Introduction – 5:1-2
The first of His five great discourses in Matthew, this rich message comes straight from the heart of the Master Himself. Since the Kingdom Jesus spoke of is “not of this world” (Jn. 8:36), we must expect His principles to be different from all others. The Sermon presents God’s common sense laws for life within the Kingdom, setting forth in graphic detail what God expects from His subjects. General Omar Bradley stated the human dilemma succinctly in 1948: “We have grasped the mystery of the atom and rejected the Sermon on the Mount.”
Although no one knows for sure where Jesus taught the Sermon, it was probably on a sloping hillside on the northwest side of the Sea of Galilee near Capernaum. Isaiah prophesied, “Many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord…and He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths” (2:3). It is interesting to note the contrast between Moses’ law from Sinai and the words of Jesus from that Galilean hillside. But what Jesus promulgated that day was an entirely new view. He downloaded for us an ethics manual, not a rule book etched in stone.
The Sermon is more than a homiletical masterpiece; it is the Manifesto of the Messiah. Whereas the Old Testament ends with a warning that the unregenerate world will “be smitten with a curse” (Mal. 4:6), Jesus’ inaugural address opens with the promise of blessing. The Sermon is one single message taught in one session, bracketed with a beginning at the first verse (5:1) and a conclusion (7:28-29). In essence, the Sermon is the entire New Testament in short form.
Some authors have said that the Sermon is futuristic, utopian and idealistic, assuming that its high principles can only be lived in the new heavens and the new earth. But the Sermon was not intended for an eschatological era but for our ecclesiastical era—the Church Age in which we live. The commands against murder, adultery and divorce will not be necessary in the future utopian era, as they certainly are today.
Others claim the Sermon only applies to a select group of super Christians, that Jesus’ target audience could only be extremely mature Christians. However, the lifestyle, ideals and commands which Jesus describes in the Sermon are best appropriated as one has been baptized and empowered by the Holy Spirit. Those who claim the Sermon is impossible to live out in daily twenty-first century life have not allowed the Holy Spirit to empower them. “It is futile to attempt to apply the Christian ethic without the Christian experience.” (T. H. Robinson, Gospel of Matthew, New York: Doubleday, 1928, 71). The Sermon involves guidelines for the saved, for the lost are not expected to live up to such high standards. The Baptism in the Holy Spirit provides the power to do so.
The Sermon involves relationships with God and human beings within the Kingdom. Jesus knows that anger, hate, lust, revenge, greed and hypocrisy will destroy us, so He teaches us more than mere survival tactics. He deals with lethal attitudes. In the Sermon on the Mount, there are no loopholes, no fine print and no disclaimers. It is straight talk to Christians.
Jesus was straightforward, stating clearly that. Kingdom entrance is dependant upon the mandate that our “righteousness exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees” (5:20). There is nothing in the Sermon to flatter ones pride or feed ambitions. It’s all about selflessness and surrender to God in the most comprehensive sense. But the Law in Jesus’ day was usually interpreted by proud men who were unwilling to receive Him as Messiah. Because Jesus did nothing to establish His authority as an earthly king, He made no effort to win them over. Spiritually blind to His motives, they rejected His teachings. Had the rabbis recognized Jesus as Messiah, they might have become disciples, but spiritual pride is blinding in the first century and in the twenty-first.
Whereas the rabbis derived their authority from official sources, Jesus spoke on His own authority—and the effect was astonishment (7:28-29). A huge discrepancy existed between God’s expectations and pharisaical practices. The Sermon serves to validate God’s spiritual priorities, standing in stark contrast to the political agenda of the Sanhedrin. But because Jesus was not a Sadducee, Pharisee, Essene nor Zealot, the professional religionists of His day could not label Jesus and place Him on a shelf in their ecclesiastical museum. Believers should note that Jesus’ standards are diametrically opposed to the lifestyle based on the illusive American Dream. There is no hint of situation ethics, environmental conditioning or allusions to political correctness. The Sermon flings open wide the doors of the Kingdom of God to everyone.
Although the end result of the Sermon was amazement, Jesus never taught in order to astonish. The response Jesus hopes for is that His people will want to know Him more intimately. Jesus pulls no punches: blessings are contingent upon His theology being lived out in daily life. “If you love Me, keep my commandments” (Jn. 14:15). At the end of His Sermon, He leaves us with only two possible responses. Build wisely or foolishly.
