Category: The Beatitudes

Matthew 5:10-12

I’ve never known what to make of 2 Timothy 3:12-13 which reads:

12 Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, 13 while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.  (ESV)

In a very matter of fact way, Paul tells Timothy that those who follow Christ will experience persecution.  A part of me wonders if my lack of being persecuted means I am not living godly enough.  Another part of me wonders if I experience persecution but just don’t recognize it.

What does it mean to be persecuted because of righteousness?  For many around the world it means imprisonment or death on account of their commitment to their faith.  For us in America, perhaps it takes gentler forms.  I remember feeling much more persecuted in high school than I do now because in high school my decisions for righteousness seemed more out-of-place.  As someone who now works in a church in the South, I don’t know that I experience a great deal of persecution.

Our passage for today raises another question: how should we respond to persecution?  Many people become enraged and begin railing about rights and equality.  However, if we were to expect and accept persecution, then perhaps we would welcome it as we see how it helps to grow and refine our faith.  As we read in James 1:2-4:

 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

We should never forget that the message of the Gospel runs counter to the way of the world.  It is natural for people to react negatively to the ideas of the Christian faith.  Living as a follower of Christ is counter-cultural.  Proclaiming our belief that all people need God and cannot save themselves is shocking to many people.  Telling people that there is a need for them to be saved is offensive to many people.  No one wants to be told they are wrong.  In fact, it is a testament to the work of God and the Holy Spirit that people come to faith at all.

We are called to be in the world but not of the world.  It is likely there are areas in our lives where we would do well to be bolder in our faith.  Perhaps it would bring about some form of persecution.  It’s not that we should pursue persecution with some type of martyr’s complex, but we should be willing to experience it if it means advancing the Gospel and following the will of God.

Reflection
Spend some time today asking yourself if there are areas of your life where you downplay your faith in order to make your life more convenient or comfortable.  Are there people who you have hidden your faith from?  Do you hold back on expressing your faith because you fear what others may think or do?  Is your life being lived in and of the world so that you can blend in or are you in the world as a light for Christ?  We must never let our fears and our insecurity override our faithfulness to sharing God’s word through our words and our deeds.  Ask God to reveal areas in your life where you can grow in faithfulness.

I would also ask that you spend time praying today for those who experience intense persecution everyday.  Voice of the Martyrs is a great website resource for you to use to learn more about the persecuted church of today.

The Beatitudes

Matthew 5:9

Our world is not a peaceful place.  There are approximately 27 recognized wars or conflicts going on in our world today.  Every single day a multitude of violent crimes are committed in every corner of our world.  The wars and the violence are not just events we see on the news.  We have conflicts in our homes, in our friendships, and in our workplaces.  Our world is not a peaceful place.

So whose job is it to bring peace?  Yours.  Mine.  As followers of Christ, we are called to be peacemakers.  It is our duty.  It is our calling.  We make peace in all sorts of ways.  We start with our own conflicts.  We make peace with those who we need to forgive or ask forgiveness.  Once we have made peace in our relationships, we then reach out and help others make peace.

Why do we make peace?  Because, when we make peace, we demonstrate the character of our God.  Paul reminds us often in his letters that our God is the God of peace.  Our God is the ultimate peacemaker.  At one time every one of us was at war with God.  Our hearts pulled us away from acknowledging him.  Our passions warred against the way that God intended for us to live.  We did not have peace with God.  But, due to God’s mercy and his grace, he intervened into our world and brought the promise of peace through Christ.  In Romans 5:1-2 we read:

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.

God not only shows us how we might have peace with him, but he also shows us how might have peace with one another. As we obey his commands and learn to love our neighbors as ourselves, we cannot help but become peacemakers in our world.  We make peace because the love we have is an active love that calls us to go out into the world and bring peace and hope to a world that is perpetually in conflict.

Reflection
Where is it that you need to bring peace today?  Are you surrounded by conflict?  Are you creating conflict?  Just as we demonstrate God’s character by bringing peace, we also damage the credibility of our God when we claim to follow him and yet create conflict.  Ask God to show you areas in your life where you can bring peace.  Ask for the strength to give and ask for forgiveness.  Take some time to also celebrate that as a follower of Christ you are no longer at war with God.

