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a monthly devotional journal by David S. Lampel - Issue #87 / February, 1998
A Better Way to Live
Blessed are the poor in spirit,
"Those who stand for higher standards than current conventions are always seen as critics who are best disposed of." Donald Guthrie 1
There is surely no portion of Scripture more at odds with today's standards and principles than that part of the Sermon on the Mount known as the Beatitudes. This should not surprise since, indeed, they were concepts equally foreign to the time in which they were first uttered.
The verses we call the Beatitudes2 are not evangelism; they're not a template for salvation, outlining what someone must do before gaining entrance to the Kingdom. They do not, in and of themselves, outline New Testament doctrine; the believer who lives his life strictly according to the counsel of the Beatitudes no more, no less would be on thin doctrinal ice.
The Beatitudes are, however, a succinct, easily-understood portrait of a Spirit-filled life. The verses represent God's perspective on a Spiritually-healthy believer's heart.
The Highest Good
Any consideration of the Beatitudes must begin with a clarification of the word that begins each verse in most translations: "Blessed."
The Greek word so translated is makarios. Some people, and paraphrases such as The Living Bible and the J.B. Phillips New Testament, prefer to update the Greek with the word "happy," as in "Happy are the poor in spirit . . ." But this is too thin; the word encompasses much more.
"As for 'happy,' it will not do for the Beatitudes, having been devalued in modern usage. The Greek 'describes a state not of inner feeling on the part of those to whom it is applied, but of blessedness from an ideal point of view in the judgment of others' (Allen)" D.A. Carson 3
It may be that I am personally drawn to these verses because so often in the past I have been criticized for not being sufficiently, demonstrably 'happy.'
"Cheer up," people would say. "Why are you so serious all the time?" My many and varied explanations over the years may have faltered, but could have been summed up in one word: makarios. To these myopic observers I may not have appeared happy, because I had long since moved past 'happy' to the more substantial state of Spiritual 'joy.'
There is a deep, profound Spiritual joy that is far superior to any amount of superficial happiness. It speaks of God's riches poured into a life, of a clearer understanding of one's role in the Kingdom, of intimate communion that need not be revealed in one's face.
It is this sort of blessedness that is described in the Beatitudes. And it is a blessedness to be envied.
"Blessed are those who feel their Spiritual need, for the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to them!"4
Man is born with a capacity for God, but with no guarantee that the space will be filled. The Son of God was manifested on earth as a human being, not as a chickadee, or camel, or slug. He came as a person, because it was with people that God desired a higher relationship not slugs. So it was in people that God instilled this holy capacity.
We begin empty. The person who never fills that void with the gospel of Christ the truth that He, and He alone can save will die apart from God, thinking all the while that the space had been filled with something better.
But there is nothing better, and Jesus says that those who are truly blessed are the ones who have acknowledged the emptiness inside their souls, and that it is a space Christ alone is able to fill.
Poverty is the cry of the broken, repentant heart. Though he was the great king of Israel, and could purchase anything he desired even another man's wife David later acknowledged his own spiritual poverty and wrote
Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquity. Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Psalm 51:9-10
Admitting one's spiritual poverty is a sign of humility; refusing to make this admission is a sign of pride. Jesus illustrated the difference with a parable about a Pharisee and a tax collector.
To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men robbers, evildoers, adulterers or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.' "But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, 'God, have mercy on me, a sinner.' "I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted." Luke 18:9-14
A Heart Filled to Overflowing
The arrogant man raises his angry fist up to God and cries out, "I don't deserve to be treated like this!" But the humble man lifts up open hands to God and, with bowed head and grateful heart, cries, "I don't deserve to be treated like this."
To be "poor in spirit" is to understand that in ourselves we are utterly unworthy before God, but that through Christ we may stand before Him with confidence. To be poor in this world is to have an empty purse; to be spiritually poor is to have one's heart filled with God.
Jesus, I am resting, resting
Oh, how great Thy loving kindness,
Simply trusting Thee, Lord Jesus,
Ever lift Thy face upon me,
The world with all its tinseled charm would convince us that grief is something from which we should flee. The counsel of the world is to flee any and all discomfort, unpleasantness, sorrow and pain, hard times or trials.
The world says that anything unpleasant is bad, but Jesus says that everything in the hands of God is good even when it is unpleasant.
There is, however, another kind of mourning. When a member of the family dies, we mourn; when tragedy strikes either ourselves or someone we love, we grieve. The believer can be considered fortunate (blessed) because in times of sorrow, there is comfort found in the arms of the Lord.
But there is yet another type of mourning grief over sin.
A person who, as in the first Beatitude, acknowledges his or her dependence on God, will be grieved over the existence of sin sin either personal or corporate. Those sensitive to the cloying smog of sin will be found on their knees, and will find there consolation in their grief.
