Blessed are the Pure in Heart
Psalm 24 & Matthew 5:8
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God (Matt 5:8 NIV)
This Beatitude is perhaps the most central and significant of all the Beatitudes written in Matthew 5.
It’s not possible to:
- Be poor in spirit, without having a pure heart;
- Mourn for the things that offend God, without having a pure heart;
- Be meek, hunger and thirst for righteousness, be a peacemaker or
- Be prepared to stand persecution for Jesus’ name, without having a pure heart.
In reality, this is one of the most central principles of the Christian life and is seen in the whole Bible. Pure in heart; I guess we all have an idea of what that might mean. Let’s start out with a brief search on the words pure and heart.
Macquarie Dictionary says: Free from extraneous matter, or from mixture with anything of a different, inferior, or contaminating kind.
Oxford Dictionary says: Not mixed or adulterated with any other substance or material; free of any contamination;
Greek Lexicon says: Katharos—clean, unsoiled, sincere, unfeigned, upright, virtuous, void of evil.
Macquarie Dictionary says: This organ considered as the seat of life or vital powers, of thought, feeling or emotion;
Oxford Dictionary says: The heart regarded as the centre of a person’s thought and emotions, especially love or compassion;
Lexicon says: Regarded as the seat of feeling, impulse, affection, desire.
Of course, there are other meanings—the Macquarie Dictionary listed 19 definitions for pure and 14 for heart. Given these meanings, how do they measure up to what Jesus might be telling us when he spoke about being pure in heart?
Psalm 24 verses 3 and 4: 3 Who may ascend the mountain of the LORD? Who may stand in his holy place?
4 The one who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not trust in an idol or swear by a false god (NIV).
Rather clear isn’t it—the people going up the hill of God and who stand in his holy place, are the ones with a pure heart. In Psalm 24 David describes a victory procession. Before it can begin, the question is asked, who may join in. The answer—those who align themselves with God, whose actions and motives are pure, who don’t align themselves to lies. Verses 5 & 6 give the promise of receiving Yahweh’s righteousness. Only then the procession begins and Yahweh has a new title—King of Glory.
We see here that these people are morally upright, not simply ritually clean. Clean hands indicated they were ritually clean.
But these people were single-minded in their commitment to God.
The admissions committee of a private Christian college was interviewing candidates. A certain set of questions were asked and somewhat surprisingly, the answers given were very similar: What will you do after you gain admission to this college? I will endeavour to gain the best education I can. What will you do after you have earned your degree? I will secure a good job. After that? Well, I will earn a good deal of money and have a happy life. After that? Enjoy my retirement. And what’s after that? No response, and usually the conversation ended there.
We have here a series of single-minded goals. Goals we probably hold or have held ourselves. Absolutely nothing wrong with them. Where would our goals differ from those of the prospective students? The people going to the hill of God are single-minded in their commitment to God. They are cleansed of their moral—as opposed to ceremonial—defilement. This is important because Jesus took up this theme of ceremonial cleanness when debating with the Pharisees over their obsession with outward ceremonial purity.
Matthew 23:25 & 26: Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.
Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean (NIV). And in verse 27 he says they are like whitewashed tombs—beautiful on the outside but inside full of everything unclean. It is becoming clear, I think, that pure in heart has a solid link to being pure and clean on the inside, not just the outside. Another way of putting it might be that very few of us live one life out in the open. I think it’s fairly safe to say most of us are tempted to have different roles, using different masks for different occasions in life. In other words, we are tempted to play-act. I find I have to keep asking myself:
- am I more interested in popularity or principle;
- am I concerned more with making an impression or doing what is right;
- am I more concerned about my reputation than my character;
- what is on my mind when I’m alone and don’t have to “impress”.
In other words, is pleasing others at least sometimes more important than pleasing God? The danger in play-acting is that we risk losing the real person! Not Jesus though—what you see is the real thing, all the time. Absolutely pure in heart, entirely without deception. I have to stand with David when he says in Psalm 51:10:
Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me (NIV).
A pure heart can perhaps be put this way:
- living by the rule of God—living a life that is pleasing to God;
- living for the purpose of God—having a single-minded devotion to God.
Always, the focus has been not a matter of outward observance of rules and regulations, but of heart attitude towards God. In Deuteronomy 10:16 Moses said:
So cut away the thick calluses from your heart and stop being so willfully hard-headed (MSG).