The Beatitudes

Matthew 5:8

In my line of work, I get to observe one of the most fascinating situations on Earth–teenagers in love.  I get to watch how they work in the mention of their new girlfriend’s name into every conversation.  We could be talking about terrorism and they chime in “you know who hates terrorism?  My new girlfriend really hates terrorism, and genocide, she really hates that too.”  I also get to hear all kinds of incredibly mundane details about their interactions with their new significant others such as “Hey Josh, guess what Michael did today! He ate two sandwiches.  Usually he only eats one, but today he ate two!  Isn’t that hilarious!!  I just love him so much for that!”  Oh teenage love.  For better or worse, these kids jump into these relationships with their whole hearts.

Today, we are looking at a different type of relationship that requires our whole heart.  In our passage today, we see Jesus stating that the life of a true disciple is reflected in a heart that is pure.  Essentially, what Jesus is saying that a disciple’s heart is to be undivided.  We cannot love God with some of our heart and love the world (success, money, even family) with the other part.  Our hearts are to be loyal to God and God alone.  This does not mean we are not to love our children or other people.  What it means is that we focus our love on God and love for people will emanate from that love.  Our love for God will lead us into incredibly loving relationships.

There are so many things that tug at our heart.  We love hobbies and money and fame.  We love ourselves, sometimes so much that we choose to do what we think we would make us happy even when God has told us that it will not.  Our hearts are not inclined to the things of God.  Our hearts are just as subject to the Fall as any other part of us.  We are in constant need of a renewed heart.

It is actually rather difficult to picture what a heart that was solely focused on God would actually look like.  A person whose heart was captivated with God would see the world differently.  They would experience things differently.  How could they worry?  How could they be afraid?  How could they willingly choose to sin against God?

The promise of this Beatitude is perhaps one of the most amazing.  The pure in heart will see God.  In many ways this promise is accomplished by our ability to have fellowship with God through our faith in Jesus.  We can relate to God who is personal and powerful.  The pure in heart also see God as they see God moving in our world.  Where some may see coincidence, those pure in heart know that God has done a great work.

Reflection
What has captured your heart?  Is it a love that is inspired by God or is it a love that drives you away from God?  What do you treasure and hold dear?  Are the most important things to you your faith and your relationship with our Creator?  Take time today to do a little self-assessment as to the purity of your heart.  Ask God to create in you a clean heart that is seeking after Him.

The Beatitudes

Matthew 5:7

In the first four Beatitudes we saw Jesus describing the attitudes that a true disciple should have towards God.  As we move to the fifth Beatitude, we see a shift towards how to live in response to these attitudes.  If a disciple is to live out their hunger for righteousness, their lives would be characterized by the actions found in the last four Beatitudes.

Today we focus in on mercy.  Perhaps it is wise to first be reminded of the mercy that is exhibited by our God.  We consistently receive that which we do not deserve from God.  Whether it is his provision for us or the grace that he freely offers, we are consistently awarded that which we could not attain and should not be able to attain.

In response to the mercy shown to us by God, we to are called to show mercy to others.  We are called to give to those who are in need simply because they are in need.  We are called to forgive to those who wrong us remembering that we too are often in need of forgiveness.  We are called to show kindness to the hurting, even if they have nothing to offer in return.

However, mercy is not always easy to offer.  It is easy for us to get wrapped up in our own worlds and talk ourselves out of intervening in the life of someone in need.  It is easy for us to believe that people who got themselves into messes should be forced to get themselves out.  Mercy requires living with an awareness that surpasses our natural tendencies towards self-interest.  However, when we realize that we are surrounded by a world in need, we are forced to choose to offer mercy or to deny it.