"The meek man is not a human mouse afflicted with a sense of his own inferiority. Rather he may be in his moral life as bold as a lion and as strong as Samson; but he has stopped being fooled about himself. He has accepted God's estimate of his own life. He knows he is as weak and helpless as God has declared him to be, but paradoxically, he knows at the same time that he is in the sight of God of more importance than angels. In himself, nothing; in God, everything. That is his motto. He knows well that the world will never see him as God sees him and he has stopped caring. He rests perfectly content to allow God to place His own values. He will be patient to wait for the day when everything will get its own price tag and real worth will come into its own. Then the righteous shall shine forth in the Kingdom of their Father. He is willing to wait for that day." A.W. Tozer 5
A Mixed Message
God the Father knew we would need the help of a visual aid. He knew that we would need help with some of the concepts that would be part of His new-covenant Kingdom.
So He sent Jesus.
The concept of Christ-like humility and gentleness is difficult to understand in the context of contemporary culture just as it was in the culture of 1st Century Israel.
We live in a time of the 'art of the deal,' a time in which strength through deceit is lauded, a time when 'looking out for number one' has become a worldwide religion. In our time the gospel of brash self-sufficiency is preached from the school room, the seat of government, even the pulpit.
So it's not surprising that we would need help in the person of Christ to grasp a concept so foreign to our nature. We must look to the example of His life for a clear illustration of what it means to be truly meek.
Jesus took many opportunities to teach His disciples the idea of humility,
through handy illustrations,
as well as being an example Himself when it appeared that His reputation was being challenged by strangers:
Power in Weakness
The wily executive, treading upon the backs of others on his way up the corporate ladder, may become rich; the duplicitous politician may acquire great power; the crafty, morally bankrupt celebrity may gain worldwide fame. But it is the meek the one gently resting in the superior strength of Christ that will inherit the entirety of the earth.
A Hunger for Heaven
"Blessed are those who are hungry and thirsty for uprightness, for they will be satisfied!"
Draw me to Thee, till far within Thy rest,
By mystery of Thy touch my spirit filled,
For me, O Lord, the world is all too small,
Now in the haven of untroubled rest
A Holy Yearning
Satisfaction comes only to those who understand that they need satisfying. Only those who admit their hunger can be truly filled.
Do good to your servant, and I will live; I will obey your word. Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law.
If we feel like a stranger on this earth, the remedy for our discomfort will not be found in anything of this earth. Our solace, our peace, will be found in the things of God those things which not only instruct and counsel, but envelop us in His love and protection.
God's word reminds us of His ongoing commitment to us, of His justice, grace and mercy. His word describes the righteousness and holiness of our heavenly Father, bringing conviction as well as comfort. His word will answer the questions that nag at us from those who have no portion of His grace. His word will enlighten, encourage, and strengthen.
To be truly filled with His righteousness, we must hunger for it.
As the deer pants for the water brooks, So pants my soul for You, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. Psalm 42:1-2a NKJV
"Note well that our desire after the mind of God should be constant; we should feel holy longings 'at all times.' Desires which can be put off and on like our garments are at best but mere wishes, and possibly they are hardly true enough to be called by that name they are temporary emotions born of excitement, and doomed to die when the heat which created them has cooled down. He who always longs to know and do the right is the truly right man. His judgment is sound, for he loves all God's judgments, and follows them with constancy. His times shall be good, since he longs to be good and to do good at all times." Spurgeon
Building Up the Weak
"Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy!"
The Atrophied Grace
It's impossible to isolate the Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount to remove one from its companions. They, as a package, represent a cohesive description of someone who is Spirit-minded, following a logical sequence in which if one is true, they all are.
Someone who is humble will also be merciful; someone who is meek or gentle will surely be merciful with others; and someone who has hungered after righteousness, and has been satisfied by his quest, will be quick to extend mercy to another.
Mercy the demonstration of heartfelt compassion is in short supply these days, both within the church and without. One of the easiest ways for those without to condemn the workings and beliefs of those within, is for them to point out their lack of mercy for each other and, especially, for those without.
Organized religion was in a similar state during the time of Jesus.
"Jewish piety had a deliberately merciless approach to those who did not know the law. To keep the law was of greater moment than sensitivity towards the weakness of those who failed to keep its demands." Guthrie
Compunding this paradox, when members of the body of Christ do get around to displaying mercy, it can very often be misguided.
It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that does not occur even among pagans: A man has his father's wife. And you are proud! Shouldn't you rather have been filled with grief and have put out of your fellowship the man who did this?
Mercy is not winking at sin, and Paul showed that it often includes what we would refer to in this day as 'tough love.'
Even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit. And I have already passed judgment on the one who did this, just as if I were present. When you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord. 1 Cor. 5:3-5
Out of all the players in this story, it was the apostle Paul who demonstrated the purest form of mercy, for he was the only one concerned about the sinner's eternal soul.
"Were there no guilt in the world, no pain and no tears, God would yet be infinitely merciful; but His mercy might well remain hidden in His heart, unknown to the created universe. No voice would be raised to celebrate the mercy of which none felt the need. It is human misery and sin that call forth the divine mercy." Tozer 7
"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God!"
Humanity in the Raw
Purity can be a frightening prospect to such generously imperfect human beings. How in the world can we attain to anything so obviously outside our reach?
Because absolute purity is impossible, we can find a clue to the meaning of this Beatitude in the story of King David.
