Tag Archives: beatitudes

You’ve Got Questions: What Does “Blessed Are Those Who Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness” Mean (Matt. 5:6)?

You’ve Got Questions: What Does “Blessed Are Those Who Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness” Mean (Matt. 5:6)?

In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, the beginning section is what is known as the Beatitudes (Matt. 5:1-12) and they are a description of true Christian characteristics. In the fourth Beatitude, Jesus says “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they shall be satisfied” (Matt. 5:6).

Jesus is talking in a way that we can relate. “Hunger” and “thirst” represent the necessities of physical life. In the physical realm, we hunger because we lack nutrients and food that our bodies know they need to survive. Food contains the vitamins and minerals necessary for our survival and functioning. So our stomach aches with hunger pains to notify us that we need food. It’s a natural desire. We hunger because we desire; we desire because we lack; we lack because we have not that which we need. It works the same way with thirst. But does Jesus say, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for food and water”? No, He says “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” So Jesus’ analogy demonstrates that just as a hunger for food and water are necessary for physical life, so hungering for righteousness is necessary for true spiritual life. Without the righteousness of Christ, you cannot be saved (2 Cor. 5:21). It’s a strong desire, a passionate force inside the soul. It’s not something that just comes and goes—it means a hungering that keeps on until it is satisfied. Unlike Israel’s love for God in Hosea that was just coming and going: “What shall I do with you, O Ephraim? What shall I do with you, O Judah? Your love is like a morning cloud, like the dew that goes early away” (Hosea 6:4). What do morning clouds do? They go away. What happens to dew? It goes away. It doesn’t remain. Our hungering and thirsting for righteousness will not just come and go, and the way to true happiness, the way to being truly “blessed,” is the way of spiritual hunger and thirst.

Jesus says that we are to hunger and thirst “for righteousness,” and righteousness is twofold here. The goal of hungering and thirsting for righteousness is both hungering and thirsting for salvation, and for sanctification.

For Salvation. First of all, without a hunger/desire for salvation, you cannot be saved. The Scriptures say, “No one understands; no one seeks for God” (Rom. 3:11). Without Christ, we are in a state of spiritual depravity and dead-ness (Eph. 2:1-3). And as sinners, we are naturally bent towards sin and evil. We will always choose evil over good; sin over obedience. It’s not that we are as sinful as we could be, but every faculty of our being is corrupted by sin. So when it comes to the choices we make, we are always going to choose evil. It’s not that sinful man doesn’t do some good, but even that good he does is with wrongful intentions. In any moment of decision, your greatest desire (in that moment) will determine the decision you make.

Let’s imagine that you walk in to McDonald’s for lunch. You realize that you haven’t been eating very healthy lately, so when you look at the menu, you have a desire to get a salad. But you also notice how delicious looking that McDouble is. Your desire to eat that McDouble is now greater than your desire to eat salad, so you order a McDouble. Even if you choose not to eat at all, still your strongest desire in that given moment determines the choice you make (your desire to not eat at all is stronger than choosing a McDouble or a salad). Everything that sinful, unregenerate man does in his rebellion against God, is sin. “For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Rom. 14:23). Since we are so depraved, God in His grace must give us a spiritual appetite for Jesus Christ, the bread of life. No one has ever got up one morning out of bed and said, “Today, I think I am going to become a Christian!” Since man is prone to sin, God must give man spiritual hunger for the salvation that comes from the Lord. That hunger will lead to an acting on that hunger: repentance and faith, which is also by the grace of God. If you have a sincere desire to know God, you need to act on that desire; God gave it to you.

For Sanctification. Not only should we hunger for salvation, but also sanctification. Sanctification is the process by which we become more and more like Jesus Christ. It’s the goal of our Christian lives. We should desire to know God more, to love God more, to be more for God. Peter writes, “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity” (2 Peter 3:18). Similarly, Paul says “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (Eph. 4:15). Do you hunger to be more for Christ?

 

For further reading, please consult: Sermon on the Mount: Those Who Hunger and Thirst 

Sermon on the Mount: Those Who Hunger and Thirst

Sermon on the Mount: Those Who Hunger and Thirst (Matt. 5:6)

You’ve seen the late night commercials. Footage of children in countries like Sudan and Ethiopia who are malnourished and suffering due to severe hunger. According to World Food Programme, when it comes to the world population as a whole, “The vast majority of hungry people (827 million) live in developing countries, where 14.3 percent of the population is undernourished.” And for children, “Poor nutrition causes nearly half (45%) of deaths in children under five – 3.1 million children each year.” (1) Hunger is a major problem today, and there are hundreds of organizations that exist to feed those who are hungry throughout our world. Hunger is a result of our broken and depraved world, and we need to support relief for those who are hungry by donating our time and resources, and we should always pray for them. But would you ever think of hunger as being commanded by Jesus? That’s right. In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, He tells His disciples, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matt. 5:6). Of course, this is a different kind of hunger than the starving state of so many countries in our world. But I wouldn’t dismiss those images of the starving just yet. Because if you’ve ever seen someone who was truly starving, they have a single, all-consuming passion for food and water. Nothing else has the slightest attraction or appeal; nothing else can even get their attention. This is the spiritual hunger and thirst about which Jesus is talking about. Let’s look at this further:

The Text: Matt. 5:6

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.”

