Eight Kingdom Virtues in the Marketplace

R. Paul Stevens

“The word of the Beatitudes… overturns our ideas and projects, reverses the obvious, thwarts our desires, and bewilders us, leaving us poor and naked before God.”

Servais Pinckaers[i]

“As water reflects the face, so one’s life reflects the heart.”

Proverbs 27:19

Virtues are deeper than values. While values have no opposites—You have yours and I have mine—but virtues do: vices. Values are cherished ways of behaving. They inspire. But virtues are deeper. They are ingrained traits of character. You could almost say they are instinctive ways of behaving because they have become part of the person’s character. And the so-called “Beatitudes” (Matt. 5:3-10) in the “Sermon on the Mount” (Chaps 5-7) by Jesus are about virtues. But they are not just virtues that have a good expression. They are virtues that indicate that the people are in the kingdom of God, influenced by the kingdom, functioning in sync with the gracious rule of God[ii]—for that is what the kingdom is: the rule of the sovereign and the response of the people.

The Beatitudes begin and end with the statement that these are about the kingdom of heaven [or God].” “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God” (the first) (5:3) “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (the last) (5:10). So the whole eight virtues are signs that people have come under the sway of the kingdom and the king. But an important correction is needed as they are widely misunderstood.

What the Beatitudes are Not and What They Are

These are not, as one preacher put it, “The Be Happy Attitudes,” though this is close to the original meaning.[iii] Nevertheless, as Jonathan Pennington says, “The Beatitudes [are] Jesus’ answer to the great human question of happiness.”[iv] So it is about happiness in the largest sense, about thriving, flourishing not circumstantially feeling positive. But here is a curious thing. The Beatitudes do not saying what you have to do in order to get into the kingdom. For example, it is not saying if you want to inherit the earth you need to be meek. Or if you want to be called “children of God,” you need to deport yourself as a peacemaker.[v] These are not prescriptions of what you need to do to get into the kingdom. They describe what it is like when you are in the kingdom. Further, the Beatitudes are not statements exclusively about a future kingdom period when Christ returns and establishes his kingdom on earth—it is now and also in the future (that is the mystery). Finally, they are not descriptions of eight different kinds of people—they could all be the same person. What are they? They are indeed, as Pennington above suggests, the deepest answer to the human search for happiness.

They are encouragements to recognize the kingdom in people around you and to recognize that you are in the kingdom. They are declarations of what it is really like to be a Christian. They are congratulations to disciples for the paradoxical goodness (flourishing) of being in the kingdom. They are pictures of “what the state of true God-centred human flourishing looks like,”[vi] as Jonathan Pennington notes. Darrell Johnston translates the first one—“Blessed are the poor in spirit”—“You lucky bums! You blessed paupers!”[vii] If that does not draw out the paradoxical nature of these kingdom signs then nothing can. But just what does it mean to be “blessed?”

Are You Blessed or Flourishing?

The English word “blessed” comes from the Latin beatus, which means happy, blissful, fortunate, or flourishing. But the Greek word that is used to translate beatus, the word makarios, is not so accurately translated in English as “blessed” since “blessed” describes God’s authoritative declaration of divine favour. Makarios ascribes happiness or flourishing to a particular person or state which may be the result of God’s blessing, but that is not what it is expressing. It is expressing the kingdom of God, and what a person experiences in the kingdom, this amazing, as we will see, upside down kingdom.[viii]

So let’s restate the Beatitudes in the light of the above:

•       Flourishing are the poor in spirit because the kingdom of heaven is theirs.

•       Flourishing are the mourners because they will be comforted.

•       Flourishing are the humble/meek because they will inherit the world.

•       Flourishing are the ones hungering and thirsting for righteousness because they will be satisfied.

•       Flourishing are the merciful because they will be given mercy.

•       Flourishing are the pure in heart because they will see God.

•       Flourishing are the peacemakers because they will be called the children of God.

•       Flourishing are the ones persecuted on account of righteousness because the kingdom of heaven is theirs.

No question. The Beatitudes are paradoxical. You are really wealthy when you are poor or poor in spirit.[ix] You are comforted when you are mourning. You inherit the earth when you are meek and humble. You are satisfied when you are hungry. You receive mercy when you give it. You see God when you are pure in heart. You are called children of God when you make peace. You are flourishing when you are facing terrible opposition. Servais Pinckaers shows this paradoxical quality starkly.

The word of the beatitudes penetrates us with the power of the Holy Spirit in order to break up our interior soil. It cuts through us with the sharp edge of trials and with the struggles it provokes. It overturns our ideas and projects, reverses the obvious, thwarts our desires, and bewilders us, leaving us poor and naked before God. All this, in order to prepare a place within us for the seed of new life.[x] 

Signs of Kingdom Flourishing

What are the virtues of people in the kingdom of God?

