Spiritually empty is what it means to be “poor in spirit.” We often get tripped up on the word “poor” because we so quickly associate it with material lack. But in Scripture, including in the Old Testament, poor does not necessarily mean physical poverty. It is often a technical term for those who realize that, at bottom, they need God for everything physical and spiritual. This is what Isaiah meant when he proclaimed, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor” (Isa. 61:1).
This background makes clear that it is the Messiah who will supply the needs of the “poor.” Simeon said of Jesus Christ in Luke 2:34, “This child is set for the fall and rising again of many.” What comes before rising again? A fall—death. What did Jesus say? “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24). Because of our natural spiritual poverty, there must be a death of self if we are ever going to be filled with Christ.
This beatitude is not promoting a false humility, the insincere humility of Dickens’ Uriah Heep, who frequently said how “’umble” a person he was. That is a humility that draws attention to itself and so is not humility at all. Nor does this beatitude require a suppression of our personalities. We do not have to go out of this world or change our names to become “poor in spirit.”
Being poor in spirit is about God giving us a proper attitude toward ourselves and toward Him. We need to see ourselves as carrying a debt of sin and, consequently, as bankrupt before God. Knowing this about ourselves, we cry for mercy to the only One who can wipe out our debt and be our supply in our bankruptcy—we cry out to God.
This stands in contrast to so much of what we see. The spirit of our age tells us to “express” ourselves and “believe” in ourselves. We are about self-reliance, self-sufficiency, self-confidence, and so on. The countercultural truths of the Beatitudes say, “Empty self so that God can come in.” When we are full of self, we miss the blessing of God’s presence. If we are always full of self, we are not even Christian.