Matthew 5:1-12


One of the things considered by many to be the curse of the age is the concept of the list. Some people like lists, and write lists for anything and everything, because it helps them to remember—to make sure nothing gets forgotten. And others . . . Well, the fewer lists they see the better.

Inevitably, however, it seems that none of us are exempt from having a list from time to time, whether they are handwritten notes or are ones that we have etched in our minds. They can be shopping lists, with the list of groceries that we need. They can be check lists, where we detail the jobs that we need to do. They can be lists, where we prioritise the things that are important from the things that are not so important. And we can have lists of people we need to contact or see—people we need to catch up with for one reason or another.

Lists, like time, for some, can seem to control what we do, and hence become a burden. However, for others, lists can actually be of benefit. Because they can be used to release them to do other things, while important things don’t get forgotten.

In other words, lists can be positive or negative. Unfortunately, with all the lists that we can have, one list—a most positive and helpful list—is one that often gets forgotten. And that’s a list of what we should she be aiming to be as Christians. In other words, a spiritual list—one that gives us goals to strive for, one that gives us something to measure our progress against. And that is the list that Jesus’s words present us with in this passage.

Because for any serious believer, we have a list with a challenge. And the challenge is that we should pursue every item on that list.


1. A Need to be Poor in Spirit (3)

And the first thing on any Christian’s list, Jesus said, should be the need to be poor in spirit
After all, Jesus said: ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.’

Of course, what Jesus meant wasn’t necessarily a direct comment on whether living in poverty is better than having abundant riches. But rather it is the acknowledgement that in terms of a person’s relationship with God, a believer should think of themselves as poor in comparison.

What Jesus was pursuing was the argument that God is so great, and we are so insignificant in comparison, as a consequence, we are not good enough for God and we can’t meet God’s standards on our own. Therefore, we are utterly dependent upon God for our salvation. Being poor in spirit is an attitude which is at the very heart of the Christian faith—our total dependence upon God. And that should be reflected in our being willing and able to live a life of humble obedience to God.

However, having said that it’s not really an issue of poverty versus material wealth. Even Jesus acknowledged that it wouldn’t be easy for the rich to inherit eternal life. After all, the rich and the powerful have a tendency to rely on their own resources and consequently find it very hard to devote themselves to God at all.

Nevertheless, the first mark of any true believer is the ability to acknowledge their own inadequacy. To accept that they are but sinners in God’s sight.

2. A Need to Mourn (4)
The second item on any Christian’s list relates to the need to mourn. As Jesus said: ‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.’

Now what is meant here, is not that believers are required to have sad lives, because they will be comforted every time they lose someone close. But rather that the idea is that, in a world filled with sin and corruption, that the believer will mourn the loss of their innocence, they will mourn the loss of their righteousness, and they will mourn the loss of their self-respect. It is not the sorrow of bereavement that Jesus was talking about, but rather the sorrow of repentance.

In other words, it is one thing to be spiritually poor and acknowledge it. But Jesus also said that the true believer should also bewail not only their own sins, but the sins of the whole world.

As a consequence, for a Christian, life is not intended to be all joy and laughter, because there are also such things as Christian tears. And just as Jesus wept over the sins of others, so believers are also required to weep—not only over their own sins and failings, but over the evil in the world as well.

3. A Need to be Meek (5)
The third item on a Christian’s list is the idea of being meek. As Jesus said: ‘Blessed are those who are gentle, for they will inherit the earth.’

Now, sometimes being ‘gentle’ or ‘meek’ get a bit of bad press—it gives the idea of being weak and ineffectual. But regardless of that, what Jesus had in mind was an attitude of acceptance of dependence upon God and the ability to mourn, expressed in an attitude and conduct with respect to others.

In other words, the appropriate response for believers who have accepted Jesus as their saviour and bemoan all evil, is that they should be gentle, humble, considerate, and courteous to others. And that is despite the fact that these attributes are not necessarily seen in a favourable light by others.

But then, the condition on which we enter our spiritual inheritance in Christ is not might but meekness. We have nothing of value, except that to which Christ may give. As a consequence, the godless may boast and throw their weight around, but only the meek will inherit the earth.

4. A Need to Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness (6)
And the fourth item on our list is the need for a hunger and thirst for all things righteous. As Jesus said: ‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will be satisfied.’

Now spiritual hunger should be a characteristic of God’s people. Christians are not supposed to be engrossed in the pursuit of material possessions. Rather they are meant to have the primary goal of pursing God’s kingdom and righteousness.

The pursuit is primarily of a right relationship with God. That’s where the Christian should be heading. However, as a response to that, there should also be an earnestness for moral dealings—an attitude which should put God in good light with all people. And the end result of those moral dealings, should see us in being active in social reform, in the promotion of civil rights, of justice, integrity, and honour.

And a Christian should be involved in all of these things because they are things which reflect well on God; they are pleasing to a righteous God too.

5. Comment
Now these first four items on the list, that Jesus gave, are not optional extras to the Christian faith, but rather are attributes that reveal where a true Christian should be. Furthermore, each attribute follows the next in some kind of spiritual progression. Each step presupposes the one before and leads on to the next.

As a consequence, what a Christian is—and the goals any Christian should be pursuing should have—is the need to recognise the lack of ability to save oneself and that they are totally dependent upon God; is the need to mourn not only their own failings but the sins of the world; is the need to conduct oneself in a godly manner because that reflects well on God and the fact that we need to please God and no one else; and it is the need to pursue righteousness at all levels and most especially in learning about God and ourselves and to actively help bring justice to the world.