Sign One: Being Dependent. Poor people are always dependent. And the poor in spirit are people who know they are needy. You are really flourishing, Jesus says, when you recognize that you have nothing to give, nothing to bring to God to merit acceptance and membership in God’s family. It is a great thing to be spiritually bankrupt, like Peter when he met Jesus and said, “Away from me Jesus, I am a sinful man.” Congratulations! You have everything in the kingdom of God, God’s new world coming. Kingdom people in the marketplace are not the centre of the universe and they know it. They don’t know everything and are not all sufficient.

Sign Two: Being Passionate. “Mourning” means you feel deeply the pain of the world, about what is going on, what is happening. You have God’s heart like the prophets of old who had orthopathy, (ortho=straight and pathos=passion), that is their hearts were lined up with God’s heart. They feel as God feels. They feel with God deeply for the state of affairs. And, guess what, they are flourishing when they have that passion. They will be comforted. The kingdom is coming. Kingdom people in the marketplace have passion for the right things. Indeed, one of the worst things would to be apathetic and simply not care.

Sign Three: Being Humble. “Meekness” means one is not overpowering but submissive to authority. But meekness is not weakness. Two of the greatest leaders in the world were declared meek: Moses and Jesus! Indeed the meekest of all, Jesus, will, along with their companions in the kingdom (Rev. 1:9), inherit the earth (Rev. 11:15). Psalm 37:11 says that very thing. Meekness means submissiveness under provocation, willingness to suffer rather than inflict injury. They are not proud. Like the divine qualifications for the Old Testament king they do not regard themselves “as better than their fellows” (Deut. 17:20).[xi] In contrast empires built on greed and dominating power are eaten up; the kingdom built on meekness lasts forever.

Sign Four: Having Right Longing. Being “hungry and thirsty for righteousness” means being passionate for right relationships with God, other people, our inner selves and creation. There are two kinds of Righteousness: first by imputation—in Christ you are declared or imputed to be righteousness—in virtue of your faith (2 Cor. 5:21) and, second, by impartation—as we grow in Christ-likeness (2 Cor. 3:18; Col. 1:27). Darrell Johnson quotes Peter Kreeft: “Dissatisfaction is the second best thing there is, because it dissolves the glue that entraps up to false satisfactions, and drives us to God, the only true satisfaction.”[xii] Yes, longingness is a great thing in the marketplace. It is a passion for growth and improvement, an unsettledness with the status quo. Good news: satisfaction is coming. Indeed is here with Christ and Christ’s kingdom. And the fact that you hunger for this is a sign you are in it! 

Sign Five: Having Soft Heartedness. Being “merciful” is not giving people what they deserve and doing so from the heart or gut. The Greek word used here, eleemones, means love and kindness for those in misery and a forgiving spirit, born of the experience of God’s mercy. It is the kind of thing we see in the Gospels in the stories of the Good Samaritan and the prodigal son and father.[xiii] If we do not practice mercy to others and yet wish it for ourselves we are not really asking for mercy. Flourishing with a soft heart, is that possible in the rough and tumble, the give and take of the marketplace? Yes. And the fact you have that heart indicates you are thriving in the kingdom of God.

Sign Six: Being Singleminded. The “pure in heart” are not necessarily sinless though generations of believers have thought this is the primary meaning of “pure in heart.” Indeed the Greek word used here, katharoi communicates being full of integrity, not doubleminded, unfeigned, single eyed (see Matt. 6:22). The singleminded are unmixed, unadulterated, un-alloyed. The single eyed are those who see. The double-minded are two-souled and blind. They are duplicitous do not see correctly. “Who can stand in his holy place?” asks the Psalmist. He answers himself, “The one who has clean hands and a pure heart” (Psa. 24:3-4). With this we can see God at work everywhere. And ultimately we know as we are known (Gal. 4:9; 1 Cor. 13:12; 1 John 3:3). Can you thrive with being singleminded in a marketplace inclined to short term goals where black and white ethics is often taken over by the colour gray? Yes, because all human enterprise is based on trust and you can trust someone who is “pure in heart.” That’s kingdom thriving.  

Sign Seven: Being a Shalom-Bringer. “The peace-makers” bring peace—not just quietness but wholeness and reconciliation—wherever they go. They are not peace-lovers doing everything they can to avoid conflict. They are peace-makers. They promote soundness, well-being and wholeness, restoration of harmony between people, with creation. Behind this is the Hebrew word shalom which usually gets translated “peace” but it is a vigorous wall-breaking peace (Eph. 2:14-18). The shalom-bringers are called sons and daughters of God because they are. Yes, it is costly as you will be attacked by both sides and must, as my old boss used to say to me, “bear the pain of the organization,” the pain of broken relationships and the groaning of the organizational culture. This is why the Beatitudes end with a very negative affirmation, one which in Matthew has an extended explanation (Matt. 5:11-12).