The life of David was anything but pure. He was a man of war and bloodshed, of political intrigue and, ultimately, of adultery and murder.
One evening David got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was very beautiful, and David sent someone to find out about her. The man said, "Isn't this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite?" Then David sent messengers to get her. She came to him, and he slept with her. (She had purified herself from her uncleanness.) Then she went back home. The woman conceived and sent word to David, saying, "I am pregnant." 2 Samuel 11:2-5
As a result of his profound sin, David and his family experienced gross corruption, incestuous rape, and attempted patricide. Near the end of his life, seventy-thousand Israelites paid the ultimate penalty of death for another sin he committed.8 On the day of his death, David looked back on a life of countless failures and disappointment. Yet, even with all this, David was declared a man after God's own heart.
"After removing Saul, [God] made David their king. He testified concerning him: 'I have found David son of Jesse a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.' From this man's descendants God has brought to Israel the Savior Jesus, as he promised." Acts 13:22-23
Why? How could such a flawed man be so close to God's ideal? How, indeed, could an adulterer and murderer be someone declared by God to be a "man after my own heart"?
A Persistent Devotion
The answer lay in his heart. Throughout his entire life David met disappointment with praise, crisis with worship, and great sin with brokenness and confession. He never permitted his mistakes, or God's decisions, to stand between him and his Lord. Time and again, when a lesser man would have railed against what some might have called bad breaks or unfair treatment, King David knelt in devotion to His God.
Then David said to Nathan, "I have sinned against the LORD." Nathan replied, "The LORD has taken away your sin. You are not going to die. But because by doing this you have made the enemies of the LORD show utter contempt, the son born to you will die." After Nathan had gone home, the LORD struck the child that Uriah's wife had borne to David, and he became ill.
Like King David, those who are pure in heart are not perfect. Striving after perfection is a fool's occupation. Purity of heart means, instead, that in our imperfection in our failures and missteps and outright sin we never lose our connection with the Lord. We never turn on Him. We never blame Him for what happens. In all things we continue to worship and praise His name and in our praise we see His face.
Peace, Perfect Peace
"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called God's sons!"
"We should be ambitious and industrious how to be calm and quiet in our minds, in patience to possess our own souls, and to be quiet toward others; or of a meek and mild, a gentle and peaceable disposition, not given to strife, contention, or division. Satan is very busy to disquiet us; and we have that in our own hearts that disposes us to be disquiet; therefore let us study to be quiet." Matthew Henry
An Active Pursuit
If we would study to be Christ-like, we would study to be peacemakers, for He is the supreme peacemaker, placing Himself between not only Jew and Gentile, but between both communities and the heretofore untouchable holiness of God. Christ, at the cross, became, in His person, our peace.
But Jesus was no milquetoast appeaser; He was no simple-minded fool looking to just get along so all would be happy and placidly at ease. That's not an accurate picture of the Son of God, for He was willing to pay the ultimate price for the peace we enjoy with God. His peacemaking was gritty and tough, devoted to the right. And it cost Him His earthly life.
In fact, this Beatitude has little to do with simply 'getting along,' but is a call for us to become active peace-makers.
"This beatitude is not, however, directed to those who are at peace with others, but to those who actively create conditions of peace. Admittedly the difficulties of creating peace are immense. But Jesus was not simply commending an impossible ideal. The disposition towards peace is a moral and spiritual quality which can be achieved only by spiritual means." Guthrie
"Blessed are those who have endured persecution for their uprightness, for the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to them!"
There is an interesting play on words taking place in this Beatitude that is not readily apparent in the modern translations. The Greek word translated "persecuted" is dioko, (pronounced dee-o'-ko), a prolonged (and causative) form of a primary verb dio (to flee); to pursue (literal or figurative); by implication to persecute. In fact, the same word is used in Romans:
What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; but Israel, who pursued a law of righteousness, has not attained it. Romans 9:30-31 (emphases added)
In other words, if we pursue (dioko) righteousness, we may be persecuted (dioko) for that righteous pursuit.
The Common Enemy
It's a little uncomfortable for anyone in the western world to speak of the possibility of let alone actual persecution for the faith. Compared to the saints of old, and contemporary saints in some parts of the world, we have enjoyed nothing less than an easy, effortless road.
But absent tangible persecution in the classic sense physical or psychological opposition because of one's faith there is still the universal experience of opposition from the evil one. Every Christian has experienced his unique style of confrontation and very often when we are at our best Spiritually.
Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 1 Peter 5:8
Satan has a special gift for sniffing out believers who have been soaring closer to the Lord. He knows he can safely leave alone Christians who are flirting with the baser life; they've already done half his work for him. But his radar is set for those climbing ever higher toward righteousness. His priority is to nail them with an unhealthy dose of temptation, or doubt, before they soar too close to the Son.
An easy path without fear or temptation is not necessarily sign of a healthy spiritual life; it may just mean Satan doesn't need to bother with you. Constant bombardment from his flaming arrows,9 however, is a sure sign that we're on the right track.
I am resolved no longer to linger,
I am resolved to go to the Saviour,
I am resolved to follow the Saviour,
I am resolved to enter the Kingdom,
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