The Sermon on the Mount is a jewel in the crown of God and within this gem are many facets. As it opens, we are dazzled by an octave of brilliant flashes of insight into God’s heart. The Beatitudes epitomize the entire Sermon in crystallized form. They are a series of ethical guidelines which carry a pervasive note of futuristic optimism. This short passage offers a complete digital image of a disciple. “They form a mosaic of the Christian character. No single one of them can exist in isolation from the others.” (R.V. Tasker, St. Matthew: An Introduction and Commentary, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1961, 61). They have stood the test of time as the supreme statement of the ethical duties of human beings worldwide.
Since foundational features of God’s kingdom include happiness and blessing, Jesus’ opening remarks are in perfect synchronization with the rest of the Sermon. “Blessed” (makarios) is the trigger word, expressing the happy feelings associated with receiving God’s favor. Because the Vulgate gives this term as “beati”, this passage has become commonly known as “The Beatitudes.”
The Beatitudes set forth the objectives, motivation and the pattern for true happiness. Alongside the people on the Galilean hillside that day, Beleivers today must place themselves under His tutelage, willingly receiving His instruction by sitting at the feet of the Ultimate Teacher. They must see other human beings from God’s perspective and treat them accordingly. In order to regulate their worldview, they must also listen to the Holy Spirit which He has sent, incorporating His tutelage into all ethnic lifeways. Correct actions follow correct thinking: right attitudes shape right theology. Since the focus of this study is to help reshape the thinking of Believers, let us hereafter refer to the eight Beatitudes simply as “The Attitudes.”
Many titles have been given to the Attitudes throughout the centuries. A contemporary label might be “Spiritual Profiling.” In any case, they represent the dynamics of the Christian’s mindset. They tell us how to look at life as God sees it through the eyes of His only begotten Son. The Attitudes derive their authority from the One who spoke them. Jesus was qualified to teach this message, for He alone was the only Being capable of living perfectly the life He described. He knew personally what God-like character entailed. Jesus claimed to know how life should be lived and the true spiritual ideals underneath the shallow, external requirements of the law. The Attitudes describe a practical, godly wisdom that outclass all secular philosophies. Through them, we breathe the atmosphere of consolation and assurance on a planet polluted by sin.
Happiness and peace are desired by most human beings, but it seems at first glance that the life He described would be miserable. Few will go the second mile if the first one was inconvenient. The Attitudes do not teach how to be saved, but rather how to live as mature believers. They do not seek to discover who are the saved, but rather the evidences that one is saved. They do not provide the secret of how to get rich, but rather how to be blessed.
The topics in these eight Attitudes are crystal clear:
1. The humble/poor in spirit – verse 3
2. The mourners – verse 4
3. The meek – verse 5
4. The hungry after righteousness – verse 6
5. The merciful – verse 7
6. The pure in heart – verse 8
7. The peacemakers – verse 9
8. The persecuted – verses 10-12
In both form and structure, the Attitudes are totally unique in all of Jesus’ teachings. They are the announcement from the Son of God that a new day has dawned. But the final Attitude is expanded upon by Jesus more than the others, informing His disciples to expect unfair treatment.
Some feel that the Attitudes are the eight stages of the Christian life, each step being successive, mastering one before advancing to next. More realistically, the Attitudes represent situations that every Christian will inevitably wrestle with. Although each phrase in the Attitudes is perfect within itself and contains its own unique blessing, Jesus simply presents them as a total package.
The Attitudes are designed to affect current behavior, for we do not read “Blessed shall one be” but “Blessed are.” The opportunity to be happy in Jesus is in the present tense, for the blessings of the Christian life are available today. The babe in Christ can be blessed as well as the mature Christian. All the Attitudes have promises attached for the obedient children of God.
It was new genre to propose that anyone could be genuinely happy. Since the Gospel is good news, Jesus uses the theme of happiness as the heart of His first dissertation. From the beginning, it is clear that Jesus is speaking of a reality that can be known only to believers. If Jesus’ list seems self-contradictory, it is because the Attitudes don’t reflect worldly logic. Paul warns us not to expect unbelievers to comprehend spiritual truths (cf. I Cor. 2).
