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Saturday, July 16, 2016

The Blessed Life

Do we even know what it is to live the blessed life?  Being blessed is so often directly linked to our personal comfort provided either through material possessions, circumstances, or human relationships.  We are blessed when good things happen to us but when bad things happen to us well, I guess I'm still blessed I just don't feel blessed.  We have been conditioned to understand blessing in the context of the temporal instead of in the context of the spiritual.  It seems from the outset the passage in question is establishing a lofty standard for spiritual living.
 To be truly blessed one must be truly spiritual!

Is this not what Paul had in mind when he wrote to the church at Rome, "For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded in life and peace."  Life can only be truly enjoyed in the context of spirituality.  Peace is the result of living a spiritual life.

I believe Matthew 5:1-12 provides some valuable insight into experiencing the blessed life.

Today I want to examine this passage as a whole.  I may come back and look at each of the elements of the blessed life in subsequent blog posts.  It seems important to establish some basic principles for dealing with and understanding each of the beatitudes set before us.

So let us take the first twelve verses of Matthew 5 as a whole.  One of the first things to capture our attention is the use of the word "blessed".  The word is used nine times in these twelve verses and almost immediately sets the tone.  The prominent use of this word makes it incumbent that we understand the full range of meaning.  Consider the context in which the word is used in our passage there are probably a couple of definitions that would be useful:

1. Of or enjoying happiness
2. Bringing pleasure, contentment, or good fortune

The Greek word is translated into one other English word in our King James Bibles.  That word is "happy".  We are therefore, in essence, dealing with principles that make for happiness.  I think an honest reading of the passage would cause us to conclude that people are not happy because they are looking in the wrong places for it.  For the unbeliever we should not be surprised but for us who know the Lord there is no excuse.  The tendency is to think we know what will make us happy, but I believe the passage bears out this is often not true.

Another interesting thing about the passage is that it consists of a series of paradoxes.  A paradox is a tenet of proposition contrary to received opinion; a sentiment seemingly absurd or contradictory; that which in appearances and language is absurd, but yet true in fact.  What is related in these short statements are contrary to opinion and seemingly absurd and contradictory.

Blessed are the poor in spirit
Blessed are they that mourn
Blessed are the meek
Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst
Blessed are the merciful
Blessed are the pure
Blessed are the peacemakers
Blessed are they which are persecuted and reviled

In practice we often reject the premises set forth here as improbable.  We can easily find ourselves in a quandary; knowing we should to yield to the word of God yet believing these words of God to be impractical.  As much as anything it reveals our lack of faith and the fact that we assess the word of God from a carnal perspective. Unfortunately, such a perspective keeps us from seeing and accepting spiritual realities.

There are also a series of promises in this passage.  There are two potential problems related to the promises. 1.  We miss the promise not being able to negotiate the paradox.  2.  We focus on the promise to the exclusion of the paradox.  The promises must be viewed in connection with the paradox.

Theirs is the kingdom of God
They shall be comforted
They shall inherit the earth
They shall be filled
They shall obtain mercy
They shall see God
They shall be called the children of God
Theirs is the kingdom of heaven
Great is your reward in heaven

Could it be we want the promise on our own terms?

I have come to see the word "for" as the key to unlocking the passage.  It is the word "for" that ties the promise to the paradox.

Blessed . . . for theirs is the kingdom of heaven
Blessed . . . for they shall be comforted
Blessed . . . for they shall inherit the earth
Blessed . . . for they shall be filled
Blessed . . . for they shall obtain mercy
Blessed . . . for they shall see God
Blessed . . . for they shall be called the children of God
Blessed . . . for theirs is the kingdom of heaven
Blessed . . . for great is your reward in heaven

We are happy because of the promise.  The rub comes when the required virtues are introduced in order to experience the promise.  Happy, not because the pursuit is pleasant but because the reward is, well, rewarding.  Everyone wants the aforementioned promises but one must embrace these spiritual realities.  The process may be painful but the fruit will be sweet.  The question is, are we willing to cultivate the spiritual virtues necessary in order to experience the promise?  The promises are conditional!

These spiritual virtues are the result of being spiritually minded which is only possible because we have been made partakers of the divine nature.  It is as we live out these spiritual virtues that we become the salt and light of the world.  These spiritual virtues force us to face issues of the heart, not living by the letter of the law but rather by the spirit of the law.  As each of these spiritual graces are more fully recognized in our lives we move closer and closer to the standard so clearly expressed in the last verse of Matthew five, "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect."
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