Lesson for Oct. 30, 2011: Seeking True Happiness (Matthew 5:1-16)

This week’s treatment of the International Sunday School Lesson (for October 30) is written by Jonathan Hentrich, associate pastor with Christ’s Church of the Capital District, Guilderland, New York.


Seeking True Happiness (Matthew 5:1-16)

By Jonathan Hentrich

I want to be happy. Not just to have little moments of smiles and laughter, but to have true happiness. I crave a confidence deep in my soul to know that I am content, full of purpose, and alive! Like David Thoreau once said, “I want to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life.


Jesus’ Definition

In today’s text, Jesus never uses the word happy; instead, he offers us the chance to be filled. He invites us to become inheritors of a kingdom. He promises that we can see God in our lives. He lets us know how to be blessed and comforted. He says we should transform our lives so we can be a light on a hill and salt in a bland world.

Bible background. Pronunciation guide. Real-life commentary. Discussion questions. Find it all in Standard Lesson Commentary

That is what I long for every day. I don’t want to just exist in my neighborhood. I don’t dream of an average marriage. I don’t desire a ministry that is just doing fine. I want to shine! In the places I go, I want to be that spice that moves experiences from ordinary to extraordinary. These longings raise important questions.

Am I happy? Filled? Blessed?

Is my life a shining light on a hill?

Do I make the situations I encounter more salty or interesting?


A Different Way of Living

If we answer no to any of these questions, then Jesus offers us a new, radical way to live. In the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus lays out a very countercultural way of life that has come to be known as the Beatitudes. In this sermon from early in his ministry, it is interesting to note whom Jesus was addressing. He was still in Israel, speaking to a largely Jewish crowd. We can assume many of them regularly went to synagogue and faithfully listened to the reading of the Scriptures. In today’s world, you would call them good church attendees. Somehow, back then, people were able to be religious without living lives that made them a light on a hill or salt to the earth. Jesus challenged his audience to a higher calling. His clear intention in the Beatitudes was to coax us to move beyond mere religious activity. His words implore us to change how we approach every situation.

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Being “poor in spirit” could mean admitting I don’t have all the answers. When I “mourn,” I need to let people see how I am really doing. In order to “hunger and thirst for righteousness,” I need to tell the truth, even when it hurts. To be “meek,” I must be OK with someone else getting the credit for the project. Being “merciful” requires being nice to people who are really difficult to love. To have “purity of heart” means doing good things, even if no one notices. Being a “peacemaker” means admitting to my spouse that I was wrong. In order to be “persecuted,” I must do something that puts me in danger.

Truly, Jesus’ ways are very different from our own, but I believe Jesus’ definition of happiness is true. How many days have we spent doing the opposite of what Jesus urges us to do in the Beatitudes? We look out for ourselves, avoid difficult situations, hide our feelings, try to get ahead without considering the feelings of others, shade the truth, and try really hard to make people think we have it all together. We live like this all the time in an attempt to be happy, but if we stop to evaluate the situation, we know deep down it’s not working.

I have the privilege of leading a few mission trips each year to Third World countries. On these trips our teams sacrifice time and money to work extremely hard, get dirty, travel to unsafe places, and serve other people’s basic needs. For one week, the team members live out the Beatitudes—and what do they find? They feel content, full of purpose, and truly alive. They find that they are happy—truly happy.

Have you had a similar experience? Why do you think you felt truly happy at that time?


Jesus Wants Us to Live Like that Every Day

Most of us can’t live in a Third World country, but there are practical ways we can demonstrate and experience the truth of the Beatitudes in our lives. Is there a conversation we normally would avoid? What if we engaged? Are there situations where we always try to be noticed? What if we helped shine the limelight on someone else? Is there someone we normally would walk past or ignore? What if we found a way to serve him or her? What if we confessed some sin, let someone else go first in line, gave some money away, or drove to the rough part of town and found a place to volunteer?

What is one way you can practice the Beatitudes today?

What would happen if we started to live this way?

If we trust in the words of Jesus, we know we will start to shine, and that people around us will find us more salty and interesting. We will start to remind them and ourselves that 2,000 years ago a carpenter said some things about bringing new life, not just ordinary life, to the world. This life called Jesus to walk with fishermen, have no home, party with tax collectors, and wash people’s feet. And it was an abundant life.

What is this new life calling you to do?


*Scripture quotations are from the New International Version.

October 24: Proverbs 16:16-20
October 25: Isaiah 61:1-7
October 26: Psalm 37:10-17
October 27: Isaiah 26:7-11
October 28: Luke 6:32-36
October 29: Psalm 73:10-26
October 30: Matthew 5:1-12



Jonathan Hentrich serves as associate pastor with Christ’s Church of the Capital District in Guilderland, New York, where he leads the mission team that includes trips and projects each year in Guatemala, Mexico, Zimbabwe, and inner-city Albany, New York.

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