The promise associated with this Beatitude is that those who choose to show mercy would receive mercy from our God.  This is not saying that salvation is available to us as long as we serve the poor or help the hurting.  It is rather a reminder that we who profess a relationship with Christ have already experienced and will continue to experience the mercy offered to us in that, when we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Reflection
Take some time today to ask God to show you the needs of the people who around you.  Ask him to give you the opportunity to show mercy today.  Perhaps it will come in the form of assistance.  Perhaps you will yourself forgiving someone who has wronged you recently.  Whatever it is, as you demonstrate mercy to those around you, may it be a reminder of the mercy shown to you by our Savior’s death on the cross.  Perhaps your acts of mercy today will lead to an opportunity to share the story of Christ’s ultimate act of mercy.

The Beatitudes

Matthew 5:5-6

I had the privilege of helping teach a class during my last year in divinity school.  It was a great opportunity, but I was in way over my head.  My task was to lecture on Christianity in the 10-14th century.  Lots of popes and monks.  To make matters worse, it was to first year students at 8:00am.  I felt like I was doing okay, particularly because one student seemed to be really enjoying the lectures.  I felt good until one day she told me that she tried to smile and nod a lot in class whenever she felt like I needed encouragement or seemed lost in my lecture.

Before that conversation, I had thought I was a pretty big deal.  Fortunately, that student was there to bring me back to reality.  If we are honest, we like to think pretty highly of ourselves.  We make ourselves seem better that we really are.  We are big on declaring our rights pursuing our happiness.  We often act as if we are the most important people in the world.  It’s our human nature to act this way.  In a sense it is pride.  In another sense it is self-worship.

In the Beatitudes for today, we are reminded that the attitude of a disciple has nothing to do with such pride.  In our passage we see Jesus praising the meek and those who hunger for righteousness.

Let’s start with the meek.  The error we could make would be to think that Jesus wants all of his followers to be meek and unassuming.  What Jesus is actually saying is that those who stand in humble submission to God will inherit great spiritual inheritance.  This means acknowledging that all we have has been given to us by God.  It means acknowledging that the skills and abilities that we have are God-given gifts that we are to use for God’s glory.  The meek do not lay claim to their own little kingdom.  Instead, they know that they are part of a much greater kingdom and serve a king that has much more authority than they could ever exhibit.

Jesus turns from the meek to those who hunger for righteousness.  Consider those times when you have been truly thirsty or hungry.  Think about the desperation you had for a sip of water on an incredibly hot day.  The picture Jesus gives here is of someone whose principle desire is to follow after a life of righteous and holy living.  This is not the picture of someone who begrudgingly follows the commands of Jesus.  Rather, it is the joyous pursuit of a life that is lived for God through obedience to God’s word.  It is also not a picture of self-righteousness where we would celebrate our holiness on our own behalf and congratulate ourselves for our good works.  We do our good works for God’s glory and not for our own.

These two Beatitudes go against some very mainstream messages in our world today.  While the world tells us to pursue greatness, we understand that we reserve greatness only for our God.  When the world tells us that we can make our own rules based on our own morality, we understand that our moral code is found in the character and calling of our God.  Once again we are reminded that a disciple of Christ is called to live with an entirely different kingdom in mind.

Reflection
Spend time today asking yourself why you do things that we would consider right or even righteous.  Is it for your own glory?  Spend time asking how hungry you really are to live in obedience to God.  Ask God to stir in you a hunger for righteousness.   Rest in the promise that you will be fulfilled.

The Beatitudes

Matthew 5:3-4

Upon first glance these two Beatitudes seem to be asking us to be poor and sad.  As a kid I thought that this was the case.  I thought that God was saying that the best way that you could be a Christian was to be really poor and really sad all the time.  As an adult I see the errors in that understanding.  I see now that God wants us to experience joy and that he has blessed many people with material resources.

As we look deeper into what these verses mean when they call us to be poor in spirit and to mourn, we discover that it has much more to do with our attitudes than our present circumstances.  It’s not that God does not care for the poor.  In fact, God frequently speaks about caring for those who are marginalized economically and politically.  It’s not that God does not comfort those in mourning.  A quick glimpse through the Psalms would help us discover that God is in fact a great source of hope and joy even in times of great sadness.