Add to this the seemingly paradoxical nature of the Attitudes: How can hungry, meek, persecuted mourners be happy? Far from being blessed, most people would consider such people less fortunate. At first glance, the brand of happiness Jesus describes looks like misery mislabeled. But hardship endured with the right spirit and for the right reasons can result in extreme happiness.
A revolutionary way of life must of necessity be based on revolutionary thinking. Jesus’ standards call for new math, for the yardstick by which such happiness is measured is selflessness. God considers character before He considers conduct. The blessed happiness Jesus refers to is an inner contentedness unaffected by outward circumstances. It is not a superficial feeling of security within ones comfort zone, but an objective reality based on redemption.
For Jesus to bash materialism and pride has been a slap in the face to proud individuals for two millennia. He knew that real blessedness is a secret known only to God’s children and is subsequently hidden from the “wise and prudent” (cf. Mt.11). Jesus continues today to bless those whom the world calls “losers.” He doesn’t save us from suffering, but rather blesses us in the midst of it. Jesus’ blessings, as described in these Attitudes, are the only ones that last. As He begins His teaching ministry, the Master Teacher explains that a blessed condition has nothing to do with external circumstances.
The Attitudes do not describe levels of spiritual maturity one may progressively attain, but rather the ideal Christian character as a whole. They do not point to what a person actually does, but how one should think. We are not only able to be like the person described in the Attitudes, we are required to be regardless of tribe, gender, age or educational level. Every Christian must seek to become the type of person Jesus portrays here, not just exceptionally gifted Believers. Jesus never hints these are the outstanding characteristics of mystical “Super Christians”. No Attitude refers to natural gifting, for no one conforms to these demands without focused effort. Although the Attitudes are not gifts in themselves, we need the gifts of the Holy Spirit to produce these dispositions within us.
Jesus begins and ends His list with the promise of the “Kingdom of Heaven” (v. 3 and 10). In Philippians 3:20, Paul reminds us that our citizenship is in heaven, having been delivered from the power of darkness and translated into the Kingdom of His dear Son (cf. Col. 1). To have the mind of Christ (I Cor. 2:16) requires us to think differently as we seek entrance into our Kings incomparable dominion.
Humility – 5:3
While much of the Sermon on the Mount might be compared to the teachings from Sinai, the blessings of the Attitudes are more in keeping with the blessings from Mount Gerizim (cf. Deut. 28). It is called the Sermon on the Mountain, but begins in the valley of lowliness of spirit. Although the Attitudes are not progressive, each one building upon the previous one, poverty of spirit must naturally be placed first.
In the opening paragraph of this doctrinal treatise, we are challenged with the issue of humility. This initial Attitude is key to all the rest, for it describes the fundamental characteristic of Kingdom citizenry. All other attributes demanded of His disciples flow from this one. Though the philosophers and religious leaders of Jesus’ day did not regard humility as a moral virtue, it tops His list. In the Attitudes, Jesus paints a composite portrait of the truly blessed person. Every Christian should check daily to see if this picture resembles them. The truths in the Attitudes are universal, humbling and make us aware of our need of grace. Blessed are those who admit their spiritual poverty and act accordingly.
Thinking little of one’s self is diametrically opposed to the world’s philosophy. Books on the topic of humility do not make the bestseller list. No statement makes this distinction more vivid than this single verse. What the world tends to value—education, self-expression, self-aggrandizement and self-reliance—God does not value. Poverty of spirit is the opposite of self-sufficiency, self-assertiveness and haughtiness. Due to the tendency of people to believe that only the rich and famous can be truly happy, the concept of poverty of spirit is not in vogue today.
No one can enter the Kingdom of God who feels worthy of it. Even though poverty of spirit is not precisely the same thing as meekness (v. 5), these Attitudes are related. Combined, these two concepts comprise twenty percent of the theology contained in the passage. There is only a short step between humility and possessing everything, for the poor in spirit (v. 3) inherit heaven and the meek (v. 5) inherit the earth.
