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The main characteristics of the way of life set out in the beatitudes can be summarised in four ways:
a) Inwardness - rightness of heart and spirit. If we are not right with God we cannot be right within ourselves or with anyone else.
b) Enthusiasm, earnestness, perseverance. The work done within the heart should not exclude action but should be the source of it concerning God and the good works he has called us to do (Eph. 2:10).
c) Disregard for the world's prizes and honours in preference of seeking those things from above (Col. 3:1) and for the supreme and heavenly prize to which God in Christ is calling us (Phil. 3:14).
d) Love, not self-regard. That is, a love for God and for others that will seek the wellbeing of others rather than merely that of oneself. An Old Testament parallel of the Beatitudes is found in Deuteronomy chapters 28 and 33.
5:1-2 When he saw the crowds, he went up the mountain. After he sat down his disciples came to him. Then he began to teach them by saying:
It was not to the multitudes that Jesus spoke as he gave the Sermon on the Mount, but his own disciples. In fact he makes certain that only his disciples were there (all those who followed him, not necessarily just the twelve). He then sat down and prepared himself before commencing to teach them.
5:3 "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them.
Those who were considered commoners, who possessed little of this world's goods, heard Jesus gladly and responded to him more than most. Yet "poor in spirit” does not refer to this type of poverty; nor does it denote those who are poor-spirited, that is dejected or self-pitying. Rather, the person who is poor in spirit knows that he has nothing to offer God except his own sin-stained soul; and that without God he is unprofitable.
The poor in spirit are the opposite of the proud. Goodspeed says “blessed are those who feel their spiritual need.” This realisation of being poor in spirit is not just something we should have before coming to Christ, but is something we should retain throughout our Christian life. In Revelation 3:17-18 Jesus challenges the Laodicean church which, failing to acknowledge that they were still poor in spirit had become proud and arrogant.
Only the poor in spirit receive the "kingdom of heaven". They live in the realm where God rules, where his name is holy. They are citizens of his kingdom and can therefore enjoy all the benefits that heaven offers; not only in this life, but also in the next (Rom. 14:17).
5:4 "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
"Those who mourn" may be those who display a sorrow for their sins and for the grief which these have caused God. It could also stand for those who are bereaved of loved ones, or for those who are grieved by the testing and trials of life. In Isaiah 53:3 we read that Jesus Christ was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. Since he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows, he is able to comfort us; and it is as we receive comfort, support and encouragement from him so we in turn can comfort others (2 Cor. 1:3-5). Hugh Martin says that this beatitude has a deeper meaning – it is a blessing upon those who mourn for the needs of others, whose hearts are full of sympathy for their fellow beings. “Mourning is indeed but another and deeper side of loving" (G.M. Trevelyan). This is the love that Jesus Christ has for us and is the reason why his succour is so comforting (Heb. 4:15).
5:5 "Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
The word “meek” is generally misunderstood to refer to a person who is weak, but in fact the opposite is true. There can only be meekness where there is strength. Jesus called himself “meek and lowly” (Matt. 11:29) and yet he spoke with authority and demonstrated his power. When a person with such power is, all the same, kind and gentle, that is meekness. Vine says “the Lord was meek because he had the infinite resources of God at his command”.
The meek person denies self, not making selfish demands. Their concern is not for their own interests but for those of others. The story of the Good Samaritan provides us with a picture of a meek man who laid aside his own concern when need required to assist a fellow human being in distress. "They will inherit the earth" says Jesus. In the Old Testament this phrase was used concerning the Israelites literally possessing the land of promise (Psalm 37:11). In the New Testament the inheritance of the Christian is usually spoken of as eternal life, but here Jesus speaks of possessing the earth. It is not to the strong and mighty that the world belongs, but to those who exhibit a Christ-like meekness. The earth does not belong to man anyway, for "the earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof" (Ps. 24:1) but he will one day share his rule over it with those who are "joint heirs with Christ" (Rom. 8:17).
5:6 "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.
Those who "hunger and thirst after righteousness" have a burning desire to fulfil the will of God in their lives and to grow more like Christ. "They shall be filled" for God will feed and satisfy their souls with spiritual things (Isaiah 55:1-2). They shall be filled with the fullness of God (Eph. 3:19); with the Holy Spirit and power (Acts 2:4); with the fruits of righteousness (Phil. 1:11); and with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding (Col. 1:9). Remember that before God can feed your soul in this way, you must hunger and thirst after righteousness.
5:7 "Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
"The merciful" referred to are those manifest pity. “[Mercy] assumes need on the part of him who receives it and resources adequate to meet the need on the part of him who shows it" (Vine). Mercy is one of the attributes of God who is declared to be rich in mercy (Eph. 2:4) and to be the Father of all mercies (2 Cor. 1:3). In the Old Testament the word “love” is often translated as “mercy”, for without love it is impossible to be merciful, since the two ideas work hand in hand. To be merciful is to have compassion, a feeling of distress for the suffering of others and the desire to relieve it. God has revealed his mercy to us in that while we were still sinners, deserving the penalty of eternal death in hell, Jesus Christ came and paid our penalty for us (Rom. 5:8). In light of this, the apostle Paul exhorts Christians to clothe themselves with tender mercies (Col. 3:12); for it is only as we show mercy to others that we shall obtain mercy from God.
