Poor in Spirit
I want you to imagine the scene: a man is standing right in the middle of the Golden Corral, with Ranch Dressing dripping from his hair, his glasses, down his face, all over his jacket, pants, and shoes. About a gallon of it! The reason he is covered in salad dressing stems from the fact that he was standing in front of the swinging doors when the waitress working the salad bar came out of the kitchen. When she saw the man she paused just long enough for the swinging doors of the kitchen to swing back and hit her, which knocked her forward and launched Ranch Dressing all over this guy. Now before I tell you what happened next, what would you have done? Would you have cried, laughed, gone in a rage?
I am pretty sure that more than one of us here today would have done exactly what this man did, He went ballistic! He started shouting at her. “You’re so stupid! I can’t believe you could do such a stupid, stupid thing. This is a brand new suit and it cost me $300. This is the first time I’ve had a chance to wear it.”
It wasn’t long until the manager who had heard the commotion comes out the same swinging doors, looks at the man with the dressing all over him and asks, “Is there a problem?”
The guy replies, “Is there a problem? She’s ruined my $300 suit. It’s brand new, and I want a new suit!” The manager says, “We’ll be glad to get your suit cleaned. Accidents do happen, and we’re really sorry about this.”
“No! No!” he said. “I don’t want my suit cleaned. I want a brand new suit, and I demand a check for $300 right here and now.” The manger tried to explain that he can get the suit cleaned but he doesn’t have a check book to write a check. All of that comes from the owner. The man demands that the owner comes down right now, he wants a check, He wants justice to be served. But with the dressing on the side. (Okay that last part’s not true).
Oh, let me share one more part of the story with you. This all happened at 12:30 on a Sunday afternoon. Now, why do you think that would someone be wearing a brand new suit on Sunday? Do you suppose he had been to church? Do you suppose that he had just heard a sermon on Love your neighbor as yourself, or Do unto others as you would have them do unto you? Do you suppose the sermon didn’t leave an impression on him?
Nearly 2,000 years ago, Jesus stood on a mountainside near the Sea of Galilee. As He looks at His disciples and those in the crowd who have gathered close to try to hear what this new rabbi has to say, Jesus starts with some of the most challenging X rated statements we will ever hear. The first words out of His mouth are Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Often times we can lose a bit in translation, so before we get very deep into the text we need to look at exactly what Jesus was saying in our first beatitude. While we don’t necessarily use the word blessed much today, we do have a word that carries the same meaning, happiness. So in this and in all of the beatitudes we could replace the word blessed with the word happy.
That one was easy; the next translation might a bit more difficult. What exactly is Jesus saying when He says the happy people are poor in spirit; exactly what does that mean? John Redhead makes a suggestion that has been very helpful for me. He says, we can get a little closer to the Lord’s meaning if we substitute the word ego for spirit.
Arthur Pink says: To be poor in spirit is to realize that I have nothing, am nothing, can do nothing, and have need of all things. Being poor in spirit is simply being the opposite of everything that is summed up in the word proud. To be poor in spirit is to see ourselves as we really are, lost sinners. It is to be aware of how desperately we need the grace of God. One of the bibles in my office translates the verse: Blessed are those who feel their spiritual need.
This is the perfect place to begin our journey to happiness; if we are proud then we will not realize how desperately we need God’s help. We fool ourselves into thinking that we can be good enough to earn His blessings. We convince ourselves that if we attend worship 30-40 times a year, bring our kids to Sunday school, and give 10% of our income to the church that we can somehow merit the favor of God and successfully earn our salvation.
But Jesus stands in the face of that and says, No! Blessed are those who know that there’s nothing they can do to earn their salvation! Blessed are those who humbly realize that they are spiritually bankrupt without Christ. Blessed are those who understand that apart from Him, they can do nothing. Proverbs 16:18 says Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall. God is saying pride is the precursor to all sin.
When Satan tempted Adam and Eve in the garden his first appeal was to their pride: You will be like God. 4,000 years later we find Jesus on the side of a mountain dealing with the very same issue, and 2,000 years later the struggle is still in the heart of every man and woman. The proud cannot inherit the Kingdom of heaven because they refuse to give themselves completely to God. All sin is birthed in pride and there are a few reasons this is true:
First Pride is a sin of self reliance
There is some value to being self reliant, I realize this every day that I try to teach the boys how to do things by themselves. But we are not talking about making your own lunch, we are talking about this very American idea that everything depends on me. G. Gordon Liddy, who was involved in the Watergate scandal said when he was released from prison: I have found within myself all I need and all I ever shall need. I am a man of great faith, but my faith is in George Gordon Liddy. I have never failed me.
As brash as that sounds G. Gordon wasn’t the first one to ever express that type of thinking. The prophet Isaiah said: When the Lord has finished all his work on Mount Zion and on Jerusalem, he will punish the speech of the arrogant heart of the king of Assyria and the boastful look in his eyes. For he says: “By the strength of my hand I have done it, and by my wisdom, for I have understanding; I remove the boundaries of peoples, and plunder their treasures; like a bull I bring down those who sit on thrones. Isaiah 10:12-13
The most significant word in this passage is the word I. The king of Assyria says I four times in one sentences. I have done, I have understanding, I have removed, I bring down. Does that sound a little to familiar? Isaiah starts this passage by saying because of what the King had said The Lord was going to punish the King. The sin of pride takes the focus off of the creator and places it on the creation, and that leads to self-deception.
Sometime this week I want you to listen to talk radio and listen to how we talk about ourselves. Sports radio is filled with I did this, or I did that. The political landscape is filling up with politicians who are quick to tell us how much better off we will be if we elect them, because I have the best fiscal plan, I have the best way to deal with foreign countries, I am the smartest man or woman in the world. It is in our very DNA to talk about how great I am, and that self talk leads to self reliance.
