Here in the United States, we have recently come through a Presidential election season. Social media was rife with all sorts of politically fueled memes, of course. Some of them were quite humorous and most of them were based on agendas, not objective truth, which is no surprise. One of the memes that came across my field of vision in various forms had to do with Jesus giving the beatitudes, specifically the ‘blessed are the poor’. Here is one example that was in response to the Black Lives Matter movement:It is no surprise when the world misunderstands or misuses scripture for their own purposes. The unregenerate have zero desire to know the truth, but are completely invested in their rebellion toward God. The reason I share this meme is that it is a good opportunity to talk about what was really meant by the beatitudes, and specifically the one mentioned above.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:3)
Whether this scripture is being mocked in social media, or mishandled in teaching, the first error comes from leaving off the words in spirit. Jesus wasn’t giving a generalization about the status of materially poor individuals; individuals lacking worldly goods. He was speaking about those who are poor in spirit…a disposition of the inward man. Dr. MacArthur says in his commentary:
The poor in spirit are those who recognize their total spiritual destitution and their complete dependence on God. They perceive that there are no saving resources in themselves and that they can only beg for mercy and grace. They know they have no spiritual merit, and they know they can earn no spiritual reward. Their pride is gone, their self-assurance is gone, and they stand empty-handed before God….It does not refer to outwardly acting like a spiritual beggar, but to recognizing what one really is. (MacArthur commentary Matthew 1-7 p. 146; emphasis mine)
Jesus wasn’t making a social-justice warrior rallying cry. That is a fashionable interpretation these days as social-justice gospel (which is no gospel at all) becomes ever more prevalent in the professing church. Helping the poor and down trodden is commendable, but if you do not preach the gospel to them as you give them food or medical care or shelter, you may as well not do it at all. Without the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, you are simply making them more comfortable on their way to hell. Jesus wasn’t a social-justice proponent, and He wasn’t saying poor people are blessed because they are poor. He was speaking of the true disposition of people who have genuine saving faith. That is what the Beatitudes were about: a description of the character of genuine saving faith.
So what is the take away application for us today? Let’s all examine our hearts in light of God’s holiness: Are we devoid of pride and self-righteousness? Do we realize that there is nothing in and of ourselves that can save us? Are we wholly dependant on grace? Do we mourn our sin? Are we merciful toward others, as Jesus has been merciful toward us?
Take some time today to thank the Lord for opening your eyes to your need of a savior, and for providing that savior. Thank Him for His unmerited grace and the gift of faith. Thank Him for His mercy, and ask Him to transform your heart to be more like His: merciful, pure and delighting in righteousness.
Soli Deo Gloria!