“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Matthew begins the account of Jesus Christ’s Sermon on the Mount with a list of blessings that have come to be known as the Beatitudes (from the Latin beatus, meaning “blessed”). Several of the Beatitudes contrast a condition that would not seem to be a blessing with the ultimate reward the faithful Christian will receive.
Poor in spirit refers to a humble attitude of someone who recognizes his or her spiritual poverty and need to rely on God.
Luke includes a similar quote that seems to stress physical poverty: “Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God” (Luke 6:20). Jesus could have been referring to being poor in spirit here, too, but the passage also shows that God’s people have often been persecuted and oppressed throughout history. Physical poverty can remind a Christian of the need to humbly trust in God now for physical needs and to realize that the real payoff will be in God’s Kingdom.
“Poverty itself is not the chief thing; it can be turned to advantage only if it fosters humility before God. In other words, to be poor in spirit is not to lack courage but to acknowledge one’s spiritual bankruptcy and one’s need to depend on God alone” (Zondervan NIV Bible Commentary, Vol. 2, 1994, note on Matthew 5:3).