Blessedness: The Beatitudes – Attitude for Blessing

“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 after righteousness, for they shall be filled.
Matthew 5:3-6 (NKJV).

As you see, we’ve only listed the first four beatitudes.  That’s because we believe they can be divided into two groups.  In the first four, our Lord describes the attitude required for blessedness.  Indeed, some have called the Beatitudes, “Be-atitudes.”  The second group refers to the activities resulting from the blessings brought by the attitude.

We’ll only look at the first four because of the length of the posts about them.  We’ll look at the other four, Lord willing, in a later post.

Just a couple of things before we get into the study itself.  First, the word translated “blessed” is plural: “makarioi” instead of “makarios,” which is the singular form.  Some have translated it “oh, the blessedness of….”  I think it speaks of abundance, of the lavish blessings God pours out on those our Lord describes in these eight verses.

Second, some translate this “Happy are the….”  One author even titled his book on the Beatitudes, “The Pursuit of Happiness.”  I think this is inadequate, and he himself said that “happy” doesn’t translate the word accurately.  “Happy” is related to words like “hap” – an obsolete word, I grant, but it means “that which comes suddenly or unexpectedly; chance; fortune; accident; casual event.”  (Webster’s New Twentieth Century Dictionary, unabridged, p. 824.)  I don’t think these words are what the Lord had in mind here.  “Happy” depends on our circumstances, our situation, what “happens” around us.  If they go well, we’re “happy,” if they’re not, we’re not.  To the ancient Greeks, the word was used to describe their gods, who were unaffected by the goings on in the mortal world.

The Lord was teaching that true blessedness is not dependent on things outside of ourselves: our wealth, our health, our families, our job, our house, etc.  Indeed, the worldling may have these things, but they are not blessings to him, cf.Luke 16:25.  True blessedness from God comes from things on the inside, which then affect things on the outside.

Having said that, the beatitudes seem to divide themselves into two sections, as we noted above: the first four, which describes attitudes of the heart, and the second four, coming from the first, which describe activities of the hand.

Attitudes of the heart, vs. 3-6

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

I think this attitude was supposed to be the result of centuries of the Mosaic Law.  Looking at his nation and himself, the wise Jew would say, “Who can do that?  Who can do those things the Law requires?”  The sacrificial system itself was designed to teach them that, that no one kept the Law perfectly and only through the sacrifice of an innocent substitute were they able to be forgiven of a particular sin and to continue to live.  It was designed to show them their need of a Savior.

“The poor in spirit” literally means “those who are spiritually bankrupt.”  Such know that they have nothing to offer to God, that they are unable to do even one thing He requires perfectly – and imperfectly won’t do.  They’re like the tax-collector in Luke 18:33 who standing afar off [as if he weren’t fit to approach], would not so much as lift his eyes toward heaven, but beat his breast, saying, “God, be merciful to me a sinner!”  I wonder if there isn’t something here in the word translated merciful.  It means “propitious” and was the word (“hilasmos”) used to describe the mercy seat above the Ark of the Covenant in the tabernacle and then in Solomon’s Temple.  The mercy seat was where, once a year on the Day of Atonement, the High Priest would sprinkle the blood of the sacrifice.  The tax-collector wasn’t pleading for mercy because of anything he was or could do, indeed those things brought him under judgment.  He was pleading for mercy on the basis of that sacrifice.

On the other hand, the Pharisee in the story was proud of himself and his accomplishments.  Just listen to him, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men – extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax-collector.  [Here I think there was a derisive gesture toward him].  I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all I possess,” Luke 18:11, 12.  Yes, sir, he was something – and not slow to tell you and God all about it.

The Apostle Paul had been like that.  Before his conversion, he himself said that he must do many things contrary to name of Jesus of Nazareth, Acts 26:9.  He had a whole list of things he thought were on the positive side of the ledger, so to speak, 1 Philippians 3:5, 6.

A strange thing happened to him.  Though he doesn’t specifically say when it happened, something happened to him.  In Romans 7:9, he wrote, I was alive once without the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died.

I died.

What does that mean? Certainly, it doesn’t mean physically.  I think it means that he began to understand the comprehensive nature of the Law, that it requires more than just form and ritual and habit; he also began to understand that all those things he thought were good were of no use at all in giving him the righteousness he thought he had.  Like Nicodemus before him, he learned that he needed something he didn’t have and couldn’t produce.  He was bankrupt.  And he was dead, spiritually.

There are many descendants of the Pharisee and Saul today.  Their hope of heaven is based entirely on their belief that they have done something which will get them there.  The list of such things is endless.  They’ve never seen that, like Paul, they have absolutely nothing to commend themselves to God.  They haven’t yet declared spiritual bankruptcy.  And they don’t understand that they are “dead” as far as God is concerned, cf. Ephesians 2:1.

