The poor in spirit are blessed, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs.
Matthew 5:3, HCSB
Over the next several weeks, I want to take the beatitudes that Jesus gave to us as seen in Matthew 5 and apply them to marriage. I by no means want to indicate that these beatitudes were speaking of marriage. They were not. They were given as an indication of what the saved person looks like. Therefore the desire I have for these next few weeks is to then apply these characteristics of the saved to the relationship within the marriage.
Starting with the first beatitude we see that the one who is poor in spirit is the one who is blessed. To be blessed is to be happy. As D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones once said, “this is the sort of man who is to be congratulated, this is the sort of man to be envied, for he alone is truly happy,” (Studies in the Sermon on the Mount: Two Volumes in One; Eerdman’s Publishing, 1971. p. 32). Many marriages would not be described as happy and definitely not to be envied due to its happy couple. It would seem that happy marriages are the exception to the rule in modern ho-hum, argument-driven, irreconcilable differences married-life.
But that’s not the plan when people get married. They want to be happy. No one enters into a marriage saying, I hope to be miserable my entire life. They don’t enter in thinking: there’s always divorce court. People want to be happy in marriage, and they struggle to be happy in marriage, but they simply cannot figure out how to be happy in marriage.
Here is what I am not saying: I am not saying that people cannot be happy at all unless they have Jesus in their marriage. That would be like saying an atheist can’t be moral. There are plenty of happy-Jesusless marriages. But many of these marriages (not all, but many) are happy because they simply avoid the difficulties and problems, washing over them as though they don’t exist. But again as Lloyd-Jones would say: “Anything which, by evading the difficulties, merely makes people happy for the time being, is ultimately going to add to their misery and problems,” (ibid).
HOWEVER, for those who do have Jesus in their marriage but struggle to have a happy marriage or those who do not have Jesus and have unhappy marriages, these biblical principles will work for your marital bliss. This is not an add Jesus to your marriage like you’d add catsup to your fries. This is like taking your marriage and jumping into an ocean of Jesus. Engulfing your marriage into will make marriage a joyous, happy, blessed lifelong event.
With that in mind, we begin with the first Beatitude. Jesus stated that the poor in spirit will be happy. What does it mean to be poor in spirit? It means to be spiritually bankrupt. In reality, this describes every human being (except Jesus). Every person is spiritually bankrupt. As Paul wrote, quoting the Old Testament multiple times:
There is no one righteous,
not even one.
There is no one who understands;
there is no one who seeks God.
All have turned away;
all alike have become useless.
There is no one who does
what is good,
not even one.
(Romans 3:10-12, HCSB)
Or as he wrote to the Ephesians: “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins in which you previously walked according to the ways of this world,” (2:1-2a, HCSB).
To be poor in spirit, spiritually bankrupt, is to simply say that we are sinners to the core, and have no spiritual good on our own. Most of us believe that we have something to offer. It is only when we understand that we are penniless in the spiritual sense that life begins to change. Until then we keep trying and trying and banging our heads up against the wall.
This means in marriage there is no spiritual good in us. We need to understand and believe that in our core we are sinners and because we are sinners we will sin against our spouses. These may be sins of omission or sins of commission. We may neglect a duty to our spouses or we may commit a sin against our spouses. It is good to be convicted when we have sinned, but remember that we are not condemned for such a sin. Let us confess the sin both to spouse and God, received God’s grace (and hopefully the spouse’s as well), and move on. But beyond that, we also need to understand and believe that because our spouses are sinners, they will sin against us as well.
“Anything which, by evading the difficulties, merely makes people happy for the time being, is ultimately going to add to their misery and problems.”
Accepting this idea of being a sinner does not make sinning against each other right or okay. “We are all sinners” is not an excuse for committing those sins. Nor does it soften the blow or the punch to the gut. If a spouse commits adultery, understanding they are a sinner does not make adultery a moot issue. What it does is prepare the heart and mind to forgive and heal.
However, being truly poor in spirit brings a humility to the table. Not a false humility. A false humility is, by its very definition, prideful. As Piper wrote, “The nature and dept of human pride are illuminated by comparing boasting with self-pity. Both are manifestations of pride. Boasting is the response of pride to success. Self-pity is the response of pride to suffering. . . .Boasting is the voice of pride in the heart of the strong. Self-pity is the voice of pride in the heart of the weak. Boasting sounds self-sufficient. Self-pity sounds self-sacrificing,” (John Piper, Desiring God; Multnomah, 2003, p. 302.). That self-pity that tries to sound like humility is really pride in a mask. A person who goes around constantly saying, “I’m worthless, I’m useless, there is no good in me,” very well may mean those words, but too often at the heart of it is pride. We tend to take our faults and hold them out there for the world to see as if it is a time for show and tell. True humility acknowledges and believes in their own spiritual bankruptcy, but then seeks to gain spiritual riches. Hence Paul wrote, “God wanted to make known among the Gentiles the glorious wealth of the mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory…All the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Him,” (Colossians 1:27, 3:3, HCSB). Thus to recognize one’s spiritual bankruptcy is to recognize the need for Jesus. To receive Jesus is to receive the hope of glory, and all the treasure of wisdom and knowledge hidden in Him. To be poor in spirit is to have Jesus and to have Jesus is to have all that comes with Him: treasure of wisdom and knowledge as well as the kingdom of Heaven.
Going back to the spouse who has committed adultery. The pain is real and right. Understanding that you and he/she are both sinners does not take that away. However, the one who has received Christ in humility due to spiritual bankruptcy, has Christ within and knowledge and wisdom is made available that those without Christ do not have. Christ is sufficient in such times that we are sinned against. Christ can bring about an appropriate rather than sinful response if, that is, the idea of spiritual bankruptcy is still acknowledged and believed throughout our life, rather than just at conversion.
To be poor in spirit is to have Jesus and to have Jesus is to have all that comes with Him: treasure of wisdom and knowledge as well as the kingdom of Heaven.
Want a happy marriage? Take a look at yourself first. So often we blame the spouse for our troubles, when we are the ones that deserve the blame. Is there a pride in you, whether boasting or self-pitying? Do you desire for people to see your successes or your sacrifices? Are you wondering, what’s in it for me? Then it very well may be that there is no poverty of spirit in you. Pride leads every other sin. God opposes the proud. He will not give the happiness that is congratulated and envied by others to those whose lives are believed to be rich in spirit. So to start happiness in the marriage, start by becoming humble, knowing you will sin against your spouse, but Jesus brings wisdom, knowledge, and heaven with Him to grow you into the person you were made to be.