Summary: Jesus’s disciples relied on Kingdom character God is cultivating in them rather than the ways of this world. We practice the Beatitudes of poor in spirit, mourning, and meekness.
In my last post, I finished talking about spiritual disciplines by teaching on confession, guidance, and service. In this post, we begin a miniseries on developing Christian character through the Sermon on the Mount.
We have completed teaching on the spiritual disciplines, a practical beginning to our spiritual formation as Jesus’s disciples. I am now turning to the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’s teaching on Christian character and Kingdom values.
This world tries to mold us into the people it wants. But as Jesus’s disciples, we must grow into the people who pleased God and do His will. Let Jesus transform and conform us to His image. This is where the image of God began, from which we have fallen, and to what we will return by the image of Christ in us. Let’s get started!
Developing Christian Character
I am beginning the next phase of our spiritual formation, Christian character, or Kingdom character. Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount is the foundational place we begin our study on Christian character. Jesus taught us the most about what God expects from us.
So, let’s begin at the beginning. Who better to tell us what God expects than Jesus, the Son of God? There’s no better Person to teach us how to be spiritually formed them the Master. Let Jesus change your heart and mind as we grow into the people He desires.
Understanding the Beatitudes
Jesus’s teaching on how to be conformed to His image and be His disciples begins with the Beatitudes. You can find the Beatitudes in Matthew 5:3-12 and Luke 6:20-23. Luke presents a shorter version, slightly different from Matthew. Many people go to Matthew because it is longer. But both have their merits.
Luke uses the phrase, “Kingdom of God” while Matthew uses, “Kingdom of heaven.” They are the same thing. Matthew places the Beatitudes at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount while Luke includes four Beatitudes and relates them to four Woes. The Beatitudes correspond to the woes in Luke. But we will only look at the Beatitudes.
When people read the Beatitudes, they ask if this is what we must become here on earth or Jesus’s final step in heaven. Must we have these characteristics in the here and now, or is this the ideal image of Jesus’s disciple?
Jesus sets a high standard for us to follow. We fall short of this ideal over and over. How do we measure up to Jesus’s teaching? Remember, the Holy Spirit dwells in us, guiding us toward this ideal. Can we attain it now? I suggest we are living the first part but will gain the second part in the future. For instance, the first beatitude in Matthew 5:3 says we are poor, poor in spirit now. We will gain the Kingdom of heaven when Jesus rewards us.
We should approach the Beatitudes with the goal of becoming the people Jesus characterizes. But we should not beat up on ourselves if we fail from time to time. Let us continue to strive toward this goal. With the help of the Holy Spirit, we can become Kingdom people.
The Beatitudes have a formula. They begin with “blessed” or “happy” and present the desired goal. Then they describe the result of showing the desired goal. So, as an example, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.” We have “blessed” followed by the desired goal of becoming “poor in spirit.” Then the result of being poor in spirit, that those who do this inherit the Kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed” does not mean we will be happy right now. It means we are happy to be blessed by God. The state of blessing is the final result, the future we have with Jesus. We are happy because we look forward to this blessing with Jesus. We please Him by showing these desired goals now. You are happy in this life because God shows His favor on you, and He will bless you in the future.
We will break down how to be blessed in this life by the measuring rod Jesus sets before us. These may seem like lofty goals no one can reach, but Jesus sets them as the goal. We practice these desired goals and attain the blessings from God.
Be Poor in Spirit
Matthew and Luke present slightly different points here. Luke only says, “Blessed are the poor” while Matthew presents the approach of, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” Luke is talking about people who are poor in this life.
Luke presents the idea that being poor on this earth is a blessed state because those who are poor now will inherit the Kingdom of God. Throughout the Bible, the poor and rich appear both ways. The Bible does not look down upon the rich. And it does not lift the poor in every instance.
The point is not whether you are rich or poor. The goal is that you are rich in the things of God. No one can take their earthly treasures with them to heaven. We want to take to heaven the one thing that God values, people.
You are blessed if you are poor. For one, you have less to worry about taking to heaven. Poor people focus on the basics of life. They are just trying to survive. Rich people can place their security on their many resources instead of on the Lord. This is not true in every case. But you will find in Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount that He puts more emphasis on eternal treasure rather than earthly treasure.
