Friday, June 20, 2008

Matthew 5:3 Declaring Spiritual Bankruptcy

Frank Sinatra had a hit song titled “My Way”. The lyrics of this song are all about someone who is self reliant and they do things, well, their way. Our culture seems to hold up the idea of a self-made man as a kind of goal for us to strive for. We don’t like to admit weakness, much less poverty. Overall, pride is one of the greatest sins in America. However, as we see in this verse, pride is an obstacle to a right relationship with God.

In verse 5, Jesus begins outlining what it takes for a person to be “Blessed”. The word translated “blessed” is the Greek word “makarios” (3107). A more literal translation of the word would be “happy”. In this world, people search, sometimes there whole lives, for happiness. I used to search for it in accomplishments. I felt that if I could play saxophone well enough or become a successful enough band director that I would be happy. Even after I went back to school to study accounting, I felt like if I could find a job making enough money for my wife to stay home with my kids that I would be happy. However, the more I work and search I find myself relearning over and over again that the only true joy, satisfaction and happiness that I have ever known comes from my relationship with God. I mean, I would describe myself as happy this past Tuesday when the Celtics defeated their arch-enemy, the Lakers, to win the NBA Championship. But this was a temporary emotional high that I assure you was quickly gone when I got up the next morning at 5:15 to go to work. The happiness that Jesus describes here is not some quickly passing emotion but a deep, abiding sense of true happiness that comes from a relationship with God.

Jesus goes on to describe the spiritual mindset of the people He describes as happy. Jesus says that these people are “poor in sprit”. The Greek word “ptochos” (4434) is translated “poor” in this verse. Now, this word doesn’t just describe poverty as a state, as in not having money or possessions, but also as an action. In fact, the same word is used in Luke 16:20 to identify Lazarus as a “beggar”. The word is related to the verb “ptosso” which means “to crouch”. Someone who is bowing or crouching is physically demonstrating meekness or lowliness. I knew someone who claimed onetime that they had been challenged simply because a person had been sitting and all of a sudden stood to their feet. We also speak metaphorically about “standing up to people” or “standing up for ourselves”. In effect, the attitude that Jesus describes here as being “poor” would be the exact opposite of that. Instead of standing, we are crouching. Instead of proclaiming ourselves as rich, we take the posture of beggars.

However, the call here is not for a physical kind of crouching but rather for an inward recognition of our spiritual need. Jesus describes those who are happy as having the attitude of a beggar “in spirit” (Gr-“pneuma” 4151). Someone can feign gentleness, love, patience (to a point) because these are all actions. I often have to paint on a mask at work when someone gets on my nerves because I asked for something 3 weeks ago and they still have not gotten it to me. But I have to admit, inside, I’m pretty ticked off. However, you cannot fake being poor in spirit. You either recognize and accept the total inability of yourself to make yourself rich in spirit and, because you are a spiritual beggar, turn to God for mercy or you don’t. The first step to solving any problem is to admit that you actually have a problem. People who are spiritually bankrupt recognize that they have nothing.

When Jacob came back home with his livestock, servants, wives, and his two girlfriends after living with his uncle, he wrestled with God one night. When God told him to let go, Jacob said “I will not let you go unless you bless me”. Now this man had all the stuff that you would think a man could want and he still asked God to bless him. In other words, he recognized that he was poor inspirit. He recognized what he had was not enough and he wanted to be blessed-not physically but spiritually. In order to be happy, as Jesus declares here, we must also recognize the insignificance of our possession, our positions, and everything else in our lives.

Jesus identifies the source of their blessed condition. He says that those who have declared themselves to be spiritual beggars (as opposed to being proud) will be happy because theirs is “the kingdom of heaven”. Matthew, since his target audience was Jewish primarily, used the phrase kingdom of heaven frequently in his gospel as opposed to the kingdom of God to respect his Jewish readers sensitivities regarding the name of God. However, practically, it means the same thing. Notice with me that the verb is in the present tense. We certainly do have a home in heaven to look forward to and we should meditate on that and encourage one another with that. However, the kingdom of heaven is ours right now. Jesus said that He came to give us life and give that life more abundantly. Paul writes in Ephesians 2:6 that God has seated us in the heavenly places with Christ. We live in a world of trouble but this world is not our home. We once were blind but now we see. While we may endure poverty and trouble in this world, we can take heart and be comforted knowing that we have victory now and the promise of a future in heaven forever with our Lord who saved us. How can we not be happy knowing that?

Scripture taken from the New American Standard Bible Copyright 1960, 1962, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

No comments: