The Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1–12)

Delivered to the disciples (Matthew 5:2), the Beatitudes were clearly intended for those who had given their allegiance to Christ. They do not show how one enters into a relationship with God, but describe the characteristics manifested by one who is born anew. All Christians are meant to manifest all of these characteristics. These descriptions do not refer to natural tendencies, and illustrate the true difference between the Christian and the non-Christian. When believers are consistent, they are different from unbelievers in what they admire, in what they do, and in their awareness of what they can do. The Christian and non-Christian belong to two entirely different realms. Notice that the first and last beatitudes promise the same reward, the kingdom of heaven.

The eight qualities when blended together make up the character of God’s children. These are eight interrelated qualities that would take root in his disciples and develop with the life of faith. They are a complete whole and cannot be divided.

The word “beatitude” is derived from the Latin word beatitudo, meaning “happy” or “blessed.” The future tense used in the description of these blessings emphasizes their certainty and not merely their futurity. “Blessed” appears again and again to describe aspects of the believer’s inner condition. As was true with the “blessed” one in Psalm 1, this individual is characterized not so much by what he does as by what he is.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

”Poor in spirit” means “spiritually destitute”—the opposite of spiritually self-sufficient. This is the key to all that follows. The poor in spirit recognize that they have no power within themselves to please God; they are utterly dependent on His grace. Entrance into God’s kingdom will not come by proud self-sufficiency but only by God’s mercy. This consciousness of spiritual poverty is the earliest sign of God’s grace at work in a potential disciple’s heart. If you feel anything in the presence of God save an utter poverty of spirit, it ultimately means that you have never faced him. The way to become poor in spirit is to look at God.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

The first beatitude is an intellectual realization of spiritual poverty; this second beatitude is an emotional response to that condition. It is a grief too deep for concealment, an anguish for sin—for one’s own and perhaps for the evil in the world that is responsible for so much suffering. Contrast this with the state of the church today: a defective sense of sin and a shallow idea of joy. A real conviction of sin must come before there can be a true joy of salvation (cf. Romans 7:24–25), thus the need for self-examination. The man who truly mourns because of his sinful state and condition is a man who is going to repent; he is, indeed, actually repenting already. Not only true at conversion, repenting is something that continues to be true about the Christian. Sorrowful, but not morose or miserable. Sober-minded, but not sullen. He looks at life seriously, he contemplates it spiritually, and he sees in it sin and its effects. The Christian is not superficial in any sense, but is fundamentally serious and fundamentally happy. The joy of the Christian is a holy joy, the happiness of the Christian is a serious happiness.

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

Meekness does not imply weakness; it is compatible with great strength (e.g., Moses, Jesus). The meek, with their King, will inherit the earth. World conquest—possession of the whole universe—is given to the meek, of all people! The meek, or gentle, are those who humble themselves before God in utter dependence on him for forgiveness of sin, wisdom, and strength to move through a day effectively. Meekness is a true view of oneself, expressing itself in attitude and conduct with respect to others. One who recognizes his spiritual poverty and grieves over his own spiritual inadequacies is likely to be more patient and gentle in dealing with others. The meek are concerned about other people rather than watching themselves and being worried about what others say. We should strive for such meekness. Let us have a teachable spirit, ready to listen and learn, willing to leave everything—ourselves, our rights, our causes, our whole future—in the hands of God, and especially if we feel we are suffering unjustly.

Blessed are the those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

In his book The Holiness of God, R.C. Sproul writes, “The goal of Christian growth is the achievement of righteousness.” But, as Sproul notes, few people ask, “How can I become righteous?” They talk of “being ethical, moral, spiritual, or even pious. But nobody seems to want to talk about being righteous.” Sproul reminds us (in The Holiness of God):

“The goal of all spiritual exercise must be the goal of righteousness. God calls us to be holy. Christ sets the priority of the Christian life: ‘But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well’ (Matt. 6:33). The goal is righteousness.”

Righteousness ultimately means being like the Lord Jesus Christ. The man who is hungering and thirsting after righteousness always puts himself in the way of getting it. He has a keen appetite, a deep craving, a deep passion for righteousness. Those who hunger and thirst in this way will be satisfied, a term used to describe the meeting of human need, whether spiritual (as we see here) or physical (as in the feeding of the 5,000, Matthew 14:20).

How Can the Hungry Be Happy?

According to the Scriptures, happiness is never something that should be sought directly; it is always something that results from seeking something else. If we want to be truly happy and blessed, we must hunger and thirst after righteousness. The Christian is a person who at one and the same time is hungering and thirsting, and yet he is filled. And the more he is filled the more he hungers and thirsts.

The first four beatitudes look at the Christian in terms of his need and his consciousness of his need. The last four are concerned more with his disposition, which results from everything that has gone before. There is a definite progression in the thought, a logical sequence.

The Christian gospel places all its primary emphasis on being rather than doing.* The gospel puts a greater weight on our attitude than our actions. A Christian is something before he does anything; and we have to be Christians before we can act as Christians.


*For more on being vs. doing, watch Dr. Boa’s Process Spirituality Series.


Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

Extending sympathy, love, help, and forgiveness is related to our receipt of mercy. The believer stands on a middle ground; he is to show mercy as it has been shown him. The one condition of forgiveness is repentance. The one who truly realizes his position face to face with God is the one who must of necessity be merciful with respect to others.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

This purity seems to refer to singleness of heart, the honesty which has no hidden motive and no selfish interest, and is open to all things. Such single-minded individuals are free from the tyranny of a divided self, and do not try to serve God and the world at the same time.

Purity of heart is also related to the hope of seeing the Lord.You are going to see God! This is the biggest, the most momentous, the most tremendous thing that you can ever be told.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

One’s heart must be purified (cleansed of envy, jealousy, etc.) before one can be a peacemaker—one who is at peace with God, “the author of peace and lover of concord,” as well as one who seeks to bring individuals into harmony with God (reconciliation) and with one another. Humility is a prerequisite for peacemaking. Learn not to speak quickly. View every situation in the light of the gospel, and then look for means and methods of making peace.

Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

The treatment that the persons described in the first seven beatitudes can expect to receive in the world is described in the last two beatitudes (Matthew 5:10–11). In turn, we are not to be offensive, foolish, or unwise. Being persecuted for righteousness means being like Christ. We can never be like Christ without being entirely changed. To become like him, we have to become light; light always exposes darkness, and the darkness always hates the light. Because goodness rebukes the world’s sinfulness, the world turns against the righteous and even persecutes them. The righteous uphold God’s standards of truth, justice, and purity, and refuse to compromise with paganism or bow the knee to the idols that men tend to erect as substitutes for God (2 Timothy 3:12).


For more on the Beatitudes, watch Dr. Boa’s introduction to the Sermon on the Mount:

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