How can we find true happiness? Is it found in heavenly thoughts?
Let us understand where true happiness comes from.
We will look at the beatitudes in Matthew 5:1-12, keys to happiness.
One day as he saw the crowds gathering, Jesus went up on the mountainside and sat down. His disciples gathered around him, 2 and he began to teach them. 3 “God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs. 4 God blesses those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5 God blesses those who are humble, for they will inherit the whole earth. 6 God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will be satisfied. 7 God blesses those who are merciful, for they will be shown mercy. 8 God blesses those whose hearts are pure, for they will see God. 9 God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God. 10 God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs. 11 “God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. 12 Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, the ancient prophets were persecuted in the same way.
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
Matthew 5:1-12 More than Happy
What is more than happy? Being blessed is more than happy! After Jesus gave the Beatitudes during his sermon on the mount, it was written down in Greek using a word that is usually translated as blessed in English. However, it has also been translated as happy at times. A discussion among translators has been whether happy or blessed is a more accurate translation. Most translators seem to have come to the same conclusion, that happiness can be fleeting, but blessedness remains. The beatitudes are not keys to a fleeting emotion, but a core inner condition. So, the word blessed was chosen, because yes, we can be more than happy.
Matthew 5:3 Poor in Spirit
What does “poor in spirit” really mean? Poor people are dispossessed and abandoned, and have a deep sense that the world has failed them. Can a wealthy person be poor in spirit? Wealth deceives us into thinking that we are more important than the “little people.” Has the world provided for us or has the world in reality failed us? Jesus did not say “poor in possessions” but “poor in spirit.” The description is independent of this material world. The blessed of God rely on God not this world’s possessions, but boldly face the truth of our abject spiritual poverty. We are blessed people when heaven rules us, not material possessions.
Being poor in spirit is not the same as being in poor spirits. The word poor here means someone so destitute that they don’t even have food. How can that be blessed? Let’s take the opposite extreme, someone who believes they are spiritually filled and in need of nothing. This attitude makes someone obnoxious, self-satisfied, shallow and unpleasant to be around. Such people may constantly judge us as inferior and compare us with their so-called higher level of spirituality. They are in fact deluded by spiritual fools gold. Being poor in spirit is simply facing up to the facts. We are all desperately poor and in need of God’s merciful provision.
Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” not will be but is. Why does being poor in spirit guarantee heaven here and now? The kingdom of heaven is future and now. True Christianity is not among the spiritually arrogant, the deluded, but those who know they are neither filled nor satisfied, but spiritually destitute. When we are not deceived, but know our spiritual poverty, we become the Church, those whose only hope is heaven. Then we taste heaven on earth. We understand real instead of counterfeit Christianity. Spiritual junk and all counterfeit kingdoms are swept away leaving room for the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 5:4 Mourning
Why does Jesus say blessed are they that mourn? There is a time to mourn (Ecclesiastes 3:4). Mourning is part of the process of repentance. It prepares for a change of heart. Fasting is associated with mourning, a short period of abstinence from foods in order to pray. We need to mourn and humble ourselves before God (James 4:7-10), cleansing our hands of dirty deeds and purifying our hearts of wrongful thoughts. If we find no joy in our mistakes, or evils of this world, then there is hope for a change of heart. If we then turn to God to save us, he will bless and comfort us.
How is mourning a blessing? Let’s contemplate the opposite. What if we never learn from our mistakes or cared about world problems? When would we ever change for the better? When would we ever want to make a better world? A careless attitude that never mourns for the evils of our world, never mourns for personal mistakes is a dangerous attitude. Mourning helps us change. Mourning means we are processing things, learning a lesson. Mourning means there is hope for better decisions next time and a better future. If we don’t mourn our mistakes, we will never be comforted. So yes, blessed are those that mourn, for THEY will be comforted.
Matthew 5:5 Meekness
Why does Jesus in Matthew 5:5 promote meekness? The opposite of meekness is self-importance. Pride fights and creates strife whereas humility makes peace. Arrogance seeks vengeance while meekness forgives. Ego boasts great things, but purity is unpretentious. Hardheadedness makes life difficult, whereas a pliant spirit smooths the way. Inheriting the land can be a metaphor for God’s provision. Who is more likely to be given a job or considered for a promotion, the arrogant misfit or the humble team player? Humility is a great secret of the universe that is ignored by the proud to their own hurt. Surely, the meek are blessed and inherit all the good things of life.
Meekness is not weakness but real strength. That is why Jesus said blessed are the meek (Matthew 5:5). Weak people try to cover their failures by boasting, shameless acts, violence, pretentiousness, pride and conceit. Meek people don’t need to pretend. They are strong enough face the truth, that we are but dust of the earth, and that human life is a mere vapor. Humble people are a pleasure to be around. Arrogant people are not. They are too repulsive to be around. History shows that crude, overbearing buffoons do not last long. Gentle and considerate people are loved by all and inherit the land after spineless bullies are long forgotten.
Matthew 5:6 Righteousness
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness? What is righteousness? We mourn evil and desire justice. When we don’t mourn for our own sins we become arrogant and self-righteous instead of humble. Mourning for sin means we sincerely pray, “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” we are praying for God’s righteousness on earth. Some argue that it is impossible for human thoughts to attain this high standard completely and they are probably correct. Yet, the Holy Spirit patiently works with us and pricks our consciences to do right. Jesus’ promise is that if we crave justice and what is right, we will be filled.
