The Savior opens his great sermon on the mount with a series of pronouncements that have come to be known as “The Beatitudes.” The beatitudes consist of a litany of traits that essentially describe Christ himself and thus represent the attributes of a true disciple (or follower) of Christ. The word “Beatitude” is derived from the Latin adjective beatus, “which means ‘to be blessed’ or ‘to be happy or fortunate’” (Ogden & Skinner, 2006).
The great religious writer Matthew Henry observed that happiness is highly sought after by “a blind and carnal world” and that some even pretend to pursue blessedness, but he laments that “most mistake the end, and form a wrong conception of happiness; and then no wonder that they miss the way. The general opinion is, Blessed are they who are rich, and great, and honourable [sic] in the world; who spend their days in mirth, and their years in pleasure; who eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and carry all before them with a high hand” (Henry, 1992).
This warped conception of happiness is in fact nothing more than an illusion and those who subscribe to the world’s definition of happiness are sure to be sorely disappointed when they realize that riches and pleasures can only be fleeting and that they can provide no meaningful or lasting happiness or joy, nor can they possibly confer a state of blessedness upon those that heedlessly seek after them.
With His Beatitudes, the Savior presents His disciples with His definition of what it means to be happy, and what it truly means to be blessed. In doing so he presents us with what some have called “the constitution for a perfect life” (Lee, 1975). In this he presents us with a series of attributes which characterize the life of a disciple, characteristics from which a happy life can be composed. Significantly each characteristic described in the beatitudes represents an attribute of Christ’s own life and personality, and thus the beatitudes form a sort of template or pattern upon which we are to model our own lives if we truly seek to follow Christ to the eternal happiness which He has promised each of us. In order to be truly happy we have to learn how to ‘be’ like the Savior in all that we are.
Christ was deliberate in placing the Beatitudes at the beginning of his sermon. Christ seeks to lift our gaze to a higher goal-a more excellent way, as it were. If the Sermon on the Mount is a road map to happiness and righteous living then the beatitudes represent the destination. As mentioned before, the word 'beatitude' comes from the Latin 'beatus', which means happy, or blessed. The beatitudes are therefore not criteria by which disciples are defined and others are excluded. Rather, they represent the qualities of true happiness and contentment, the dimensions of a life filled with joy. By these we are meant to learn how to recognize behaviors that lead to joy, in contrast to others that can only lead to unhappiness or misery.
The ‘Bad’ Attitudes
The beatitudes, each of which is introduced with the phrase, "blessed are...(they, ye, the meek, etc.), are justifiably famous, but much less well known are the pronouncements immediately following the beatitudes in Chapter 6 of Luke's gospel.
Luke 6:24-26 But woe unto you that are rich! for ye have received your consolation. Woe unto you that are full! for ye shall hunger. Woe unto you that laugh now! for ye shall mourn and weep. Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you! for so did their fathers to the false prophets.
In contrast to the beatitudes, each pronouncement starts with the phrase "woe unto you" and describes those behaviors that are in opposition to building a life of blessed happiness. I call these phrases "The 'Bad' attitudes." These attributes of a miserable life include seeking consolation in riches, believing when others disingenuously speak well of you and thus falling prey to flattery, and being 'full' of the wrong things. That is, filling your heart with counterfeits for happiness: drugs, sex, money or success, possessions, etc. Those who attempt to fill their “happiness hole” with such things are promised that they shall continue to hunger, for such things cannot bring any lasting satisfaction or joy, and no matter how much you consume your need will never be sated.
Ecclesiastes 1:8 All things are full of labour; man cannot utter it: the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.
Ecclesiastes 2:11 Then I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the labour that I had laboured to do: and, behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun.
2 Nephi 9:51 Wherefore, do not spend money for that which is of no worth, nor your labor for that which cannot satisfy. Hearken diligently unto me, and remember the words which I have spoken; and come unto the Holy One of Israel, and feast upon that which perisheth not, neither can be corrupted, and let your soul delight in fatness.
Christ also predicts woe for those who laugh, promising that they shall weep and mourn. This is not a proscription against laughter, rather it is an indictment against those who take pleasure in sin, and mock the prophets and the things of God.
