In the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5-7, Jesus does not show us how to be saved, but how the saved should live. It is instruction for kingdom living.
The word makarios (blessed) has been translated as happy, fortunate or to be congratulated. However, if we were to choose a word other than blessed, joyful might be the best choice. The late John R.W. Stott wrote, “It is seriously misleading to render makarios [as] happy. Happiness is a subjective state (a feeling), whereas Jesus is making an objective evaluation about these people.”
Happiness comes from the Latin word hap, which means chance or circumstance. We are happy when favorable or good things happen to us. When unfavorable or bad things happen to us, we are unhappy or sad. Happiness is the result of something happening. But joy comes from God. It is the fruit of His Spirit (Galatians 5:22). Joy may feel like happiness, but it comes from a different source.
The blessed life is a description of the abundant life. In John 10:10, Jesus said, “I came that they might have life, and might have it abundantly.”
The beatitudes are eight progressive steps that are dependent on each other and constitute one unit.
To be poor in spirit means to recognize our deep spiritual poverty and destitution. The Greek word for poor, ptochos, does not mean just poverty, but extreme poverty and destitution. It was used for beggars. We may think of the poor as having little, but the idea in this word is more like “having nothing.”
The poor in spirit understand their condition and their need. We are nothing of any spiritual value without Christ. However, by recognizing our need, we are also able to see that Christ alone meets our deepest need.
Charles Allen, in his book, “God’s Psychiatry,” noted, “The poor in spirit have so emptied themselves of themselves — the pride of their accomplishments, the selfishness of their desires — that the Spirit of God has come into their emptiness.”
Proud in spirit is the opposite of poor in spirit. Pride is at the root of all sin. First Peter 5:7 says, “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” The proud set themselves up as God’s enemies, but the poor in spirit open their hearts in submission, worship and dependence on God.
The story of the Pharisee and tax collector illustrates the contrast between the poor in spirit and the proud. In Luke 18:9-14, the Pharisee’s pride led him to boast in his religious activities, even though he was far from God. The tax collector, in contrast, cried out, “Lord, be merciful to me, the sinner.” Jesus said it was the tax collector — and not the religious Pharisee — who went to his house justified.
Christ promises that those who are poor in spirit have the kingdom of heaven. The kingdom is the reign of the king in our hearts. His rule in our hearts is a present world experience, whereas his rule over the new earth is a future experience. The poor in spirit experience both.
Paul reminded us in Ephesians 5:18 to “be filled with the Spirit.” The emptying of self must precede the filling by God’s Spirit. The result is not a loss of self, but the experience of a new and better self and the first mark of a blessed life.
— Rudy Gray is editor of the Baptist Courier.