16 January 2023

Blessings and woes: What are the consequences of our choices?

Major Elwyn Harries

Major Elwyn Harries asks how often we count on blessings.

Key text

How often do you use or hear the word ‘woe’ mentioned in everyday conversation? Personally, I never use it and it’s been many years since the warning ‘woe betide you if...’ was used to try and keep me on the straight and narrow.

On the other hand, I use the word ‘blessing’ – or its derivatives – several times a day. I conclude every correspondence with the words ‘God bless’. I consistently ask God to bless those I intercede for, and I regularly speak of God’s blessings. I prefer to speak of blessings rather than woes.

I suggest we begin our study of Luke 6:17–26 by looking at blessings before moving on to consider woes.

Pause and reflect

  • Read the passage and make a list of the blessings you have received from God. We’ll come back to that list later.

There are two Greek words used throughout the New Testament that are translated into English as ‘blessing’ or ‘blessed’. There is an important distinction between them.

The word eulogeo is used to describe situations when God provides specific blessings for an individual or community, often in response to prayer (see Matthew 14:19; Luke 6:28; Hebrews 6:14).

The word makarios is used to describe the state of blessedness that is experienced by those who have chosen to accept Christ. It is this second word that Jesus uses in our text as he speaks directly to his disciples in verse 20.

Jesus does not promise his followers a life of blessings (eulogeo). In fact, in verse 22, he warns them of trouble and persecution. He does, however, assure them of an eternal state of blessedness (makarios), which is the natural consequence of choosing to live in him and for him (see John 16:33; Matthew 10:22; 1 Peter 4:16).

Jesus expounds on passages such as Isaiah 43:1–5, where God promises that when – not if – challenges come, he will be with his people. He has redeemed them. They will not be overcome. They need not be afraid.

This state of blessedness is the assurance that we are loved ‘with an everlasting love’ (Jeremiah 31:3). It is ‘life in all its fullness’ (John 10:10 Good News Bible). It is not dependent upon – nor is it determined by – receiving God’s blessings (eulogeo). It is to know God’s peace, presence, joy and assurance, and is a foretaste of how Heaven will be.

Paul understands the difference. In Philippians 4, he describes times of being in need and of having plenty. His bold assertion, that he has learnt to be content in every circumstance, surely describes the makarios state of blessedness that comes only through knowing Christ, who gives him strength (see Philippians 4:12 and 13).

Pause and reflect

  • Look at your list of blessings again. Can you identify which category each blessing falls into? It might help to compare the eulogeo-type blessings that Johnson Oatman invites us to tally in ‘Count Your Blessings’ (SASB 909) with the makarios-type that Fanny Crosby talks of in ‘Blessèd Assurance’ (SASB 455).

What about the woes? If the state of blessedness that Jesus speaks of is the natural consequence of our choice to receive him, then it follows that the woes describe the natural consequences of not doing so.

The Greek word for ‘woe’, ouai, is used 47 times in the New Testament and almost always by Jesus. It speaks not of threat or punishment – ‘woe betide you if...’ – but of deep grief and sorrow. It tells of the pain when, by choosing not to receive him, the Saviour’s children miss out on the blessedness that could be theirs.

Jonah’s prayer in Jonah 2:8 and 9 is a helpful lens through which to view the depth of this truth: ‘Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs. But I, with a song of thanksgiving, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good. Salvation comes from the Lord’ (New International Version 1984).

Note the word ‘forfeit’ in this translation. Jonah acknowledges that those who choose not to accept God’s loving rule forfeit his grace and remove themselves from the place of blessedness that could be theirs. In the light of that realisation, Jonah praises God, recommits himself to him, renews his vows and, eventually, completes his mission. God always provides an opportunity for us to change our minds.

Photo shows an ornament displaying the word 'bless'.

Luke 6:22

Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man.

Read the passage in Luke

In our study passage, Luke reinforces the message that our choices have consequences through the literary style of writing that he employs. The four states of blessedness directly correspond with the four woes – poor/rich, hungry/full, weeping/laughing, hated/respected. They are laid out in a kind of sandwich, in the very centre of which, at the point of transference from blessings to woes, is ‘the Son of Man’ (v22).

The blessed life is the God-given birthright of those who choose to follow Christ. The woes are the natural consequence of those who choose not to. This is not carrot-and-stick reward and punishment. This is the natural way of things created by a loving, merciful, holy and just God.

Jesus speaks of past, present and future realities and, with deep grief, he warns that the natural consequence for those who put their hope in the things of Earth is receiving only the temporary and transient things this world offers. Whereas those who choose to put their trust in him are assured of a life and eternity of blessedness.

Pause and reflect

  • Do you experience eulogeo and makarios blessings in your life?
  • What does ‘blessed assurance’ mean to you?
  • How might God want you to use your blessings and blessedness to serve him and others?

Bible study by

Elwyn Harries

Major Elwyn Harries

Regional Wellbeing Officer (London), Wellbeing Department

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