2 Peter 2:10, 12-13 But chiefly them that walk after the flesh in the lust of uncleanness, and despise government. Presumptuous are they, selfwilled, they are not afraid to speak evil of dignities. But these, as natural brute beasts, made to be taken and destroyed, speak evil of the things that they understand not; and shall utterly perish in their own corruption; And shall receive the reward of unrighteousness, as they that count it pleasure to riot in the day time. Spots they are and blemishes, sporting themselves with their own deceivings while they feast with you;
Those people who have allowed themselves to fall prey to “the ‘Bad’ Attitudes”, and the philosophies that they embody, have been deceived (if only by themselves). These "'Bad' Attitudes cannot lead to anything but misery. A life spend in the meaningless pursuit of these counterfeits for happiness will end only in emptiness and despair. Christ includes His description of these dangerous pitfalls and traps as a warning about what we ought to avoid if we wish to follow His roadmap for navigating mortal life to achieve a life of happiness and meaning here as well as in the hereafter.
The ‘Be’ Attitudes
The beatitudes themselves can be divided into significant groupings that say much about their intent and meaning. As they are recorded in Matthew, the Beatitudes can be divided into two categories according to the aspect of our personal development with which they are concerned. These categories correspond with all that we must be and do in order to become a whole disciple in the mold of the Savior. In this sense, the beatitudes are not a checklist of things that we have to do in order to go to heaven, but rather the beatitudes represent what Harold B. Lee called “the constitution of a perfect life.” The beatitudes represent a way of being as much as a way of doing, and both are essential if we wish to become what the Savior desires us to become.
"'To be, or not to be' is actually a very good question. The Savior posed the question in a far more profound way, making it a vital doctrinal question for each of us: “What manner of men [and women] ought ye to be? Verily I say unto you, even as I am”. The first-person present tense of the verb be is I Am. He invites us to take upon us His name and His nature. To become as He is, we must also do the things He did: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, this is my gospel; and ye know the things that ye must do in my church; for the works which ye have seen me do that shall ye also do”. To be and to do are inseparable. As interdependent doctrines they reinforce and promote each other. Faith inspires one to pray, for example, and prayer in turn strengthens one’s faith. The Savior often denounced those who did without being—calling them hypocrites: “This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me”. To do without to be is hypocrisy, or feigning to be what one is not—a pretender. Conversely, to be without to do is void, as in “faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone”. Be without do really isn’t being—it is self-deception, believing oneself to be good merely because one’s intentions are good. Do without be—hypocrisy—portrays a false image to others, while be without do portrays a false image to oneself." (Lynn G. Robbins, “What Manner of Men and Women Ought Ye to Be?," Ensign, May 2011).
In order that Christ might “make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace;” (see Ephesians 2:15) Christ showed us the way to become a complete disciple who seeks to both be and to do. Christ gave us the beatitudes in order that he might demonstrate to all men those things that they must be in their hearts and do in their lives in order to become like Him and to enjoy happiness in this life and eternal life in the world to come. You will therefore find that the beatitudes are divided rather evenly into “’Be’ attitudes” and “’Do’ attitudes:
“Four of them [the beatitudes] have to do with our individual selves, the living of our own inner, personal lives, if we would be perfect and find the blessedness of that inward joy” (Lee, 1975).
Matthew 5:3 Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
2 Corinthians 8:9 For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich.
Philippians 2:3-10 Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth;
Most people will tell you that being ‘poor in spirit’ means to be humble, especially as it pertains to the goods and riches of this world, and that is certainly part of it, but I am convinced that being poor in spirit in the way Christ was poor “in spirit” means that we seek the wealth and welfare of others before our own. To be poor in spirit means that people are more important to you than status or possessions, and you are willing to sacrifice both for the sake of their happiness and well-being.
How difficult is it to let go of ideas about your own importance, so you can go to work in service to your fellowman? To the proud man, some service might be considered demeaning, like washing the sores of a beggar, or even just watching somebody’s children so they can go to a job interview. The rich man says, “don’t you know who I am? Isn’t there some task that I can do that more befits my status and position? It is well for us that Christ did not say this, although He was certainly entitled to do so. Christ was the Son of God, the King of Kings, and yet he condescended to live as a man, and to undergo all manner of sickness, affliction, and suffering for our sakes, culminating in an ignominious death. Christ, the greatest of all, became the servant of all mankind.
Matthew 5:4 Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
Romans 12:15 Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep
Galatians 6:2 Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.
Mosiah 18:8-10 And it came to pass that he said unto them: Behold, here are the waters of Mormon (for thus were they called) and now, as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another's burdens, that they may be light; Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that ye may have eternal life—Now I say unto you, if this be the desire of your hearts, what have you against being baptized in the name of the Lord, as a witness before him that ye have entered into a covenant with him, that ye will serve him and keep his commandments, that he may pour out his Spirit more abundantly upon you?
