Cosmic and Concentrated

Blessing runs in two directions at the beginning of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. We bless God, which is to say that we glorify Him in praise, and He blesses us, which is to say that He gives us favor; He protects and provides and gladdens. We bless because He first blessed us.

The Father’s blessing to us is both cosmic and concentrated. He blesses us “with every spiritual blessing in heavenly places.” I’m not totally sure what to do with that, other than thinking that it’s real good. Every blessing, as in, not missing one? And heavenly places, as in, the places where thieves can’t break in and steal and moths can’t eat away and rust can’t corrupt? In the heavenlies is the seat of His rule, the place His will is always done speedily and gladly. Our blessings are limited only by the Father’s ideas and abilities and resources.

Our blessings are also centered. The Father “has blessed us in Christ” (verse 3). The Father has predestined us to receive grace in such a stunning way so that it praises the glory of His grace, and “he has blessed us in the Beloved” (verse 6) with this grand grace.

“In Him” we were chosen to be holy and blameless (verse 4). “In Him” we have redemption and forgiveness (verse 7). “In Christ” we see the working of God’s plan for the fulness of time (verse 10). “In Him” we have obtained an inheritance (verse 11). “In Him” we were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit (verse 14).

All of these blessings are in Christ, and we who believe are in Him. We are blessed in Him who is over all things and who fills all in all.

Sex Is for Fruit

“Blessed the man that fears Jehovah and that walketh in His ways.” Yes, and amen to the one-hundred and twenty-eighth Psalm. And what form does the blessing referred to in verse 1 take? In addition to eating the fruit of the field (verse 2), God’s blessing includes enjoying the fruit of the womb (verse 3).

Sex is a blessing, for enjoyment and pleasure and closeness in marriage. Sex is for fun, and sex is for fruit. This fruit is a blessing, says God. The man blessed by the Lord will have children “like olive shoots around his table.” By the Lord’s blessing he may even see his “children’s children,” his grandchildren (verse 6).

Recognizing this blessing does not require that every married couple needs to have as many kids as they possibly could. It does mean that every newly married couple should not reject this blessing on principle. Recognizing this blessing also means finding days-old, dried-up pieces of pasta stuck to the floor underneath the kitchen table, or the fine powder of fist-crushed pretzels in the crevices underneath the car seat in the back of the van. It means inconveniently timed disobediences to deal with, or inconveniently timed emotional breakdowns to work through, or math homework that needs to be rewritten for the fifth time, while you watch.

But these are part of the olive shoots. These are part of the blessing. And too many of our kids don’t get that we get that they are blessings. They have father hunger rather than hunger to father. So they think that growing up and getting married is about the ceremonial wedding-dress pageant, or for the honeymoon-night undressing, or they run the other way and think that God thinks less of all those things and only wants us to be “spiritual.”

God bless us with kids, and God bless our kids with a vision of generational fruitfulness rather than merely moments of satisfying their physical pleasures.

Most Likely to Be an Arbiter

I don’t plan to make this an exhaustive series of exhortations covering all the blesseds in the Bible, but part of the method of staying on the subject for so many weeks is to make the point that God loves to bless His people and that there are lot of ways He does so.

For now let’s go back into the Beatitude orchard and note the seventh in line: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”

Like the first six in the list, “peacemakers” describes a kind of person. It is one word in Greek, made up of two parts, the verb for “make” and the noun “peace” (very nuanced in translation, as you can tell). A man who makes peace is a man who intervenes in disagreements and disputes, who reconciles divided parties, who works to calm conflicts and bring fighting friends back into fellowship.

Peace cannot always be made, and there are certain occasions when peace should not be pursued. Jesus said “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34). We are to fight against sin and fight for the faith once for all delivered to the saints. But even then we defend the faith for sake of justified peace. We kill our sin for sake of holy peace. We call for the unrepentant and heretical to repent for sake of eternal peace.

That said, most of us weren’t voted “Most Likely to Be an Arbiter” in our graduation class, and the world does not know that we are Christians by our peacemaking. We are much better at stirring things up, or being stirred up. But, as fun as it may be, Jesus did not say “blessed are the contrarians.”

