Poor in Spirit

Crouching Beggar” by Pablo Picasso, 1902

The Greek word ptóchos (πτωχός) means literally one who crouches or cowers, a person who feels helpless and vulnerable. The word is usually translated in the King James Version of the Bible as “the poor,” but it’s important to understand its full meaning. It is possible to be poor yet to be reasonably self-sufficient. Those are the people King Benjamin described as “ye who have not and yet have sufficient, that ye remain from day to day” (Mosiah 4:24). Those people are not ptóchos; they’re called penés (πένης), or laborers. A ptóchos is a beggar, a person who does not have sufficient, and who does not know how their needs will be met.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,” said Jesus, “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). In the version of the sermon recorded in the Book of Mormon, He adds a clarifying phrase: “Blessed are the poor in spirit who come unto me” (3 Nephi 12:3). It is good to be spiritually destitute—if a realization of that condition motivates us to seek the help we need.

The Book of Mormon is full of stories of people who recognized their powerlessness and were spiritually transformed when they turned to God.

  • Enos cried to the Lord “in mighty prayer and supplication for [his] soul” all day and into the night (Enos 1:4).
  • Alma was “racked with eternal torment…even with the pains of a damned soul” (Alma 36:12, 16).
  • Later, Alma taught a group of Zoramites who were “poor in heart, because of their poverty as to the things of the world” (Alma 32:4). All of them received God’s saving power when they sought it.

King Benjamin asked, “Are we not all beggars?” (Mosiah 4:19). The fact is that we all need His grace, but we don’t all realize it. Maybe the question we should ask ourselves is, “Am I spiritually poor but unaware of it? Have I not yet become ptóchos, crouching, kneeling, seeking help from the One who can give me everything?”

The New Living Translation of the Bible adds a few clarifying words to capture the essence of the word ptóchos: “God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs” (See Matthew 5:3, NLT on biblehub.com, italics added.) I think that version aligns well with the Book of Mormon. It’s not enough to be poor; you have to actually come unto Him.

Today, I will remember my total dependence on God. I will trust His promise to bless me abundantly as I come unto Him and plead for His grace.

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