Pure in Heart
Purity is a pathway to happiness. God our Creator knows we are dust; we are sinners and not morally perfect. Still He loves us and calls us to single-eyed devotion. We are to strive to be like Jesus, who said, “Happy are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” This is the most demanding Beatitude.
I. The Pure
The New Testament word is katharos, from which we get our English word catharsis, meaning to purge or cleanse. It can refer to a cleansing of one’s emotions as well as physical cleansing. In Greek, the word means to be without mixture, unpolluted, uncontaminated.
When we say pure, we think of something sanitized or well-scrubbed. The term occurs twenty-eight times in the New Testament. It can be used to describe clean water, white linen, clear glass, or gold without alloy, as well as moral purity.
The Hebrews meant ritual cleanliness when they referred to being clean. An animal brought to the Temple for sacrifice had to be without blemish; a priest had to be without deformity; and a worshipper must have kept the law and avoided contact with blood, the dead, or Gentiles.
Jesus objected to this purely external measure of religious cleanliness. He accused the Pharisees of cleaning only the outside of the cup, or of being white-washed tombs with dead men’s bones inside.
Jesus wants inward purity, from the heart. We are called to love God, our neighbor, and even our enemy. Compassionless orthodoxy is not enough.
In Jesus’s day, religious show-offs would pray aloud standing on busy street corners. They would make a gift and blow a trumpet to call attention to it. They would fast and look sad-faced. Such religious performances were done for recognition of people more so than for God.
Jesus said that they had their reward. They wanted to be seen to be religious; they were and that public recognition was their total payment. Paid in full!
Sincere comes from a Latin word which means “without wax.” An ancient sculptor would fill the flaws in the marble with white wax, which was hardly permanent. Greek actors wore masks on the stage. That practice is the root meaning of our word hypocrite, which stands for pretense or sham.
Jesus once took a child as an object lesson to show that the Lord wants us to be authentic, without guile or pretense. There should be about our lives what Roy McClain called “the ring of the real.” We are not to be double-minded, for no one can serve two masters. A spiritual double life is impossible.
The Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard said that happiness is “to will one thing.” Those who lie come to live by lies, as they tell one to cover another. Always tell the truth, in word and in deed, and then you can relax without worry of covering your tracks.
Woe to the double-minded. Blessed are those with single-eyed devotion. The pure in heart shall see God.
II. Pure in Heart
The term heart describes the whole, not simply the seat of one’s emotions. It means the mind, body, soul, and will.
Has worship become uninteresting to you? Does reading the Bible have no meaning? Do you find yourself saying, “I get nothing out of the services or the sermon?”
Perhaps you are not being honest with God. Maybe you have filled your mind and life with impurity and you are avoiding God like an unpaid creditor. We must be on guard, for “the heart is deceitful and desperately wicked,” literally a Jacob or trickster (
We all have problems about acting from mixed motives. A teenage girl said to her mother, “Mom, I’m not sure I’m nice to people because I like them, or because I want them to think I’m a neat kid.”
Sometimes we do the right things for the wrong reasons. A person may become a physician, teacher, or minister out of a sense of call, or they may enter a profession for the money and prestige.
We may come to church for a variety of reasons: because it is socially acceptable; out of habit; from a felt need to worship, find comfort, and fellowship; and/or to express gratitude for God’s blessings. Contrast those who act from mixed motives with the pure in heart.
III. Their Reward: “They shall see God.”
This sounds strange in the light of
“Earth’s crammed with heaven,
and every common bush alive with God,
Yet only those who see take off their shoes.”
The poets, prophets, and mystics get a glimpse of God. Moses saw where God passed by, but no one has seen God physically, for he is Spirit. Still, we are aware of God’s presence and that can be very real. Indeed, the purpose of preaching and worship is to make people aware of the divine Presence and will.
