Tag Archives: Beatitudes

Becoming Kingdom People: The Shape of the Beatitudes

What do Kingdom people look like? Kingdom people come in different shapes and sizes, have different gifts and passions; they follow by leaving home and by staying put. But Kingdom people have several important things in common, and the Beatitudes offer several aspects of Kingdom people that are worth noting.  

Kingdom people seek to live their lives in sync with God and thus receive God’s blessing. They are poor in spirit, recognizing their intense need for God, understanding that they are not self-sufficient and therefore putting their whole trust in God. Kingdom people experience mourning, yet they are also blessed with Christ’s healing comfort and peace. They understand that the deeper the love, the deeper the loss—and in that same moment they recognize that it was with the deepest love of all that Jesus offered himself up for them. Kingdom people hunger and thirst for righteousness, working for the full realization of God’s kingdom in the world. They are merciful, extending forgiveness to others because they know forgiveness is crucial to God’s justice, and because they’re always aware of how much they’ve been forgiven. Kingdom people know that true children of God are peacemakers. They act as radical agents of love, which requires courage in a world whose foundation is force.  

When they are persecuted, Kingdom people continue to have hope, receiving God’s blessing, which provides them comfort in the midst of suffering. They understand that their lives are lived in God’s hand. They understand that God ultimately has won the victory, and they will share in God’s reward. Not all Kingdom people experience persecution, but they all align themselves with those who do, with those who suffer, and they work to alleviate that suffering and end that persecution.

Kingdom people are humble; they are meek and lowly and gentle. That’s a particularly difficult and challenging aspect of following in the Jesus way, and it is particularly significant in these times in which we find ourselves. The world doesn’t reward meekness; that isn’t an attribute that usually gets us to the top. Being gentle and lowly doesn’t usually get a person very much.

Jesus knew this when he talked about a particular experience he had at a dinner at which he was a guest. When Jesus arrived, he noticed that everyone was trying to get the best seat in the house. Everyone was intent on getting as close to the head of the table as possible. This observation prompted him to explain that we look at life backwards. We calculate that getting a better seat will aid us in advancing up the ladder of success—it will add to our honor. Jesus turns our assumptions around because he wants us to think as Kingdom people. He wants us to look at life from the perspective of the future of God’s kingdom back into the present. In talking about his dinner experience, he says, “If you are invited to a wedding feast, don’t always head for the best seat…Do this instead—sit at the foot of the table. Then when your host sees you, he will come and say, ‘Friend, we have a better place than this for you!’ Then you will be honored in front of all the other guests. “For the proud will be humbled, but the humble will be honored” (Luke 14:8, 10-11, NLT). Jesus wants us to think about our place at the table in light of God’s will and purpose.

If we are Kingdom people, if we are following in the Jesus way, then we will think about what the Kingdom is going to be like—a place where those who have humbled themselves will be honored and those who have honored themselves in the kingdom of this world will be humbled. The idea of humbling ourselves now is a challenging notion, because we are often confused by our concept of self-esteem. We confuse humility, being humble or gentle or lowly, with low self-esteem. Humility is about accurate esteem, it is about Kingdom esteem. Humility involves understanding that our worth is not estimated by the world’s calculations—that is, where we sit at the table. God’s math is much fuzzier—our worth is calculated not from our place at the table but from our place in God’s heart.

We are God’s beloved creatures. We are made in God’s image, paid for with the very life of God. We are creatures of unimaginable value, not because of our own merits—where we sit at the table, what we’ve accomplished, or how successful we are—but because we belong to God. God loves us unconditionally and without end, and understanding that fact is what God-esteem—Kingdom-esteem—is all about.

Kingdom-esteem leads to humility, because it involves recognizing that it’s not about us, it’s about what God has done for us. Humility doesn’t simply involve what we think of ourselves. It is intimately connected to what we think about others, how we esteem them and relate to them, and how we show them hospitality. Hospitality in the Jesus way entails showing love to those who can’t give us anything in return. Jesus said the crucial issue is not that we open our hearts and lives to folks who can repay us (see Luke 14:12); anybody can do that (Luke 6:33). The crucial issue is how we behave toward those who can do nothing for us (Luke 6:35; 14:13).

Kingdom people, those who are following in the Jesus way, don’t just open their hearts to those who can later provide them with some sort of benefit. They do not focus only on those who can show hospitality in return. Kingdom people show hospitality to everyone, particularly those who can do nothing in return. If we are following Jesus side by side, we’ll be practicing fuzzy math rather than calculating things from the world’s perspective.

Kindness, love, hospitality toward those who can do something in return will certainly reap rewards right now. That kind of behavior will more than likely add up to our increased success. But love, concern, support, solidarity with those who can do nothing for us will reap even greater rewards for eternity. 

