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Beatitues, part 8: Blessed are Those Persecuted for Righteousness

Ultimately, what do the Beatitudes celebrate as virtues?

Poor in spirit.  MourningMeeknessHunger and thirst for righteousness.  Showing mercyPureness of heart.  Making peace.  Things not seen by our secular world as virtuous.

But the final Beatitude is the kicker.

I don’t know how the prosperity gospel ever came to be.  Nor do I know how asinine arguments like this one from God is Imaginary could ever capture the imaginations of serious Bible readers.

Why?

Because Jesus said:

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

Blessed are you when others 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, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.  (Mt 5:10-12)

This one of many times the theme of persecution is introduced into the Bible.  In fact, one Bible teacher insists that there is at least one reference in all sixty-six books of the Bible to suffering for the sake of God’s kingdom.

Wow.

Sorry, Marshall Brain.  That means that we aren’t going to end suffering and death with prayer.  Your argument fails.

Sorry, Joel Osteen and T.D. Jakes and Ed Young and Kenneth Copeland and others who have bought your lie.  God’s plan includes suffering.

In fact, to suffer is the ultimate virtue.  Suffering imitates all of the great Old Testament prophets.  When we are ridiculed for preaching God’s word, the word of God through Christ is confirmed to us.  Christ said we’d suffer on his account.

We do.  Look at the issues that set conservative Christians apart from the secular world. Read the rest of this entry

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Beatitudes, part 7: Blessed are the Peacemakers

The Beatitudes exemplify virtues that God deems worthwhile.  As can be expected, these are not virtues that the world would identify as virtuous.

The first four Beatitudes are felt needs:  poor in spirit, mourning, meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.

The next three are states of being:  merciful, pure in heart, and the peacemakers.  The merciful are granted mercy, the pure in heart see God, but the peacemakers are called sons of God.

Paul wrote to the Romans that the kingdom of God isn’t about rules and trifles.  It’s about peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.  “Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men.  So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding” (Rom 14:18-19).  In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul instructs believers to “[a]im for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you” (2 Cor 13:11).

God will be with you if you live in peace and comfort one another.  Paul instructs us “with humility of mind [to] regard one another as more important than yourselves . . .” (Phil 2:3).  Being a peacemaker is about living an others-centered existence.

The peacemaker draws closer to God with each step, and James tells us that if we draw near to God he will also draw nearer to us (Jms 4:8).

This isn’t to say that we should let ourselves get stepped on, kicked and beaten.  Christian nations shouldn’t disarm themselves unilaterally.  After all, the apostle Paul qualifies that we should live at peace as much as it depends on us (Rom 12:18).  Let’s not go looking for fights, and let’s forgive as often as we are wronged (Mt 18:22).  Then we will truly be children of God.

Beatitudes, part 6: Blessed are the Pure in Heart

Examining the Beatitudes, we see a stark contrast with what God deems a virtue and what society deems a virtue.  To God, the poor, the mourning, the meek, the hungry, and the merciful are blessed.  Each will receive a portion that makes up for the deficiency: the poor inherit the kingdom of heaven, the mourning are comforted, the meek inherit the earth, the hungry are satisfied, and the merciful are shown mercy.

Compare with Western society, where people should be happy and wealthy, while the meek and merciful don’t climb the corporate ladder.

But the pure of heart (Mt 5:8) have it the worst.  Try standing for the Christian value of your choice and see how far it gets you.  Stand for traditional marriage, be called a homophobe.  Stand for pro-life and watch as someone starts a blog where your head is photoshopped onto a porn star in the midst of some humiliating sex act.  Stand for Jesus as the only way to God and be called an arrogant SOB who thinks people of all other religions are scum, fit only to be eliminated.  Watch as people point and laugh at a father-daughter prom where the daughter makes a promise to stay a virgin until marriage.

Why are traditional Christian values so maligned in pop culture?

Paul answered that for us when he wrote that “to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled” (Tts 1:15).  He told the Ephesians, “They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart” (Eph 4:18).

The cure?  See life united in faith to God:

I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you.  And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you.  And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.  And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. (Ez 36:25-27)

How can we be “pure of heart?”

It’s actually simple.  First, accept Christ and become a new creation (2 Cor 5:17).  Then, with his Spirit inside you, live true to your new self.  Psalm 51:6 says that God desires “truth in the innermost being.”  That’s as good as any description I’ve ever heard of integrity — that the show you put on to everyone actually reflects what is inside.  Those who act in a way that doesn’t jive with their inner selves receive some very strong condemnations from Christ in Matthew 23:25-28.

