Written Word

The Beatitudes – Part 1: An Alternative Lifestyle

When I look at the direction in which the world is going, I do not feel optimistic and I find no solace when I see the emerging new society in Ireland that is more and more tolerant of what offends God. Moral boundaries, of thought and action are being moved or dismantled. We are beginning to resemble those whom the Apostle Paul described in the first chapter of his letter to the Romans: a people who rejected God and whom God eventually abandoned.

The alternative lifestyle for those who are followers of Jesus is seen in the beatitudes. (see Matthew 5:3-12) Jesus calls those who practise the beatitudes “blessed”. This is not a religious title conveyed upon some elite who has reached a particular standard of spirituality. “Blessed” speaks of God’s verdict upon those who practise the beatitudes: the poor in spirit are indeed blessed or highly privileged.

It is the failure of Christians to live their faith that has rendered their witness ineffective in the world. When practised, the beatitudes are a powerful witness in that they display an understanding of life’s true calling. They define our perspective on life and identify our values. They teach us to see things as God sees them. We resemble “a city on a hill [that] cannot be hidden”. (Matthew 5:14) This “alternative lifestyle” will not go unnoticed, for the difference between a believer and unbeliever is the difference between light and darkness, not only in how we behave, but also in what we believe. And it is in the latter area that many make their mistake. An unconverted person cannot produce the beatitudes. Granted, an unconverted person can live a very good life and many do, exhibiting some admirable ethics. But the beatitudes are the fruit of God’s grace in the heart of one who has been converted to the Lord Jesus Christ. This is clearly brought out by Jesus when he says: “What are you doing more than others?” (Matthew 5:47) Jesus is driving home the point that his disciples are to be different: If you are being nice and friendly to your brothers, he says, what’s so amazing about that? What so special about that? Then he says, “Do not even pagans do that?” (Matthew 5:47) If your good behaviour is the same as the good behaviour of pagans, what’s the big deal? What’s so special about you? Absolutely nothing!

The beatitudes are not a description of our personality traits. By nature some people are quiet, shy, reserved and cautious. Others are outgoing, cheerful and carefree. These are inherited characteristics and generally do not change much. But the beatitudes can be present in the life of every Christian irrespective of their particular personality.

Jesus did not give the beatitudes as a prescription to cure the world of its ills. No, the gospel is the medicine for that ailment. Neither were they given as an eight-step ethics programme to be embraced by the unconverted. The beatitudes do not tell us how to be saved; they tell the saved how to behave. The beatitudes are a description of what it means to be a Christian and, if all who profess a living faith in Jesus practised them today, our churches, our families and our world would be a very different place.

In the following lessons we will be looking at each of the beatitudes in order to understand what Jesus is actually talking about and what it means to live them out in our lives.