Secondly Pride is a sin against others
Maybe you were required at sometime in your life to read Dante's Inferno. I only know people who read it because it was required. Anyway in the story Dante encounters the proud in hell, and he describes them as carrying the crushing weight of a huge stone which bends them over so that they cannot lift their eyes from the ground. According to Dante, those who looked down on everyone else in their lives are condemned for all eternity to never be able to look up.
I believe the point Dante makes is that when we are proud we are consumed in self-preoccupation. When the Bible describes the proud it always paints a picture of people who are never generous and rarely concerned with the needs of others. The epitome of this behavior is seen in Jesus' story of the rich man and Lazarus found in Luke 16.
The rich man lives his life surrounded by wealth and comfort and sense of his own importance. Meanwhile, Lazarus spends his life begging at the gate and even the dogs felt pity on him as they came and licked his sores. The dogs had more compassion on this poor beggar man, than the rich man who was only concerned with Himself. As a result we see that the rich man ends up in torment, and even in his torment he is only concerned with himself. He calls out for Abraham to send Lazarus, whom he never lifted a finger to help, to dip his finger in the water so his thirst could be quenched.
The second greatest commandment deals with our relationship with others. You might remember the parable of the sheep and goats in Matthew 25. Here Jesus says the goats will be ushered into everlasting torment because of how they treated others. Anyone who is prideful bears the guilt of sin against others and God.
Finally, we see that pride is a sin against Christ and His cross, expressed in self-righteousness.
Pride, or self-righteousness is the greatest danger for Christians. We are enticed to do good works, not so that God can receive the Glory that belongs to Him, but that we can receive His glory. Even the good things we do, are only for our benefit. We forget the testimony of the cross, that no one is worthy, we are all broken sinners, and we assume our goodness, our knowledge, our generosity, our whatever, somehow makes us more worthy of Christ's death than others.
Think about it this way; if you put a world class swimmer and a man who can't swim a lick in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, which one will survive? Neither. Both will drown. It's the same way with righteousness. If you have Mother Teresa’s spiritual resume, without Christ you are as lost as someone with Hugh Hefner's reputation or Hitler’s compassion.
I love stories about snarky preachers, you know the ones who say the things you really wish you could, but because you love Jesus you don’t. One of my favorites is about the a young woman who went to her minister to confess an ongoing struggle. She sat in his office and said, "Brother Jones, every time I go to church I can't help but to compare myself to all the other women there. I look around me and I see that I'm the prettiest woman in church. I have the best figure, the best face, the best hair and I just don't know what to do about this terrible sin.” The minister smiled and said, "Sister, you aren't sinning when you think those things. You're just mistaken."
Sometimes we need someone to sort of slap us back to reality. Pride was the source of that first sin back in the garden of Eden and the power behind all other sins. The kingdom of heaven doesn’t belong to the rich or the mighty or the popular. It belongs to those who are utterly dependent on the Lord. It belongs to those who have come to realize over time that they cannot live without the Lord. It belongs to the humble. Jesus wants His disciples to be poor in spirit because there are some things that can only happen when we get rid of our ego.
Very quickly as we close today I want to borrow a list from Rick Warren about the benefits of humility.
First he says that Humility reduces stress.
When I’m humble I don't have to have all the answers, I realize that the world does not depend on me, I don’t have to solve all the problems in the world, and I don’t have to pretend that I’m perfect. Humble people know that when God created us He called us good, not perfect. We know that perfection is not a requirement for happiness.
When I’m humble I can live with the tension between the real and the ideal. There’s always a tension in life between the ideal and the real. Humility accepts the fact that you can be happy because you’re depending upon God even though things aren’t ideal. You may not have the best job and your marriage may not be perfect. But you serve a God that is.
Secondly he says that Humility improves my relationships.
When you are humble you get along better with other people. Humility doesn’t mean you think less of yourself, it just means that you think more about others. When you become interested in others you become interesting to others. So you have better relationships when you're a humble person.
When I'm full of pride I bruise very easily. I'm very sensitive to other people's comments. When I'm pumped up, trying to impress people, and someone says something that really shouldn't bother me, it hurts. It's like sticking a pin in a balloon.
On the other hand, I've discovered, when I'm walking humbly before the Lord and just being who I am, being honest and depending upon God, I'm almost immune to insults. Almost nothing can hurt me. I'm walking before the Lord with the attitude they may be right, they may be wrong, but I will live my life trying to please the Lord. If you find someone who is very sensitive to criticism it's because they haven't learned this first principle of happiness: Be humble in spirit before the Lord.
Finally Being Poor in Spirit releases God's power.
James 4:6 says God gives strength to the humble, but He sets himself against the proud. Would you like to have God's strength in your life? The Bible says that the secret of spiritual power is to walk humbly before the Lord, to realize you have to depend on Him. Everything God has to offer is available to those who walk humbly before the Lord. God offers Himself to those who choose to live in dependence before the Lord.
The fact is everyone of us need Christ in our life. We need God's power to make it next week. His power is available. And God is waiting to pour out His power on you. But you've got to ask Him and admit that you need His help. If you walk out of here saying, I don't need God in my life this next week to make it, then good luck! You'll have to solve all of your problems on your own power, your own ability, your own strength and then wonder why you're tired all of the time.
When you walk before the Lord and say, I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me, apart from Him I can do nothing, when you have that attitude, then that power will give you supernatural power to solve those problems you cannot, change those areas of your life you can't get control of and, hold together those relationships that are falling apart. That's what it means to be poor in spirit, and unless we start here, then nothing else in this X rated sermon is a possibility.