Expect persecution when living by God’s standards.  If you uphold that which God holds dear, the world deems you a fundamentalist wacko; a homophobic, misogynistic bigot who beats his children before using time-outs.

Let them think all of those untrue things.  Our reward is great:  the pure of heart will see God.

Beatitudes, part 5: Blessed are the Merciful

The first four Beatitudes identify felt needs as virtues:  the poor, the mourning, the meek, and the hungry.  The next three identify states of character as virtues.

The first is mercy; the merciful will receive mercy.

Some people think that mercy is not meting out a deserved punishment.  Not so.  Mercy is more akin to gratitude.  “Lord, have mercy,” is better understood as “Lord, continue to be gracious with us.”  That’s why the KJV renders “mercy” as “loving-kindness.”

This has to do with the honor-shame society of the Bible and the satisfaction of personal debts.  Taking the high road with people who owe you something is a virtue that God loves (see Mt 6:15-15; Mk 11:25; Lk 6:35; Eph 4:32).

Jesus told the story of a wealthy landowner who demanded payment of a huge debt from one of his servants (see Mt 18:23-35).  The servant didn’t have it, so the landowner forgave the debt completely.  Later, that same servant demanded payment of a far smaller debt from a fellow servant.  When the second servant couldn’t comply, the first had him thrown into prison.  The landowner then ordered the first service imprisoned.  Jesus said that if we do not forgive the debts of others, then God will not forgive the one we have with him.

Forgiving others, having mercy on the undeserving are all rooted in God’s character.  The real idea of Christianity is to transform us, no to leave us to enjoy the pleasures of this world.  We are adopted as sons of God, and he does so to mold us into the image of his Son.  Therefore, having mercy on others as God has had mercy on us is a sign of that transformation.

Beatitudes, part 4: Blessed are Those Who Hunger & Thirst

The virtues celebrated in the Beatitudes are foreign to the culture of the United States, which is typically one of excess and materialism.  It is strange to think that the poor in spirit will inherit the kingdom of heaven, the mourning will be comforted, and the meek shall inherit the earth.

Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be filled (Mt 5:6).

Look to the Old Testament prophet Amos for a precursor:

“Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord God, “when I will send a famine on the land— not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord.  They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro, to seek the word of the Lord, but they shall not find it.

“In that day the lovely virgins and the young men shall faint for thirst.  Those who swear by the Guilt of Samaria, and say, ‘As your god lives, O Dan,’ and, ‘As the Way of Beersheba lives,’ they shall fall, and never rise again.” (Amos 8:11-14)

God is promising to send a time when his word is going to be scarce.  People will want to hear a word from him, but nothing will be found.  And people who live by false gods (or false versions of God) will be destroyed never to rise again.

People try to find fulfillment in the false gods they make for themselves all the time.  Whether that god be money or fame or power, or searching for all of the answers to the Big Questions in nature itself (atheism), these gods ultimately never satisfy the thirst.

Looking at Psalm 63, we can see what happens to those who hunger and thirst for righteousness from the One True God:

O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.  So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory.  Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you.  So I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands.

My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips, when I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night; for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.  My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.  (Ps 63:1-8)

Those who seek after God in earnest always find him, and always find fulfillment in him.  C.S. Lewis once wisely stated that God cannot grant joy apart from himself, as there is no such thing.

Beatitudes, part 3: Blessed are the Meek

The Beatitudes celebrate as virtues that which we would not necessarily consider virtues.  The poor in spirit inherit heaven.  The mourning will be comforted.

The meek shall inherit the earth (Mt 5:5).

What is “meek?”  It is the Greek word πραυσ, which gives us a sense of humility, teachability, and gentleness.  According to the NET Bible:

Meekness toward God is that disposition of spirit in which we accept His dealings with us as good, and therefore without disputing or resisting. In the OT, the meek are those wholly relying on God rather than their own strength to defend them against injustice. Thus, meekness toward evil people means knowing God is permitting the injuries they inflict, that He is using them to purify His elect, and that He will deliver His elect in His time. (Isa 41:17, Lu 18:1-8)

The NET Bible tells us what πραυσ is not:

Gentleness or meekness is the opposite to self-assertiveness and self-interest. It stems from trust in God’s goodness and control over the situation. The gentle person is not occupied with self at all. This is a work of the Holy Spirit, not of the human will. (Ga 5:23)

Some may consider this uncritical obedience to a tyrant, but that isn’t it at all.  It’s better to think of this as surrender to a perfectly good higher power — and the one who so surrenders already accepts that God is perfectly good.

