The Message of the Beatitudes – Part I :: by Gene Lawley

The Scripture in Matthew 5:3-12, traditionally known as the Beatitudes, or Blessed Attitudes, has some unique features in the organization of its content as well as the content, itself. There are nine “Blesseds,” and are in three groups of three “Blesseds” each.

The three sections seem to show, first, the attitude man must have in order to relate to God; second, how that attitude responds upon acceptance of that first principle; and, third, the resulting interaction of the believer with his contacts in society.

This article will discuss the topics in the arrangement and order laid out above. For quick reference, here is the Scripture containing these Blessed Attitudes:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake.

Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets before you.”

In one sense the account could be compared to a clinical report on a laboratory study of growth and development of a newborn person, only in this case it is one who is “born again,” a new creature in Christ (John 3:3 and 2 Corinthians 5:17). First, there is the struggle to understand what has happened and how to relate to this God who has become very significant in the life of this new believer. Then, he discovers a hunger for spiritual truth and finds it in the Word of God, as 1 Peter 2:2 directs, “As newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby.”

Finally, the new creature reaches a level of maturity and takes on the responsibilities and burdens of adulthood, in this case, as a servant and an ambassador of the Lord to a broken world.

Man’s True Spiritual Condition

The passage rightfully opens with a strange statement that I would paraphrase—correctly, I trust—as, “Truly happy are those who realize their own spiritual poverty.” It is not saying one should become poor in spirit in order to enjoy the kingdom of heaven. Other passages of the Bible clearly identify man as “poor in spirit,” totally bankrupt of any such resource. One such passage is the familiar Ephesians 2:8-9 that tells how salvation is accomplished:

“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.”

In another place, Paul also writes this: “Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20). It means that by our own works we cannot be justified before God. We are, alone, totally poverty stricken, spiritually.

But some might want to contend that it is up to us to keep hanging on, being faithful to the end. Paul told the Philippian believers, however, to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13). Our part is to let God do the work in us—obedient submission.

Jesus holds to that same principle in John 15:5: “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.” Given the actuality that He is the sustainer of all things  and “in Him all things consist,” as Paul told the Colossian believers (Colossians 1:15-18), it might be well said that one could not even mow his lawn without Christ, believer or non-believer!

Man in the flesh is a totally depraved creature, and the sooner he recognizes that fact, the sooner his spiritual growth can  begin to happen. The indwelling Spirit of Christ can be the motivator and energy of this “new creation in Christ.”

Why All the Sad Emotion?

Tucked under that first Blessed Attitude are two spin-offs from it that may seem out-of-place in a list of “truly happy” states of mind. The first says, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” There is something about the realization that Christ died on the cross for me, though an unworthy sinner and unable to account for my sins, that brings forth tears of sorrow and remorse. The fact that He made that sacrifice intentionally, because I could not measure up to the mark, serves to magnify my spiritual poverty. Then He comforts me with the assurance that all is well with my soul.

Possibly the greatest example of this sorrow and resulting comfort will be the prophetic recognition by Israel of its Messiah, as predicted in Zechariah 12:10: “And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they pierced. Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for hisonly son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn.”

Does Meekness Mean Weakness?

The second result of the discovery that we are spiritually impoverished, and we must rely on God alone for our spirituality, is the characteristic of meekness. It reads, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”

But, does meekness mean weakness? Is one who is meek automatically expected to become a doormat for anyone who chooses to so treat him? That is a traditional outlook on that character trait—a limp, milk-toast sort of person, always ready to be pushed around. That does not seem to describe one who will inherit the earth, does it?

Those who must trust the Lord for their life’s endeavors are responsive to His leading. Isaiah 40:31 describes their operating model: “But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”

A parenthetic (KJV) statement in Numbers 12:3 says this of Moses:

(Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth.) Other translations use the word “humble” to describe Moses. This entry is inserted in the context of God’s dealing with Aaron and Miriam, siblings of Moses, as to who He was going to have lead the people. It is clear that meekness on the part of Moses was exemplified in his humble submission and obedience to God, not in any manner of personal weakness.

John the Baptist could be described as a meek man, too, for he declared, “He [Christ] must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30), and, “A man can receive nothing unless it has been given to him from heaven” (John 3:27).

(Continued in Part Two.)