The Meaning of Spiritual Hunger

So far in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount there have been three Beatitudes that have lead up to this point. The first is the recognition of spiritual poverty apart from God (Matt. 5:3), the second is the necessary result of that recognition of lowliness: godly mourning (Matt. 5:4). And then is humility in the way we interact with others (Matt. 5:5). What then, is the meaning of hungering and thirsting for righteousness? What is Jesus telling us about spiritual hunger? Jesus is talking in a way that we can relate. “Hunger” and “thirst” represent the necessities of physical life. In the physical realm, we hunger because we lack nutrients and food that our bodies know they need to survive. Food contains the vitamins and minerals necessary for our survival and functioning. So our stomach aches with hunger pains to notify us that we need food. It’s a natural desire. We hunger because we desire; we desire because we lack; we lack because we have not that which we need. It works the same way with thirst. But does Jesus say, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for food and water”? No, He says “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” So Jesus’ analogy demonstrates that just as a hunger for food and water are necessary for physical life, so hungering for righteousness is necessary for true spiritual life. Without the righteousness of Christ, you cannot be saved (2 Cor. 5:21). John MacArthur writes, “This Beatitude speaks of strong desire, of driving pursuit, of a passionate force inside the soul.” (2) Similarly, “This hungering and thirsting after righteousness is not a passing feeling or desire—it means something that keeps on until it is satisfied.” (3) Unlike Israel’s love for God in Hosea that was just coming and going: “What shall I do with you, O Ephraim? What shall I do with you, O Judah? Your love is like a morning cloud, like the dew that goes early away” (Hosea 6:4). What do morning clouds do? They go away. What happens to dew? It goes away. It doesn’t remain. Our hungering and thirsting for righteousness will not just come and go, and the way to true happiness, the way to being truly “blessed,” is the way of spiritual hunger and thirst.

The Object of Spiritual Hunger

Jesus says that we are to hunger and thirst “for righteousness,” and righteousness is twofold here. The goal of hungering and thirsting for righteousness is both hungering and thirsting for salvation, and for sanctification. For Salvation. First of all, without a hunger/desire for salvation, you cannot be saved. The Scriptures say, “No one understands; no one seeks for God” (Rom. 3:11). Without Christ, we are in a state of spiritual depravity and dead-ness (Eph. 2:1-3). And as sinners, we are naturally bent towards sin and evil. We will always choose evil over good; sin over obedience. It’s not that we are as sinful as we could be, but every faculty of our being is corrupted by sin. So when it comes to the choices we make, we are always going to choose evil. It’s not that sinful man doesn’t do some good, but even that good he does is with wrongful intentions. In any moment of decision, your greatest desire (in that moment) will determine the decision you make. Let’s imagine that you walk in to McDonald’s for lunch. You realize that you haven’t been eating very healthy lately, so when you look at the menu, you have a desire to get a salad. But you also notice how delicious looking that McDouble is. Your desire to eat that McDouble is now greater than your desire to eat salad, so you order a McDouble. Even if you choose not to eat at all, still your strongest desire in that given moment determines the choice you make (your desire to not eat at all is stronger than choosing a McDouble or a salad). Everything that sinful, unregenerate man does in his rebellion against God, is sin. “For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Rom. 14:23). Since we are so depraved, God in His grace must give us a spiritual appetite for Jesus Christ, the bread of life. No one has ever got up one morning out of bed and said, “Today, I think I am going to become a Christian!” Since man is prone to sin, God must give man spiritual hunger for the salvation that comes from the Lord. That hunger will lead to an acting on that hunger: repentance and faith, which is also by the grace of God. If you have a sincere desire to know God, you need to act on that desire; God gave it to you. For Sanctification. Not only should we hunger for salvation, but also sanctification. Sanctification is the process by which we become more and more like Jesus Christ. It’s the goal of our Christian lives. We should desire to know God more, to love God more, to be more for God. Peter writes, “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity” (2 Peter 3:18). Similarly, Paul says “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (Eph. 4:15). Do you hunger to be more for Christ? 

The Result of Spiritual Hunger

Jesus says that those who “hunger and thirst for righteousness. . . shall be satisfied.” God will satisfy our hunger for Him. It is that very satisfaction from God that makes us want more. Think about your favorite food. Why is it your favorite food? Most likely you enjoy that food because of the satisfaction that it brings. You continue eating it because you delight in the satisfaction that it brings. Similarly, what Jesus is saying here is that the more you are satisfied by God the more you will want to be satisfied by God. John Piper has labored more than all to bring this truth out, and he is worth quoting at length:

“The more you know him, the more you want to know him. The more you feast on his fellowship, the hungrier you are for deeper, richer communion. Satisfaction at the deepest levels breeds a holy longing for the time when we will have the very power of God to love God. . . Yes, the more you know him and love him and trust him, the more you long to know him. . . The great old catechism asks, “What is the chief end of man?” and answers, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” Enjoying God is the way to glorify God, because God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.” (4)

Are we hungering and thirsting for God? Are we being satisfied by Him or by the temporary things of this “world [which] is passing away along with its desires” (1 John 2:17)? Let us cry out with David, “O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water” (Psalm 63:1). Let us continue to be satisfied by God and the things of God and let us cease from dining at the table of the world where there are only worthless scraps.

