Poor in Spirit: Monday Monologues, Podcast on February 17, 2020

Stephen W. Hiemstra 2020 (Ken Burtram Photography)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

This morning I will share a prayer and reflect on the Poor in Spirit.

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Hear the words; Walk the steps; Experience the joy!

Poor in Spirit: Monday Monologues, Podcast on February 17, 2020

Also see:

Monday Monologue On March 26, 2018 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net,

Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/Corner_2020

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Prayer for the Poor in Spirit

Life_in_Tension_revision_front_20200101By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Oh dear Lord,

I give thanks that you are ever near to me—not too proud to linger with your servant and call me friend.

Bless me with your spirit of humility and generosity—generous in time, generous in friendship, and generous in sharing yourself.

Keep me safe from bad company; keep me safe from pious arrogance; keep me safe from my own sinful heart.

Let me always be ever near to you, now and always, through the power of your Holy Spirit.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Prayer for the Poor in Spirit

Also see:

Believer’s Prayer

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/Corner_2020  

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Honored are the Poor in Spirit

Life_in_Tension_revision_front_20200101Honored are the poor in spirit, 

for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 

(Matt 5:3)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Jesus chose words carefully. If he spoke Hebrew (the language of the Old Testament) rather than Greek (the language of the first century church), then the First Beatitude could be stated in only seven (Matt 5:3 HNT) which aided memorization, a common first century practice because of the high cost of the written word. Because the disciples memorized his words, Jesus could speak playing word games with them, starting sentences and letting them finish them, much like a good preacher will pause to let his audience catch up (Crawford and Troeger 1995, 17).

Interpreting the Beatitudes

 Jesus also used this technique—common in repressive cultures—in disputing with the Pharisees, as in Matthew 21:16 where he cites the first half Psalm 8:2 and, by inference, slams them with the second half (Spangler and Tverberg 2009, 38). Jesus’ careful choice of words and use of word associations helps us interpret the Beatitudes. For example, the first word in the phrase in Matthew 5:3—“Honored are the poor in spirit”—brings to mind the first Psalm:

Honored is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. (Ps 1:1–2)

The phrase, poor in spirit, brings to mind Isaiah 61:

The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion—to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified.” (Isa 61:1–3)

The first text, Psalm 1, plainly references the Law of Moses and the second text, Isaiah 61, references a messianic prophecy that Jesus himself cites in his call sermon in Luke 4. Together, by using the word—μακάριος, Jesus associates with both the Law and the Prophets which for a first century Jewish audience added gravitas.


Today’s commentators normally highlight the expression, “poor in spirit” (οἱ πτωχοὶ τῷ πνεύματι), that is not used elsewhere in the Bible. Luke’s version of the Beatitude refers only to poor (πτωχοὶ), as in: “honored are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” (Luke 6:20) Poor here refers not just to low income, but to begging destitution—someone utterly dependent on God (Neyrey 1998, 170–171). Matthew, unlike Luke, was one of Jesus’ disciples, which makes it likely that his phrase, poor in spirit, is more accurate.


Taken as a whole, the First Beatitude appears hyperbolic for two reasons. The first reason is that Jesus uses a form borrowed from case law, if X, then Y. Using a legal form suggests something like the reading of a will. Second, Jesus associates things not normally associated. Unlike princes, poor do not normally inherit kingdoms; kings (those with kingdoms) are not normally humble. Thus, the First Beatitude suggests by its form and content that Jesus is using hyperbole to warm up his audience for what is obviously a serious  discussion (Isa 42:1–3).

Kingdom of Heaven

The seriousness arises because the phrase, “kingdom of heaven,” was previously associated with judgment, as in: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt 3:2, 4:17). Judgment may be implied in the converse of this Beatitude—do those who refuse to be poor in spirit (the proud) stand in opposition to the “kingdom of heaven”? Potentially, yes. Two candidates for judgment are almost immediately given:

Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments [in the Law and the Prophets] and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matt 5:19–20)

Those least in the kingdom of heaven are those who teach against the law and those not to be admitted are those less righteous than the scribes and the Pharisees, according to Jesus’ own words (Matt 5:20).

Jesus chose words carefully.


Crawford, Evans E. and Thomas H. Troeger. 1995. The Hum: Call and Response in African American Preaching. Nashville: Abingdon Press.

Neyrey, Jerome H. 1998. Honor and Shame in the Gospel of Matthew. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.