Following in the Jesus way involves humility—an accurate sense of our Kingdom-esteem. Joy can be ours when we place Christ at the center of our hearts and live as Kingdom people, following Jesus side by side, reversing the world’s take on happiness and experiencing the deep and everlasting blessing that the world can never give nor take away.

How might you be living out of the world’s understanding of blessedness, rather than Jesus’ understanding of blessedness? 

Our spirituality is “whatever we desire most.” How does that description fit your life? What have you ordered your life around so far—what do you desire most?

What might have to change in your life if you were to begin doing whatever is necessary to put God at the very center of your life, to put yourself at the very center of God’s will?  

How has your understanding of humility had an impact upon your behavior toward others? How might your behavior change?


The Blessing of the Beatitudes

We call Matthew 5:3-12 “the Beatitudes” because the word beatitude, which is Latin, simply means “blessing.” The meaning of the word “blessing” comes from two sources: the Latin word benedicere, which means “to speak well of,” and the Greek word makarios, which means “blessed.” Makarios was a word used to describe the gods, and it points to a godlike joy, a kind of joy that has its secret within itselfMakarios is a self-contained kind of joy, a joy that does not depend on circumstance. It is independent of chance or change. These concepts combine to form our understanding of blessing.

Unfortunately in English the idea of joy is often understood as being the same thing as “happiness.” The word “blessing”—and consequently the Beatitudes themselves—has also come to be connected with a concept of happiness. The surprise comes because Jesus associates some strange things with happiness— meekness, persecution, mourning. Our surprise comes because we fall short in understanding.

Our English word “happiness” contains the root hap, which means “chance.” That root word points to the reality of human happiness—something that is more often than not dramatically affected by chance and the unfolding events of life, something that life may generate or extinguish at the blink of an eye. (The “Gospel of Matthew,” Vol. 1; pages 88-89) When we think of Jesus’ words in relation to happiness, we miss the depth of what he’s talking about because the blessing he promises, the joy he promises, is completely untouchable. It is totally unassailable by the world.

In giving us the Beatitudes, Jesus is telling us that blessedness looks different from God’s perspective. The world may tell us what it takes to bring happiness, but Jesus is telling us that the world’s view may not be as accurate as we think. The joy God gives isn’t tied to happenstance, chance, or change. It is deeper, more lasting, and may even have some surprising components.  

God’s joy and blessing are what God’s kingdom is all about. Christ followers are Kingdom people. Christ followers are folks who are in relationship with God through Christ, who live in hope of eternal life and live out that hope in their daily lives, thus experiencing God’s blessing and joy. The Beatitudes tell us what it means to be Kingdom people, to live in God’s kingdom. They are concrete expressions of the nature of Kingdom life.

The Surprise of the Beatitudes

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. / Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. / Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. / Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. / Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. / Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. / Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. / Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. / Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. / Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven. Matthew 5:3-12 (NRSV)

The Beatitudes are helpful to us because they highlight the contrast between God’s kingdom and the kingdom of our world. This contrast is crucial for our understanding because following Jesus side by side places us in sharp contrast with the world around us. As Peter was recognized to be a disciple of Jesus by the light of the fire, following in the Jesus way shines the light of blessedness on us, distinguishing us from our culture and making us recognizable as Christ followers.

The first thing to notice about the Beatitudes is that Jesus didn’t actually say them in the way we are used to hearing them. In the Aramaic that Jesus spoke, and the Greek in which Jesus’ words were written, the verb “are” is not present in the Beatitudes; that word was used to render his words into English.

Rather than statements— “Blessed are the poor in spirit”—Jesus gave us exclamations: “O the blessedness of the meek!”  

This is important, because the Beatitudes aren’t statements about what might be, or about what could be. They are exclamations about what is. Jesus is announcing the privilege that is ours, to share with God in joy, to share the very blessedness that fills God’s heart. The New Living Translation uses the action word “blesses” rather than the adjective “blessed,” which helps us understand the “is-ness”—the present tense action—of what Jesus is saying. God blesses those who hunger and thirst for righteousness!  

The blessedness that God offers is ours now, not in some future time. Jesus is announcing the present reality of God’s blessing right now, in the present tense. (The Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 1, by William Barclay; The Westminster Press, 1975; pages 88–89). These blessings, available right now, are quite a surprise when we consider what the world tells us affords blessing.

The world would have us believe that righteous, merciful ways of living are weak. The world would have us believe that mourning leads to unhappiness. In contrast, Jesus proclaims that meekness, humility, and persecution, rather than being sources of unhappiness or misery, are actually sources of spiritual giftedness. That is the surprise of the Beatitudes—what appears to be a source of unhappiness, turns out to be a source of joy and blessedness.