How the Order of the Beatitudes Could Change Your Life.
Everyone wants to be blessed. We want to be blessed in our relationships, our businesses, and our churches. We want to be blessed in life, death, and eternity. The opposite of being blessed is being cursed—and nobody wants that. No one knows where to find blessing better than Jesus does, so when he speaks about blessing in the beatitudes (Matt. 5:1–12), I want to listen, and so should you. What does a blessed life look like? Is it having a happy marriage? Gifted children? Good health? Fulfilling work? Financial stability? Travel opportunities? You could add to this list of rich blessings. But none is included in our Lord’s description. Jesus doesn’t say “Blessed are the happily married,” but “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” He doesn’t say “Blessed are those who enjoy good health,” but “Blessed are those who mourn.” According to Jesus, the greatest blessings aren’t found where we normally look, but in places we aren’t inclined to explore.
When our Lord tells his disciples about life under God’s blessing, he doesn’t begin with a class on doctrine or with a mandate for mission. Instead, he describes a person poor in spirit, one who mourns over sins, meekly submits to God, and longs to grow in righteousness. But the beatitudes are counterintuitive. Being poor means you don’t have resources. Nobody wants that. But Jesus speaks of a kind of poverty that makes you rich. Mourning means you have great sorrow. But Jesus speaks of a kind of mourning that leads to joy. Picture a series of seven rings, each suspended on a rope from a high ceiling. At either end of these rings, there’s a high platform. Your goal is to get from one platform to the other by swinging from ring to ring. The first ring is within your reach. If you pull it back and swing, your momentum will bring you within reach of the second, and swinging on it will bring you within reach of the third, and so forth. Think of the beatitudes like these seven rings. The only way to get to the fifth ring of forgiveness, the sixth ring of purity, and the seventh ring of peace is by the previous rings. Forgiveness, purity, and peace have to be reached. And the beatitudes show us how.
The first three beatitudes deal with our need. We’re poor in spirit (Matt. 5:3) because we don’t have what it takes to live as God commands. We mourn (v. 4) because our sins are many. We become meek, rather than self-willed and defiant (v. 5), because we can’t direct our lives wisely. These are the roots of a blessed and godly life. Out of these roots come the shoots of the fourth beatitude—a hunger and thirst for righteousness (v. 6). God uses the root of sensing your need to produce the shoot of longing for righteousness. When the roots of the first three beatitudes are nourished, a desire for righteousness will grow. Continuing the metaphor, the roots produce shoots, and the shoots bear fruit. The first fruit of this blessed and godly life is mercy, or forgiveness (v. 7), then purity (v. 8) and peace (v. 9). Our Lord also gave us an eighth beatitude: “Blessed are those who are persecuted” (v. 10). The others reflect character God’s people should pursue; but persecution is different. Though we shouldn’t pursue it, it will pursue us as we live in light of the previous verses. The order of the beatitudes, then, shows us how to make progress in the Christian life. If you want the fruits of forgiveness, purity, and peace in your life, then begin with the roots of becoming poor in spirit, mourning over your sins, and meekly submitting to God’s will.
Suppose you’re trying to help a colleague who wants to forgive, but feels it’s beyond her reach. She knows she should forgive, and she admires those who do, but she’s been hurt. Her wounds run deep. The beatitudes show how she can grow in mercy and move to forgiveness. Or suppose you’re discipling a friend who struggles with impurity. Images he regrets seeing press into his mind, pouring fuel on the flames of his desires. He feels trapped and longs to be free from this prison, but doesn’t know how. The beatitudes hold the answer.
If you feel stuck in your Christian life and want to move forward, the beatitudes are for you. If you’re battling with a compulsive sin or addiction and longing for greater strength to battle temptation, the beatitudes are for you. If you’re discipling other believers and want a plan for growth in the Christian life, the beatitudes are for you. Welcome to the gymnasium. The rings are suspended above you. Take hold of the first and swing.
Credit: Colin Smith, The Gospel Coalition 10 February 2017. Colin Smith is senior pastor of The Orchard Evangelical Free Church in the northwest suburbs of Chicago, and a Council Member with The Gospel Coalition.