By the time the Messiah arrived, “the priestly aristocracy had come to view the poorer social class as inferior.” (F. D. Bruner, Matthew: The Christbook, Vol. I, Dallas: Word Publishing, 1987, 138). Since God-fearing families were referred to as “the poor,” Jesus picks up on this to coin the term “poor in spirit.” “Poor” is ptochos, from a verb meaning “to cringe.” One who is ptochos is totally dependent on others for survival. It is a picture of a beggar in that era who commonly cringed in a corner, holding out one hand for alms and hiding his face with the other. The same term is used of Lazarus, referring to a person reduced to total destitution (Lk. 16:20). In the context of this passage, it bespeaks our inability to care for ourselves spiritually—our ineptness to do and be what God requires.
Ptochos has little to do with physical poverty, for Jesus never taught material poverty as a guarantee of spiritual prosperity. God does not bash those who are materially impoverished, for Jesus Himself was poor. Poverty of spirit is the recognition of one’s true position before God, the admission that one has nothing apart from Him. We have no spiritual merit within ourselves and can earn no merit from God. Many poor people, far from being happy, are bitter, resentful and complain constantly of their lot in life. Rather than blessing, Paul warns that the love of money is the root of all evil. The Laodiceans proved that people could be rich monetarily, yet poor spiritually (cf. Rev. 3).
Being poor in spirit does not refer to an occasional reality check and token acknowledgment of God as our Source, but is the realization that God honors a contrite spirit (Ps. 51:17). It involves the awareness that overgrown egos will not fit through the gates of heaven. This verse points us to the self-emptying attitude of Christ, who “humbled Himself and became obedient unto the death of the cross” (Phil. 2:8)
Poverty of spirit involves a humble self estimate, a willingness to be saved, go where He directs, stay where He places us and move as He leads us. Many years ago, Frank Boyd, a great pioneer of the Pentecostal movement, was asked to share the most important truth he had discovered in his many decades as a Christian. Without hesitation, at 99 years of age, he said, “The recognition of my own worthlessness and God’s greatness.” Poverty of spirit means that I know if God was selling His salvation, I would have nothing to buy it with. In God’s sight, self-sufficiency is seen as the exact opposite of poverty of spirit.
The primary point of the Attitudes is total dependency upon God and not ourselves. To be humble is to see ourselves as God sees us—like sheep without a shepherd. As every Navajo herdsman knows, shepherd-less sheep become easily confused and tend to hurt themselves.
An attitude of poverty of spirit involves:
1. The absence of reactionary and retaliatory thinking, trusting God to vindicate.
2. The awareness and practice of an abounding attitude of gratitude.
3. The admission that self-righteousness is as filthy rags.
4. The acknowledgement that esoteric religions are patently false.
5. The accountability to voluntarily empty oneself, allowing God to fill the void.
6. The acquiescence of the deservedness of hell instead of heaven.
7. The awakening of the prodigal within, who seeks to come home to the Father.
8. The acceptance of the fact that egos can only be starved by removing those things on which they feed
9. The amiable spirit which understands that neither ethnicity nor position buys one special status or favor with God.
Through humility, the door opens to the Kingdom of God. The citizens inside are not the proud or the religious, but the poor in spirit, the meek, and those with a deep sense of spiritual impoverishment. The Greek structure here is interesting, for the word “of” is a genitive of possession: the kingdom not only exists, but is guaranteed to the humble. There is a reward promised for the poor in spirit, as there is a promise attached to each of the eight Attitudes. The humble get what sinners have little appreciation for—the Kingdom of Heaven. To be “poor in spirit” sounds like we own nothing—yet we will receive both the King and His domain.
The Attitudes are the answer to the dilemma of human happiness, depicting not a state of mind but a state of soul. Jesus does not glibly wish everyone happiness, but promises it to obedient disciples. We are not blessed as we display this attitude, but as we truly possess it. Only as we are emptied of self can we be filled with the joy of the Lord. The Attitudes are designed to raise us to God’s standards, despite the challenge and hardship of a focused Christian lifestyle.
This passage verifies that Jesus has special concern for those oppressed through injustice. Many people suffer from a poor self image, but poverty of spirit does not mean putting ourselves down. True humility before God is simply the recognition of one’s helplessness to change their condition without His intervention. It is hard for many face a “dual discrimination”. They may be oppressed because of their ethnic origin while also facing persecution for righteousness’ sake. But even uncommonly harsh injustice gains no nation special favor with God. All who come to God must accept the fact that His Son died on the cross for their sins. We come to Jesus with a broken heart, and then walk with Him with a healed one. Look at the Christ of Calvary as the ultimate example of humility, for pride is a plant that does not flourish in the shadow of the cross.
