The Good Life as Poor in Spirit

Passage: Matthew 5:1-3

5:1 When he saw the crowds, he went up the mountain. After he sat down his disciples came to him. 5:2 Then he began to teach them by saying:
5:3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them.


In the leadin essay, we covered that the first portion of the beatitude is best understood as “[You are fortunate if you] are the poor in spirit…” and that spiritually poor here is in the sense of being beaten down and dependent on external support.

Are you a non-believer beaten down?  Are you a hurting Christian?  This beatitude is meant for you.  God gave Jesus these words to speak and then gave two men (Matthew and Luke) to present these words to you.  Yes, specifically to you (even though there are six billion persons and growing who are all “you”).  Do you sense this giving?  I deeply hope that you do, because the gift is deeply personal.

The pain of being beaten down to nothing – beaten by life, by life changing illness, by family strife, by relational pain such as divorce, by being fired, or any of the myriad ways life hurts us – and knowing that you are powerless before this wave of hurt guts your ability to respond.  How is it fortunate that you have been gutted?  Clarity.

Clarity is the ability to see things as they really exist.  This is true for the non-believer who disregards God’s gift of grace followed by purpose in their lives.  Pain can bring someone to God when no others can make a difference.  The pain produces clarity.

The second part of the beatitude is something that needs to be seen with clarity by Christians.  “…for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them.”  Who is being spoken of here?  Believers.  What is the clarity here?  With Jesus beginning his ministry, the assault on Earth began.

When we read the beatitudes and many other verses, we often are hunting for favorable promises that say the pain will end soon.  Especially when we are in pain, we want the pain to end.  This beatitude does not offer such a resolution to the pain.

What we are offered here is something different.  Perspective.  In our pain, we are given by God through Jesus and then by Matthew the perspective that believers have (currently possess) the kingdom.  What value does this perspective of possession gives us in our pain?  The value is context.  The context can be seen in a metaphor.

Accepting Christ does not put you in the court of Yahweh (although your prayers reach there).  Accepting Christ puts you on the equivalent of World War II’s Omaha beach and then in the 30 foot hedge rows of the French countryside beyond the beach.  Christ cast out demons during his earthly ministry.  In doing that he was battling the forces that rule this planet.  Recall that Christ’s first action in his ministry was to directly battle Satan.

If you understand that the Kingdom of God is involved in a war, then life’s struggles look different.  This perspective opens the door to the possibility that our pain is not punishment, is not the act of a vindictive God, is not the fate of having been abandoned by God.  It is the nature of this world in this time.  God through Jesus landed on Omaha beach 2000 years ago.  Through his Holy Spirit he now empowers us to move through the metaphorical fields and hedge rows of France as we take his Kigndom into the larger world.

Just as those soldiers fought unexpected and seemingly insurmountable difficulty (pre-invasion reconnaissance showed hedge rows, but not that they were 30 feet tall and impenetrable), we encounter unplanned, exhausting trials.  Our pain in these trials is often larger than us.  It is larger than me.  It is larger than you.  It is larger, because it is tied to this war.

The pain and challenges overwhelm us, because they are in fact overwhelming.  Anyone would be overwhelmed.  The size and scope of our pain is tied to cosmic realities that we cannot see and cannot cope with…on our own.  We have to be part of something large enough to handle the pain – “…for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them.”  That “something” is the Kingdom of God.

Not only is the war between the kingdom and Satan brought to us by Christ hitting the beach 2000 years ago, the resources of the Kingdom are ours…when we access them.  Being poor in spirit means you have reached the awareness of the scale harm and help that you are caught in.  Truly horrible things feel horribly larger than us, because they are horribly larger than us.  The scale imbalance between us and debilitating events is real.  We really are that small.

The help, however, is larger than the harm though.  The Kingdom in its full size is a vast place.  The Kingdom’s presence on this Earth unfortunately is fairly small.  The Kingdom’s presence extends on Earth where we take it.  The help of the Kingdom exists on Earth.  It is here.

Yet, this help must be sought.  Sharing ownership in the Kingdom means having critical resources at critical times.  Yet, we must pick them up.  Unfortunately, many Christians wait extended times before accessing the resources of the kingdom.  We tend to fumble around in dismay, rather than quickly reach for Kingdom resources.  What are these Kingdom resources?

Speaking your troubles to a seasoned Christian friend – the Body of Christ contains fellow soldiers.  Asking for prayer – you can receive supporting fire (to use an artillery metaphor) on strongholds and attacks.  Praying – you can speak directly to the commander, to your commander.  Reading your Bible, especially the Psalms – you can listen to how other humans handled battles and how they were supported.  Remembering God’s actions in your life – you can recognize early training and how those times may now give you clarity.  Asking others how God has helped them – you are not alone and you can ask for advice and draw on support.  Requesting the laying on of hands – you can request direct assistance and encouragement.  Asking for anointing – you can ask for power.  Telling yourself the truth – you can choose to stay in clarity about you and your situation.  Telling yourself the truth from Scripture – you can counter the fifth column of your sin impacted self as it tries to weaken and deceive you.

Notice every sentence in the list above begins with a verb.  Wars are active things.  The response to war is also active.  Passive response occurs as well, but active response is required.  Wars demand active responses.  Otherwise, they run over you.  Yes, clarity is the first victim of war,  The normally simple and clear become incredibly difficult.  The normally difficult become impossible (to paraphrase a dictum of war).

