:3-11; Luke 4:18,19; Luke 6:20; Luke 14:21; 2 Cor. 8:9; James 2:5.
MEMORY TEXT: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." (Matt. 5:3, NKJV).
KEY THOUGHT: In the Beatitudes, Jesus sought to outline the prescription for true, happiness. This week, we discover who the "poor in spirit" are and exwnine the blessings Christ pronounced upon them.
THE BEATITUDES. In the next 11 lessons we will study in detail each trait of Christian character that Jesus enumerated in the Beatitudes. First let us consider some pertinent comments on this subject.
"A study of Christ's wonderful sermon on the mount will teach the believer what must be the characteristics of those whom the Lord calls 'Blessed.' "--Ellen G. White Comments, SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 5, p. 1083.
"The beatitudes were His [Christ's] greeting to the whole human family. Looking upon the vast throng gathered to listen to the Sermon on the Mount, He seemed for the moment to have forgotten that He was not in heaven, and He used the familiar salutation of the world of light. From His lips flowed blessings as the gushing forth of a long-sealed fountain."--Education, p. 79.
The Sermon on the Mount penetrates the facade of our moral bankruptcy of merely keeping the letter of the law but ignoring to live its spirit. It cuts us to the heart with the conviction that we desperately need the Spirit and righteousness of Christ, no matter how moral we or others think we are.
"In the opening words of the Sermon on the Mount, Christ addresses Himself to the supreme desire of every human heart-- happiness. This desire was implanted in man by the Creator Himself, and was originally ordained to lead him to find true happiness through cooperation with the God who created him. Sin is involved when men attempt to achieve happiness as an end in itself, by a short cut that by- passes obedience to the divine requirements.
"Thus at the commencement of His inaugural address as King of the kingdom of divine grace Christ proclaims that the main objective of the kingdom is to restore the lost happiness of Eden to the hearts of men, and that those who choose to enter in by the 'strait' gate and the narrow' way (Matt. 7:13,14) will find true happiness. They will find inward peace and joy, true and lasting satisfaction for heart and soul that come only when 'the peace of God, which passeth all understanding,' is present to keep their 'hearts and minds through Christ Jesus' (Phil. 4:7)."--SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 5, p. 324.
According to Matthew, how many beatitudes did Jesus pronounce? Matt. 5:3-12. Compare with Luke 6:20-26 and see what insights you may discover in the woes pronounced.
"The word makarios ["happy, blessed"] appears nine times in verses 3-11. But verses 10, 11 refer to the same aspect of Christian experience, and are therefore to be considered one beatitude, thus leaving eight rather than nine beatitudes. Luke gives only four beatitudes, the first, fourth, second, and eighth of Matthew, in that order (Luke 6:20-23), but he adds four corresponding woes (vs. 24-26)." --SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 5, p. 324.
Should we attribute a symbolic meaning to the Beatitudes given in the book of Matthew? In what beatitude do you sense a particular need for in your spiritual life?
It has been said that the Beatitudes are to the spiritual life what the octave is to music. We should not imagine that the Beatitudes place candidates for the kingdom of God in eight distinct categories, nor that there are eight different roads leading to that end. The Beatitudes, like the fruit of the Spirit, are all part of the whole; they go together. All the graces will be possessed by the candidate for the kingdom of God.
Jesus specifically points out that the poverty He is referring to is a poverty of spirit rather than merely a poverty in earthly possessions. This spirit--consciousness of spiritual deficiency--alludes to a certain honesty and humility in assessing one's spiritual possessions. Without it the materially poor can themselves be attached to riches, desiring passionately to possess them. Then the poor like the rich, enslaved to a desire for earthly possessions, are not "poor in spirit."
"Happy are they, He said, who recognize their spiritual poverty, and feel their need of redemption. The gospel is to be preached to the poor. Not to the spiritually proud, those who claim to be rich and in need of nothing, is it revealed, but to those who are humble and contrite. One fountain only has been opened for sin, a fountain for the poor in spirit."--The Desire of Ages, pp. 299, 300.
Why does God choose the poor rather than the rich to inherit the kingdom? James 2:5. What is the relationship between the materially poor and the poor in spirit?
In reality God is not partial to special groups. He does not exclude anyone. If the Messianic promises are addressed especially to the disinherited, to the poor of the world, it is because by circumstance they are more inclined to turn to God and to look to Him for all things. It is their inner inclinations that render the poor more open to the gospel, not poverty itself. On the other hand, history bears witness that the poor of every age and place are the first to respond to God's call. (See 1 Cor. 1:26-29.) Jesus pointed out this fact in the parable of the marriage supper.
What characteristic of the rich forms an obstacle to inheriting the kingdom of God?