You will note that Jesus’ phrase has a future reference, “they shall see God.” In
Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote his famous poem “Crossing the Bar” when he was eighty. He made his son promise that every book of his published works would be concluded with this poem:
Sunset and evening star,
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea,
But such a tide as moving sound asleep,
Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
Turns again home.
Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
When I embark.
For tho’ from out our bourne of Time and place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crost the bar.1
Lloyd Ogilvie paraphrases this Beatitude: “Happiness is having eyes in your heart,” eyes to live by the Unseen; eyes to see people and life itself through the lens of Christ’s life.
God sees and knows us, including our unworthy motives. “The Word of God judges the thoughts and intentions of the heart … all things are laid bare to His eyes” (
“Things are different now.
Something happened to me,
Since I gave my heart to Jesus.”
What do you think, what picture comes to mind, when you hear the word “peace”? Perhaps you recall the bold black type of newspaper headlines heralding the end of World War II — V.E. Day and V.J. Day. Or you may see a family, reconciled and reunited, living in love and joy.
Perhaps a beautiful scene comes to mind, such as white surf pounding black shore rocks … wisps of fog, lifting from blue-green mountain sides … rugged snow-capped peaks, or a vivid sunset. Maybe peace is more personal to you: the quiet satisfaction of a job well done; the pride you feel in your children; or the sense of the Lord’s presence felt in a time of prayer and worship. Deep peace within is an expression of basic happiness.
Jesus said, “Happy are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God.” Clarence Cranford contended that “There is no goal in our time more fervently desired or more maddenly illusive than the goal of peace.” The poet prayed,
“Take from our souls the strain and stress,
And let our ordered lives confess
The beauty of Thy peace.”
IV. What Is Peace?
Peace is not merely the absence of strife, or else Rip Van Winkle, with his twenty-year nap, would be the patron saint of peace. Zen Buddhism sees peace as one man alone in a grassy meadow, the epitome of tranquility. Christianity views peace as all men together in usefulness and harmony, with God in their midst. Peace is not appeasement, but a positive good.
In the Old Testament shalom refers to one’s highest good and well-being. Peace means health, harmony, and unity. The Hebrews longed for the Day of the Lord, when the Messiah would reign as “Prince of Peace” and nations would study war no more. The lamb will lie down with the lion in that coming day.
In the New Testament eirene is applied to peace with God, or spiritual peace. Jesus atoned for our sins by His death on the cross and made it possible for us to be reconciled to the God who made us. “Christ is our peace” (
Peace is the gift of God, the fruit of the spirit (
V. Who Are the Peacemakers?
Certainly they include diplomats, such as Averell Harriman and Dag Hammarskjold, but their identity is greater than the rosters of the State Department or the United Nations. Clarence Jordan wrote that “peacemakers are the agents of the kingdom of heaven,” and William Barclay identified them as those who bring men together.
Our world is filled with fences and barriers, including the Berlin Wall, which divides a city, a nation, and Europe. Walking with a young friend in a third world country, she remarked, “I’d hate to think I had to spend my life living behind a wall.”
Peacemakers take down the barriers between people and make the world a better place in which to live. It is significant that we recently marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Peace Corps volunteers. Abraham Lincoln once said that when he was dead he hoped someone would say of him that he always pulled up a weed and planted a flower.
We can all do that; we can make the world better by being peacemakers, bringing God and man together, and bringing people together.
Peacemaking is a lot harder than it sounds. It is easy to be a trouble-maker and fault-finder, and no problem to fan the fire of an old feud, appealing to prejudice, mistrust, and fear. Likewise, it is easy to be critical of others and knock the person at the top. Indeed, trouble-making is easy and can be diabolically fun.
However, it is hard to be an effective peacemaker; to build people up, prevent hostility and war. It is not always easy to respect the dignity of others, to have confidence in them, and believe the best of them. It may be hard to be a supportive team member, but that is important. It makes for positive peace.