It is possible to be given back clarity and perspective by a risen Savior that is victorious in this war.  That giving comes from his Word and his Body. Embrace the external supports of the Kingdom.  Join the battle.  Act.  This pain has a companion. Christ. He is with you.

What is the Good Life?

Passage: Matthew 5:1-12

5:1 When he saw the crowds, he went up the mountain. After he sat down his disciples came to him. 5:2 Then he began to teach them by saying:
5:3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them.
5:4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
5:5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
5:6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.
5:7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
5:8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
5:9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.
5:10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them.

5:11 “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you and say all kinds of evil things about you falsely on account of me. 5:12 Rejoice and be glad because your reward is great in heaven, for they persecuted the prophets before you in the same way.


Soul Search Essay

I have highlighted in other essays that what work and business can confer on a person is not the “Good Life.”  Money.  Status.  Power.  These are not the good life nor are they inherently good or positive.  (They are also not inherently evil, but pursuit of them creates a lot of evil.)  So, what did Jesus offer as the characteristics of the disciple’s good life within his kingdom (i.e. prior to his second coming)?  He offered the Beatitudes.

Matthew’s reporting of the Beatitudes (Sermon on the Mount) and Luke’s reporting of a similar set of Beatitudes (Sermon on the Plain) provide critical illustrations of the Good Life in the kingdom we now inhabit.

In the English translation you own and use, you may see the word “Happy,” rather than the term the NET uses above, which is “blessed.”  The actual Greek word (which transliterates as “makarios”) can be translated blessed, happy, fortunate, etc.  The critical thing to understand is that the verb does not mean happy the way Americans understand happy.  It means something closer to “you are in fortunate circumstances when…” or “God has gifted you with….”  This is critical in understanding this list from Jesus.

So, if Jesus did not come to bring you power, wealth, and status in society and business, what did and does he bring?  Also, if he does not see power, wealth and status as positive states, what states does he directly say are positive?  The Beatitudes answer these questions.

I will cover these in several essays, but first please read what is below with the following questions in mind:

How can these be part of a good life?  What is good about each item?  Does my life reflect any or all of the beatitudes?  What does my tally of the Beatitudes say about my life?

The first half of each Beatitude describes a specific life state.  So, if you are in the following state or states, this is part of a disciple’s good life:

“[You are fortunate if you] are the poor in spirit, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them.”  Spiritually poor here is in the sense of beaten down and dependent on external support.

“[You are fortunate if you] are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”  To be mournful here refers to the state of experiencing an objective emotion caused by being in a retched, horrible situation.”

“[You are fortunate if you] are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.’ Meek or weak here is not an attitude, but a position of powerlessness, either due to lacking power or (and this is important) due to having power, but refusing to use it for your own ends.”

“[You are fortunate if you] are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.” Hungry and thirsty for righteousness means a continuing personal and consistently intentional submission to the radical remodeling of your life, relationships, opinions, character, conduct, personality, behavior, in short every single thing about you; nothing withheld.”
In a prior essay, I shared the logic behind the paragraph below:

“[You are fortunate if you] are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” Merciful here indicates a method of engaging others by seeing an offender’s point of view regardless of whether the person harmed you directly and violently or indirectly with subtlety. Your seeing into this person’s experiential world leads not only to not gloating over harm that comes to the offender, but instead you empathize with the offender and forgive him or her.

“[You are fortunate if you] are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”  Pure in heart here means that you long to live the life God has for you where the longing is emotional, willful, behavioral and cognitive (i.e. Heart in Hebrew conception includes all of these elements)

“[You are fortunate if you] are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.”  Being a peacemaker means acting to bring about interpersonal peace in an evil world dominated by evil in relationships.  (Note that this is not peace at any price.)

[You are fortunate if you] are those who are persecuted for righteousness, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them.” Righteousness here refers to an internal God-given state that enables public demonstration to non-Christians of your chosen allegiance and reliance on Jesus; it is living publicly as Christ’s ally and messenger; it is staying and living out your salvation created otherness. In short, true discipleship will (not may) produce persecution.

“[You are fortunate] when people insult you and persecute you and say all kinds of evil things about you falsely on account of me. Rejoice and be glad because your reward is great in heaven, for they persecuted the prophets before you in the same way.”

Reading just the first half of each Beatitude is not likely to produce responses such as, “Of course!  Sure that has to be part of the good life.”  Reading the second half of each is more likely to produce such a response since these portions are more affirming and comforting.  These halves cannot be split though.

The first half of each beatitude is what leads to the the second half.  When this fact is considered, many disciples struggle with the expectations Christ sets out in the Beatitudes.  The idea that the ‘good life’ incorporates such difficult and painful things seems like a mockery of the term “good Life.”  How can being poor in spirit, mourning, weak, persecuted be ‘good?’

The following essays attempt to shed some light on this.

I recognize (from some feedback) that my essays are challenging.  They require a fair amount of thought to understand.  I intentionally weave multiple concepts together, which makes the writing dense. If I need to clarify something, leave me a comment.  My writing is pointless or worse than pointless if it is not understandable.

Clarity belongs to the reader, yet the writer must create it.  Only the reader, however, can shine light on a lack of clarity.  I welcome that light.