The Beatitudes - Part One

Some of the most well known teachings of Jesus (even within the world) come from the Sermon on the Mount recorded in Matthew Chapters 5-7. This sermon encapsulates much of the character of the New Law which Christ was going to usher in after His death, burial, and resurrection. This sermon begins with a powerful listing of “blessings” – blessings for things which the world at large, and many Jews themselves would consider folly. These “blessings” (commonly referred to as the Beatitudes, from a Latin word meaning “perfect happiness”) are important because they describe certain necessary qualities for the child of God.

Understanding “Blessed”

Before we examine the individual Beatitudes themselves, it is important to define the word “blessed” which is used to begin each phrase. Although it has become somewhat traditional to use the English word “blessed”, the English word “happy” could be used in its place. To understand the promised joy, happiness, blessing, etc. described by Christ, one must understand the cause of such blessing. It is not natural to become “happy” or “pleased” because you are “poor in spirit” or because you “mourn”, etc. The cause of such happiness is not the act itself, but what the act represents. The original word rendered into “blessing” is best understood as meaning “approved of God.” Therefore, the cause of blessing is not because we “mourn” or are “meek”, but because our choice of life has found God’s approval.

The Poor in Spirit

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Mat. 5:3, NASU

The usage of the term “poor” commonly denotes the idea of lacking in material wealth, or possession. Some have taken this phrase as an attack against personal wealth and a calling to live as paupers. However, one must notice what the word “poor” modifies – the direct object “in spirit.” Jesus is describing people who understand that they are lacking something in their spiritual lives. Such an admission requires a contrite heart, aware of the realities of one’s own carnal nature and the sin which separates him or herself from God.

Only such a person will truly yearn for spiritual growth – to be fed spiritually by the source of spiritual blessing. Contrast this philosophy with the thinking of the Pharisees in Christ’s day. They believed themselves to be spiritually secure, without lack. Because of their arrogance, they forfeited the blessings of God. If we are to enjoy the kingdom of heaven, our attitude must be better than theirs.

We will examine more of the Beatitudes in the coming weeks.

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