Sign Eight: Perseverance, Good Suffering. “Persecuted for righteousness” means you are facing hardships for doing the right thing and being on the right road. Darrell Johnson calls these people “Happy Subversives.”[xiv] Why congratulate people for being persecuted? Because it is a sign they are in the kingdom, doing kingdom business, engaging in kingdom mission. They are in good company. Jesus got into trouble for doing the right thing (and so will his followers). This is the clash of world systems because the kingdom of God is already breaking into this age. Mortimer Arius: “The kingdom is reversal and, as such, the permanent subverter of human orders.”[xv] And behind this is the wonderful truth that we have the kingdom now, not just when we finally get to heaven.

Are These Virtues Practical?

Can you operate this way in the marketplace? Down at the store where you work as a check-out employee? In the President’s office high in the tower? On the shop floor if you are machinist? In the home with all conflicting agendas and ego-needs of family life? In a government office?

On one hand these virtues do not look very practical. Can you be successful and meek at the same time? If you are merciful will people not take advantage of you? They will. If you are longing for righteousness how will you sell the product that you know has some deficiencies? If you are singleminded, tell the truth and are not ambivalent how will you survive in a postmodern workplace where all absolutes are relative? Maybe in the short run people with the opposite of these virtues, people with vices, may seem to get ahead and be successful. But in the long run these qualities will win.

All business and all human exchange is based on trust. Would you not trust someone who does not communicate that she or he is all-sufficient in themselves, people who are their own gods? Would you not value someone who makes peace in the workplace? In the workplace is it not a blessing to find mercy, to be given a second chance and to profit from failure and mistakes?

But it is not easy and there are costs involved in being kingdom workers: sometimes money costs, vocational costs, emotional costs and relational costs.

How do you get these virtues?

That turns out to be a challenging question. You do not get character change by taking a seminar, doing three easy steps or even by saying “I want to flourish in the kingdom of God.” We get character change in the hammer and heat of life, and in the midst of hard situations when we are confronted with a choice, when we discover in ourselves great need, when we cry out to God for help. Jesus called this repentance and said that because the kingdom of God has come near we need to repent (Matt. 4:17), which means simply turning from self to God, abandoning making something of ourselves and casting our hearts on Jesus, embracing the kingdom as our most brilliant hope for this life and the next. So, while not actually saying it in the Beatitudes in these act words, as Servais Pinckaers put it, “All this, in order to prepare a place within us for the seed of new life.” 

[i] Quoted in Jonathan T. Pennington, The Sermon on the Mount and Human Flourishing: A Theological Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2017), 154.
[ii] This is Darrell Johnson’s lovely title for the Beatitudes. Darrell W. Johnson, The Beatitudes: Living in Sync with the Reign of God (Vancouver: Regent College Publishing, 2015) 
[iii] Interestingly, this title is actually close to the true meaning. First, it not actually, as we will see, stating the blessing we have from God, but rather a congratulations or statement of happiness in the largest sense of that word, which we have in the kingdom of God. And second, as R.T. France puts it, “The Beatitudes thus outlinethe attitudes of the true disciple, the one who has accepted the demands of God’s kingdom, in contrast to the attitudes of the ‘man of the world.’” R.T. France, Matthew. Tyndale New Testasment Commentaries (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985), 109.
[iv] Pennington, The Sermon, 61.
[v] The relationship of the first part of the beatitude to the second is very complicated and made more difficult by translation from the original Greek. See Pennington, The Sermon, 62-67.
[vi] Pennington, The Sermon, 47.
[vii] Johnson, The Beatitudes, 42.
[viii] Pennington argues that the Greek is wrongly translated “blessed” which is a translation of the Hebrew word barak – God’s authoritative declaration of divine favour, effectual speech. Meanwhile the Hebrew word that comes closest to makarios is the Hebrew word asre (used in Psalm 1) not the Hebrew word for “blessing” (barak, from God—which is covenantal language). In the Greek version of the Old Testament makarios always translates asre. So, says, Pennington, “Proclaiming an asherism [asre] or macarism is to make a value statement upon another member of the community, sage, or teacher and pronounce the subject(s) ‘honorable.’ Pennington, The Sermon, 49)
[ix] Luke simply says “poor” not “poor in spirit.” “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” Luke 6:20.
[x] Quoted in Pennington, The Sermon, 154.
[xi] See the requirements for the king in Deuteronomy 17: 14-20, especially verse 20.
[xii] Johnson, The Beatitudes, 83.
[xiii] Luke 10:25-37; 15:11-32.
[xiv] Johnson, The Beatitudes, 128-42.
[xv] Mortimer Arius, Announcing the Reign of God: Evangelization and the Subversive Memory of Jesus (Eugene Oregon: Wipf & Stock, 1981.2001), 43.

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