The existence of God is self-evident from nature (see Rom 1), but the goodness of God is not.  God’s eternal power and divine nature are clearly perceived in that which is made; however, it takes a special revelation (the Bible) to reveal the perfect goodness of God.  This means that the meek person that has surrendered his will to God’s own has already done the investigation necessary to conclude that God is worth surrendering to.

This Beatitude also calls to mind many verses of inheritance (Ps 37:9, 11, 22, 29, 34; Is 60:21), but none are as obviously tied to this verse as Psalm 25.  Let’s take a snip:

Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in the way.  He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way.  All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies.

For your name’s sake, O Lord, pardon my guilt, for it is great.  Who is the man who fears the Lord?  Him will he instruct in the way that he should choose.  His soul shall abide in well-being, and his offspring shall inherit the land. (Ps 25:8-13)

Notice the theme of surrendering, in humility, to one who is perfectly good and will unerringly guide the sinner on the correct path.  This is the sort of person who will inherit the earth, the one who recognizes his separation from God and then depends on God for his righteousness rather than his own empty works.

Beatitudes, part 2: Blessed are Those Who Mourn

The theme of the Beatitudes is to show a felt need, then demonstrate how that need will see fulfillment in the kingdom of heaven.  The poor in spirit are blessed because they have no religion or spirituality to lean on, so (like the materially poor) they must lean more fully on Jesus to satisfy the righteous requirement of the law.  Therefore, theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

The second Beatitude promises comfort to those who mourn.

The Beatitudes identify several needs as virtues that ordinarily one wouldn’t think of as a virtue.  First the poor, now the mourners.  Next we’ll bless the meek and then the hungry!

So what’s up with prosperity preachers?  Are they not reading this section?  These guys say that you can have your best life right now.  Yet Jesus says to those of us in the present that you are blessed if you’re poor, in mourning, meek, and hungry — if you’re not having your best life now.

Suffering and trials will come.  If we lean on God in those trials and become closer to him, then we do well.  If we grow distant, if we let the trials create a rift between ourselves and our God, it is to our severe detriment.  God will deliver those who mourn:

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor;  he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion— to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.  (Is 61:1-3)

And:

He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth,  for the Lord has spoken.  (Is 25:8)

Jesus once said that he is the Great Physician, come to heal the sick.  The well don’t need a doctor, right?  Conversely, those who do not weep have no need of someone to wipe their tears away.

Beatitudes, part 1: Blessed are the Poor in Spirit

I haven’t been writing much as of late because my new job is taking up most of my time.  My family — my first ministry and primary responsibility, as I see it — takes up the rest of my time.

So I haven’t been keeping up with the promised spate of updates, i.e. Contradiction Tuesday and Scripture Saturday.

Yet, this past month has seen nearly 4,000 hits — the most hits in a month since beginning this ministry way back in 2006.  And I am doing nothing to promote this website — no content syndication, no cross-posting on other blogs, no link exchanges, no paid advertisement, no SEO.  I’m not even doing the simple blog promotion tool of updating on a regular basis.

It is time for new content.

So, I will post on the Beatitudes for the next eight days.

Let’s start at the top:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Mt 5:3)

The Beatitudes promise a later fulfillment to those who have a felt need presently.  The worst pop theology promoted by the likes of Joel Osteen, Kenneth Copeland, Joyce Meyer, and others promises that Christians can (to borrow Osteen’s phrase) live their best lives now.

No, no, no, no.  Are these guys even reading the same Bible as I am?

The Great Physician has come to heal us, and in order for us to seek his help, we must feel the need.  In the case of the first Beatitude, those of us who are poor in spirit right now are going to inherit the kingdom of heaven.

The deeply spiritual are often hypocritical.  Jesus described the Pharisees of his day as “whitewashed tombs,” shiny on the outside but filled with death on the inside.  Frequently, our Lord said people who followed all of the “proper rituals” were getting their rewards “right now.”

Meaning no reward in the future.

Jesus’ brother James wrote, “. . . has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him?” (Jms 2:5).  James acknowledges what Jesus taught: those who are poor are blessed with great faith.

And why not?  The rich often rely on their wealth to get them through.  Take the rich young ruler in Luke as an example.  By the same token, the spiritual among us rely on their rituals as their righteousness.

Those poor in spirit, however, must rely on Christ as their righteousness.  They have nothing else to fall back on.

It seems much easier to rely on God when you have nothing than when you have been blessed with everything.