Spangler, Ann and Lois Tverberg. 2009. Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus: How the Jewishness of Jesus Can Transform Your Faith. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Honored are the Poor in Spirit

Also see:

Preface to a Life in Tension

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/Corner_2020  

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Guelich Carefully Exegetes the Sermon on the Mount, Part 2

Robert Guelich The Sermon on the Mount

Guelich Carefully Exegetes the Sermon on the Mount, Part 2

Robert A. Guelich. 1982. The Sermon on the Mount:  A Foundation for Understanding. Dallas: Word Publishing. (Go to part 1)

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

As a sermon, the Sermon on the Mount is relatively self-contained and not tightly related to the rest of Matthew’s Gospel. If this were not so, one would question the authorship of the sermon.  However, one would hope to see common elements in Jesus’ teaching on different occasions.  Guelich does not pursue this angle; instead, he develops theological themes.

Three Interpretative Lenses

Guelich views the Sermon on the Mount through 3 interpretative lenses: Christology, ecclesiology, and eschatology. Under Christology, the Sermon sets forth Jesus as Messiah who fulfills not just a single prophecy, but all of scripture. With ecclesiology, we see a messianic gathering of Apostles and other disciples who are both reconciled and saved through the Jesus Messiah and distinguished from unattached crowds and critics, such as the scribes and Pharisees. Under eschatology, Jesus announces blessings for the poor and destitute which both congratulate them for their faith but also promise a new identity and relationship with God as they lean into these blessings (27-30).  The tension between the kingdom’s appearance already and not yet informs and complicates each of these interpretative dimensions.

Still, the problem of a tightly woven treatise is that the balance of themes is internal to the argument and the same balance is hard to maintain in commentaries on it.  How do you follow particular threads?  How do you understand them relative to other threads?  Complexity breeds complexity. Each of Guelich’s chapters follows a stylized format:

  • Translation;
  • Literary Analysis;
  • Notes; and
  • Comments (7-9).

The comment section is usually broken up into 3 or more sub-sections unique to that chapter. Guelich sees the Beatitudes as providing structure to the sermon by anticipating later admonitions and warnings.  In the remainder of my comments, let me follow the first Beatitude (blessed are the poor in spirit) through this framework.


Consistent with Guelich’s translation (62), for example, the first Beatitude reads:  “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt 5:3 ESV)  He notes that the same basic beatitude is also found in Luke 6:20 (34) and appears in the second person, not the third person[1].

Literary Analysis

In his literary analysis, he observes that:  “The content [of a beatitude as a literary form] consists of the blessing and a description of the recipient, usually identified by an attitude or conduct befitting the blessing” (63).   He notes that a total of 44 beatitudes appear in the NT. For example, the Apostle Paul (63) writes:

“Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.” (Rom 4:7-8 ESV)

Paul’s beatitude is a direct quote from Psalm 32:1-2. The implication of Jesus’  use of the beatitude form is that he is building on the wisdom literature of the Old Testament in his sermon.


In trying to establish a translation for the Greek word, makario, Guelich sees Luke’s Beatitudes more as eschatological blessings while Matthew’s form more of an entrance requirement for the kingdom (65).  In other words, is one blessed now (congratulations) or blessed in the future (as in heaven)?

And who exactly are the poor in spirit?  In a Greek sense, the poor are socioeconomically poor (68). In a Hebrew sense, poor means desperate.  Guelich  writes:

“…the poor in Judaism referred to those in desperate need (socioeconomic element) whose helpless ness drove them to a dependent relationships with God (religious element) for the supplying of their needs and vindication.” (69)

Are they voluntarily poor, spirituality poor, or humble? (72).


Guelich sees poor in spirit having both Christological and ecclesiological components. The focus on the poor in spirit depicts Jesus Christologically as fulfilling God’s promise through Isaiah 61:1 (97).  In response to John the Baptist’s concern about his messianic ministry, for example, Jesus cites Isaiah 61:1 responding:

“And he answered them, Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them.” (Luke 7:22 ESV)

Poor in spirit also shows his disciples turning to God ecclesiologically being “stripped of all self-sufficiency, self-security, and self-righteousness” (98).


Guelich sees the Beatitudes functioning as a unit together in anticipating the admonitions that follow rather than a one-to-one correspondence (92).  Poor in spirit as humble surely anticipates:

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.” (Matt 6:1-2 ESV)

The term, poor in spirit, does not appear overtly in this context so the linkage is subtle.


Here again, we see in the warnings an echo of the first Beatitude, not an overt reference.  For example, Jesus says:

“Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” (Matt 7:3 ESV)

The problem here is the opposite of humility—pride.  Someone poor in spirit as humble probably would not be as quick to make this mistake.


Robert Guelich has written a careful and engaging commentary on the Sermon on the Mount that is unlikely to be superseded quickly.  It is perhaps surprising to note that this commentary predated (1982) personal computers that have made scriptural study much easier.  This observation only makes his accomplishment all the more amazing.

[1]“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” (Luke 6:20 ESV)


Also see:

Books, Films, and Ministry

Ortberg Sharpens and Freshens Jesus

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