Philosophy and theology have both catalogued the “seven deadly sins” as: pride, anger, envy, sloth, avarice, gluttony, and lust. In these is the found the root cause of all the tears, sorrows, and heartache of human misery. Sin in its varied forms is responsible directly or indirectly, for all the pain of human history from the Garden to the present moment.
It was a momentous day when the Lord sat upon the mount and unveiled the virtues which mark those who belong to the Kingdom. Philosophers had debated and struggled with the problem of overcoming the vices innate to the human condition. In His teaching, the Lord Jesus introduced virtues which would characterize the Sons of the Kingdom.
The very first condition which the Lord marked as “blessed” is “poverty of spirit” (Matt 5:3). In contrast to pride and arrogance, poverty of spirit marks those who are part of the Kingdom of God. Pride is not only the first of the deadly sins, but in many ways the enabler of all others. It was Benjamin Franklin who wrote, “In reality, there is, perhaps, no one of our natural passions so hard to subdue as pride.” It was obvious that he did not struggle much to subdue it.
What does it mean to be “poor in spirit?” Is it a self occupation with my own failures or sins? It is asceticism and lack of self respect? Neither approach, even remotely, this biblical concept.
Poverty of spirit is, first of all, a reality check. It is an awareness that we are only mere men moving in the presence of the God who is eternal and infinite. It is the breathing of an Abraham who realized he was but “dust and ashes” (Gen 18:27). It is an awareness that all resources for spiritual life are outside of me. There is nothing native to man which enables him to live, serve, worship, or honor God. All the enablement comes from God. It is that consciousness that I am nothing and that God is everything. Someone has said, “God creates everything out of nothing – and everything which God is to use He first reduces to nothing.”
But I do not dwell on my nothingness. Poverty of spirit occupies me with God and places me in a place of dependence for all that I need. Rather than despondency over my own lack of resources, I exult in the grace which has taken me up and given me the opportunity to serve and please God.
There are dangers and errors in the minds of some as to the development of virtues. They are not the outcome of eliminating vices. Virtue, Christ-like character, is not the result of “sin management” or of “thought police” who monitor every thought and motive. It is the result of occupation with Christ and allowing His life to be reproduced in us. “God resisteth the proud but giveth grace to the humble” (James 4:6).