Mourning – 5:4
How can happiness be derived from sadness? Of all the Attitudes, this one seems the most paradoxical, for happiness and mourning seem diametrically opposed to each other. The foundational translation of the word “blessed” (makarios) is “happy,” but how can one who mourns be joyous? The demands of the Attitudes often seem incongruous with common sense. Universally, human beings tend to run after joy and away from sorrow, but here Jesus teaches that bliss is the fruit of grief. Expanding further on this same thought, Jesus said, “Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep” (Lk. 6:25).
In keeping with the spiritual nature of the Attitudes, it would be out of character for the Lord to suddenly switch from heavenly ideals to discuss worldly sorrow. Christ does not teach that heartache is a doorway to heaven, for one can be miserable all their life and never enter there. From the Lord’s perspective, true happiness stems from character, not power, pride or position. People have a tendency to seek gratification through entertainment, finances and self-expression, failing to realize that most of their problems are the result of sin.
Grief and despair are readily found in the everyday trials of life, but not all who weep are blessed and not all who cry find comfort. Jesus does not teach that people will be blessed because they are unhappy due to failures, wounded pride, bereavement, pain, frustration, discouragement, disappointments or financial reversals. This verse gives no hint that the sorrows of the grief-stricken will immediately be alleviated. Jesus is not proposing that the more one cries, the more spiritual one becomes. Those who mourn and remain sinners will remain sorrowful.
Neither does the mourning Jesus refers to have to do with self-pity or self-imposed grief. If that were true, we could afflict ourselves in order to attain happiness. But many people do glory in their grief, hoping this will purchase special favor from God. Others wear sorrow as a badge of spirituality because it gains them attention. Such people are afflicted with a strand of “spiritual hypochondria”. This verse in no way implies that we must tough things out, grin and bear it and smile through our pain with clenched teeth.
Within the New Testament, nine different terms are used to refer to sorrow. Of these terms, the one used here, penthountes, is the strongest. It is a present participle denoting continuous action. The participial form of the term causes one to focus on the current state of the grieving experience. It concerns those who are now mourning, not those who have mourned or will mourn. God’s grace is always in the present tense. Mourning breeds comfort as it is practiced.
Penthountes depicts the deepest grief possible and is usually reserved for bereavement. It is the term used when the disciples grieved over Jesus’ death before they learned of His resurrection (Mk. 16:10). This verse reveals that the deepest joy can result from the deepest sadness. Martin Luther is reported to have said, “Simply begin to be a Christian, and you will soon find out what it means to mourn.” (Ibid., 139).
But Christians today often have a shallow and perverted sense of sin. The reason is that they fail to see it from God’s perspective and understand that blessed happiness results only from freedom from sin. “The pain that God approves results in a change of heart that leads to salvation.” (E. J. Goodspeed, The New Testament: An American Translation, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1923, 101).
When a person bemoans sin, he/she also laments the consequences. Since distress of soul should be a regular Christian experience, Jesus does not teach other Attitudes without first touching the subject of godly sorrow for sin.
The mourners Jesus speaks of here are God’s children, grieving over things worthy of their energy. However, there is no object listed as the cause of the mourning He refers to. Since He does not supply us with the source of the grief, we must be cautious about filling in the blanks. It seems evident that happiness does not come through mourning over just anything but over spiritual things. Jesus’ final Attitude deals with the mourning that results from persecution, but informs us we can be joyful and blessed even in that.
Believers are called to have tough skin and soft hearts, for calloused hearts do not grieve over sin. Christians mourn when they comprehend what sin means to God, for it was the reason His Son hung on the cross. Guilt is cause for mourning, as David exclaimed, “My sin is ever before me. Against Thee only have I sinned, and done this evil in Thy sight” (Ps. 51:3-4). The Prodigal’s journey home could not commence until he realized that he had sinned. Conviction drove him to find peace in the arms of his father. God alone can comfort effectively, for only He can pardon completely.
David also wrote, “Streams of tears run from my eyes because they do not keep your laws” (Ps. 119:136). In addition to mourning for our own iniquities, we must be grieved for the sins of others. The sin that surrounds us should prompt us to pray that others will also understand their sins and grieve over them. We “weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15), for a deep conviction of sin produces an exhilarating joy when one is freed from them.