Why are peacemakers blessed? It certainly doesn’t feel happy in the midst of most conflict, either between you and someone else or when trying to help two other people. But God makes it blessed because it is a share in God’s own work. God makes peace. God gets in the middle. He is a Mediator at heart, or at least He is in flesh, and that’s why Jesus says the peacemakers will be “called sons of God.” When we make peace we are acting like our Father.

Left Without Discipline

We are still in a series of exhortations to confession focused on being blessed. Recognizing our blessings from God and giving Him thanks for those blessings is a part of our evangelistic strategy. This is not a prosperity gospel, though prosperity can be a blessing. There are other blessings that are harder to recognize, so we want to see them and boast in the Lord about them.

The last couple blesseds have been from the Beattitudes, and there are more worth covering from that Sermon, but for now let’s consider that one of our heavenly Father’s great blessings to His children is discipline.

Blessed is the man whom you discipline, O LORD,
 And who you teach out of your law. (Psalm 94:12)

The version we sing at our church is, “blessed the man whom You chastise, Lord, whom You teach to know Your way” (“God of Vengeance, O Jehovah”). Discipline is training, often that corrects disobedience. Discipline can include rebuke or pain that turns us away from sin and back to holiness.

The author of Hebrews says a lot about discipline without using the word blessed, but it certainly applies. He even quotes Proverbs 3:11-12 which has some overlap with Psalm 94:12.

How is discipline a blessing?

Discipline means that we are not abandoned, but loved. God’s discipline is a father’s love for a son, not a judge’s punishment of a criminal. Worse than that, perhaps, is being allowed to have whatever we want, left to sit and stew in soul destroying sin. Discipline displays our Father’s wise affection applied to us. “The Lord disciplines the one he loves” (Hebrews 12:6). And, “if you are left without discipline…then you are illegitimate children and not sons” (Hebrews 12:8).

Discipline also means that we are not finished, but still being shaped. The Father wants us to “share His holiness” (Hebrews 12:10). That would be preposterous if God Himself hadn’t said it. Discipline is “for our good,” it “yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11).

So don’t be weary when He corrects you (Hebrews 12:5). Don’t treat His discipline like an unwanted intervention. Discipline is blessing, and we ought to receive discipline in such a way that makes others jealous to have it.

The Limits of Pretending Friends

First in the field of blesseds according to Jesus is being "poor in spirit." It is a unique way to start a sermon, and certainly not an easy sell to a worldling who (thinks he) wants blessing. Previously we considered the second in the list, namely, that mourning is a blessing that includes the promise of comfort. As one example, Paul called the Corinthians to mourn over sin in their midst (1 Corinthians 5:2). They likewise would have been benefited by planting this tree in their soul: humility (1 Corinthians 5:6).

"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." Again I want to argue that the happiness is not just in the future, or in the grasp of the future now by faith. There is blessing coming later (a kingdom), there is blessing in the current knowledge of what is coming (hope), but it is blessing to have a proper view of one's self.

Humility is a blessing because self-exaltation turns out to be really hard. It is a discouraging work to hunt for reasons to praise something or someone (like oneself) that isn't so great, let alone to lobby a group to pretend there is greatness. Most pride has the unfortunate position of not fitting with reality, and even friends have limits for credible imagination.

Humility is also a blessing because it hurts less to be corrected. We sin, or we make mistakes, and pride multiplies the original problem: it makes us defensive and distanciung, and it makes the fall farther when the strike hits. A humble person is already low; you can’t crash to the floor when you’re already on it.

And humility is a blessing because it shuts the gate to a number of other sins. Pride is what provokes anger (“How dare you not praise me!"), bitterness (“Why don't you recognize me?"), envy ("I deserve to have that."), and slander (“They do not deserve to have that!").

Jesus promises the heavenly kingdom to the humble, and the humbled are blessed in the humility itself.

In the Orchard of Blessings

In this series of exhortations focused on God’s blessings, it would have been more awkward not to reference the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount. When Jesus sat down to teach He began with what we call the “Beatitudes,” so named due to the Latin word beatus which means “blessed.” Nine verses in a row start with the Greek word makarioi, translated by the plural form beati in the Latin Vulgate, and “blessed” in English. In the orchard of God’s blessings, these nine trees are planted closely together.

