Category: What are the beatitudes?


:  The “Golden Rule” is the name given to a principle Jesus taught in His Sermon on the Mount. The actual words “golden rule” are not found in Scripture, just as the words “sermon on the mount” are also not found. These titles were later added by Bible translation teams in order to make Bible study a little easier. The phrase “Golden Rule” began to be ascribed to this passage of Scripture during the 16th—17th centuries.

What we call the Golden Rule refers to Matthew 7:12: “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” Jesus knew the human heart and its selfishness. In fact, in the preceding verse, He describes human beings as innately “evil” (verse 11). Jesus’ Golden Rule gives us a standard by which naturally selfish people can gauge their actions: actively treat others the way they like to be treated.

The English Standard Version translates the Golden Rule like this: “Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” Jesus brilliantly condenses the entire Old Testament into this single principle, taken from Leviticus 19:18: “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD” (Leviticus 19:18). Again, we see the implication that people are naturally lovers of self, and the command uses that human flaw as a place to start in how to treat others.

People universally demand respect, love, and appreciation, whether they deserve it or not. Jesus understood this desire and used it to promote godly behavior. Do you want to be shown respect? Then respect others. Do you crave a kind word? Then speak words of kindness to others. “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). The Golden Rule is also part of the second greatest commandment, preceded only by the command to love God Himself (Matthew 22:37–39).

What is interesting to note about the Golden Rule is that no other religious or philosophical system has its equal. Jesus’ Golden Rule is not the “ethic of reciprocity” so commonly espoused by non-Christian moralists. Frequently, liberal critics and secular humanists attempt to explain away the uniqueness of the Golden Rule, saying it is a common ethic shared by all religions. This is not the case. Jesus’s command has a subtle, but very important, difference. A quick survey of the sayings of Eastern religions will make this plain:

• Confucianism: “Do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you” (Analects 15:23)

• Hinduism: “This is the sum of duty: do not do to others what would cause pain if done to you” (Mahabharata 5:1517)

• Buddhism: “Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful” (Udanavarga 5:18)

These sayings are similar to the Golden Rule, but are stated negatively and rely on passivity. Jesus’ Golden Rule is a positive command to show love proactively. The Eastern religions say, “Refrain from doing”; Jesus says, “Do!” The Eastern religions say it is enough to hold your negative behavior in check; Jesus says to look for ways to act positively. Because of the “inverted” nature of the non-Christian sayings, they have been described as the “silver rule.”

Some have accused Jesus of “borrowing” the idea of the Golden Rule from the Eastern religions. However, the texts for Confucianism, Hinduism, and Buddhism, cited above, were all written between 500 and 400 BC, at the earliest. Jesus takes the Golden Rule from Leviticus, written about 1450 BC. So, Jesus’ source for the Golden Rule predates the “silver rule” by about 1,000 years. Who “borrowed” from whom?

The command to love is what separates the Christian ethic from every other religion’s ethic. In fact, the Bible’s championing of love includes the radical command to love even one’s enemies (Matthew 5:43–44; cf. Exodus 23:4–5). This is unheard of in other religions. Obeying the Christian imperative to love others is a mark of a true Christian (John 13:35). In fact, Christians cannot claim to love God if they don’t actively love other people as well. “If someone says, ‘I love God’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 John 4:20). The Golden Rule encapsulates this idea and is unique to the Judeo-Christian Scriptures.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God” (Matthew 5:8). Jesus spoke this during His famous Sermon the Mount. So what did He mean by “pure in heart?”

The Greek word for “pure” in Matthew 5:8 is katharos. It means to be “clean, blameless, unstained from guilt.” Interestingly, the word can refer specifically to that which is purified by fire or by pruning. John the Baptist told people that Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire (Matthew 3:11). Malachi speaks of the Messiah as being like a “refiner’s fire” (Malachi 3:2). Jesus refers to believers as being the branches and to Himself as being the vine (John 15:1-17). For a vine to produce fruit, it must be pruned. Those who are truly “pure,” then, are those who have been declared innocent because of the work of Jesus and who are being sanctified by His refining fire and His pruning.

