Purity of Heart
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Matthew 5:8
“If somehow we could get every person to examine his/her own heart, our task of evangelism would be easy”—how many times have we heard, or perhaps expressed, that sentiment? The beatitude quoted above is certainly one of the most profound, pointed, and penetrating proclamations our Lord ever uttered. It would not be an overstatement to say that “Blessed are the pure in heart” is what Christianity is all about. Regardless of one’s faithfulness to the forms/actions of religion, the heart must be right in God’s sight. The Pharisees of Jesus’ day were so concerned about the externals of serving God they seemed to forget the “weightier matters”: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone.” Matthew 23:23. Make no mistake—careful obedience to details of what God commands is important! Some people react to the thought of “obedience” by going to an opposite extreme: “Doesn’t matter about obedience if the heart is right.” The prophet Samuel’s rebuke to King Saul was: “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, He also has rejected you from being king.” 1 Samuel 15:22, 23. Actually, careful obedience to God’s will proceeds from a pure heart, intent on doing exactly what God requires.
The heart, of which Jesus speaks, is neither the physical heart which pumps blood to all parts of our body, nor exclusively referring to our emotions. The Bible heart is best defined in Scripture by those actions it is said to perform. This heart can:
Love - “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” Matthew 22:37
Trust – “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding.” Proverbs 3:5
Purpose – “So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver. 2 Corinthians 9:7
Think – “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12
Reason – “When Jesus perceived in His spirit that they reasoned thus within themselves, He said to them, ‘Why do you reason about these things in your hearts?’ ” Mark 2:8
Purity of heart, then, involves our ability to obey God with our love, trust, purpose, thinking, and reasoning. Purity of heart in the Sermon on the Mount refers to that “singleness” of intention (Matthew 6:22), that determination to focus on God and His will for our lives.
Our hearts have not only the potential for good, but also for evil. Jesus explained this principle to the Pharisees who were critical of Him and His disciples for eating without the traditional washing of hands—”What comes out of a man, that defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness.” Mark 7:20-22
So much of the social thinking about the problems of mankind has focused on the environment in which mankind lives. What was wrong with the environment in the Garden of Eden? Yet man fell into sin and unhappiness!
The importance of the “pure in heart” beatitude is seen in the significance attached to the heart in the Scriptures. Consider the following examples: (1) the people before the flood: “Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” Genesis 6:5. (2) God’s statement to the prophet Samuel: “For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7. (3) David’s declaration: “He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.” Psalm 23:3. (4) Solomon’s inspired advice: “Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life.” Proverbs 4:23
Has there ever been a time in which it was more difficult to “keep our hearts” than the time in which we live? It is as if Satan’s influence permeates every part of the entertainment industry—movies, television, books, magazines, and the internet—all are used as tools of Satan to produce impure hearts. Also, we are often in the company of those with impure hearts. How does God tell us that we may have a pure heart? It is by the exercise of a will determined to follow God. Specifics include the following actions on our part: We cleanse our hearts by faith (Acts 15:7-9) which produces obedience. “Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart, having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever.” 1 Peter 1:22, 23. As a Christian, we pray as the Psalmist did: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” Psalm 51:10. Submission to God in the words of James, “bondservant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,” will do much for our heart: “Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.” James 4:7-10.
Deliberate thinking, perhaps even reciting in our minds certain passages, will help us to keep our hearts pure. Christians for two millennia have found the apostle Paul’s advice to be most helpful: “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.” Philippians 4:8
May our prayers include the request: “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer.” Psalm 19:14