In these passages, being poor in spirit means having an attitude of dependence upon God.  It is the act of acknowledging that we ourselves are spiritually inadequate and have no ability to rescue ourselves.  We become poor in spirit when we consider the greatness of our God and how we measure up to that greatness.  Our spirit cannot help but be minimized when we recognize where we stand in relation to our Creator and Savior.  When we stop trying to be gods, we move to an understanding that we stand in submission to a king and, in effect, become a part of a kingdom that is much more desirable than our own little principalities we create here on this earth.

In the instance of Matthew 5:4, mourning has less to do with feeling sad about an event but more about feeling sorrow over our sin and our failure to seek after God.  This mourning manifests itself as a longing for forgiveness and for reconciliation with God.  This is not shame where we engage in self-hatred, but rather it is a brokenness that we experience as a result of our sins against God.  As we experience brokenness, Jesus tells us that there is a promise of comfort that comes in the form of forgiveness and restoration.

If we are honest, we don’t tend to desire a life of dependence.  We are a people who celebrate accomplishment and self-reliance.  If we are honest, we don’t tend to desire a feeling of brokenness.   Instead, we push against guilt and try to justify our behavior in all sorts of self-serving ways.

Reflection
The challenge for today is to actually experience brokenness.  Ask God to show you your sin and then break through all of your excuses and confess that sin to God.  Confess that you fail to live the life God wants for you.  Confess that you struggle with sin.  Ask God to change your heart.  Ask God to become clearer.  Ask God to make you feel more dependent upon Him.  Thank God for his forgiveness and for his comforting.  As you do these things, may God become more real and may you move from knowing about God to experiencing God.

The Beatitudes

Matthew 5:1-12

Take a minute to read the passage above.  If you have read it before, attempt to read it this time as if it is the first time you have encountered the ideas and the content within the passage.

There was a guy who worked with me one time who had a very odd sense of fairness.  We had been working on some big projects that made for a pretty busy week.  By the time Friday came, we only had a few more things to do, but my coworker informed me that he was going to be using his Friday in the office to relax and watch some movies at his desk.  When I inquired why he thought that was a reasonable thing to do, he informed me that he had worked really hard all week and he deserved some down time now.  He could not be convinced that the expectation was that, when at work, we are to work hard all the time.  In his mind we owed him some down time because of all of his previous hard work.

If we are honest, there is a major part of us that would love figure out a way to make God owe us some type of blessing for the things we do as a part of our faith.  It is in our nature to think that if we do something for God, then he owes us something in return.  On our best days we see this attempt to manipulate God as something deeply misguided.  On other days, we wonder why we don’t have what we want to have when we have been doing our “best” to follow God.  Surely that would be fair.  Or, could it be that God expects us to work hard every day to follow him and do his will?

In our passage today we are introduced to what are typically called the Beatitudes.  These are essentially wisdom statements made by Jesus at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount that inform us how we might be blessed by God.  Understand, however, that these are not formulas to getting a better job or a bigger bank account.  It is not: be humble get a promotion.

The Beatitudes allow us to see the type of character that a true disciple of Christ would exhibit in his or her life.  One way to approach these Beatitudes is to see the first four as the attitudes with which we approach God.  This would mean that we approach God with humility, brokenness over sin, and a desire to live obediently.  The next four would be the way that we are to live out our faith in the world.  This would mean that as disciples we are called to be peacemakers, to show mercy, to demonstrate purity, and to be willing to face persecution through steadfastly clinging to our calling as disciples.

Again, it is important not to see this set of statements as a way to make God do anything for us.  If the only blessing we experience as a result of living this way is eternal life, I would say we got a pretty good deal.  However, as many followers of Christ would tell you, the actual blessings typically come as you live life the way that God intended for you to live.

Reflection
Take some time today to really ask yourself what you expect from God.  Do you think that God owes you because of your devotion?  What motivates you to spend time with God or to practice spiritual disciplines?  Do you give so that you might receive or do you give because God is honored through your giving?  Ask God whether your motivations need to change.  Ask him to reveal the ways that he has already blessed you.

The Beatitudes