The Greek word for “heart” in Matthew 5:8 is kardeeah. This can be applied to the physical heart. But it also refers to the spiritual center of life. It is where thoughts, desires, sense of purpose, will, understanding, and character reside. So, to be pure in heart means to be blameless in who we actually are.

Being pure in heart involves having a singleness of heart toward God.  A pure heart has no hypocrisy, no guile, no hidden motives. The pure heart is marked by transparency and an uncompromising desire to please God in all things. It is more than an external purity of behavior; it is an internal purity of soul.

The only way we can be truly pure in heart is to give our lives to Jesus and ask Him to do the cleansing work. Psalm 51:10 says, “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” God is the one who makes our hearts pure – by the sacrifice of His Son and through His sanctifying work in our lives (see also 1 John 3:1-3).

Jesus opens His Sermon on the Mount with the Beatitudes, a series of statements describing the blessed life. The fifth Beatitude states, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy” (Matthew 5:7).

First, the word translated “blessed” is one that has the general meaning of “happy” or “joyful.” It is a spiritual blessedness, a divine satisfaction that comes from a right relationship with God.

To be merciful is to show forgiveness and compassion to those in need. Jesus frequently spoke of this trait. In the Lord’s Prayer, He says, “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12). In Matthew 9:13 Jesus instructs the Pharisees, “Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

We are blessed if we are merciful because mercy is something God Himself displays. God’s mercy is the withholding of a just punishment. Deuteronomy 30:3 says, “The LORD your God will restore your fortunes. He will have mercy on you” (NLT). The psalmist writes, “Praise be to the LORD, for he has heard my cry for mercy” (Psalm 28:6). Jesus Himself often showed mercy, as we see in His healing of the man freed from demons: “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you” (Mark 5:19).

We have received God’s mercy. Romans 11:30 notes, “You who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy.” Paul shared that his ministry was given to him by God’s mercy (2 Corinthians 4:1). He also saw his salvation as an act of God’s mercy: “I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief” (1 Timothy 1:13). Our salvation is also called an act of God’s mercy: “He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy” (Titus 3:5). As Peter expressed it, “In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3).

God’s children reflect His mercy and are therefore merciful themselves. The merciful in this world are blessed in the sense that they know God’s joy. The person who is merciful will be eternally happy because he knows God’s mercy.

Matthew 5 records the part of Jesus’ the Sermon on Mount known as the Beatitudes. Verse 4 says, “Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” It is important to remember that this portion of Jesus’ teaching was directed toward His closest friends, not the general population (verse 2). We cannot pull one or two verses from the whole and build a theology around them. This sermon was a collection of truths designed to prepare His followers for His kingdom, which involved a lifestyle radically different from the world’s.

In the Bible, blessed usually means “happy.” But in the context of Matthew 5, blessed most likely indicates “an enviable state.” When a person has acquired good fortune, we call him “blessed.” In the Beatitudes, Jesus calls some people “blessed” who appear to be quite the opposite. People who “mourn” don’t seem to be “blessed,” according to most other people. Jesus is contrasting the world’s idea of happiness with true blessedness—spiritual prosperity—which comes from a right relationship with God.

The term mourn means “to experience deep grief.” In keeping with His theme of spiritual blessedness, Jesus seems to indicate that this mourning is due to grief over sin. The people who agree with God about the evil of their own hearts can attain an “enviable state of blessedness,” due to the comfort they receive from communion with the Holy Spirit. Jesus called the Holy Spirit the Comforter (John 14:16, 26; 15:26; 2 Corinthians 1:4). The Spirit comforts those who are honest about their own sin and humble enough to ask for forgiveness and healing. Those who hide their sin or try to justify it before God can never know the comfort that comes from a pure heart, as Jesus talks about in Matthew 5:8 (cf. Proverbs 28:13; Isaiah 57:15).

In the Beatitudes, Jesus reminds His disciples that they cannot seek happiness the way the world does. True joy is not found in selfish ambition, excuses, or self-justification. An enviable state of blessedness comes to those who mourn over their own sin. “These are the ones I look on with favor: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at my word” (Isaiah 66:2). When we agree with God about how bad our sin is, repent of it, and seek His power to walk away from it, Jesus promises comfort from the Holy Spirit. The kind of “mourning” that leads to repentance is truly blessed (2 Corinthians 7:10). Repentance results in forgiveness and cleansing from God (Psalm 30:5). When we have trusted in Jesus as our personal substitute for sin, we no longer stand condemned (Romans 8:1). Rather than wallow in guilt and shame, we realize that we stand justified before God (2 Corinthians 5:21; Galatians 3:24). Those who learn to mourn over their own sin find the heart of God. And intimate fellowship with God is the very foundation of true happiness.

