Since time began, people have pursued happiness. Eve thought she would find it in the forbidden fruit. Many have tried money. One such Texas millionaire said; “I thought money could buy happiness. I have been miserably disillusioned.”
Others have thought happiness came with notoriety or political power. One of the world’s greatest statesmen once said to Billy Graham, “I am an old man. Life has lost all meaning. I am ready to take a fateful leap into the unknown.”
True happiness comes when we give up our efforts to find happiness and receive it as God’s free gift. Blessedness comes when we receive forgiveness of our sins and when we study and apply the practical ways Christ has taught us to find happiness.
As Jesus begins his Sermon on the Mount, he gives a series of conditional sayings we call the Beatitudes. The word is not found in the English Bible but comes from a Latin word used by Jerome in his Latin Vulgate translation of the Bible. It means a state of happiness or bliss.
The intention of Christ in making these statements is that people might be happy. Sadness and unhappiness are not signs of godliness and should not be a constant state in the Christian’s life.
The happiness or state of blessedness Jesus says will result from obeying these statements is not simply outward. It is inward contentment experienced regardless of our circumstances. A state of peace we can enjoy no matter how difficult things may be.
The word blessed means happy, fortunate, or blissful and characterizes God. The only way we can experience this happiness is to have God’s nature within us. Although we have all been created in the image of God, that image has been marred because of our rebellion against God. So the only way we can achieve happiness is by restoring our relationship with him. Not only must we have a relationship with God, but we must also be true in our obedience to him.
We Cannot Inherit God’s Kingdom by Our Strength
Those who would inherit God’s kingdom must be poor in spirit or realize their need for him. Poor means to shrink, cower, or cringe.
Our image of poor is probably not what Jesus had in mind. Many people who are classified as poor in some countries would be rich if compared with the poor of other developing countries.
The word poor should bring to mind a beggar—one who does not know where his next meal or his next night’s sleep will come from. The beggars of Jesus’ day would beg for money and cover their faces so no one would know who they were. So the word does not describe one who does not have much, but one who has nothing at all.
Matthew’s account of the Beatitudes is important because he adds the words, “in spirit.” This helps us know Jesus is not speaking about poverty in the material realm. If he were, it would be unchristian for Christians to try and alleviate the burdens of the poor, starving, and destitute. In doing those things we would be abolishing what brings them closer to God.
Neither is Jesus referring to being poor-spirited. A poor-spirited person is one who lacks drive and enthusiasm in life. They have a healthy dose of low self-esteem.
Jesus is talking about spiritual poverty. This spiritual poverty must be genuine, not an act or show we put on in front of others as the religious leaders of Jesus’ day did. Jesus saw through that as well as did many others.
To be poor in spirit means to let go of pride. Allowing God to remove pride from our lives will also allow him to fill the void with humility, which is a virtue in his sight and highly praised in many places in his Word.
We must realize we are bankrupt when it comes to entering his Kingdom on our own. It is only through his grace that we have any hope at all, but his grace is abundant and freely offered. We have no hope of security or salvation apart from his grace.
The Sermon on the Mount is really for those who know they can’t live by what Jesus teaches. The same was true with the law God gave in the Old Testament. No one could live by it. It was designed to so frustrate the individual who was trying to live by it that they would give up and run to God for help. It was given to show people how sinful they were and then to compare that with God’s requirements.
Many realized this and availed themselves of the sacrificial system established by God. Others refused to submit to God’s standards and tried to please God by their own efforts. They attempted to whittle down the standards of God’s law to meet their own level of performance and in the process lowered God’s standards. This missed the whole intent of God’s law.
Jesus faced this same type of hypocrisy during his ministry with the religious leaders. He was confronted time and again by those who claimed to obey the law but who missed the spirit of it.
We cannot enter God’s kingdom through our efforts. We are powerless to live up to the high standards God has established for humanity. Our only hope is to trust Christ, the only one who truly fulfilled God’s standards. Through him, we can live up to God’s requirements.
Jesus once told a story about a Pharisee and a tax collector who went to the Temple to pray. As all eyes focused on the Pharisee, he made his way to the front. He thanked God he was not like other people. He thanked God he was not a sinner and that he was not like the tax collector. He boasted of his fasting, his giving, and of the good things he had done.
The tax collector stood at the back. He would not even lift his eyes to heaven but beat on his chest and cried out to God, recognizing his sinfulness. He realized he could never enter God’s kingdom on his own but only by the grace of God.
We Must Empty Ourselves
For God to bring true happiness in our life, we must empty ourselves of our efforts to find happiness any other way. We must become spiritually poor before God will richly bless us. This was the way Jesus did it. He enjoyed all the majesty and glory of heaven where he had been with the Father from the beginning of time. But he emptied himself of all of this to come and die for our sins. The Greek word referring to this emptying is kenosis.
The emptying must come before the filling. Repentance must precede forgiveness. We must recognize our unworthiness before God will accept us.
Augustine, early church Father, discovered this. Before his conversion, he was proud of his intellect and knowledge. These things held him back from believing. Only after he emptied himself of what he trusted in could God fill him with salvation.
Martin Luther, German leader of the Protestant Reformation, had a similar experience. When he entered the monastery at an early age, his purpose was to earn his salvation by piety and good works, but he experienced failure. Only after he emptied himself of all his attempts to earn salvation was God able to show him salvation was by grace and not works.
We Must Confront a Holy God
Having poverty of spirit is unnatural for individuals. The only way this can change is through a direct confrontation with a holy God.
Looking at ourselves or at others will never create poverty of spirit. The Bible says our hearts are corrupt. We are chained in sin and its destructive force. When we look at others for an example in poverty of spirit, we will find someone who is no better or who is worse than we are.
The only way to find poverty of spirit and to feel how we should about ourselves is to look at God as he revealed himself in Christ. There we find true poverty of spirit. When we do this, we learn to say as the prophet Isaiah did, “Woe is me! For I am undone, because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts” (Isaiah 6:5).
Photo credit: By Berthold Werner, Wikipedia