Skipping over the first in the list at the moment, here is Matthew 5:4. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Paul uses the same word for mourning (pentheo) in 1 Corinthians 5:2 in reference to how the church should respond to flagrant sin in her midst. Jesus uses it about those who are constantly mourning.

Matthew doesn’t record the reason for mourning, so perhaps it refers to any kind of sadness. But there is good reason in the sermon context to understand it as a grief for sin. That’s certainly true in the Corinth context. A man feels sorrow for the loss of holiness, which he was made to have. He grieves that he has caused insult to God.

Of all the blessings, this one seems the most difficult to connect. Happy are the ones who are sad? But that’s what Jesus says, and it’s not just because of the promise. Yes, those who mourn “will be comforted,” but if comfort was the only piece of blessing, wouldn’t the beatitude need to say, “Those who mourn will be blessed with comfort”? The comfort is blessing, but so is the mourning itself.

Mourning is part of the blessing because it means we see something as God does, and because we’re sharing His reaction to it. Those who are deluded or who are distracting themselves are not blessed, neither are those denying the truth. The blessing is as deep, or shallow, as the mourning.

He Invites Us In

What sort of God looks to make His people happy? This is not a characteristic of the gods of men. The idols men have created, whether in Greek mythology or Norse mythology or even today’s gods who go by less religious sounding names, these gods expect to be made happy by their worshippers. There is only one God, the only true God, who loves to make His worshippers happy. God blesses out of His generous nature.

What sorts of things does God give that make His people happy? We’ve seen that He forgives them, that He makes them fruitful, that He gives them purpose, even if that purpose seems overwhelming, i.e., fill the earth and subdue it. His blessings can be quite big.

His blessings are also personal, especially as God meets with His people in worship. He does not merely send them a message from a distant land, He comes Himself. He does not pronounce forgiveness but remain unapproachable, as if He told a guard to let us through the gate at the border of His kingdom but only let us look across the moat at the high walls of His castle. He invites us in. And this is blessing.

“Blessed is the one you choose
and bring near,
to dwell in your courts!
”
(Psalm 65:4a)

“For you make him most blessed forever;

you make him glad with the joy of your presence.”
(Psalm 21:6)

“Blessed are those who dwell
in your house, 
ever singing your praise!”

(Psalm 84:4)

Happy are the ones who are near Him in worship, and you can tell who they are because they are the ones who sing. The blessed are anti-silent.

It is only through Christ that we have this access. Through Him “we have both access in one Spirit to the Father” (Ephesians 2:18). “We have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus” (Hebrews 10:19). But we really are brought into God’s grace and God’s gladness. 


“May God be gracious to us and bless us

and make his face to shine upon us
”
(Psalm 67:1)

Blessing is His fatherly and favorable face upon us. Is this the blessing that we seek when we assemble to worship? Are we prepared to be made this kind of happy by His presence? If not, then we don’t yet understand His blessing nature.

The Very First Blessing

We continue our series of exhortations to confession based on the idea of blessing. Receiving our blessings well is part of our worship as well as part of our witness to the world. We’ve considered already that forgiveness is God’s blessing, as is fruitfulness.

The very first blessing of God to man came on man’s very first day on earth. It is the second use of the word “blessing” in Genesis 1, but applied to human beings in verse 28.

And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on earth.

God looked on His newly created image-bearers with favor. He had given them life and, in light of how Genesis 2:15-25 fits between verses 27 and 28 in chapter one, God had given them each other. For Adam, breath and a bride were both blessings. But verse 28 makes the blessing seem like still more, and I think the blessing is connected with the rest of the verse. Blessing is purpose.

This is a big purpose. On the large scale, you are blessed to make family and culture and technology. But on the day to day scale, this is hugging and feeding your kids, this is filling the car with gas so you can get to work, this is trying to figure out how to help your boss or co-workers or clients better, this is putting the laundry away and baking bread.

We complain often about some of God’s best gifts to us. Our bodies are tired or hurting, but what an amazing grace that they work at all! Our spouses and our kids give meaning to our accomplishments and they provide stories to tell and retell, but we grumble about the challenges. The long task list doesn’t excite us, it overwhelms us, and it may be because we don’t see the blessings. Are you tired because there is a lot to do? Good, God gave you a lot to do.