In the beatitudes of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus declares, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). What exactly does it mean to be poor in spirit, and why does being poor in spirit result in the kingdom of heaven? Why is “poor in spirit” something God wants us to be? Why would God want us to be “poor” at anything?

Some propose that Jesus is speaking of financial poverty, that He is advocating being poor so that riches and possession don’t come between us and God. While it is true that Jesus elsewhere warned against seeking riches (Matthew 6:24), that does not seem to be Jesus’ point in Matthew 5:3. Jesus is speaking of being “poor in spirit”; i.e., being “spiritually poor.” In the beatitudes, Jesus is concerned with spiritual realities, not material possessions. What, then, does it mean to be spiritually poor?

To be poor in spirit is to recognize your utter spiritual bankruptcy before God. It is understanding that you have absolutely nothing of worth to offer God. Being poor in spirit is admitting that, because of your sin, you are completely destitute spiritually and can do nothing to deliver yourself from your dire situation. Jesus is saying that, no matter your status in life, you must recognize your spiritual poverty before you can come to God in faith to receive the salvation He offers.

Why and how does being poor in spirit result in the kingdom of heaven? While the phrase can be broad in meaning, “kingdom of heaven” essentially refers to salvation. The kingdom of heaven is both eternity in heaven with God after death (Romans 6:23), and the eternal quality of life with God before death (John 10:10). God offers us salvation as a gift, through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross, the full payment for sin’s penalty. Before we can receive this gift, we must understand that we cannot make ourselves worthy of it. Salvation is by grace through faith, not of works (Ephesians 2:8-9). We must recognize our sinfulness before we can understand our need for a Savior. We must admit our spiritual poverty before we can receive the spiritual riches God offers (Ephesians 1:3). We must, in short, be “poor in spirit.”

When Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” He is declaring that, before we can enter God’s kingdom, we must recognize the utter worthlessness of our own spiritual currency and the inability of our own works to save us.

Matthew 5:9 is part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in which He says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.” The Greek word translated “peacemaker” is used in only one other place in the New Testament, in a slightly different form. Colossians 1:20 says, “For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross.”

Jesus laid down His life to make peace between God and sinners, and when we can carry that message of peace to others, we are peacemakers. God delights in those who reconcile others to Himself—those who bring the gospel are “beautiful” (Isaiah 52:7). God “reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18). Those who bring reconciliation to broken relationships are carrying on the work of Jesus, the Prince of Peace. Those who give of themselves as Jesus did in order that others may know God are called “blessed.” There is no real peace apart from a relationship with God (Romans 5:1). What may masquerade as worldly peace is merely a temporary lull in chaos (John 14:27). True peace is found only in a restored relationship with God. “‘There is no peace,’ says the LORD, ‘for the wicked’” (Isaiah 48:22).

Only children of God can bring the peace of knowing God to others. A person must have a real relationship with God before he or she can help someone else know God. Those who witness for Christ, share their faith with their friends, and serve others in the name of Christ are the ambassadors for peace this verse identifies (see also Matthew 10:41-42). Those who bring the wonderful message of God’s peace to the world are “peacemakers,” and Jesus calls them the “children of God.”

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus opens with a series of statements known as the Beatitudes. The third Beatitude is “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5). Jesus’ words echo Psalm 37:11, which says, “The meek will inherit the land and enjoy peace and prosperity.” What does it mean that the meek are “blessed”?

First, we must understand what it means to be blessed. The Greek word translated “blessed” in this verse can also be translated “happy.” The idea is that a person will have joy if he or she is meek. The blessedness is from God’s perspective, not our own. It is a spiritual prosperity, not necessarily an earthly happiness.