The Testing of Spiritual Hunger

1. Dissatisfaction with Self

If you are satisfied with yourself, you will not be spiritually hungry. Again, this can be worked out in two ways: with regards to salvation, and with regards to sanctification. In salvation, the man who is satisfied with himself, and his own righteousness will not see the need for God’s. The great Puritan Thomas Watson wrote, “He has most need of righteousness that least wants it.” But the hungering sinner will be dissatisfied with himself and will seek after God.

But in regards to our sanctification, and our lives as Christians—if you are hungering for God, you will always want more. No matter how many Bible studies you go through—no matter how many fine sermons you hear—no matter how many chapters of the Bible you read daily—no matter how many times you serve in the local church—no matter how often you pray . . . You will always want more and more of God and continue to cry out with Paul, “O wretched man that I am” (Rom. 7:24). It’s not that God wont’ satisfy your longing for Him, but you will always be dissatisfied with yourself in the sense that God is the only One you recognize to satisfy you—and you will always want more of Him.

Are you dissatisfied with yourself? Are you wanting more of God? Sounds like to me you are hungering and thirsting for righteousness.

2. Freedom from Dependence on External Things for Satisfaction

Think about this: A hungry man cannot be satisfied by an arrangement of lovely flowers, by great riches, beautiful music, or pleasant conversation. Anyone hungry must have what they truly need to be satisfied. We understand that—but we are fooled by sin’s deception to think that we need more and more of it to be satisfied, when it is not sin that we need—but God and His righteousness. If you’re not free from depending on other things for satisfaction, you might want to let a little of His grace in and change a few things in your heart.

3. Craving for the Word of God

The Word of God is the most basic spiritual food God provides His children. The more you hunger for God, the more you will want to devour Scripture. Do you have a craving for the Word of God? If you’re hungering and thirsting for righteousness—you will for the Word.

4. Pleasantness of the Things of God

Do you find pleasantness in the things of God—or do they turn you away? What about when He disciplines you? Does that bring satisfaction—well it should; it’s assurance that you belong to Him.

5. Making No Conditions

When our spiritual hunger and thirst for righteousness is genuine and sincere—we will make no conditions on finding it—in whatever ways God chooses to dispose it to us. If His righteousness is in the Word of God—we will go to find it there, without making excuses. We will make no excuses or conditions for fulfilling our hunger and thirst for righteousness.

Conclusion

In 1908-09, Sir Ernest Shackleton and three of his friends attempted to travel to the South Pole. They set off with four houses to help carry the load. Within weeks, the horses died, their food had ran out, so they tried to get back to base. Altogether, miraculously, they traveled for 127 days total. Sir Ernest recorded this story in a book called The Heart of the Antarctic, and in it he talks about how much time was spent talking about food—elaborate feasts, gourmet delights, plentiful menus. As they staggered along, suffering from hunger, not knowing whether they would survive, every waking hour was occupied with thoughts of eating.

Well, Sir Shackleton made it back—and as you could imagine, ate like never before. We can understand his obsession with food, when he didn’t have any. Are you like that with spiritual hunger? Is God all you can think about because you are so hungry for Him? Jesus tells us here about a hunger more important than hungering for food—let’s feast on God and His righteousness like we’ve never had it before—and God will keep satisfying us.

Are you hungering for God?


1. World Food Programme, Hunger: Hunger Statistics (www.wfp.org/hunger/stats).
2. John MacArthur, Matthew 1-7/ John MacArthur . (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 1985), 177.
3. David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, Kindle Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: InterVarsity Press, 1959-60; Reprinted 2000), Kindle Locations 1119-1128.
4. John Piper, Five Points (Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications, 2013), 7-8.

Sermon on the Mount: The Poor in Spirit

Sermon on the Mount: The Poor in Spirit (Matt. 5:3)

What’s your idea of happiness? What things make you the most happy? For you it might be time with family, being successful at work, watching Captain America with your girlfriend, or playing football with your buddies. Because we’re all different, there are different things that make us happy. For me, I am happy when I get new books, have good theological discussions, or write college papers on systematic theology (I know, I am a nerd).

But let me just say from the beginning: Jesus’ idea of happiness is a lot farther from ours than we’d like to think. The beginning of the Sermon on the Mount is a section known as the Beatitudes (Matt. 5:2-12). In them, Jesus describes true happiness on His terms. He presents the possibility of people being genuinely happy, but the conditions and their corresponding blessings do not seem to match. He says that the humble will be saved, the sad will be comforted, the gentle will inherit the earth, and the like. By normal human standards, things such as these are not the stuff of which happiness is made. “The world says, “Happy are the rich, the noble, the successful, the macho, the glamorous, the popular, the famous, the aggressive”—John MacArthur (1). But the message from Jesus is just the opposite because His kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36). And so the first description of true happiness in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is all about humility.

The Text: Matt. 5:1-3

“Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2 And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying: 3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

The Meaning of Poor in Spirit

The word “poor” here is from a Greek verb ptochos meaning “to shrink, cower, or cringe,” as beggars often did in that day. Classical Greek used the word to refer to a person reduced to total destitution, who crouched in a corner begging. As he held our one hand for alms he often hid his face with the other hand, because he was ashamed of being recognized. The term did not mean simply poor, but begging poor. Jesus is speaking here of spiritual poverty. To be poor in spirit is to recognize one’s spiritual poverty apart from God.

What is Our Spiritual Poverty Apart From God?