If you are rich, and use your resources for Kingdom values, then you are using your God-given resources for the right purpose. It’s not about being rich or poor. It’s about what you do with what you have. Are your eyes set on God’s Kingdom or earthly values?
Matthew’s meaning takes a bit more work. We need to unpack what it means to be poor in spirit. It is an interpretation of Luke’s poor. Because the poor will be blessed to inherit the Kingdom of heaven and cannot give anything because they don’t have it, Matthew gives the focus of the poor, that they are poor in spirit as well as in earthly possessions and status.
Poor in spirit means we are destitute spiritually, bankrupt without Jesus. We see ourselves as wanting all that Jesus has, asking for His treasures instead of our own. The poor in spirit come to God asking more of Him. They are never satisfied with the status quo relationship. We who are poor in spirit seek more of God. We depend on God because we don’t have any other means to deal with the trials of life.
Jesus is not saying we need to become destitute in this life. He uses the example of the poor who have nothing and understand that they rely on God for everything. It should be the same attitude toward God and the things of God.
Mourn and Be Comforted
The second beatitude states that those who mourn our blessed and will be comforted. The comfort comes from God in the future. Paul talks about the God of all comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). God comforts us now in a small part, but the comfort for those who mourn will be completed in heaven at the end of time (Revelation 7:17).
We mourn now because of sin, persecution, and losing all things for the sake of Jesus. For these things, we may not be comforted now. But Jesus will comfort us later. Everything we lost is worthless compared to the worth of knowing Christ (Philippians 3:8).
Because we are poor in spirit and look to God to supply all our needs, we mourn in this life for losing those things. But God gives us a much greater inheritance in Him and in heaven for all eternity with Him.
Weep because of the temporary loss of all things. Be comforted in small part here on earth by God, but He will comfort you in full at the end of the age. The riches of God are greater than any riches we have on this earth. For those who weep and mourn, God has a message, “Comfort, comfort my people” (Isaiah 40:1).
Luke says, “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh (Luke 6:21b). As in Matthew, the state of mourning or reaping now is followed by a future of laughing. We weep now for the suffering caused by persecution and godly sorrow for repentance (2 Corinthians 7:10). But because of deep joy in the future, we will laugh with delight.
Those who mourn now are blessed because Jesus will change mourning into dancing (Psalm 30:11) and sorrow into rejoicing. We are blessed in the future, but happy now even in our mourning because this is not the final chapter of our story. Paul says of those who mourn for the dead that we do not mourn as those in the world because of the hope we have in Jesus (1 Thessalonians 4:13).
The Meek Inherit the Earth
Only Matthew has this beatitude. The word for meek and gentle is virtually the same the original language. People in the world see meek people as weak. But that’s not what “meek” means. To be meek is to use quiet strength when necessary. We do not demand our way. This is the big guy in the corner who is quiet. He need not speak because his towering figure demands respect and attention.
As Jesus’s disciples, we have a quiet strength from Jesus. We don’t have to demand anything because we had the power of Jesus behind us. Because we don’t force our way on others, we will inherit the earth. Inheriting the earth is a future blessing God will give to the meek.
Meekness is the way we approach others. It is an outward state. We know we have nothing in this world, and therefore, we are humble before others. But our humility is a strength rather than a weakness. Our strength is in humility, and having great strength to deal with those bullies and braggarts who throw their weight around. We don’t have to fight for ourselves because the Lord fights for us.
Jesus cites Psalm 37:9-11 here, promising that the strong and evildoers who only earth now will not own it in the future. The meek will inherit the earth. Psalm 37:11 has “land” instead of “earth,” but in Hebrew, land and earth are the same word. We don’t have to take the earth by force because the Lord will give us the earth.
Kingdom character turns the tables on the world’s values. The things the world despises are what we become. Practice being poor in spirit, rejecting this world’s values, finding yourself mourning because of the state of this world. But be gentle and lowly, meek, relying on God’s strength rather than your own.
Now that we have started our developing Christian character miniseries with the Sermon on the Mount and the Beatitudes, we turn to the next three Beatitudes.