Men who do not understand their emptiness apart from God will not seek to be filled by God. As Thomas Watson put it, a hand clutching pebbles cannot be filled with gold. By contrast, however, those who have been made aware of their spiritual poverty—by grace—will turn to the God behind that grace to receive a kingdom through additional grace.
Consequently, humility of mind and of spirit lies right at the beginning of the Christian life. The Beatitudes are at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, and right at the beginning of the Beatitudes is our Lord’s great blessing of humility. Christ teaches us there that “ ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven’ ” (Matt. 5:3). The word translated “poor” is ptochos, and it comes from a verb that means “to crouch”—the posture of beggars. “Blessed are the spiritually destitute, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Or, from another angle, “Blessed are those who have nothing, for they have everything.”
And so we know, on the Lord’s good word, that the poor in spirit receive a tremendous blessing. But we still must be careful. If poverty of spirit is key, then one of the first things that pride will want to do is distort the definition of what it means to be humble. Counterfeits abound, so we have to ask the question: What does true poverty of spirit look like?
First of all, those who are truly poor in spirit have a good understanding of the greatness and sovereignty of God. As they see Him as He is, they are greatly humbled. “For thus says the High and Lofty One who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: ‘I dwell in the high and holy place, with him who has a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones’ ” (Isa. 57:15). Thus, poverty of spirit is, in the first place, humility before God. The God who dwells on high is the one who dwells with the man who is low.
When we entertain low views of God, we find that they always accompany high views of man. But the Bible teaches that God is gracious, and when He is high and man is low, He bridges that gap in His infinite grace.