5:8 "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
"The pure in heart" are those with clean and sincere hearts. The heart represents our desires and affections, and it is these that must be clean. Whilst purity or holiness is the nature of God, we know that human beings are not pure. The inspired writer in Prov. 20:9 asks “who can say, I have made my heart clean, I am pure from sin?" and Jeremiah the prophet declares "the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?" (Jer. 17:9). So how can we be made pure or clean in God’s sight? By being washed in the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ (Heb. 9:13-14; 1 Cor. 6:11) and being made clean through the word of God (John 15:3). Having been thus made pure in heart through Christ we are exhorted to keep ourselves pure (1 Tim. 5:22) and to think upon those things which are pure (Phil. 4:8). To help us in this we are told in 1 John 3:2-4 that if we retain the hope within us of the return of the Lord Jesus Christ, and of our being made like him at his coming, then we shall be kept pure by that hope, even as he is pure.
The pure in heart "will see God". The only other place in scripture where it is said that God will be seen is in Job 19:26-27. God is a spirit and Jesus said that "no man has seen God at any time" (John 1:18). Yet he also said that whoever had seen and known him (that is Jesus Christ) had both seen and known the Father. Since the Lord Jesus Christ is God manifest in the flesh (1 Tim. 3:16), those who saw him whilst he was on earth certainly saw God although few realised it. As we have already seen (1 John 3:2), all believers will one day see Jesus Christ, and so perhaps in this way “will see God”.
5:9 "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.
"The peacemakers" are not those who try to keep the peace at any price, and certainly not at the expense of the truth of the word of God. But in so much as it is possible, they seek to make peace. Peacemakers are likened to God, who sent Jesus to make peace between sinners and God. Only those who display elements of God’s character in this way have the right to be thought of as his children.
5:10 "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them.
Doing the work of a peacemaker and bringing the message of reconciliation to sinners will bring persecution from a world which is at enmity with God. This persecution comes as a result of our doing what is good and right and does not refer to the trouble we bring on ourselves by our own bad behaviour (1 Pet. 2:19-20, 3:17). But to those who suffer opposition for doing the will of God, this beatitude promises the "kingdom of heaven".
5:11 “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you and say all kinds of evil things about you falsely on account of me.
Three forms of suffering are described here: insult, persecution and false accusation – all for Christ's sake. To be insulted is to be reviled with abusive and scornful language for the sake of Christ; to be persecuted is to be oppressed, harassed or maltreated in any way for Christ; and to be falsely accused means to be the victim of malicious slander, having lies told about you deliberately to incriminate or get you into trouble.
This time, the persecution is not “for righteousness” but on account of Christ. Yet since we have no righteousness outside of Christ, the two ideas might be taken together. Jesus himself suffered all these forms of ill-treatment and Isaiah tells us that he was oppressed, afflicted and led as lamb to be slaughtered; but even then he did not speak a word against his tormentors (Isa. 53:7 and 1 Pet. 2:21-23).
5:12 Rejoice and be glad because your reward is great in heaven, for they persecuted the prophets before you in the same way.
In all that we suffer for Christ we are to be glad and rejoice. When Jesus speaks of a great reward in heaven he is not offering compensation for suffering; rather he means that the things which we have received by the sovereign act of God’s grace are kept eternally for us in heaven, and the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with it (Rom. 8:18). Through the beatitudes, Jesus has outlined the characteristics he wishes to see in all who believe in him. In the next part of his sermon, he will proceed to show how the work of grace he accomplishes in our souls should be evidenced by good and righteous living.
Spiritual Standards in Society
Anger, Discord and Murder
5:21 "You have heard that it was said to an older generation, 'Do not murder,' and 'whoever murders will be subjected to judgment.'
In the law of Moses, murder was described as the unlawful premeditated killing of an innocent person (Ex. 20:13). The murderer was to be brought before the local judges (Deut. 16:18) and if found guilty was to be put to death (Ex. 21:12), usually by the sword. The interpreters of the law at that time applied this only to the actual act of murder.
5:22 But I say to you that anyone who is angry with a brother will be subjected to judgment. And whoever insults a brother will be brought before the council, and whoever says 'Fool' will be sent to fiery hell.
Jesus declared that the action of murder begins in the heart, and that anger which is allowed to build up can become uncontrolled, leading to violence. Colossians 3:8 tells us to completely rid ourselves of anger against a Christian brother or sister. Jesus defines murder as being angry or harbouring malice without any real reason. Those who do so will be brought to judgement and pay the penalty of a murderer. The word “Raca” (AV), means empty-head, or idiot, and those who insulted a brother or sister with such words were to be brought before the ruling council, the high court of those days, who had the power to impose death by stoning. But if a man calls his brother or sister "a fool" which means a godless moral reprobate, such a person would be judged by God to be worthy of the punishment of hell.
