Bible Question:

What does “spiritually poor” mean? With reference to Luke 4:18, what does poor/weak mean? Is it a spiritual situation?

Bible Answer:

This is a wonderful question because the phrase “spiritually poor” describes how we start with God and the attitude we must have in our ongoing relationship with God.

Beggars In Spirit

Your first phrase refers to a passage found in Matthew 5:3, which is the first verse in the Sermon on the Mount. Here it is,

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (NASB) Matthew 5:3

In order to understand this verse, we must first understand the meaning of the Greek word that is translated as “poor.” Jesus could have used one of two New Testament Greek words for poor. They are ptochos and penas, but He used ptochos. This word, ptochos, means more than just being “poor.” To give you a sense of the rich meaning of the word, I would encourage you to read Luke 16:19-25. The passage is about Lazarus. He was a poor man. He was so poor and diseased that he was looking for crumbs to fall from the rich man’s table to the floor. He did not expect loaves or slices of bread – he was just hoping for crumbs. That is poor! He had absolutely nothing. In fact, the best sense of ptochos is “being so poor that the person is a beggar.” The second word for “poor” refers to a person who at least has something. A penas person would have a place to live, a home, but ptochos implies one who is living in the streets. Where are you living? Do you see what Jesus is saying? He is saying that we cannot be happy without seeing ourselves as spiritual beggars. We cannot be happy if we do not see ourselves as spiritual beggars – out in the streets and spiritually having nothing. When we honestly believe that we are spiritually poor, we will come to God for help – for even just His crumbs. We will come for forgiveness of our sins.

That is how we come to God. After one is a Christian, a true Christian will realize that he or she is still a beggar; but God does not give us crumbs. God invites us to eat at the table with Him. In Ephesians 1:3 Christians are told that every spiritual blessing has been poured out on us. That means God has lavished His blessings on us spiritual beggars. He does not invite us to eat one meal, but we get to eat every meal, every day. I would invite you to read the study entitled, “Happy Are The Poor.”

Gospel To The Poor

The gospel of Luke tells us that when Jesus was in the synagogue in Nazareth, He opened the book of Isaiah and read the following.

And the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him. And He opened the book, and found the place where it was written, “The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are downtrodden, to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.” (NASB) Luke 4:17-19

The word for poor is ptochos again. The meaning is slightly different because of the context. The passage says that Jesus came to preach to the ptochos, captives, blind, and to set free those who are downtrodden. The sense of the passage is that Jesus came to those who were not the elite in society, the rich, the famous, or the intellectual. Why? Because these folks usually do not have any desire for God. They are not interested. The message of this passage is that Jesus came for those who were “Beggars in Spirit.”


Do you see yourself as a former beggar in spirit who is now eating at God’s feast every day? What a picture. That is God’s goodness and love for us.

Suggested Links:

Sermon On The Mount
Happy Are The Poor
Blessed Are The Poor