The Messiah earned the title as the ultimate “Man of Sorrows” for He alone was best acquainted with grief (cf. Isa.53). We never read that Jesus laughed, but the shortest verse in the Bible confirmed that He wept. What motivated the Son of God to cry was not manic depression. He wept at Lazarus’ grave and over the city of Jerusalem, but had no need to grieve over personal sins for He had none. Jesus came to “bind up the brokenhearted” (Isa. 61:1). When the Son of God wept, He wept for others.
Mourning is a response which follows the discovery of one’s true spiritual condition, for one cannot ponder sin seriously without grieving. The result of this grieving process is happiness—the sobering joy of those who awake to their spiritual bankruptcy and act on this revelation.
The sorrowful person Jesus refers to is not one overwhelmed with despair, for the promise of being comforted shows this is not a permanent condition. The repentant are blessed because God does not leave them weeping. Only those who have had this experience can know this incomparable happiness. The emphatic pronoun antos (they) restricts this godly comfort to those who mourn over sin. “Shall be” is in the future tense but not the distant future, for blessings can follow immediately after compliance.
Comforted is parakaleo and as a noun is rendered “Comforter” in John 14:16. Jesus’ choice of words here is not accidental. Pentecostals best understand this verse, for they have established a relationship with the Comforter Jesus promised. No conventional consolation can compare with the kind, gracious comfort of the Spirit of God.
If some stumble over this particular Attitude, perhaps it is because they have already been in mourning for some time akready. But as we have shown, grief alone gains no nation or individual special status with God. Many are perplexed about this Attitude who have not yet experienced the blessings of forgiveness. Women must be like the girl in Luke 7 who wept as she washed Jesus’ feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. Men must be like the man in Luke 18 who smote upon his chest and cried, “God be merciful to me a sinner.”
Sensitivity to sin here on earth will make heaven all the sweeter in contrast. Paul alludes to the fact that our momentary, transitory afflictions continue to accumulate for us a permanent and glorious reward which far outweighs our pain (II Cor. 4:17). Heaven is our reward for repentance; there Jesus will wipe away tears from every eye.
Meekness – 5:5
Meekness is one of the most misunderstood words in the Bible. It is difficult to define, for no single term explains it completely. Although it is kindred to “poor in spirit,” the words are not completely synonymous. There is a slight distinction. Whereas poverty of spirit addresses humility before other people, meekness speaks more to one’s relationship with God. Being poor in spirit has its focus on human sinfulness, but meekness has God’s holiness in view. They are two sides of the same coin.
The term “meek” in the Hebrew is anwah and means to bow down; to be lowly and humble. In Greek, it is prautes: one who is kind. It bespeaks a gentle attitude that maintains patience despite offences. It is used when referring to soft breezes, healing medicines and the controlled strength of animals broken by a trainer in order to become useful. “Prautes” means power surrendered to God’s control, not power used for selfish purposes. But the only way to define meekness is to see how it is used in the Word of God. In Psalm 10:17 David said, “Lord, you will hear the desire of the anwah. Isaiah said, “The anwah shall increase their joy in the Lord” (Isa. 11:4). Meekness is listed as one of the fruits of the Spirit (cf. Gal. 5). Paul wrote that we are to “Lead a life worthy of your calling, with all lowliness and meekness” (Eph. 4:1). James 1:21 tells us to “receive with prautes the Word of God.” The use of the term consistently involves one’s attitude toward God, not just toward other people.
People often kick and gouge for their place in society, a seat at the head table, a promotion, caring little whose fingers they step on as they pass them on the corporate ladder. But true meekness is absolutely compatible with authority, power and strength, for it is based on God’s Word. Meekness in no way means a compromise with evil, but involves standing up for God and His principles without flinching.
In Jesus’ era, meekness was associated with weakness. Neither Jews or Greeks viewed it as a virtue. Even today, meekness has a negative connotation. A meek person is often seen as one who is in passive submission to everybody, a spineless coward, the type of person others walk over – one who almost invites insult and injury. True meekness is not simply being tolerant and easy going, for many unsaved people are just naturally nice.
