Jesus began His teaching that we now refer to as the Sermon on the Mount by telling us of the rewards of certain godly virtues. He began each of these declarations, which we know as the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12), by telling us that those who possess each of these virtues are “blessed” or, as it reads in some translations, “happy.” The Greek word used in Scripture is makarios, which translates as blessed or happy. Jesus was declaring to those who possess each of these virtues that they will, in turn, possess blessedness or happiness.
The first declaration of blessedness that Jesus made addresses those who are poor in spirit (Matthew 5:3). At first glance, the term “poor in spirit” might seem like a negative virtue to possess, yet it is anything but. Matthew uses the Greek word ptōchos in referring to the “poor” in spirit. In the context in which Jesus used this term, it means a quality of genuine humility. A person who is poor in spirit is one who is humble. It is a person who knows that he is not spiritually self-sufficient, one who knows that he must depend on God and not himself. So, another way of expressing the declaration Jesus is making in Matthew 5:3 is to say that those who are humble are both happy and blessed and, because of their humility, they will inherit the kingdom of Heaven.
But, what does it mean to be humble? What does it mean to possess humility? A humble person is one who does not exalt himself above others, but makes himself lower. Humility is basically the absence of selfish ambition and pride. When we are humble, we are not self-serving. We do not do things out of our own selfish ambition or for our own vanity. Rather, we value others above ourselves (Philippians 2:3). A person who is humble lives in harmony with others and does not consider himself too good to associate with others (Romans 12:16). When we are humble, when we display genuine humility, we will be lifted up or exalted by God. But when we exalt ourselves above others, we will be opposed or humbled by God (James 4:10; Matthew 23:12).
To be truly humble, we cannot rely on our fallen nature. We don’t possess the ability to be humble on our own. Instead, we must rely on the power of the Holy Spirit working in us. The Holy Spirit dwells in those who have confessed Jesus as their Lord and Savior, and He will help us to develop humility. We must also follow the example of Jesus. We need to have His mindset. Jesus is the perfect example of humility. Although He entered this world in human form, He was also fully divine. But, He did not use His divine nature to His own advantage. Despite the fact that He was by nature God, He became a servant, humbling Himself by putting all of us first. He allowed Himself to be sacrificed for our salvation by submitting to dying for us. And He did not just die any death, but death on a cross, one of the most horrific and humiliating forms of death (Philippians 2:5-8).
We are called by our Creator to be humble, to be “poor in spirit.” He promises that, when we are, we will be blessed and the kingdom of Heaven will be ours.