I am going to do a series on the beatitudes of Matthew 5. I love this section of text and hopefully it can shed some light on the passage for all of us and help us walk out the truths found there more faithfully.
To start, they shouldn’t be called beatitudes. Beatitude is taken from the Latin word for blessed, which initially sounds like it would be a great thing to call a section in which each phrase begins with “blessed are…”
The problem arises when we look at the original language. The Greek word here does not mean “blessed” — it means “happy.” The word is makarios. And while this may seem trite, it is profoundly different.
What is the difference between being blessed and happiness? It is simple. The idea of blessing is that someone or something places a status on me that is good. Blessing comes from the outside in. Happiness, especially in the way makarios is used, has to do with an inner state of being. It comes from the inside out.
The switch was intentionally made by a corrupt (at the time) church government. They wanted to place the need for God’s direct intervention for the fulfillment of these matters at the center of the meaning of the passage. This doesn’t seem like such a big deal until we realize the church stood between people and God. The net result was not so much about God’s direct intervention, but more about the church’s direct control of people. (There is much written about this: Skip Moen’s lecture series on the beatitudes is a good place to start.)
What makes this understanding such an important shift? Paul talks at great length in Romans about acts that lead to death and acts that lead to life. In Matthew 5, Jesus is unpacking the motivations of acts that lead to life. And it is quite countercultural.
The problem with the acts Paul describes in Romans is they don’t fit neatly into a moral code of conduct that is true for all people, all places, all times. For example, the love of money is the root of all evil. Some people can handle having lots of money, but some cannot. The amount of money we should have is never how we deal with that problem. Rather, we become poor in our spirit. We possess nothing, yet have everything (2 Corinthians 6:10).
The beatitudes invite us toward a posture of the heart that allows for our lives to be full of actions that lead to life. It just happens to be the opposite of what we thought would bring happiness. And fighting against these deeply internal truths will never bring happiness no matter how hard we try. This is a truth of Scripture from the garden to the end.
May we always work toward an inner state of happiness through the proper posture of our hearts and minds.
I pray this series is a blessing for all of us.