Now, as I said, these are not optional extra for a Christian to pursue. But, rather, they are the basics of what it means to be a true Christian. They are goals which any true believer should be pursuing.

However, that is not the end of it, because Jesus wasn’t afraid to add a few more items on the Christian’s ‘to do’ list. And this time the emphasis is not on the Christian’s attitude to God, but rather on a correct attitude to one’s fellow man.

6. A Need to be Merciful (7)
So, the fifth item on our list should be to be merciful. As Jesus said: ‘Blessed are those who are merciful, for they will be shown mercy.’

Compassion for people in need should be a basic response to the gospel. The results of sin are often pain, misery, and distress. And that sin can be in terms of either an individual’s personal sin, the sin of another, or even the sin of a community or nation. Regardless of the cause, however, a Christian is expected to offer the kind of relief which can either cure, heal, or help those who are suffering.

On the basis that God is a merciful God, all citizens of his kingdom are called on to show mercy. And while the world is often unmerciful, and while parts of it may often try to insulate itself against the pains and calamities of men elsewhere, the people of God are required not to cover their eyes or live comfortably or pretend bad things don’t exist. Rather they are to show mercy, in the same way they are dependent upon God for him to show his mercy too.

7. A Need to be Pure in Heart (8)
The sixth item on the list is the need to pure in heart. As Jesus said: ‘Blessed are those whose hearts are clean, for they will see God.’

Being pure in heart, being sincere, should be a major trait of anyone who calls themselves a true believer. A Christian’s whole life—public and private—should be transparent, not only before God but before their fellow man. Nothing devious, ulterior, or basic should be seen in a believer’s life at all.

Wearing masks and playing different roles should not be part of any Christian’s armoury. Because hypocrisy and deceit should be abhorrent to any true believer.

8. A Need to be a Peacemaker (9)
The seventh item on the list should be the need to be a peacemaker. As Jesus said: ‘Blessed are those who work for peace, for they will be called sons of God.’

It is the role of every Christian to be a peacemaker, both in the church and in the community. We are called to peace, and we are actively called to pursue peace and to strive for peace with all men.

The intention of a believer should be to copy what the Father has done in sending Jesus into the world. It is God who is the peacemaker, the devil who is the troublemaker. And just as God is bent on reconciliation, so should his children be bent on making peace too.

Having said that, however, the role of the Christian is not to make peace any price. Peace is not to be gained, at the price of losing the faith.

We may need to apologize for the things that we’ve done wrong—we may need to forgive those who have done us wrong—but even in the church, while the visible unity of the church should be a Christian quest, it should not be sought at the expense of the fundamentals of the faith.

9. A Need to Accept Persecution (10-12)
And the eighth item on the list should be the need to accept that our labours for the gospel may result in persecution. As Jesus said: ‘Blessed are those who are persecuted on account of their righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people revile and persecute you, when they speak all kinds of evil against you, and when they lie because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for great is your reward in heaven. Remember that they persecuted the prophets before you.’

Even Jesus recognised that—peacemakers or not—some people will just not accept peace. Not all attempts at reconciliation, either within the church or outside it will succeed. Indeed, people may sometimes take the initiative and oppose us because they find distasteful what the Christian stands for.

However, while persecution is probably inevitable for any serious believer, the way we are to respond is very important too. Because Jesus didn’t say that Christians should retaliate or that they should sulk like a child or that they should lick their wounds like a dog or that they should grin and bear it or, even, that they should pretend that they enjoyed it. Rather Jesus said that Christians facing persecution were simply to ‘rejoice and be glad’.

And why? Because, firstly, Jesus said that their reward in heaven was really great. That they should concentrate on their reward rather than retaliation or making a big thing about it. And, secondly, because if they are persecuted, they could take comfort in knowing that they belong to a noble succession of others who had been persecuted before.

10. Comment
So just as the first four items on any Christian’s list are not optional extras to the Christian faith, and that each attribute follows the next in a spiritual progression, so is that true regarding the last four items too. Because in the last four items, we can again, see that each step presupposes the one before and leads on to the next.

As a consequence, what a Christian is—and the goals any Christian should be pursuing to their fellow man—should include: the need to be merciful; the need for compassion to those in pain, misery or distress, regardless of whether it was self-inflicted or not; the need to be pure in heart, to live transparent lives where nothing is devious, ulterior, or basic; the need to be a peacemaker, which one can only truly do if one is merciful and pure in heart; and the need to accept persecution, because no matter what one does there will always be people who will not be prepared for peace at any price.


Now the eight items on the list that Jesus talked about are all part of a check list of what it means to be a Christian. Jesus was not trying to describe characteristics which would be found in a group of believers, that is, some who are meek, while others are merciful etc. Rather, what he was trying to describe was eight qualities required of every believer.

As a consequence, the test of a true believer, and the goals to which all believers should aspire to, is whether they meet or whether they are actively pursuing the eight goals that he presented.


So, in the world today we seem to be inundated with lists. Some people like lists and write lists for everything, and others . . . Well, the fewer they see the better. Unfortunately, with all the lists that we often use, one list—this one, a most helpful list—is the one that often gets forgotten. Despite that, however, it is a spiritual list, and the one we are presented with today.

For any serious believer, this is a list with a challenge.

Now obviously we don’t live in an ideal world, and no-one can seriously claim to live a perfect life and meet all the criteria, nevertheless, we still have a list of things that any true believer should aspire to. They are not easy things, but things that need to be worked at. The challenge is, then: Where do we see ourselves in that list. And are we prepared to pursue Jesus’s goals, nonetheless?

Posted: 30th March 2022
© 2022, Brian A Curtis