The comfort offered through Christ and His atonement and gospel is sublime, eternal, and limitless. While much of this comfort can only come to us through the grace and spirit of God, the Lord expects His disciples to also become instruments through which His comfort is extended to His children through acts of simple kindness and Christian love. All those who have been baptized have taken this duty upon themselves as followers and servants of Christ.
Matthew 5:6 Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
2 Nephi 9:50-51 Come, my brethren, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters; and he that hath no money, come buy and eat; yea, come buy wine and milk without money and without price. Wherefore, do not spend money for that which is of no worth, nor your labor for that which cannot satisfy. Hearken diligently unto me, and remember the words which I have spoken; and come unto the Holy One of Israel, and feast upon that which perisheth not, neither can be corrupted, and let your soul delight in fatness.
John 6:53-57 Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him. As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me.
Psalms 107:8-9 Oh that men would praise the LORD for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men! For he satisfieth the longing soul, and filleth the hungry soul with goodness.
The world (and Satan) offers many counterfeit sources of happiness and calls to us loudly to fill ourselves in hedonistic and headlong pursuit of things that it promises will bring happiness and satisfaction. There are many in this world who will gladly seek to profit from the suffering of others through the sale of such dubious pleasures. Advertising, the media, and entertainment all call in loud, or insistent, or even seductive voices encourage us to “do what feels good” or to “have what you want when you want it,” while denying or ignoring any consequences that follow the indulgence of such appetites. Many loudly proclaim that not only are things like sex, pornography, drugs, or alcohol not bad for you, but that they are actually good for you, and they hold in mocking derision all those who dare to disagree with them. Some hold that all there is in this life is the fulfillment of appetites ambitions, and after this life is over only death awaits us. Others insist that a kind and merciful God would never condemn His children for doing “what comes naturally.”
In the headlong pursuit of such appetites and ambitions, many come to worship money or achievement as false idols which they have placed before God in their lives. Many such people have placed these idols ahead of the needs and welfare of the children or their spouse. They have cast aside those things that have lasting meaning for the sake of those things which cannot satisfy. The things of the world can never last, and they can only bring emptiness and despair. The world can offer nothing of any real lasting value, it can only offer poisonous substitutes that will eventually decay and disappear, but only after they lead us to destruction.
1 John 2:15-17 Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.
Matthew 6:19-21 Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
If we choose instead to overcome the world, and to place our hearts upon the things of God, we will be rewarded with blessings both great and small. We will know happiness in this life when we learn to value others over self. When we live the principles of the gospel instead fruitlessly chasing after the counterfeits of the world we can avoid much of the disease, addiction, and despair that tend to be the consequences of a life governed by the pursuit of things which cannot satisfy. When we live the Lord’s principles of happiness we will come to know joy and meaning through a life of love and service to God and man. When we learn to sacrifice our own instant gratification and pleasure for the lasting joy that comes through righteous living we will have satisfaction in this life, and be filled with joy in the next. The Lord promises us eternal blessings of family and exaltation, blessings that amount to a limitless feast, and He calls us to “feast upon that which perisheth not, neither can be corrupted, and let your soul delight in fatness.”
Matthew 5:8 Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
Psalms 24:3-6 Who shall ascend into the hill of the LORD? or who shall stand in his holy place? He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully. He shall receive the blessing from the LORD, and righteousness from the God of his salvation. This is the generation of them that seek him, that seek thy face, O Jacob. Selah.
All those who seek God must also seek to become pure, even as He is pure. All those who truly seek the kingdom of God, and His righteousness, will naturally seek to live a life of purity. A true disciple of Christ strives to be chaste, free from addiction or substance abuse, kind to others and slow to anger, and instant in service to his fellowmen. A true disciple of Christ seeks to be clean both inside and out by governing his innermost thoughts as well as his words and actions.
Mosiah 4:30 But this much I can tell you, that if ye do not watch yourselves, and your thoughts, and your words, and your deeds, and observe the commandments of God, and continue in the faith of what ye have heard concerning the coming of our Lord, even unto the end of your lives, ye must perish. And now, O man, remember, and perish not.
Alma 12:14 For our words will condemn us, yea, all our works will condemn us; we shall not be found spotless; and our thoughts will also condemn us; and in this awful state we shall not dare to look up to our God; and we would fain be glad if we could command the rocks and the mountains to fall upon us to hide us from his presence.
D&C 88:68-69 Therefore, sanctify yourselves that your minds become single to God, and the days will come that you shall see him; for he will unveil his face unto you, and it shall be in his own time, and in his own way, and according to his own will. Remember the great and last promise which I have made unto you; cast away your idle thoughts and your excess of laughter far from you.