Before Christianity became widespread, meekness was usually only expressed in outward actions of humility, but Jesus used it to refer to a state of mind, an inner quality of life. He lifted the concept of meekness to a spiritual level, one which far exceeds just biting the bullet or holding one’s temper. All the graces listed in the Attitudes are necessary to appreciate the concluding one: how to deal with persecution. Without a meek spirit, persecution is tough to handle. The meekness Jesus taught involves a new view of myself, expressed in my dealings with others.
The clearest portrait of a truly meek individual is best depicted by building a portfolio. He or she:
1. Is not demanding
2. Is not status or position conscious
3. Is obedient to authority
4. Possesses a quiet, gentle teachable spirit
5. Is not overly sensitive to personal affronts
6. Is spiritually strong, yet not boastful
7. Practices patience with him/herself and others
8. Does not gossip
9. Is not defensive
10. Is not easily provoked
11. Is not resentful and holds no grudges
12. Can accept correction without argumentation
13. Does not insist on having their rights when wronged
14. Can accept insult without the desire for retaliation, trusting God will vindicate
15. Is more willing to forgive injury than to inflict it
16. Accepts suffering without bitterness
17. Is confident that God is in control of his/her circumstances
18. Has ceased to care what others say or think about him or her
19. Has a controlled determination to do God’s will
20. Is broken and open before God
21. Understands that only Jesus’ opinion matters
22. Doesn’t attend pity parties
23. Possesses an attitude of gratitude
24. Is selfless
25. Is both sympathetic and empathetic
26. Has a genuine concern about the welfare of others
27. Listens to the voice of the Spirit
28. Has the mind of Christ (I Cor. 2:16)
29. Is amazed at the mercy, grace and kindness of God
30. Enjoys life, knowing they “possess the earth” (5:5)
The best way to define it is to observe people doing meekness. Jesus’ definition stems from a new nature and identity in Him. Paul refers to “the prautes and gentleness of Christ” (II Cor. 10:1). Our finest example is Jesus Himself for “When He was reviled, He reviled not again. When He was buffeted, He threatened not” (I Pet. 2:23). Believers are to restore those who fall spiritually “in the spirit of prautes” (Gal. 4:1). Jesus makes meekness a prerequisite for Kingdom of God citizenry.
Many today find it difficult to believe that a meek person can be happy or blessed, let alone be abundantly rewarded for such a worldview. Although Jesus refers to a futuristic inheritance, the humble person also owns the earth right now, for he or she is content while dwelling upon it. No one can “purchase” the earth with meekness, for an inheritance cannot be bought. We inherit the new earth, but we cannot brag about what we have not earned. “Inherit” (kleronomeo) is used fourteen times in the New Testament and always refers to spiritual inheritances, never carnal ones. The Prodigal sought to become an heir prematurely, only to find his father desired to give him even greater blessings.
Mother Earth has been raped repeatedly. Strip-mining, pollution and urban sprawl have made her beautiful face almost unrecognizable. But even the earth is not permanent, for it too shall pass away (II Pet. 3:10). Human beings must view earth from God’s perspective. The Kingdom Jesus presents to us is eternal and involves a complete re-creation of the heavens and earth (II Pet. 3:13). Only as one possesses the attributes Jesus spoke of on the mountain that day can they possess a new earth forever. Our planet is ready for God’s “extreme makeover”.
Righteousness – 5:6
Consider His physical location as Jesus gives this illustration: the parched, barren land of Palestine. Food and water are not plentiful in many places in the Middle East. Jesus teaches that water is to our physical survival as living water is to our spiritual survival. He knows both hunger and thirst are insatiable desires, for one must eat and drink regularly to sustain life. Since these are two of the strongest natural appetites, all nationalities can easily relate to this allegory. Bona fide hunger and/or thirst consume all other desires. Aggressive, not passive hunger is in view here, not transitory desire. Marooned sailors have resorted to cannibalism and drinking sea water in an effort to survive. The Greek terminology points to this hunger and thirst as both a present and a continual experience.
