In my New International Version of the Bible, Matthew 5:3 reads: “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Then in a footnote is this comment: “…poor in spirit. In contrast to the spiritually proud and self-sufficient, theirs is the kingdom of heaven. The kingdom is not something earned. It is more a gift than a recompense.”
I find this last sentence hard to believe. Aren’t we to work hard to make ourselves over into a new creature? But I suppose that our rewards for hard work can be said to be gifts from God, and all are His blessing, even today. It all depends on how one thinks, more or less. I would appreciate your thoughts on this. Thank you.
We must always keep in mind, when reading Bible commentaries and footnotes, that those notes are not part of the inspired text of the Bible. They may facilitate understanding at times, but they have been added by translators, editors or publishers who many times did not themselves understand the plan of God or the true teachings of Scripture.
The last sentence in the comment you cite is an example of this. Nothing in Matthew 5:3 suggests that the Kingdom is “not something earned.” As you say, the author of the comment seems to infer that there is nothing for us to do, no requirement from our side. But how can anyone read the Beatitudes and not realize what Jesus is saying—when He pronounces His blessing upon the “meek,” upon those who “hunger and thirst after righteousness,” upon those who are “merciful” and “pure in heart”—how are we to acquire these traits if we do not give them any conscious effort, just as we would work to acquire any other skill?
Yet, in another sense, the Kingdom cannot be earned. “Earned” implies an equivalent compensation for services rendered. The reward God offers is compensation far out of proportion to anything we can do in the longest lifetime. In this way “It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy” (Romans 9:16 NIV). What can forty, fifty or sixty years of the most dedicated service be worth toward a reward that will continually increase in glory age after age after age? The best we can give is not even remotely equivalent to what God has promised. At the same time, we must meet His requirement: complete obedience. We must love the Lord with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind, and all our strength (Mark 12:30). If we do not, we shall not receive what He has offered. The reward is properly called a recompense in that God will give “to every one according to his work” (Rev. 22:12).
We cannot trust our own judgment, however. We must be sure that everything we believe has its foundation in the Bible, so that we are thinking and teaching God’s thoughts and not our own. That is all that matters.