5:23-24 So then, if you bring your gift to the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother and then come and present your gift.
Consequently, because of what Jesus has just said, if anyone remembers that he has any grievance against a brother or sister when he comes before God to offer his gift he should leave the gift there as a token of his sincerity and determination to put the matter right. Having done so he will be able to offer his gift, for it will be acceptable to God. The equivalent of the altar today would be the communion service (1 Cor. 11:26-28).
5:25-26 Reach agreement quickly with your accuser while on the way to court, or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge hand you over to the warden, and you will be thrown into prison. I tell you the truth; you will never get out of there until you have paid the last penny!
The adversary referred to here is the legal term for an opponent in a lawsuit. If you are being taken to court by someone you owe a debt then you should come to a friendly agreement with them while you have the chance; otherwise you might end up in prison. If God has become your adversary, for you have turned against him in your heart, then judgment may go worse for you, too. The context of Jesus’ teaching implies that to be right with God, you must be right with your brother also (1 John 3:15-16).
Marriage, Adultery and Divorce
5:27 "You have heard that it was said, 'Do not commit adultery.'
Adultery was forbidden by the law of God (Ex. 20:14 and Lev. 20:10). Lawyers of Jesus' time interpreted this to mean only the physical act of adultery, but Jesus applied this law to the heart.
5:28 But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to desire her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
It is not the passing glance or the momentary impulse of desire but the continued or regular looking at another woman with sexual intentions that arouses the evil desires which ultimately express themselves in bodily activity. The sin starts in the heart, before it is committed in body.
5:29-30 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away! It is better to lose one of your members than to have your whole body thrown into hell. If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away! It is better to lose one of your members than to have your whole body go into hell.
To “offend” (AV) or “cause to sin” means to cause another to stumble or fall into a trap. The words used by Jesus "pluck it out - cut it off" were not meant to be literally applied, for even if these parts were destroyed it would not remove the inward corruption of sin. It is as Paul says in Col. 3:5 to "mortify” the sinful nature; that is to account it as dead and "to put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof" (Rom. 13:14). Jesus means us to deal with sin in a serious way, for it can lead us away from him and back into the world. In Corinth, when a man was living with his stepmother, Paul had to intervene to impose strict discipline, but it worked, and the man's soul was saved. This is the idea behind the "cutting off your hand".
5:31 "It was said, 'whoever divorces his wife must give her a legal document.'
The law on divorce was given in Deut. 24:1-4. The interpreters of this law said that a man could divorce his wife for any reason simply by issuing a certificate to her. But in Matthew 19:3-9 Jesus said that God has ordained that when a man and woman married they became as one flesh, which means inseparable. Hence it was only because of the hardness of their hearts Moses permitted them to divorce.
5:32 But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
Jesus states that the only grounds on which God will permit a man and wife to separate or divorce is immorality (or fornication), meaning sexual intercourse outside of marriage. Note that in this verse Jesus really does mean the physical act of sex, not the thought of the heart. A man who marries a divorced woman (and by implication a divorced man remarrying) is committing adultery.
5:43 "You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbour' and 'hate your enemy.'
Only the first part of this verse is correct (Lev. 19:18) but the second part of "hate your enemy" is what the scribes added.
5:44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; (KJV)
Jesus not only gives the correct spiritual interpretation of the law but also reverses the order, telling us to do something which is impossible in and of ourselves – to love our enemies. W.E. Vine says "Christian love has God for its primary object, and expresses itself generally, is not an impulse from feelings, it does not always run with the natural inclinations, nor does it spend itself only upon those for whom some relation is discovered - love seeks the welfare of all”. We are able to love our enemies only with the love of God that is poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 5:5). God loved us when we were still his enemies and so we ought to love likewise. We saw in verse 39 how we should react to those who physically abuse us; here we are told how we should treat those who verbally abuse us. Jesus says we are to bless them in return for their cursing, and not retaliate. The literal meaning of bless is to speak well of. Pray for those despitefully using you - those who are making false accusations against you and who persecute you.
5:45 So that you may be like your Father in heaven, since he causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.
In loving, blessing and praying for them it shows that God is our Father, that the Lord Jesus Christ dwells in our hearts, and that we are truly his children, for God is impartial. He providentially provides for the good and evil.
5:46-47 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Even the tax collectors do the same, don't they? And if you only greet your brothers, what more do you do? Even the Gentiles do the same, don't they?
The love of the heathen (which is what tax collectors were considered to be) is confined to those who give to them whereas ours should be that universal love that God has: "for God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son" (John 3:16).
5:48 So then, be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
The fulfilment of the standard set down in these verses can again only be accomplished as we allow the nature of Christ to be perfected in our hearts and lives. The word perfect signifies complete and mature. We know that God is perfect. When this word is applied to the believer it means that we are mature in our spiritual growth. It is in this way that Paul exhorts us to go on to maturity (Heb. 6:1) for he said concerning himself that he was not already perfect but that he was going on to perfection (Phil. 3:12). By the grace of God let us therefore go on to perfection.
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