Tonight we begin a three-part study of Matthew 5 and will be studying verses 1-16 which contain the Beatitudes and an explanation about believers. This chapter contains too much material to cover in just one study and we will give it the proper attention it deserves by spreading it out over three weeks.
Starting in verses 1-2, Jesus finds himself surrounded by people and prepares to teach them. His popularity has increased since word of his miracles spread and He needs to go to a high place in order to properly reach the people. He goes up on a mountain and sits and waits until his followers are assembled around Him. Then Jesus gives us the Beatitudes.
If one was going to draw a similarity of the old and new covenants here, one might be tempted to call the Beatitudes the New Testament’s version of the Ten Commandments. Think of the old law and the Ten Commandments: the old law was restrictive, and the Ten Commandments were mostly prohibitive. On the other hand, God’s new covenant through Christ grants us freedom through servitude, baptism and forgiveness of sins. Also, depending on how you number the statements in the Beatitudes, you might be able to number them at ten. Give it a try.
While it is interesting to think of the Beatitudes as a new and improved version of the Ten Commandments, they are really so much more than that. The Beatitudes are a philosophy on godly living. They show us ultimately that we have spiritual gain and spiritual success when we rely on God rather than ourselves.
The satisfaction that we get from a relationship with God does not come from our own ability to pray, worship or study; we get spiritual fulfillment and are most pleasing to God when we realize and act in a way reflective of how small we truly are: It is not I that is great; it is God that is great. I did not create the positive circumstances of my life; God did. My own skills, powers and abilities are mine because God allows it. The moment I revel in my own accomplishments or when I trust in myself or an institution of man to solve my problems, I am going the wrong way. Have you ever wondered why Alcoholics Anonymous is so quietly successful? It all centers around a belief that God can remove the desire to drink; the alcoholic cannot do it themselves.
So when it comes to how we think of ourselves, the secret Jesus is letting us in on is to think small. I’m not important, I’m not a special snowflake, I am just a sinner. A sinner blessed and graced with God’s consideration. When I suffer, I am blessed because it brings me closer to God. When I stop thinking of how I might compare to other people or that I might be a little better than other people, I will receive mercy. If I seek peace rather than create conflict because I think I am a victim of something, I will be called a son of God. The Beatitudes teach us to take the high road. If we seek righteousness, we will obtain righteousness. If we do good and are persecuted or shamed, it only makes our reward in heaven greater.
The message sent in the Beatitudes reveals a theme of irony in the New Testament: When I am small, I am actually big. When I am weak, I am actually strong. Relying on my own strength will not get me half as far as relying on God’s strength.
What does it look like to rely on the strength of God? It means praying regularly and asking Him to help guide your life. It means asking God to help you make tough decisions and to help you act in the right way in difficult situations and relationships. It means to stop excessive and debilitating worrying that never helps anyway.
When we live in this manner, we transform into the type of believer described in verses 13-16 of chapter 5. If we live lives that are truly dependent on God, it will show and others will notice. It is easy to be ashamed of living this way in the world because the world does not know God, the world thinks that God is foolishness. However, God’s blessings on a life are visible. And the peace that comes from leaning on Him for strength can be seen by anyone that is looking.
It’s a win-win.