Fulfilling the spirit of the Beatitudes


What if …..? We need to ask the “What if” question more often. I think that every time I see a billboard proclaiming the Ten Commandments. I ask, “What if the billboard proclaimed Christ’s Beatitudes instead?”

As a child, I was taught to think of the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12) as Christ’s commandments. It was not to suggest they replaced the Old Testament laws, but that they enriched and enlarged our understanding of our responsibilities as followers of Jesus. That was consistent with what Jesus said right after offering the Beatitudes. “Do not think I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.” (Matthew 5:17)

What did Jesus mean by fulfilling the law? Of great importance, he was reminding us that the Commandments, including all Old Testament Law, was incomplete. The thrust of the Commandments focused on our basic piety – our relationship to God, and what sins we were to avoid. Without a doubt, that’s a significant foundation for our living.

But Jesus went beyond that! In his teaching, in his ministry, he reminded us that our piety, our fidelity to God, is to be fulfilled — by how we serve other people. Remember, in answer to a question about what was the greatest commandment, Jesus offered what I call two commandments morphed into one. He simply said we are to love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength – and our neighbor as ourselves.

Over and over again in his ministry he was touching lives, offering them love, transforming their thinking. And the Beatitudes were a fundamental element in that ministry.

Whereas the Ten Commandments, with their “Thou shall not’s” simply sought outward perfection, the Beatitudes invited a penitent heart within, with “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” Whereas the Commandments focused – almost selfishly – on us, the Beatitudes asked us to be humble. “Blessed are the poor in spirit;” and “Blessed are the meek.” Whereas the Commandments placed limits on our lives, the Beatitudes expanded our reach into the world with “Blessed are those who mourn;” and “Blessed are the peacemakers.”

Whereas the Commandments sought to protect us from the world’s wrongs, the Beatitudes call us to get our “spiritual hands” dirty with “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.”

Note how often Jesus was condemned for doing good for people. He was condemned for healing a person – because it was the Sabbath. He was condemned for transforming broken lives – by saying his power was because he was in league with the devil. He was condemned for showing grace and mercy to a woman – because she was a prostitute.

Jesus invited people to live out the spirit of the Beatitudes, the spirit of “Blessed are the merciful” when he outlined the measure of true discipleship in Matthew 25:35 ff, “…for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”

I honor the Ten Commandments. Nevertheless, even more I honor Jesus by fulfilling the spirit of the Beatitudes (like “Blessed are the pure in heart.”). Or indeed all Jesus’ teaching, close to my heart. That’s what Jesus had in mind when he said, “…whoever wishes to be first among you must be your servant.” (Matthew 20:27)

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