Peacemaking is active and not passive. It is not enough to long for peace, or even to love peace. Jesus congratulated those who worked for peace: international tranquility and trade, domestic harmony, and personal contentment.
Peacemakers bring others to God. Buttrick said that the true evangelist is the best peacemaker.
The world reserves its highest honors not for peacemakers, but for warmongers. Westminster Abbey is crammed with memorials to warriors. However, Jesus blessed the peacemakers and their ministry of reconciliation.
Prayer is an effective tool of the peacemaker, along with work. I preached in a church in South America through an interpreter and, during the sermon, I mentioned the biblical admonition to pray for those who govern. This proved to be a helpful word for Christians in a land where there is great resentment toward the government.
VI. The Peacemaker’s Reward
Jesus said that peacemakers shall be called the sons of God. Division is the devil’s work, but unity is God’s work. The word Jesus used for son (huiroi) was used in place of an adjective. A peaceful man was called a son of peace and a comforting person was called a son of consolation (Barnabas). Therefore, we are like our heavenly Father if we are sons of God.
God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, and He has given us this ministry of reconciliation. Peace is positive and peacemakers are the sons of God. What a title!
How do we take the first step in becoming peacemakers? We begin with the civil war in our own lives. First, surrender it to God and receive His gift of peace. Then reach out to people and institutions with the ministry of peacemaking.
The last word is shalom, peace; God’s peace to you.
“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.
The wicked are not so, but are like chaff which the wind drives away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.” (
Note that the Psalms begin with the word “blessed,” which means “O How Happy!”
“For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in Him but also suffer for His sake …” (
You may think, “Well, the eighth Beatitude leaves me out. I’ve never been persecuted for my faith. I wonder what a preacher will do with this text?”
The Greek word for parable is hallo, from which we get the word ballistics. Jesus threw His teachings like a ball, expecting His hearers to catch them and get the point. He seldom explained the teachings, and the Beatitudes are like that. They have a timeless quality.
Jesus’ words are not tame and cannot be readily domesticated. They stab us awake and often leave us amazed. We have an example of Jesus’ sheer honesty in the eighth Beatitude.
It is actually a warning. If you live humbly in a proud world; live purely in a corrupt world; show mercy when others are merciless; or try to make peace in this warring world, you are apt to be grossly misunderstood.
It is surprising what can happen to people who live by the Beatitudes. One would think that the world would be delighted to have such solid citizens. Authentic Christians should be welcome in society, but, often, such is not the case.
Christians are different, holy. Thus, they can become a rebuke to a bad conscience. Others may feel discomfort due to their own selfishness, greed, lust, and war-like attitudes.
Jesus was the best man who ever lived; He personified the Beatitudes, yet they killed Him. People often despise the different, and therefore Christians can become the victims of discrimination and persecution.
The blessing is pronounced on those who suffer for Jesus’ sake. These are people whose goodness gets them into trouble:
– a businessman who refuses to alter the company books on his boss’ order;
– a businesswoman who refuses to sleep her way to a promotion;
– a teenager who refuses to take drugs or drink alcohol at his peers’ insistence.
We are called to stick by our faith in the face of ridicule, to be loyal to Christ at all costs.
It is not hard to trace the blood-stained pages of persecution of the church (and by the church) in history. Jesus’ disciples, to whom He spoke this Beatitude, would learn first-hand what persecution for Christ’s sake was like.
Tradition indicates that only one of the Twelve died in bed. Stephen, a preaching deacon in the Jerusalem church, was stoned. Paul was beaten eight times and shipwrecked three times, also suffering numerous dangers as a church-planter. He “climbed the martyr’s steep ascent to glory” when he was decapitated outside Rome. It is noteworthy that the New Testament word for witness is martus, from which we get the word martyr.