Righteousness seems so strangely out of fashion. Our world craves to do wrong, yet there is an emptiness that can only be filled by righteousness. Jesus said blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Those who do, find an incredible sense of happiness beyond words, a blessing directly from heaven. It is a transcendent happiness that is beyond the fleeting thrills and hilarity of this world, but is otherworldly, eternal. Why? What is right about right? Wrong produces pleasure for a night, a headache tomorrow and grinding burdens for life. The secret is that righteousness may be difficult, but it leaves unspoiled happiness for this life and the next.
Matthew 5:7 Mercy
Jesus said blessed are the merciful? Jesus mercifully healed the sick and befriended sinners. Our world is the opposite: cruel, intolerant, indifferent, tyrannical, disdainful, accusatory, punishing, and totally lacking mercy. Few people seem to care about the sick or sinners, unless they can make money through high medical costs or isolate the worst sinners in prisons not designed for hope of reform. Some people show compassion without a dollar sign attached. There are some tender-hearted souls who work with sinners to guide them towards a better life. Jesus promised that if we show mercy towards the poor and the guilty, we too will be shown mercy. Surely we all need it.
We want justice. When people criticize us, we are offended by their lack of mercy. We want justice served on others, but we want mercy for ourselves. Why is there so little mercy? A merciless atmosphere makes us walk on eggshells. Mercy creates an atmosphere of trust. Lack of mercy creates a police-state-like atmosphere of secrecy and distrust. Mercy creates a warm, affirming atmosphere. Without mercy, we tend to cover up problems and leave them unresolved. In an atmosphere of mercy, we are not afraid to admit mistakes and they can be worked on. As Jesus taught, be merciful and when we need it, mercy will be shown to us.
Matthew 5:8 Pure-Heartedness
When Jesus said blessed are the pure in heart, he was not talking about being naive and foolish. The Greek for pure is used elsewhere to mean clean after bathing (John 13:10). The Pharisees thought that they were righteous if they were clean on the outside (Matthew 23:26). Being clean or pure in the eyes of God begins on the inside. It has nothing to do with naivety and everything to do with innocence, being wise as serpents and harmless as doves. Their intent is for good and without pretense. They carry no malice or dishonesty in their hearts. How can the real world survive without such blessed people!
How can we have a pure heart, free from evil motives? What results from an impure heart? The Pharisees thought they were clean, but their hearts were not pure. How do we get a pure heart? Old Testament laws regarding being ritually clean or unclean point to this purity of heart. It only comes from God (Ezekiel 36:25-27). It comes with the gift of the Holy Spirit. Jesus said that those who have a pure heart will see God. Is that because they see the hand of God behind things? Do those with pure motives look for God in everything and thus see Him? Are our hearts contaminated or pure?
Matthew 5:9 Peacemakers
Is making peace a foolish waste of time? It has never worked in international politics for very long. Why did Jesus call the peacemakers blessed? Imagine a world where nobody tried to referee between sides. It would descend into complete anarchy. Humanity exists in a constant state of hostility. Animosity between people and God, between nations, between governments and their people, within churches and families are an ongoing fact of life. Peacemakers bring a measure of calm to a potentially escalating situation often at great personal sacrifice. While some men love a good fight and look to create strife, only peacemakers are blessed to be called the children of God.
Jesus said blessed are the peace-MAKERS, not the peace-attempters. Making peace requires sacrifice, compromise. Each side must be willing to give up something. Negotiations must be a win-win for all sides. Making peace can be very hard. Reconciliation can take a long time. If peacemakers are blessed, are peace-breakers cursed? Surely those who stir up trouble, make war and sow discord are loathsome and contemptible people. Nobody likes a troublemaker. History blackens their name and they are despised by all. Pride may prevent us making peace, but necessity demands it. Living in freedom must also include freedom from strife and warfare. Peace does not just happen. It has to be made.
Matthew 5:10-12 Persecution for Righteousness
Persecution means to pursue or chase away. It can be mild or bad enough to flee town (Matthew 20:23). Why did Jesus call the persecuted blessed? How can harassment be blessed? Perhaps 60% of Christians today live in countries with heavy restrictions on religious freedom and a quarter suffer severe mistreatment. How is that blessed? If that abuse is because of righteousness, then we identify with Jesus. If we cherish what is right, if we love God, if we love his Church, we will be hated. We are either on Jesus’ side or not. Persecution for righteousness tells us clearly that we are blessed because we are on God’s side.
Why are we harassed if we do the right thing, like keeping the speed limit, supporting the boss at work or avoiding dirty jokes? Jesus said blessed are those who are persecuted for doing right. If we do the right thing, we will be insulted and vilified. It is a badge of honor to be abused for doing right. It confirms that we are on God’s side. In that sense it is a blessing. The opposite is also true. If everyone loves us and we are never mistreated, maybe we are doing something wrong. Sometimes we are at fault. However, when harassment comes because we were righteous, it is a blessing.
Happiness is heavenly thinking. Humility, mourning, meekness, right living, mercy, clean-heartedness, making peace and being harassed for doing what is right. Happiness is being more heavenly minded than earthy. Let us allow ourselves to be happy.