The Scriptures have much to say about our spiritual poorness apart from God. Just to name a few, Romans says that we are haters of God (Rom. 1:30), not seeking Him or doing any good (Rom. 3:11). The prophet Ezekiel says that the “soul that sinneth, it shall die” (Ezek. 18:20, KJV). If that’s the case (Rom. 6:23), then who has sinned? “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). Ephesians probably describes our depravity with the most vivid picture: “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1). Further, Paul describes there that we walked with the world, followed Satan, and were “sons of disobedience” (2:2); that we lived in the passions of our sinful flesh, and were “by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (2:3). Similarly in Colossians, we were “alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds” (Col. 1:21). This is only a brief examination of our spiritual poverty apart from God, and being “poor in spirit” is to see oneself as one really is: lost, hopeless, helpless. Apart from Jesus Christ, every person is spiritually destitute, no matter what his education, wealth, social status, accomplishments, or spiritual knowledge.

That is the point of the first Beatitude. The poor in spirit are those who recognize their spiritual poverty 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.

Proud or Poor?

Jesus told the parable of the Pharisee and the tax-gather to “some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt” (Luke 18:9). Jesus says that “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’” (Luke 18:10-13). The Pharisee was listing his spiritual accomplishments, and considered himself to be self-righteous, while the tax-collector would not even lift his eyes to heaven! The Pharisee was proud in spirit; the tax-collector was poor in spirit.

Who are you like most in this story? The proud, self-reliant Pharisee or the humble tax-collector?

Why is Poor in Spirit First?

Why do you suppose that humility is first in the Beatitudes? The Beatitudes are not haphazardly presented. Jesus didn’t just say what Christian characteristics He could remember like “Oh yes, and being pure in heart is also important.” They are in obvious order. Each one suggests the next, and leads to the next. That is why poor in spirit/humility is first. It is the basic element in becoming a Christian. Until a soul is humbled, until we truly realize who we are without Christ, we will not recognize our need for Christ. “The door into His kingdom is low, and no one who stands tall will ever go through it”—John MacArthur (2). Being poor in spirit is the first Beatitude because humility must precede everything else. No one can receive the kingdom until he recognizes that he is unworthy of the kingdom. James 4:6 says, “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Where self is exalted, Christ cannot be. Where self is king, Christ cannot be. Until the proud in spirit become the “poor in spirit,” they cannot receive the King or the kingdom.

How to Achieve Being Poor in Spirit

How then, do we become poor in spirit? First of all (with respect to salvation), it cannot start with us. It isn’t something we can accomplish in our own power. We are already down; humility simply recognizes this truth. The fulfillment of that recognition depends on God’s saving work at conversion. We are so corrupted by sin that we will never recognize our lowliness and depravity apart from the grace of God. That is why salvation “depends not on human will or exertion (physical or mental effort), but on God, who has mercy” (Rom. 9:16). Humility (being poor in spirit) is not a necessary human work to make us worthy, but a necessary divine work to make us see that we are unworthy and cannot change our condition without God.

But with respect to our Christian lives, we need to strive to attain humility (again, this too is not apart from the grace of God):

The first step in experiencing humility is to turn our eyes off ourselves and look to God. When we study God’s Word, seek His face in prayer, and sincerely desire to be near Him and please Him, we move toward being “poor in spirit.” It is the vision of a holy God in all His greatness, splendor, majesty, and perfection that allows us to see ourselves as sinners by contrast. 

Second, we must starve the flesh by removing the things on which it feeds. You’ve probably heard it said before, “What you feed will live; what you starve will die.” And that is what we must do with our flesh. “And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Gal. 5:24).

Third, we must continually ask God for it. With David we should pray, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10). Also, as with every good thing, God is more than willing to give than we are to ask for it, and He stands ready to give it.

The Result of Being Poor in Spirit

What does Jesus say is the result of those who are poor in spirit? “For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Those who come to the King in this humility inherit His kingdom. Those who come to the Lord with broken hearts do not leave with broken hearts: “The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18). In giving up their own kingdom, the poor in spirit inherit God’s. Are you poor in spirit? If not, why not?


1. John MacArthur, Matthew 1-7/ John MacArthur (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 1985), 145.
2. John MacArthur, Matthew 1-7/ John MacArthur . (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 1985), 148.

You’ve Got Questions: What Does “Blessed Are the Meek” Mean (Matt. 5:5)?

You’ve Got Questions: What Does “Blessed Are the Meek” Mean (Matt. 5:5)?

Before answering this question, it’s important to see the obvious logical connection between these different Beatitudes. Clearly, each one follows on from what has gone before. Also, the Beatitudes, as they proceed, become increasingly difficult. In the first Beatitude (Matt. 5:3), we are asked to recognize our spiritual poverty apart from God. When we truly realize our spiritual poorness apart from God, we inevitably become “poor in spirit.” That in turn leads to the second state in which, realizing our own sinfulness and our own true nature, realizing that we are so helpless because of the indwelling sin within us, we become godly mourners (Mat. 5:4). If these things are present, then it follows that we would reach a point at which we become concerned about other people. That’s where meekness comes in. A man can never be meek unless he is poor in spirit. A man can never be a meek unless he has seen himself as a vile sinner.