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

This is the result of the realization of our sinfulness before a holy and righteous God.  Instead of being so proud of our religious accomplishments, so ready to list them on the credit side of the ledger, we see them for what they are in God’s sight: filthy rags, Isaiah 64:6.  That word translated “filthy rags” refer to a menstrual cloth or to a rag that a leper might use to wipe his sores.  Not a pretty picture, but graphic, demonstrating what “our righteousnesses,” those religious acts, that we’re so proud of, are like in the sight of God.  Our very best, religiously and apart from the Lord Jesus Christ, is as offensive to God as those rags would be to us.  And these are “our righteousnesses.”  When it comes right down to it, we have to admit that we really have very few of those, and a lot more of the other kind.  If our very best is offensive to God, then what must these other acts, the ones which aren’t so “righteous,” be like in His sight?!

Perhaps even more offensive to God is the idea that we CAN do something to get to heaven; that we can work up some sort of righteousness which will get us into the pearly gates, because God has already provided a righteousness, the only righteousness He will accept: the perfect righteousness of the Lord Jesus.  Besides that, there is no other righteousness, period.

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

Meekness.  It is not the same as weakness.  Our Lord referred to Himself as meek and lowly of heart in Matthew 11:29 (KJV).  Other translations say, “gentle and lowly of heart.”  The Lord was anything but weak.  He was humble and gentle, but never “weak.”  Read His scathing denunciations of the Pharisees in Matthew 23, His throwing out of the Temple those who had turned it into a kind of WalMart, John 2:13-17.  The word is the opposite of those who are always demanding their “rights.”  Such people will never understand the saying by one of the Puritans that anything outside of hell is better than we deserve.  Meekness will defend other people’s rights, but isn’t so concerned about securing her own, or about herself.  Meekness isn’t “MEekness.”

What does being “meek” have to do with “inheriting the earth?”

Simply this.  Those who are “meek” are the ones likely to be taken advantage of, cheated, by those are not meek, not selfless.  Our Lord is just assuring such that they will not be the losers in the long run.  After all, this life isn’t all there is to “life.”

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

This is the other side of being poor in spirit, being hungry for that which we lack and can’t provide for ourselves.  It’s instructive that our Lord uses these figures of speech.  Hunger and thirst are characteristics of life; the dead never hunger and thirst.  That’s why there is so little, or no, desire for the things of God in the world.  Religion, yes; the true God, no.  It is dead in trespasses and sins, Ephesians 2:1. But there are those in whom the Spirit of God operates, which is evident in their hunger and thirst after righteousness.

In the words of the hymn:  “O to be like Thee! blessed Redeemer, This is my constant longing and prayer….”  This is the longing of every true believer: to be more and more like the Savior.  And the Lord promises they will be filled; they will be satisfied.  Not the “foretaste of glory divine” that we have now, but satisfied, full to the brim.  Though true believers are truly saved, they are not yet “entirely sanctified,” as some put it.  John put it like this: Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be [we’re not there, yet], but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, we shall see Him as He is, 1 John 3:2.  Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

Such are the heart attitudes and characteristics of those who are blessed.  Acutely aware of their spiritual need, mourning over their spiritual faults, failures and shortcomings, yet not selfishly focusing on themselves, hungry and thirsty for that which only the Lord God can provide, yet knowing that one day, if not now, they will be comforted and satisfied beyond this world’s ability of understand or provide.

Such are the blessed.


5 thoughts on “Blessedness: The Beatitudes – Attitude for Blessing

  1. Wonderful series. Thanks for sharing.

    The righteousness thing being filthy rags…pretty disgusting. When I’m trying to be righteous on my own, I imagine myself draped in what amounts to false blood…my own substituted for that of Christ Jesus. That won’t do.

    On the mourning, Jesus gave us the Comforter. If we do not allow ourselves to mourn, the Comforter has nothing for which to comfort us. I found that to be interesting. 🙂


  2. I find your words comforting today as I daily encounter thoughts, deeds, and words of mine to grieve over. It is his Spirit that has opened my eyes and his Spirit that will continue the good work that I so badly need. 🙂

    Blessings ~ Wendy

  3. beautifully put … ” … those who are blessed. Acutely aware of their spiritual need, mourning over their spiritual faults, failures and shortcomings, yet not selfishly focusing on themselves, hungry and thirsty for that which only the Lord God can provide, … ” Thanks for this today and letting God use your gift of teaching 🙂

    • I do appreciate what you say, but it’s more that God has been pleased to give me a gift of teaching, and with it a great responsibility, and allows me to use it, I pray, to His glory and honor and to the blessing of people.

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