Surprising Priorities


For we do not have a high priest 

who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, 

but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, 

yet without sin. (Heb 4:15)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

When Christ enters our lives, we begin the journey from our natural selves to the person that God created us to be. This journey transforms our self-image, our faith, and our relationships as we exchange acts of the flesh for fruits of the spirit (Gal 5:19–23). These transformations can be joyful as we grow in personal knowledge, in faith and in relationships; they can also involve painful losses because fundamental change is inherently difficult and losses must be individually grieved.

The change required in the journey of faith is often compared in the Bible with the challenges in marriage (e.g. Matt 9:15) The newly wed is almost always joyous at the initiation of marriage. Yet, the journey from me to we in the first years of marriage can also be challenging because old relationships with our parents, siblings, and spouses must transform into new ones.

The joys and challenges of marriage over those first few years inform the tensions we experience within ourselves, with God, and with others over a lifetime. The first three Beatitudes focus on tension with one’s self (humility, mourning, and meekness). The second three Beatitudes focus on tension with God (zeal, mercy, and holiness). The last three Beatitudes focus on tension with others (peacemaking, persecution, and being reviled).

What is most striking about the Beatitudes is that they reveal that Jesus honors humility, mourning, mercy, and peacemaking much more than we do.

Jesus honors the poor in spirit, the humble, which does not come naturally to us. We prefer naturally to build physical strength, self-esteem, assertiveness, and influence over others. Only through the power of the Holy Spirit are we able to grow in humility and to see it mature into the character trait of meekness.

Jesus honors mourning. We do not naturally mourn over the sin in our lives and mourning is the only emotion among the Beatitudes. Other emotions are closer to our hearts and we seek comfort, not transformation. Yet, it is when we pour out our hearts in mourning that we turn to God. This may be why the Apostle Paul admonishes us to:  “Gócense con los que se gozan y lloren con los que lloran.” (Rom 12:15)

Jesus honors mercy. Mercy is one of God’s core values (Exod 34:6) and it lies at the heart of Christ’s atoning work on the cross. We see God’s love primarily through the lens of His mercy. Mercy is hard for us to ask for and even harder to give which is why we see the hand of God at work in the simple act of forgiveness.

Jesus honors peacemaking—shalom. Shalom forces us to step outside our comfort zone perhaps more than any other Beatitude. It is because by extending peace in all of our relationships we deny ourselves and emulate Christ. Peacemakers must abdicate their privileges, take up the cross daily, dwell in solidarity with all people, and practice sacrificial hospitality.

Jesus’ priorities are clearly not our own and they explain Jesus’ focus on our transformation, not just in the next life, but in this one. How we live and how we die matters in the kingdom of God. We know this, not only because of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection (Phil 3:10-11), but also because Stephen and ten of the twelve apostles followed Jesus’ example and became martyrs for the faith.

Jesus’ example poses a paradox when he admonishes us to treat persecution as a teachable and redemptive moment: “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”  (Matt 5:44) The power of love is revealed when it is unexpected and unearned. We see this power in Christ’s words on the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  (Luke 23:34) It is through Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the cross that we are reconciled with God and experience the depths of his love.

Jesus’ priorities are not naturally our own, but he admonishes us to embrace the Beatitudes and the creative tension that they engender.

Surprising Priorities

Also see:

Preface to a Life in Tension

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