What then, is the meaning of meek? The Greek word for meek here is praus, which means to be mild, or gentle. The same Greek term is used of Jesus’ triumphal entry when Matthew quotes Zechariah 9:9, “Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your king is coming to you, humble (praus), and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden” (Matt. 21:5). Meekness is very similar to “poor in spirit,” but it is not exactly the same thing. Meekness is essentially a true view of oneself, expressing itself in attitude and conduct with respect to others. It is my attitude towards myself, and it is an expression of that in my relationship to others. Meekness does not weakness. It doesn’t mean laziness. Meekness does not mean niceness. Meekness is compatible with great strength and it is compatible with great authority and power (as we will see). When a man truly sees himself for what he is, no one can say anything about him that is too bad. “He that is down needs fear no fall”—John Bunyan. When we are meek, there will a be a complete absence of the spirit of retaliation, having our own back or seeing that the other person “pays for it.”

Who is this meek person? What is he like? Since this is a hard word to define, perhaps it is best to see examples of meekness to better understand what it means:

Abraham. After God had called Abraham from Ur of the Chaldeans to the Promised Land and had made the marvelous unconditional covenant with him, a dispute about grazing lands arose between the servants of Abraham and those of his nephew Lot. All of the land of Canaan had been promised to Abraham. He was God’s chosen man and the Father of God’s chosen people. Lot, on the other hand, was essentially a “hanger-on,” an in-law who was largely dependent on Abraham for his welfare and safety. Yet, as the story reads, Abraham willingly let Lot take whatever land he wanted, thus giving up his rights for the sake of his nephew, for the sake of harmony between their households. “Then Abram said to Lot, “Let there be no strife between you and me, and between your herdsmen and my herdsmen, for we are kinsmen. Is not the whole land before you? Separate yourself from me. If you take the left hand, then I will go to the right, or if you take the right hand, then I will go to the left” (Genesis 13:8-9). That is a great example of meekness.

Joseph. You know the story. he was abused by his jealous brothers and eventually sold into slavery. Soon he came to be second only to Pharaoh in Egypt and he was in a position to take sever vengeance on his brothers. When they came to Egypt asking for grain for their starving families, Joseph could easily have refused, and he could have even put his brothers into more severe slavery than into which they had sold him! Yet he had only forgiveness and love for them. Speaking to his brothers, “And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are yet five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors” (Genesis 45:5-7). Joseph understood that it was God’s place to judge and his to forgive and help. His is a great example of true meekness.

David. He was chosen by God and anointed by Samuel to replace Saul as Israel’s king. But when, in the cave of Engedi, he had the opportunity to take Saul’s life, as Saul often had tried to take his, David refused to do so. “So David persuaded his men with these words and did not permit them to attack Saul. And Saul rose up and left the cave and went on his way” (1 Sam. 24:7). David presents before us a great example of meekness.

Jesus. He created this world, and we corrupted it with our sin. Christ is God and that means He is more powerful than we can imagine and more wise than we can imagine. We are dead in our sins (Eph. 2:1), and we will pay the price for our sins (Rom. 6:23), if nothing is done about God’s wrath against us and our terrible condition apart from Him. Christ became a man, going through our struggles, weaknesses and difficulties. Eventually He died a humiliating death that we might live life eternal. Paul expresses this truth: “Who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:6-8). Christ has demonstrated the greatest example of meekness. (For further study of Christ’s meekness, see Christ’s Supreme Example of Humility)

For further reading, please consult Sermon on the Mount: The Meek

Sermon on the Mount: The Meek

Sermon on the Mount: The Meek (Matt. 5:5)

“The Christian is altogether different from the world. He is a new man, a new creation; he belongs to an entirely different kingdom. And not only is the world unlike him; it cannot possibly understand him.”—D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1)

In our consideration of the Beatitudes, we have already seen that Jesus turns the world’s ideas upside down. The world thinks in terms of strength, power, of ability, self-assurance and aggressiveness. But Jesus says just the opposite in the third Beatitude: “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matt. 5:5). Think about what a shock this statement was to the Jews of Jesus’ day. They had ideas of the kingdom which were not only materialistic but military also, and to them the Messiah was the One who was going to lead them to victory. So they were thinking in terms of conquest and fighting in a material sense, and immediately Christ dismisses all that.

The Text

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matt. 5:5).

The Meaning of Meekness

It’s important to see the obvious logical connection between these different Beatitudes. Clearly, each one follows on from what has gone before. Also, the Beatitudes, as they proceed, become increasingly difficult. In the first Beatitude (Matt. 5:3), we are asked to recognize our spiritual poverty apart from God. When we truly realize our spiritual poorness apart from God, we inevitably become “poor in spirit.” That in turn leads to the second state in which, realizing our own sinfulness and our own true nature, realizing that we are so helpless because of the indwelling sin within us, we become godly mourners (Mat. 5:4). If these things are present, then it follows that we would reach a point at which we become concerned about other people. That’s where meekness comes in. A man can never be meek unless he is poor in spirit. A man can never be a meek unless he has seen himself as a vile sinner.