Also, we must understand what “meek” means. The Greek word translated “meek” is praeis and refers to mildness, gentleness of spirit, or humility. Other forms of this Greek word are used elsewhere in the New Testament, including James 1:21 and James 3:13. Meekness is humility toward God and toward others. It is having the right or the power to do something but refraining for the benefit of someone else. Paul urged meekness when he told us “to live a life worthy of the calling [we] have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love” (Ephesians 4:1–2).

Meekness models the humility of Jesus Christ. As Philippians 2:6–8 says, “[Jesus], being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” Being “in the very nature God,” Jesus had the right to do whatever He wanted, but, for our sake, He submitted to “death on a cross.” That is the ultimate in meekness.

Meekness was also demonstrated by godly leaders in the Old Testament. Numbers 12:3 says that Moses “was very meek, more than all people who were on the face of the earth” (ESV).

Believers are called to share the gospel message in gentleness and meekness. First Peter 3:15 instructs, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” The KJV translates the word for “gentleness” here as “meekness.”

Someone who knows Christ as personal Savior will be growing in meekness. It may seem counterintuitive, but Jesus’ promise stands—a meek person will be happy or blessed. Living in humility and being willing to forego one’s rights for the benefit of someone else models the attitude of Jesus Christ. Meekness also helps us to more effectively share the gospel message with others. Striving for power and prestige is not the path to blessedness. Meekness is.

The Beatitudes are the eight declarations of blessedness spoken by Jesus at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:3-12), each beginning with “Blessed are…” It is debated as to exactly how many beatitudes there are. Some speak of seven, nine, or ten beatitudes, but the number appears to be eight (verses 10-12 of Matthew 5 being one beatitude).

The Greek word translated “blessed” means “spiritual well-being and prosperity.” This refers to the deep joy of the soul. Those who experience the first aspect of a beatitude (poor, mourn, meek, hungry for righteousness, merciful, pure, peacemakers, and persecuted) will also experience the second aspect of the beatitude (kingdom of Heaven, comfort, inherit the earth, filled, mercy, see God, called sons of God, inherit the kingdom of Heaven). The blessed have a share in salvation and have entered the kingdom of God, experiencing a foretaste of heaven. Another possible rendering of each beatitude is an exclamation of: “O the bliss [or blessedness] of…”

The Beatitudes describe the ideal disciple and his rewards, both present and future. The person whom Jesus describes in this passage has a different quality of character and lifestyle than those still “outside the kingdom.” As a literary form, the beatitude is also found often in the Old Testament, especially in the Psalms (1:1; 34:8; 65:4; 128:1) and in the New Testament as well (John 20:29; 14:22; James 1:12; Revelation 14:13).

The Sermon on the Mount is the sermon that Jesus gave in Matthew chapters 5-7.  Matthew  5:1-2 is the reason it is known as the Sermon on the Mount: “Now when He saw  the crowds, He went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to  Him, and He began to teach them…” The Sermon on the Mount is the most famous  sermon Jesus ever gave, perhaps the most famous sermon ever given by  anyone.

The Sermon on the Mount covers several different topics. It is  not the purpose of this article to comment on every section, but rather to give  a brief summary of what it contains. If we were to summarize the Sermon on the  Mount in a single sentence, it would be something like this: How to live a life  that is dedicated to and pleasing to God, free from hypocrisy, full of love and  grace, full of wisdom and discernment.

5:3-12 – The Beatitudes
5:13-16 – Salt and Light
5:17-20 – Jesus fulfilled the Law
5:21-26 –  Anger and Murder
5:27-30 – Lust and Adultery
5:31-32 – Divorce and  Remarriage
5:33-37 – Oaths
5:38-42 – Eye for an Eye
5:43-48 – Love  your enemies
6:1-4 – Give to the Needy
6:5-15 – How to Pray
6:16-18  – How to Fast
6:19-24 – Treasures in Heaven
6:25-34 – Do not worry
7:1-6 – Do not judge hypocritically
7:7-12 – Ask, Seek, Knock
7:13-14 –  The Narrow Gate
7:15-23 – False Prophets
7:24-27 – The Wise  Builder

Matthew  7:28-29 concludes the Sermon on the Mount with the following statement:  “When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at His  teaching, because He taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers  of the law.” May we all continue to be amazed at His teaching and follow the  principles that He taught in the Sermon on the Mount!