1 John 3:2-3 Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.
The new covenant of the Gospel, as introduced (and embodied) by Jesus Christ (who also acts as mediator of that covenant), is characterized by an inward conversion that at once distinguishes it from the old covenant while also serving as a natural progression from the external observances that characterized the lesser law.
Hebrews 8:6-10 But now hath he obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second. For finding fault with them, he saith, Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they continued not in my covenant, and I regarded them not, saith the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people:
True discipleship under the new covenant of the gospel must therefore necessarily feature an internal conversion that penetrates beyond the mere outward observance required by the lesser law. This is why Christ requires a broken heart and a contrite spirit from us as an offering for sin instead of burnt offerings. Under the law of the gospel, outward performances only have meaning if they are accompanied by true inward devotion.
Psalms 51:6,10-11, 16-17 Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom. Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me. For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.
3 Nephi 9:19-21 And ye shall offer up unto me no more the shedding of blood; yea, your sacrifices and your burnt offerings shall be done away, for I will accept none of your sacrifices and your burnt offerings. And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit. And whoso cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost, even as the Lamanites, because of their faith in me at the time of their conversion, were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and they knew it not. Behold, I have come unto the world to bring redemption unto the world, to save the world from sin.
The ‘Do’ Attitudes
The gospel is not merely a gospel of abstract thought and remote spiritual enlightenment divorced from any interaction with the material world. In fact, there is a very real component of concrete action by which we might also conform our outward man to the example set by the Savior. In fact we cannot truly hope to model our lives after that of the Savior unless we manage to set in order both the outward as well as the inward man.
“We must diligently search into, and set in order both the outward and the inner man, because both of them are of importance to our progress in godliness” (Hammerken, 1418).
Just as faith without works is dead, even so there can be no inward discipleship without outward adherence to the example of the Savior. The first four beatitudes are concerned with how to be like the Savior and so you might call them the four “be” attitudes, and the final four focus primarily on how to act like the Savior, so will call them the four “do” attitudes. Christ therefore provides four more pronouncements designed to show what we have to ‘do’ to become perfect as he is perfect.
“In order to gain entrance into the kingdom of heaven we must not only be good, but we are also required to do good and be good for something. So if you would walk daily toward that goal of perfection and fullness of life, you must be schooled by the remaining four articles in the Master’s constitution for a perfect life. These beatitudes have to do with man’s social relations with others” (Lee, 1975):
Matthew 5:5 Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
1 Peter 5:5-6 Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble. Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time:
Matthew 5:7 Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
D&C 64:8-10 My disciples, in days of old, sought occasion against one another and forgave not one another in their hearts; and for this evil they were afflicted and sorely chastened. Wherefore, I say unto you, that ye ought to forgive one another; for he that forgiveth not his brother his trespasses standeth condemned before the Lord; for there remaineth in him the greater sin. I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men.
Matthew 6:14-15 For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
Colossians 3:12-13 Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.
Matthew 5:9 Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
3 Nephi 11:29-30 For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another. Behold, this is not my doctrine, to stir up the hearts of men with anger, one against another; but this is my doctrine, that such things should be done away.
1 Corinthians 14:33 For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.
Isaiah 52:7 How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation; that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth!
Matthew 5:11 Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.
John 15:18-21 If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also. But all these things will they do unto you for my name's sake, because they know not him that sent me.
Acts 5:40-42 And to him they agreed: and when they had called the apostles, and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name. And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ.
By avoiding the poisonous habits described in the “’Bad’ attitudes,” and incorporating both the “’Be’ attitudes” as well as the “’Do’ attitudes” into ourselves and our whole way of being we will have the grace of Christ to help us to shape the outward and inner man “unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:” (see Ephesians 4:13). Moreover, the beatitudes can serve as reference points by which we can compare our thoughts, attributes, and actions to the thoughts, attributes, and actions of Jesus Christ and evaluate our lives accordingly. If we will use the beatitudes as directions or signposts by which we can measure our progress toward a life of true discipleship modeled on the life and example of Jesus Christ we will indeed achieve true happiness; not the fleeting, illusory, happiness that the world offers us, but rather a level of peace and happiness that transcends human understanding and reaches into the realm of the eternal.
John 14:27 Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.
Philippians 4:7 And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
2 Corinthians 4:16-18 For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.
Hammerken, T. (1418)2004. The imitation of christ. New York: Barnes & Noble, Inc.
Henry, M. (1992). The niv matthew henry commentary in one volume. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House.
Lee, H. B. (1975). Stand ye in holy places. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company.
Ogden, D. K., & Skinner, A. C. (2006). Verse by verse: The four gospels. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book.