What then, is the meaning of meek? The Greek word for meek here is praus, which means to be mild, or gentle. The same Greek term is used of Jesus’ triumphal entry when Matthew quotes Zechariah 9:9, “Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your king is coming to you, humble (praus), and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden” (Matt. 21:5). Meekness is very similar to “poor in spirit,” but it is not exactly the same thing. Meekness is essentially a true view of oneself, expressing itself in attitude and conduct with respect to others. It is my attitude towards myself, and it is an expression of that in my relationship to others. Meekness does not weakness. It doesn’t mean laziness. Meekness does not mean niceness. Meekness is compatible with great strength and it is compatible with great authority and power (as we will see). When a man truly sees himself for what he is, no one can say anything about him that is too bad. “He that is down needs fear no fall”—John Bunyan. When we are meek, there will be a complete absence of the spirit of retaliation, having our own back or seeing that the other person “pays for it.”

The Manifestation of Meekness

Who is this meek person? What is he like? Since this is a hard word to define, perhaps it is best to see examples of meekness to better understand what it means.

Cooperate with me on this. I am going to present you with various scenarios. Read them and imagine yourself as the person described in them. Then think about what you would do in that situation:

1. You own a lot of land. You have a distant in-law who depends on you for their welfare and their safety. They have all they need from your rightful land, but they are not content with it. What would you do? 

The same thing happened to Abraham. After God had called Abraham from Ur of the Chaldeans to the Promised Land and had made the marvelous unconditional covenant with him, a dispute about grazing lands arose between the servants of Abraham and those of his nephew Lot. All of the land of Canaan had been promised to Abraham. He was God’s chosen man and the Father of God’s chosen people. Lot, on the other hand, was essentially a “hanger-on,” an in-law who was largely dependent on Abraham for his welfare and safety. Yet, as the story reads, Abraham willingly let Lot take whatever land he wanted, thus giving up his rights for the sake of his nephew, for the sake of harmony between their households. “Then Abram said to Lot, “Let there be no strife between you and me, and between your herdsmen and my herdsmen, for we are kinsmen. Is not the whole land before you? Separate yourself from me. If you take the left hand, then I will go to the right, or if you take the right hand, then I will go to the left” (Genesis 13:8-9). That is a great example of meekness. 

2. The world is without food and is in a great famine. Before the famine, your own family sold you into brutal slavery. Soon you become the king of the only nation with food. Your family comes to you in need, what would you do?

The same thing happened to Joseph. You know the story. he was abused by his jealous brothers and eventually sold into slavery. Soon he came to be second only to Pharaoh in Egypt and he was in a position to take sever vengeance on his brothers. When they came to Egypt asking for grain for their starving families, Joseph could easily have refused, and he could have even put his brothers into more severe slavery than into which they had sold him! Yet he had only forgiveness and love for them. Speaking to his brothers, “And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are yet five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors” (Genesis 45:5-7). Joseph understood that it was God’s place to judge and his to forgive and help. His is a great example of true meekness. 

3. If someone had tried to kill you multiple times, and they were right “underneath your nose,” and you had the ability to kill them, what would you do?

The same thing happened to David. He was chosen by God and anointed by Samuel to replace Saul as Israel’s king. But when, in the cave of Engedi, he had the opportunity to take Saul’s life, as Saul often had tried to take his, David refused to do so. “So David persuaded his men with these words and did not permit them to attack Saul. And Saul rose up and left the cave and went on his way” (1 Sam. 24:7). David presents before us a great example of meekness. 

4. You are the founder of a great company. You know more than your employees, you make more than your employees, you are way more powerful than your employees. They mess up your company and destroy everything up and the only way they will live is if you become an employee, give all your power away, and then die a humiliating death. Would you do it?

Similarly, Jesus experienced the same thing. He created this world, and we corrupted it with our sin. Christ is God and that means He is more powerful than we can imagine and more wise than we can imagine. We are dead in our sins (Eph. 2:1), and we will pay the price for our sins (Rom. 6:23), if nothing is done about God’s wrath against us and our terrible condition apart from Him. Christ became a man, going through our struggles, weaknesses and difficulties. Eventually He died a humiliating death that we might live life eternal. Paul expresses this truth: “Who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:6-8). Christ has demonstrated the greatest example of meekness. (For further study of Christ’s meekness, see Christ’s Supreme Example of Humility)

The Result of Meekness

Jesus says that those who are meek “shall inherit the earth.” The person who is meek already inherits the earth in this way: A man who is truly meek is a man who is always satisfied, he is a man who is already content. The person who is not satisfied never has enough, he always wants more. On the other hand the satisfied person is happy to enjoy all things. He possess all things and yet those things do not possess him. “As sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything” (2 Cor. 6:10). But the phrase “shall inherit the earth” also has a very future implication. The meek person also knows that everything is in the hands of God—his rights, his cause, his entire future. One day God will completely reclaim His earthly domain, and those who have become His children through faith in His Son will rule that domain with Him. “If we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us” (2 Tim. 2:12). We may not always have earthly blessings, but we have the promise of one day ruling and reigning with Christ.

The Necessity of Meekness

What then, does the Bible say about the necessity of meekness?

It is commanded. “Seek the LORD, all you humble of the land, who do his just commands; seek righteousness; seek humility; perhaps you may be hidden on the day of the anger of the LORD” (Zeph. 2:3). Similarly, James writes to the believers of the Jerusalem church, “Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls” (James 1:21). Those who do not have a meek/humble spirit are not able even to listen rightly to God’s Word, much less obey it.

Essential for church unity. Meekness is necessary for living in church unity: “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love” (Eph. 4:1-2). Paul commands the Ephesians to live in a way that is worthy of their great calling. How are they to do that? “With all humility and gentleness.” Those are the first characteristics mentioned in Paul’s list of behaviors necessary to live out church unity.