Jesus quoted Isaiah 29:13 in Matthew 15:8 & 9:
These people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules (NIV).
I guess it might be easier to follow rules and forget the heart. Aren’t we more careful to “keep clean” the things seen by others and forget about the things only God can see? The tendency seems to be to keep up appearances before man, while forgetting to be at one, in line, with God. Having a pure heart is having a heart committed to living my life in such a way that it is totally pleasing to God, because as 1 Chronicles 28:9 says:
And you, my son Solomon, acknowledge the God of your father, and serve him with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind, for the LORD searches every heart and understands every desire and every thought. If you seek him, he will be found by you; but if you forsake him, he will reject you forever (NIV).
Remember David’s prayer at the end of Psalm 139:
Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting (NIV).
Is it our prayer? Having a pure heart is living a life pleasing to God and living for no other purpose than to have a heart absolutely pleasing to Him. To give our heart to anything other than this is spiritual adultery. James 4:4 & 8:
You’re cheating on God. If all you want is your own way, flirting with the world every chance you get, you end up enemies of God and his way. Say a quiet yes to God and he’ll be there in no time. Quit dabbling in sin. Purify your inner life. Quit playing the field (MSG).
We’ve talked about what a pure heart is, but what does it mean for us today? In order to have a pure heart we need to first realise that we ourselves can in no way achieve a heart that is morally pure and completely devoted to God. If we don’t recognise this when we are probably believing Satan’s lie that human effort is all that is required. A pure heart is a gift from God. The gift comes by our recognition of our need for God and accepting Him and all He offers, which makes us a new creation, with the Spirit living in us. To maintain our heart purity, it is most important to be soaking ourselves in God’s word. Being accountable to one another through fellowship with brothers and sisters in the LORD is another way. Hebrews 10:24 encourages us:
And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds (NIV).
And, we can further maintain our heart purity by living and doing the work God asks of us. By doing so, God uses us to bless others and it encourages us in our devotion to God. Just in case you are beginning to think, but I’m still going to fail, remember, for the times we do blow it, we have the blessing of being able to come to our God and repent, asking forgiveness. And, we have our armour to put on—Ephesians 6.
In this Beatitude, the blessing is that those with a pure heart will see God. It’s what we look forward to—after college degrees, after good jobs, after a happy life, after a good retirement. Literally seeing God, being with Him for eternity. And the only way this happens is to have established a relationship with Him through Jesus. In John 14:6 Jesus says:
I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me (NIV).
Do we have to wait to enjoy God’s presence? No! We see Him now with the eye of faith. We see God in Scripture, in prayer, in Christian service, in all of life’s situations. Most especially do we see Him in times of trial and hardship. John Stott put it this way:
Only the pure in heart will see God, see him now with the eye of faith and see his glory in the hereafter, for only the utterly sincere can bear the dazzling vision in whose light the darkness of deceit must vanish and by whose fire all shams are burned up.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Thank you Lord for being the perfect example of purity of heart. Please show us areas where we have mixed motives or hypocrisy. Will you help us to have greater sincerity and singleness of heart before you and others. Amen.
Blanchard, John, 1996. The Beatitudes for Today-Day, Day One Publications, Leominster, UK.
Broyles, Craig, C, 1999. Psalms, Baker Books, Grand Rapids, USA.
Christian, Immanuel, 2003. Studies in the gospel of Matthew. Lesson 15 in series, bible.org
Expository Dictionary of Bible Words, 2005. Stephen D Renn, ed., Hendrickson Publishers, Massachusetts, USA.
Holy Bible, NIV & The Message versions.
Osborne, Grant R, 2010. Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: Matthew, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Oxford Dictionary, http://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/definition
Stott, John, 1998. The Beatitudes: Developing Spiritual Character, IVP, Nottingham, UK.
Tasker, RVG, 1961. Matthew: An Introduction and Commentary, IVP, Leicester, England.
The Macquarie Dictionary, 1990. Arthur Delbridge Editor in Chief, Macquarie Library Pty Ltd, Australia.
The New analytical Greek Lexicon, 1990. Wesley J Perschbacher, Ed., Hendrickson Publishers Inc., Massachusetts, USA.