Pastor Brent looks at what the Apostle Paul and Jesus have to say when it comes to being blessed and how it is different from what we call #blessed today.
Ephesians 1:3-6, Matthew 5
Good morning everyone and thanks so much for being here. My name is Brent, and I am one of the pastors here at Ashworth. Have you ever been in a conversation where something was talked about, and as the conversation continues, you realize that you might not really understand what they are talking about? You might not know the real meaning of the topic.
In my younger days, not wanting to admit I didn’t know something, I would have stayed there, shook my heard, thrown in an agreeing word here or there, completely oblivious as to the real meaning of the conversation.
The nice thing about getting older is that I have learned how to use a very powerful expression. It is life changing. “I don’t know what you mean. Could you explain it to me.” Or “I am unfamiliar with that. What does that mean?”
And then there are moments when you know a word or phrase, and you think you understand it, and you use it, only to be told later that you misunderstood the word. For example, take the word “literally.” I literally go mad every time someone misuses that word! Did you catch that!
A few years ago, I was with my extended family, and we were having a discussion. Someone made a statement like “I literally died when I saw that.” My brother chimed in. “Well, you didn’t literally die. If you did, you wouldn’t be here. You figuratively died. You metaphorically died, but you didn’t literally die.”
Sometimes we hear words or phrases so often used that we pick them up and we may or may not fully understand what they literally mean. That’s what I want us to look at today.
We are in the series “Who Do You Think You Are” where each week we are trying to discover our identity as defined, not by the world around us or even ourselves, but by God. Who does God say we are? And today we’re going to look at an often used word or expression to see if it is true, but also are we even using it correctly. Let’s see what it means that You Are Blessed.
#Blessed and Other Misuses
A quick peruse through social media would show you that the idea of being blessed is widespread here in the US. In fact, we could say that the word blessed flows easily off or lips. A quick search of Instagram shows over 107 million uses of the hashtag #blessed. If you add the variations of #blessed praying hands, #blessedlife, #blessed praise hands, or #blessed angel, you find it used 5 million more times for a total of 112 million uses.
In case you don’t know, a hashtag is a word or phrase preceded by a hash sign (#), used on social media to identify messages on a specific topic. On Instagram, hashtags accompany pictures. So that picture of your new car, #blessed. That college acceptance letter. #Blessed. That engagement picture, beach vacation, family photo, new baby, the goal scored in the game. #Blessed.
But is this what blessing looks like? Because as I think about how we use this #blessed, I can’t help but think of the inverse. If you are #blessed with a new car, does that mean the person who can’t afford the new car is not #blessed? If we are #blessed because of that new promotion and raise, what does it mean for that person who just got laid off? And if you are #blessed because of your new baby, what does that mean for the mom and dad who desperately want a baby but are unable to conceive?
I’ve heard people say; God has blessed my business, God has blessed me with this house, God has blessed me with financial security, but is this how God works?
There is a very slippery slope we have to be careful of when we talk this way. In religious circles around the world, there is a very popular movement we know as the Health and Wealth gospel or the Prosperity Gospel. And it goes something like this; if I give, I will get, if I do, I will get. Getting is a sign of God’s favor, therefore to have more stuff and to be healthy is to be blessed.
And the reason we have to be careful is that it is very easy for you and me to fall into this line of thinking, especially if we tie that word blessed to our material possessions or to the good things that happen to us.
The other area we need to be careful in is closely associating the idea of blessing to luck. I must admit my guilt here. One of my kids comes up to me and says, “Hey dad, you won’t believe this, the teacher was giving away coupons for free ice cream, and I got one. I am so lucky!” And I would correct them. “Uh, uh uh. We don’t believe in luck. You were blessed.”
If we aren’t careful, we will turn this word into nothing more than the Christian version of luck with all the superstition and chance that comes with it.
And one other area we need to be careful. This area primarily applies to those of us from the south. If not careful, we will use it as a way to try to soften or negate something nasty we want to say about someone. You know what I mean, right? Bless her heart; she is just ugly. Or bless his heart, the lights are on but nobody’s home, he’s one free short of a happy meal., his elevator doesn’t go all the way to the top. Bless His heart.
To Be Blessed
To fully understand this idea of being blessed, we need to rethink our understanding of the word. In Ephesians 1, the same passage I used last week for You Are Chosen, before he ever tells us we are chosen Paul tells us we are blessed. Look at this with me.
The NIV misses one of the interesting things you see in the Greek by translating the first word as praise. It really could be translated “Blessing be to the God who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing.”
Right away we have difficulty interpreting this as material prosperity because Paul calls us to bless God, and God owns it all. God can’t get any more stuff. Paul uses a Greek word here, eulogia, that sounds like our word eulogy. We associate that with a funeral. But what is that? It is to speak favorably of someone. We are to speak favorably of God because he is speaking favorably of us.
And if it can’t mean prosperity, it has to mean something different. And the way Paul describes blessings are as spiritual. Spiritual blessing doesn’t mean that these are things we will have to wait for one day in heaven.
Using the word spiritual here just highlights that what we have received from God is by the Holy Spirit and how he gives us life. And instead of these blessings being houses, clothes, and material possessions, the blessings Paul is talking about is what he continues to write about in the passage — being chosen, adopted, growing in faith, grace, redemption, forgiveness, Jesus. And these we can and should enjoy now.