For effective witnessing. Meekness is necessary for witnessing: “But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15). Peter tells the believers to be prepared to defend the faith and to be verbal about their faith. . .”yet do it with gentleness and respect.”

Direct fruit of the Spirit. Meekness is necessary evidence of walking in the power of the Spirit: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law (Gal. 5:22-23).

Conclusion

Are we living in true meekness? Let us face this Sermon on the Mount with all honesty, let us meditate on this statement about being meek; let us look at the examples; above all let us look at Jesus Christ Himself. Let us be finished with ourselves so that He who has bought us at a great price may come in and possess us wholly.


1. David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the MountKindle Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: InterVarsity Press, 1959-60; Reprinted 2000), Kindle Locations 866-867.

 

Sermon on the Mount: Those Who Mourn

Sermon on the Mount: Those Who Mourn (Matt. 5:4)

The following message was delivered at Ohio Valley Baptist Church on the 27th day of July, 2014:

Introduction

People cry. Babies cry because they might be hungry, sleepy, teething, or they might have a gift for you in their diapers. Children sometimes cry because they didn’t get that Barbie toy they wanted, or possibly because they hate doing homework. Teens cry (trust me, I know) because of the stress of becoming an adult, the pressures of high school, and worst of all: acne. From childhood to adulthood, people cry for different reasons, it could be tears of sorrow or tears of joy. Sometimes experiencing sorrow is referred to as mourning. That’s where the second Beatitude comes in.

The Text

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matt. 5:4).

The Meaning of Mourning

Certain kinds of sorrow are common to all mankind, experienced by believer and unbeliever alike: “For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matt. 5:45). Some sorrows are appropriate and legitimate and God knows our need. Others are illegitimate and brought about because of sinful passions and objectives. We need to discover what the Bible says about proper mourning so that we can find out what Jesus means by saying “Blessed are those who mourn.” The word mourn has different definitions attached to it. In order to determine what proper mourning is, it is helpful to define what proper mourning is not. 

Improper Mourning

The kind of mourning that is illegitimate is the sorrow of those who are frustrated in fulfilling evil plans and lusts, or those who have misguided loyalties, desires, and affections.

David’s son Amnon is a good example of improper mourning: “And Amnon was so tormented that he made himself ill because of his sister Tamar, for she was a virgin, and it seemed impossible to Amnon to do anything to her” (2 Sam. 13:2). Amnon thought that his sister was “beautiful” (2 Sam. 13:1) and wanted to have incestuous sex with her. It frustrated him to the point where he made himself ill the text says. He had grief because he couldn’t fulfill his lusts.

None of us will probably ever try to commit sin like Amnon here, but we are sometimes like him when we try to pursue sin. He wanted to commit sin, but he knew that as the son of David it would be a dishonor (and that the Bible commanded against it), and sex with his sister was therefore something he was restricted from doing. Sometimes we think that God has put restriction on certain sins to kill our joy and make us obedient soldiers with no choice. But the commands and exhortations in Scripture are for our own good! The psalmist writes, “I am a sojourner on the earth; hide not your commandments from me!” (Psalm 119:19). We are all travelers in this earth and we absolutely need the Word of God to point out places where we shouldn’t go and to show us where the path to true righteousness is.

For the moment of temptation, the sin may look very attractive. To Eve, the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil (which God commanded against) was “good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise” (Gen. 3:6). It was very attractive to her. But with sin, the grass is never greener on the other side. Sin is very deceptive (in fact, one of sin’s delusions is that it keeps us unaware of sin!), and we must always rely on the wisdom and power of God to fight against it.

If you are experiencing that kind of sorrow, if truths like “Being a believer is not a license to sin” turns you off, then you are having improper mourning. 

Proper Mourning

The mourning about which Jesus is talking in the second Beatitude, is very much unlike mourning because you are “restricted” from sinning. And while God cares about all legitimate mourning, Jesus is speaking here about godly sorrow, godly mourning, mourning that only those who sincerely desire to belong to Him or who already belong to Him can experience.

Paul speaks of this sorrow in 2 Corinthians 7, “For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you” (vv. 10-11). Paul says here that godly sorrow actually leads to repentance. If you are sorry for your sin, then you will repent and turn away from it. But repentance is not just a turning away from sin; it is a turning to as well. . . a turning to God. That’s why Paul says that it “leads to salvation without regret” (v. 10). But sorrow because you “couldn’t” sin is the “worldly grief [that leads to] produces death.”

Now the first Beatitude, makes it clear that entrance into the “kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:3) begins with being “poor in spirit” (Matt. 5:3), that is, you recognize your total spiritual bankruptcy and come to Christ empty-handed, pleading for God’s grace and mercy. Without that recognition of spiritual poverty, you cannot be saved. So if we are “poor in spirit,” then it follows that we would also become “those who mourn.”

It’s important to note, however, that blessedness or happiness does not come in the mourning itself (“Blessed are those who mourn. . .”). But that blessedness comes with what God does in response to it, with the forgiveness that He brings. When you finally recognize your sin and mourn over it and get it confessed to God, you can identify with David in Psalm 32, “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit” (vv. 1-2). But why does David say that those people are blessed? How did they become blessed? He answers that question in vv. 3-5, “For when I kept silent [about my sin], my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long [he experienced sorrow]. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.” God forgives those who confess their sins to Him (1 John 1:9) and brings eternal comfort to them, and that’s where the blessedness of godly mourning comes from.