The obstacle is not money itself; rather it is a selfish attachment to money, the greedy quest for it, limitless confidence in it. After declaring, "How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God!" Jesus clarified His statement by adding, "How hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God!" (Mark 10:23, 24).
Considering your level of spiritual growth, what would help you sense your own poverty of spirit and lead you to seek His spirit? Riches, poverty or somewhere between? Why?
The poor occupied an important place in our Lord's teaching and ministry. This says a great deal about the abundance of grace and compassion in His heart for the neglected in society. And happily the early church knew how to follow His example in ministering to the poor and suffering. "Christ came to preach the gospel to the poor. He reached the people where they were. He brought plain, simple truth to their comprehension."--Ellen G. White Comments, SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 5, pp. 11 19, 1120.
"Christ came to this earth to walk and work among the poor and suffering. They received the greatest share of His attention. And today, in the person of His children, He visits the poor and needy, relieving woe and alleviating suffering."--Testimonies, vol. 7, p. 226.
What proof of His Messiahship did Jesus send to John the Baptist? Matt. 11:2-5. What does this tell you about the kind of person Christ is?
Miracles and the preaching of the good news to the poor were the signs that Jesus gave to John's envoys, who had been sent to ascertain whether Jesus was indeed the Messiah announced by the prophets and expected by Israel.
The poor spoken of in the Bible were not necessarily destitute. The word was especially used to designate the peasantry who were ravaged as much by the ruling Jews as by the occupying power, particularly after the exile.
The poor in Israel are mentioned in some of the psalms. (See Ps. 40:17; 69:33; 109:31.) The prophets were their defenders; it was to them that they announced the Messianic kingdom. They are the ones of whom it was said that they awaited "the consolation of Israel" and "redemption in Jerusalem" (Luke 2:25, 38). Although they were mistaken about the nature of His kingdom, God announced the Messiah's advent to them first: the shepherds, Simeon, Anna. Joseph and Mary were of their number--of them who were able to offer only the sacrifices of the poor in the temple. (See Luke 2:21-24.) It was also to the poor in Israel that Jesus first preached the good news of salvation.
Following the example set by the early church how are we, as individuals and as a group, prepared to provide for the material and spiritual needs of those less fortunate than we? (See Acts 2:44, 45; 11:28-30.) If an opportunity presents itself to befriend or witness to a poor or an affluent person, whom would you prefer to relate to, and why?
The Jews commonly supposed that persons suffering either financially or physically were in ill favor with God, and thus these classes were often despised and neglected by their fellow men.... God, presumably, had cast them off, and society therefore considered them outcasts also. In this parable Jesus denies that such persons are despised by God, and declares that they should not be despised by their fellowman, even when their sufferings may be due to their own misdeeds or unwise course of action. The poverty stricken and physically defective here seem to represent primarily those who are morally and spiritually bankrupt. They have no good works of their own to offer God in exchange for the blessings of salvation"--SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 5, p. 809.
What example did Jesus give us that illustrates perfectly those who are the 'poor in spirit"? See Luke 18:9-14. How is such true poverty of spirit shown in the parable?
The religious leaders in Christ's day felt quite rich in their own righteousness and religious heritage. They were so blind to their own spiritual bankruptcy and did not feel any need for the spiritual treasure Christ longed to give them. They were so full of themselves that the grace of Christ could not penetrate their prideful hearts. On the other hand, the poor and despised felt their great spiritual lack, and thus were open to God's grace. Christ's words were a balm to their hurting souls, awakening in them the hope of their spiritual potential in joining themselves to Him.
In a spiritual sense who are "the poor and the maimed and the lame and the blind," and "the tax collectors" that you see in your world? How do you bring them to the healing presence of Christ and the circle of your fellowship?
"The lips may express a poverty of soul that the heart does not acknowledge. While speaking to God of poverty of spirit, the heart may be swelling with the conceit of its own superior humility and exalted righteousness."--Christ's Object Lessons, p. 159.
Are you able to know your heart, to discern depths of its motives? How is that possible? Can you think of a time when you felt proud of some aspect of your spiritual growth?
No matter how rich people may feel in all aspects of life, without Christ they are hopelessly poor. In their insecurity, individuals grasp tenaciously to whatever riches or positions they think they have, making sure others do not gain advantage on them. Yet, with time, the richest and the most prestigious people of the world leave with nothing, even as they come to this world with nothing. However, Christ the source of all riches of the entire universe voluntarily became poor so that you and I may become rich in Him. What a great exchange! His riches for our poverty.
Have you experienced this great exchange from poverty to riches in Christ? What impact does this experience of being rich in Christ have on you and others around you?
"After Christ had condescended to leave His high command, step down from an infinite height and assume humanity, He could have taken upon Him any condition of humanity He might choose. But greatness and rank were nothing to Him, and He selected the lowest and most humble walk of life. The place of His birth was Bethlehem, and on one side His parentage was poor, but God, the owner of the world, was His Father....