To truly be blessed and know that we are blessed is to know God and experience him. And Paul tells us also that it isn’t because of something you have done. It is not because you are lucky. And it isn’t even God’s spiritual favor because you have grown so much or are such a moral person. It is because of God and his love for us.
And also notice what Paul doesn’t say. He doesn’t say that our blessings are tied to bank balance personal wealth or our current circumstances. The gift is God himself, and Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit.
What Does Blessing Look Like?
But there is another aspect to this we need to explore as well. Because Jesus also used the word blessed quite a bit, especially in his most famous sermon, the Sermon on the Mount.
In Matthew 5, Jesus is teaching a large crowd, and nine times as he begins this message he says to the “Blessed are…” and then completes the statement with expressions that wouldn’t line up with what his original audience thought and certainly do not line up with how we often define blessing.
It is hard to resolve what Jesus calls blessed with what we call blessed. As I thought about it this week, if we were to write a sermon for Jesus today based on our hashtags, we would likely write something like this:
Blessed are the rich with large bank balances. Blessed are those who have no hardships or experience difficulties. Blessed are those who have their fill and never hunger, and their pantries are full of food. Blessed are those who get to the top of their field. Blessed are those who live the good life and the ability to take lots of vacations. Blessed are those who never get sick or have someone close to them get sick.
But that’s not what Jesus said, or anywhere close to what he said. If we want to be blessed, we need to be poor in spirit, mourn, meek, hungry and thirsty for righteousness, pure in heart, peacemakers, persecuted and insulted. Everything Jesus said we would look at in our culture and “Poor them. What did they do to deserve such a bad life?”
And what is so backward is that what we see as messed up Jesus sees as blessed! We have to redefine what it means to be blessed because if we don’t, we will miss Jesus. Jesus never links blessing to circumstances or financial prosperity. He links it to himself and his kingdom.
One of the articles I read this week in preparing was by a theology professor in Australia. He shared a story of how a friend went to an African country, and one of the African Christians said to him, “It must be so hard to be a Christian in Australia.” The guy asked what the person meant. The man responded, “You have so much it must be so hard to depend on God.”
What if we have it backward. What if what we see as blessings from God are actually the things that are pulling us further away from him. We can’t commit to spending time with God because the blessing of my job requires so much of me 24-7-265. And I can’t commit to the connection of a church because of my financial blessings that I need to miss a lot for kids activities and travel.
When Jesus uses the word blessed, he is using a different but related word to the one Paul used. He is using the word “makarioi” which some Bibles have translated as happy. This is not a good translation. “Makarioi” means fully satisfied. It is not dependent on favorable circumstances but on knowing Jesus.
What if to be truly blessed it meant we had to give up some things. To forfeit our wealth and comfort, our popularity, our success, and it meant we needed to experience difficulty, persecution, total dependence on God?
Think about it for a moment. When do you find yourself needing God the most? In good times? I wish. No, it is in the struggle when the wheels are falling off when nothing is going your way. Our desire for God is usually fueled by our need. And when our need is the greatest, so is our desire for God.
And when we are going through the most painful circumstances, times where no one in our culture would ever look at us and call us blessed, isn’t that where we can experience God in the most real way? Isn’t that where real, genuine faith is formed? Isn’t that where God’s incredible love is found?
Think about Mary, the mother of Jesus. A teenager with a good life in front of here. She’s got a man who is going to marry her. And then one day an angel appears and tells her she is going to give birth to the Messiah, Jesus. Unwed mother. Unplanned pregnancy. Nothing we would say is #blessed.
And when she goes to visit her cousin Elizabeth, what does Elizabeth say to her? “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the child you will bear.” (Luke 1:42) Let that sink in for a moment. We must redefine what it means to be blessed.
Your prosperity has nothing to do with your blessing. Your good health has nothing to do with your blessing. Your current circumstances have nothing to do with where or not you are blessed. You are blessed if you know Jesus. And as Paul says, that’s enough. You have every spiritual blessing because of him.
So what is blessing then? I love the way one article I read this week put it. It said, “Scripture shows that blessing is anything God gives that makes us fully satisfied in him. Anything that draws us closer to Jesus. Anything that helps us relinquish the temporal and hold on more tightly to the eternal. And often it is the struggles and trials, the aching disappointments and the unfulfilled longings that best enable us to do that.”
A few years ago there was a beautiful song entitled, “Blessings” by Laura Story. I listened to that song as I was preparing this message. Listen to these lyrics. “We pray for blessings, We pray for peace, Comfort for family, protection while we sleep. We pray for healing, for prosperity, We pray for Your mighty hand to ease our suffering, All the while, You hear each spoken need, Yet love is way too much to give us lesser things.
“’Cause what if your blessings come through raindrops What if Your healing comes through tears, What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You’re near, What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise.”
Are you here today and you don’t feel very blessed? Can I encourage you? Don’t let your current situation cause you to miss the Savior. He is the blessing.
Is your life good? You’ve got all you need and then some. And let’s be honest, that describes most of us. But as you hear this do you see how what you’ve always considered to be a blessing in your life are burdens that are keeping you from experiencing the true blessing found only in Jesus Christ?
Or maybe you realize what you have in Jesus and the take away for you today is to speak that blessing over others. Those who need encouragement, those who need peace, those who need life.
If you follow Jesus, it may not look like what your friends post on social media but let me echo the Apostle Paul to you today. Regardless of your life and your circumstances. You are blessed.