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On Christian Virtue

By Pastor Don Strand

July 1, 2016

Things are different today, the Rolling Stones said in 1966, but I doubt even they had an inkling of just how different things would become.  Where graciousness, manners, and humility were once celebrated as virtues to be cultivated, now society has abandoned all pretense of civility and instead openly celebrates narcissism and selfishness with parades that declare some sort of pride.  Yes, things are different today.

But for the followers of Jesus Christ, things are not different; they remain the same as the day Jesus kneeled to wash the feet of His disciples.  When Peter objected, Jesus told him, “if I do not wash you, you have no share with me.”   Jesus was giving one of His final lessons before he would ascend to His Father in heaven.  To drive home the point, He told them this; “For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.” (John 13:15–17, ESV).

By this example, Jesus demonstrated what God demands from His children.  God’s children will, with humility, lovingly serve others.  Jesus says, “You will be blessed if you do.”  These words would have likely reminded the disciples of the time Jesus instructed a group of people on a mount above the Sea of Galilee at the beginning of His earthly ministry.  Called the “Sermon on the Mount” by the church father Augustine, in the 4th century A.D., this teaching sermon by Jesus is, without a doubt, the greatest, most profound and most useful and influential sermon ever preached.  And central to this sermon are eight virtues, described up front, that are called “the Beatitudes.”

The Beatitudes describe how true Christian virtue is to be lived out in the life of every Christian.  The word “beatitude” comes from the Latin word “beatitudo” that translates the Greek word “makarios” used by Matthew in his Gospel (Matthew 5:3-11).  People often associate the term “blessed” with happy; some have even called the Beatitudes the “be happy attitudes”, but that is not the meaning that Jesus intended.  The word happy is used today to describe a temporary feeling of the joy that comes from achievement, or possession but that is not how this word is intended in a Christian sense.  When Jesus says “blessed are…”, He is referring to the deep-seated and continuing happiness that comes from being favored or approved by God.  Blessed is a state of being or status in relation to God rather than a subjective feeling of the heart.  The true meaning of the term describes what God thinks of those He favors and what He does for them, not how they feel in response.

Christians should be markedly different from the culture in which live.  Therefore, “while things are different today”  in the culture, they remain the same for the Christian, who desires to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.  And that desire will result in someone who is truly different.  How the Christian is different is the central subject of the Beatitudes.  In them, we find the most complete description of how Jesus works from the inside out to focus on the heart and to bring about behavior that flows from a radically changed heart.  The picture that emerges is that of individuals and communities that are truly different

Transformed from within, the disciple of Christ is distinctive in moral purity, love for others, faith, and a desire to serve Christ by serving His people.  The key to all of this begins with the virtues of the heart as defined in the Beatitudes.  Over the next several weeks, we will look at the eight Beatitudes to discover how those who will allow their hearts to be transformed by the Spirit of Christ will be “blessed.”

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