The first three Attitudes cause us to see our weaknesses, helplessness, and spiritual poverty. Verse six is central to the passage, for without an all-consuming desire for righteousness, we will not tend to be peacemakers, meek nor accept persecution. This verse gives the solution: the mandate to have a healthy, daily hunger for God. The analogy compares physical hunger with the desire for a deeper spiritual life beyond the initial salvation experience. A longing for God’s righteousness is normative and must characterize the life of every disciple. Amos said the Lord would send a hunger and a thirst…not for food and water, but for “hearing the Word of the Lord” (8:11). People are starving spiritually all around us, yet most never seek that which brings true satisfaction.
“Righteousness” is dikaiosyne and is the perhaps the most paramount word in Scripture. It is exactly the same Greek word as justification and is absolutely foundational to Pauline theology. Because one cannot separate the concept of justification from justice, some have supposed that the righteousness Jesus refers to is political justice, anticipating the end of Roman oppression. But in each of the eight instances Jesus uses the word, it carries exactly the same meaning, referring to “one who is conformable to divine and human law, morally upright as he/she ought to be; one vindicated, acquitted and restored to divine favor”.
Having been justified on the basis of Jesus’ atoning work on the cross, one is viewed by God as if he/she had never sinned at all. “Jesus uses the definite article ten, indicating that He is speaking of the righteousness, the only true righteousness.” (John MacAuthur, New Testament Commentary, Matthew I-VII, Chicago: Moody Press, 1985, 183). The term “justified” reminds us we are now, positionally, just as if I’d never sinned at all. Since righteousness involves a desire to be like God, Jesus’ disciples must hunger for spiritual things above all else, with the accompanying desire to see others filled with His righteousness. “The meaning of any word is conditioned by the character of the person who speaks it. He who best exemplified righteousness demands it of His followers.” (William Barclay, Gospel of Matthew, Vol. I, Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1977, 101). But this verse does not suggest that one attains righteousness by simply hungering and thirsting for it, for righteousness is non-meritoriously imputed and cannot be earned. There is no hint that we are filled by self-effort. Self-righteousness appears to God as a polluted garment (Isa. 64:6). Satisfaction is the by-product of the hungering process.
As with most of the Attitudes, we are left to fill in some blanks. Though the object of our hunger is God’s righteousness, we are not told how to obtain it. A more definitive explanation of regeneration, righteousness and redemption would fall to Paul and others after the resurrection. “Shall be filled” is chortasthesontai and means to be totally satisfied. It is a strong graphic phrase referring to the contentment of animals fed until they want no more. Paul hoped that the Ephesians would be filled with all the fullness of God (3:19). Whatever it is that we are to be filled with, it is clear that God Himself must supply it. He causes the hunger in order to satisfy it, then provides the satisfaction that results from our seeking. We then become full of thanksgiving, praise and mercy until our cups run over, attaining a satisfaction which the world can neither supply nor remove. The goal is a wonderful freedom from dependence on external things for satisfaction, accompanied by the renewable desire to feast again on God and His Word. Later in the sermon, we are mandated to “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness” (6:33).
Because dikaiosyne involves one’s legal standing before God, righteousness is the singular thing Jesus encouraged people to be hungry and thirsty for. Such a hunger is mandatory, for in the last Attitude, Jesus tells us that we will suffer for righteousness’ sake.
Hunger pangs are reminders one is dissatisfied. A truly hungry person is restless, having an all-consuming passion for food. Here Jesus refers to a conscious longing due to the urgent need for satisfaction. No one will dispute that our self-indulgences have made America world famous, yet Americans are hungry still. They tend to log on to anything that promises to fill their emptiness. Human beings want gourmet coffee and seek the latest taste sensations, but are starving for happiness instead of righteousness.
“Why do you work,” God asks, “for that which will not satisfy?” (Isa. 55:2). Whenever one puts happiness before righteousness, they get the very opposite of happiness. Pastor Tommy Barnett has frequently stated, “If you chase happiness, happiness will always outrun you. But if you chase righteousness, happiness will chase after you.”
The thirst Jesus speaks of is reminiscent of what David wrote in Psalm 42:1, “As the deer pants after the brook, O God, so my heart pants after You.” His righteousness must be sought after with one’s entire heart, soul, mind and strength. The longing we should have for Jesus, no drink can quench. Spiritual junk food will never satisfy the longing for rightness with God. As nourishing food and drink will sustain and refresh the body, so the Bread of Life (Jn. 6:48) and the Living Water (Jn. 4:10) will satisfy the deepest desires of all people.