The troubles and sins of the world are just too heavy to continue carrying. “Pack up your troubles in your old kit bag, and smile, smile, smile.” But Jesus isn’t telling us to do that. He’s not telling us to fake it. He says, “Confess your sins, and mourn, mourn, mourn.” Because until sin is confessed, forgiven and removed, you cannot experience true happiness.

There is an interesting passage of Scripture about this reality. It’s found in James 4, and it is strange because the same passage that talks about forsaking sins and crying for them is the same passage that talks about being joyful and exalted. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you” (James 4:8-10). James says here that there is a great need in the church to cry instead of laugh. He doesn’t mean that Christians are to be sobbing depressive Eeyores (off Winnie the Pooh). But apparently these believers were treating sin very casually when the proper reaction to sin is “mourning. . . weep[ing]. . and gloom” (v. 9).

The Result of Mourning

So if indeed we are experiencing true godly sorrow, then what is the result? Jesus tells us: “they shall be comforted.” Again, it is not the mourning that blesses or makes one happy, but the comfort that God gives to those who mourn in a godly way. Jesus says that they shall be comforted. This does not refer only to the end of our lives or when we spend eternity with God. Like all other blessings, it will be ultimately fulfilled when we see our Lord face-to-face, and when God “will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4). But the comfort Jesus refers to in Matthew 5:4 is also very present. This comfort comes after the mourning. As we continually mourn over our sin, we shall be continually comforted by God Himself, “Our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace” (2 Thess. 2:16).

How to Mourn (Godly)

If we are to mourn godly, and those who mourn godly “shall be comforted,” then what does true mourning over sin involve? How can we become godly mourners?

1. Eliminate Hindrances. The first step in becoming a godly mourner is removing the hindrances that may keep us from mourning over sin. What are some of these hindrances that need trashing?

Love of sin. This is without question, the primary hindrance to mourning over sin. If you love sin, you certainly will not be sorry because of it. Holding onto sin is like standing in the Arctic cold snow. Standing in the below zero winds, being beat in the face by ice pellets, all the while standing still and doing nothing. Just taking it. The longer you do nothing about it, you will freeze and die. The same applies to sin. The longer you let sin have it’s way, the greater the consequences; eventually the more you do something, the more you get used to it. Don’t let that happen with sin in your life. Let it go and confess it to God and ask Him to help you love Him more and love the things of God more.

Despair. This also hinders mourning because despair is giving up on God. You think that because you have sinned so much that God will not forgive you. You think that you are too far from grace. Stop letting Satan whisper in your ear. God will not turn anyone away who comes to Him in repentance and faith. God wants to forgive you and cleanse you. “Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool” (Isaiah 1:18).

Conceit. This hinders mourning over sin, because it keeps it hidden. You choose to believe that there is nothing over which to mourn. You try to hide your sin from God, but He sees (Psalm 10:11). But that is like treating a cold the same way you would cancer. Don’t hide your sin from God or even yourself.

Presumption. This hinders mourning over sin because it is really a form of pride. You think that there is a need for grace, but not much grace. You think that sins are bad, they need to be repented of, but that they aren’t really that serious. You presume that you can continue sinning because God will forgive you. Be careful with that type of thinking, because God says “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon” (Isaiah 55:7).

Procrastination. This also hinders godly mourning simply by putting it off. You say, “One of these days, when things are just right, I’ll take a hard look at my sins, confess them, and ask God’s forgiveness and cleansing.” But that thinking is dangerous. Why would we ever consider putting off God’s forgiveness and mercy when we can experience it right now? The sooner your sin is dealt with, the sooner you “shall be comforted.”

2. Study God’s Word. I believe this too, is an important step in becoming a godly mourner. How will you know what is detestable to God, and what a damning thing sin is? By opening the Word of God. Paul writes that because of the commandment in the Word of God, sin was shown to be what it really was: “in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure” (Rom. 7:13). God’s Word sheds light on our sin and through the Bible, the Holy Spirit makes us more and more aware of our sin.

3. Pray. A very simple step to mourning godly is by spending time in prayer. Sometimes we just need to shut everything off, open our Bibles, and spend some time pouring our hearts out to God. We have so many distractions today and we need to get away from those things and pray, really pray. If you are too busy to pray, you are too busy.

How to Know if We Are Mourning as Christ Commands

Knowing whether or not we have godly mourning is not difficult to determine. First, we need to ask ourselves if we are sensitive to sin. If you take sin lightly, if when you are tempted, you think more of the consequences if you did sin, than God’s provided way of escape (1 Cor. 10:13), then you need to be more sensitive to sin. Second, you will have true sorrow over your sins. You have a realization that “Against you [God], you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight” (Psalm 51:4). Third, we will grieve for the sins of fellow believers and for the sins of the world. We will not judge them and think that we are better than they are, but experience a genuine sorrow for their sin like the psalmist, “My eyes shed streams of tears, because people do not keep your law” (Psalm 119:136). Finally, we will check our sense of God’s forgiveness. Have we experienced the release and freedom and joy of knowing that our sins are forgiven? Do we have divine comfort that God promises to those who have been forgiven, cleansed and purified?

God brings eternal comfort to the one who mourns over sin and repents.