"Had He possessed the semblance of outward show, of riches, of grandeur, the poorest class of humanity would have shunned His society; therefore He chose the lowly condition of the far greater number of the people."--Ellen G. White Comments, SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 7, pp. 903, 904.
Where do we find the perfect example of humility? Phil. 2:5-8. What does it mean to have the mind of Christ?
A story is told of a meeting arranged to bestow honor on the humblest man in a particular town. He was given a ribbon in recognition of his humility. Later on he was noticed wearing the ribbon in public, so the townspeople decided to take it back from him.
Unless we let the mind of Christ be in us, even our genuine humility can turn into subtle expressions of pride and boastfulness.
How do you recognize your friends' and colleagues' spiritual accomplishments? What are some spirutal consequences of flattery or simple affirmation in the Lord? How do you remain humble?
FURTHER STUDY: SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 5, pp. 154, 323, 324, 1084, 1085; Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing, "The Beatitudes" (Matt. 5:2, 3), pp. 6-9; Testimonies, vol. 7, pp. 226-228; Christ's Object Lessons, "Two Worshipers," pp. 150-163; The Great Controversy, p. 477; Testimonies, vol. 3, pp. 211, 252-256.
"This kingdom is not, as Christ's hearers had hoped, a temporal and earthly dominion. Christ was opening to men the spiritual kingdom of His love, His grace, His righteousness. The ensign of the Messiah's reign is distinguished by the likeness of the Son of man. His subjects are the poor in spirit, the meek, the persecuted for righteousness' sake. The kingdom of heaven is theirs. Though not yet fully accomplished, the work is begun in them which will make them 'meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light.' Colossians 1:12."--Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing, p. 8.
1. Is there a relationship between financial status and spiritual condition? Give examples and biblical evidence to support your response.
2. What has been your experience in sharing the gospel with others? Who has responded most favorably, the rich or the poor?
3. What did Jesus really mean by the term poor in spirit? Why did He say the kingdom of heaven belongs to the poor in spirit?
SUMMARY: A gift is most highly appreciated when it meets a felt need. So it is with God's blessings. Those who recognize their need are the most grateful for and willing to respond to God's offer of grace.
Pastor Charles listened intently to the handful of believers from he village of Ifangi in Benin, West Aftica. He was scheduled to begin evangelistic meetings there the next day. Everything was ready, but the believers wanted to postpone the meetings.
"It is the time of the annual feast to Olo, a powerful voodoo god," one man reported. "Olo requires a human sacrifice, but his fo1lowers have not yet found a victim to sacrifice. Until the feast is over, the villagers are afraid to go out after dark. If we start the neetings now, no one will come. It is even unsafe for you, pastor, and the church members to be out at night. We think it is best to vait until the feast is over to begin the meetings." Pastor Charles agreed to the plan. His heart ached for these people bound by fear and superstition.
The next week the followers of Olo had sacrificed three men to their fetish god and thus completed their ceremonies. It was safe to begin the evangelistic meetings.
Pastor Charles held the meetings in an open area in the center of he village. A small generator provided power for lights and a loudspeaker. Night by night people came to the meetings, but they did not sit in the chairs provided. Instead they stood just outside he circle of light so they would not be seen. During question-and-answer time, however, the people's curiosity drew them out of the shadows. Soon the seating area was filled, and many more stood around the sides. Pastor Charles presented a stirring message from he Bible as myriads of huge insects swarmed about the lights sverbead and fell on him.
At the end of the series, two young men were baptized. The sower of the enemy is strong in Benin, where voodoo worship continues to strike fear in the hearts of its followers. How desperately they need to know that the God who created them does not require a human sacrifice. Instead He provided his own Son to die so that they may enjoy a life free from fear and superstition now, and an eternity with God in heaven. Pray that hearts will be open to this message in Benin.
Inge Gray and her husband, Gordon, led the work in Benin for several years before being called to the Africa-Indian Ocean Division in Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire.
Join the SSNET moderated email discussion group. You are also warmly invited to join a group discussion of this lesson Sabbath morning with your local Seventh-Day Adventist congregation.
Editorial Office: 12501 Old Columbia Pike, Silver
Spring, MD 20904.
Principal Contributor: Jean Zurcher
Editor: Philip G. Samaan
Associate Editor: Lyndelle Brower Chiomenti
Editorial Assistant: Soraya Homayouni Parish
Art and Design: Lars Justinen
Pacific Press Coordinator: Glen Robinson
Copyright © 1998 General Conference of Seventh-day Adventist. All Rights Reserved.
This page is Netscape friendly.
SSNET Web Site Home page.
Directory of adult SS quarterly Bible Study guides.
Prepared for the Internet by the SSNET
Last updated April 3, 1998.