Our unbelieving neighbors have been given no less purpose. They are made in God’s image. Though they don’t deserve all the meaning that is around them, their failure to recognize it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, it means that they are more accountable for their denial. Life seems to them like vanity and striving after wind, but that’s because they refuse to relate their purpose to their Maker.

God didn’t have to give you relationships or responsibilities. But He did. A person with only potential isn’t finished, and we often give such a person grief, but many having many potentials to pursue is good. God blessed you with purpose. How are you receiving those blessings? Does how you’re receiving them make others jealous?

Forgiveness Equals Freedom

Of all the things that Christians have, what would make an unbeliever most jealous? Of course those who are outside of Christ, those who don’t have the light of the gospel, are in no better position to determine value than a blind man could count the stars through a telescope with the lens cap still on. For those of us whose eyes are open in Christ and who have His Word about things, we’re actually in a better position to know what the unbeliever should want whether he can express it or not.

The Bible describes how men should want God’s blessing. Our eschatology anticipates that an entire people group will envy what we have from God so much so that they will repent and believe in Christ (for example, Romans 11:11-12). What blessings are such a powerful pull?

There are many blessings that God gives. Last week I wrote that stability and fruitfulness are His blessing, and I started with Psalm 1 because it is a timely reminder as we make plans for a new year. But the verses we read in the liturgy that reminded us of our forgiveness from Psalm 32 state that forgiveness itself is a blessing, and it may be the most important one of all.

Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven,
whose sin is covered.
Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity,
and in whose spirit there is no deceit.
(Psalm 32:1–2)

This blessing of forgiveness comes to those who confess that they are sinners. This happiness (the plain meaning of “blessed”) does not come to liars, suppressors, or even to hiders. Verse 3 refers to David’s “bones” that “wasted away” in his silence. Verse 4 describes God’s heavy hand of conviction, drying up strength “as by the heat of summer.”

But when he “acknowledged” and “confessed” (verse 5) he received blessed forgiveness. Men cannot cover their sin on their own, they cannot escape God’s righteous requirements or His all-seeing judgment. Sin is an agonizing burden in the consciences of men. While there is a sense in which discipline equals freedom, and another sense in which gratitude equals freedom, first and foremost forgiveness equals freedom. We who own up and come clean are covered by Christ’s atoning work. How blessed we are.

Really Blessed

For a few months I have been in a #blessed mood. In a sermon near the end of the summer I recommended The Blessed Option as a way to think about our influence in the world. We ought to see His blessings and thank Him for them in such a way that would provoke others, not just to want similar blessings, but more so to come to the God who gives them. Could we want something other, or even in addition to, God’s blessing? We can’t, at least not as consistent Christians.

But “blessing” is one of those Bible words that we hear and use and have only a vague sense about what it actually means. So I’m going to do a series of confession exhortations based on different descriptions of God’s blessing in the Bible. I think it will be especially timely as we count down the beginning of a new calendar year.

There are some famous blessings in the Bible; we will get to some of them. For this morning, consider that the very first word in the hymnbook of the Old Testament is the word blessed: “Blessed is the man…” (Psalm 1:1).

The immediately following lines in verses 1-2 do not describe this man’s blessedness but rather his chosen source of information and direction. He does not spend time listening to sinners and scoffers. He doesn’t hang with them or identify with them. They don’t dominate his radio station presets or podcasts, his favorite cable news channel, or his social media feeds. Instead he delights in and mediates on the law of the Lord. He marinates his mind in God’s Word.

The blessing, more accurately, blessings plural, are found in verse 3.

He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
(Psalm 1:3)

The blessings of God are stability and fruitfulness. The blessed man’s roots are established and he is not easily moved by the wind. His source of life is abundant so he is not threatened by the heat. He bears fruit when it is time.

To be blessed is not to be driven by fads or driven by fear or driven to doubt by the wicked chaff. Blessing grows out of our chosen meditation. What do you plan to really think about this next year? It will affect whether you or not you are really blessed.