T. R. Glover said that Jesus promised his disciples three things:
1. They would be fearless. Recall Peter’s finest hour, when he said, “We must obey God rather than men” (
2. They would be incredibly happy. Jesus said, “My joy shall be in you” (
3. They would always be in trouble. He predicted, “in the world, you shall have tribulation” (
It was illegal to be a Christian during the first three centuries of the church’s history. Christianity was considered a sect within Judaism, and was subject to anti-Semitism.
The early church was the victim of numerous slanders. They were called atheists and were considered disloyal because they refused to participate in worship of the Emperor. They were said to be cannibals. (Doubtless a pagan overheard the observance of the Lord’s Supper, in which the worship leader says to the congregation, “This is my body … This is my blood, drink ye all of it.”)
Christians were handy scapegoats for the pagan world. We’ve heard that Nero blamed the burning of Rome on the Christians. In North Africa, Augustine said the pagans had a by-word: “If there is no rain, blame the Christians.”
The persecution endured by believers in the first three hundred years of Christian history staggers the imagination. They were thrown to the lions; killed by gladiators in the Coliseum in Rome; put into the ring with bulls; put into sacks with poisonous snakes; and sewn in the skins of wild animals, then thrown to packs of hunting dogs.
They were tortured, having melted lead poured down their backs, with salt and vinegar rubbed into their wounds. They were chained to galley oars and imprisoned in salt mines. On one occasion, Emperor Nero had Christians tied to stakes, covered with pitch, and set on fire, to light his garden party; human torches. How ironic that St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome stands today on the site of Nero’s garden.
Every century has had its Christian martyrs. Visit Oxford University, which was founded in 1250 A.D., and go into High Street. There you will see a monument to the martyrs who were burned at the stake, men like Thomas Cranmer.
Our own twentieth century has had more than its share of Christian martyrs. Our Baptist brethren among the Karen people of Burma have suffered persecution. In China, Bill Wallace, a missionary doctor, was shot in 1949. There are 1000 Baptist churches in Romania, but only two hundred pastors, because the Communist government allows only twelve ministers to enroll in seminary each year.
There are socialist countries where being a Christian means your child cannot study at the university or enter a profession. I have a friend who walked to school with black children who were attending the first integrated school in East Tennessee. Later that morning, he was beaten bloody by members of the White Citizens Council.
The call of the Beatitudes is the call to live by the Christian ethic; to live with integrity. This calls for a politician to be honest and not subscribe to Sam Rayburn’s dictum, “If you want to get along, go along.” Integrity requires a merchant to be fair and not cut corners with his customers.
We are called to live in relationship with our Shepherd-King and to deal honestly with one another. Compromise with the world and its standards is out. Don’t be surprised that you are misunderstood and persecuted when you live by the Beatitudes.
“Rejoice and be glad,” Jesus said, “for you have a reward in heaven” (
George Bernard Shaw said the finest compliment an author can receive is to have his book burned. Persecution for one’s faith provides an opportunity to demonstrate loyalty to Christ. To suffer for Christ is a privilege most of us will never know. Those who are so persecuted are in good company, a noble group. It includes the prophets: Moses, Elijah, Amos, and Jeremiah. Certainly it includes God’s Son, Jesus. They join the “cloud of witnesses” described in the Epistle to the Hebrews. “Brothers we are treading where the saints have trod.”
The book of Revelation depicts a drama at two levels. One shows the church militant, on earth and suffering persecution. At the same time, the church triumphant is shown in heaven, in praise about God’s throne. That is the reality of the church, both here and there.
The Beatitudes are Jesus’ self-portrait. He was genuinely humble and showed mercy. Jesus was acquainted with grief, sorrow, and was pure in heart. Jesus is the Prince of Peace and, still, the world executed Him, God’s best. “For the joy set before him he endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (
Jesus’ Beatitudes are His invitation to joy, peace, and real happiness. He pronounced those who live by the Beatitudes to be congratulated, happy, blessed. Therefore, we live as Kingdom people.
1. Tennyson, Alfred Lord, Masterpiece of Religious Verse (Harper & Row, 1948), No. 1991