Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Matthew 5:8
Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote, “Now and then men’s minds and hearts are stretched by a new idea and never shrink back to their original dimensions.” Certainly the Sermon on the Mount is such an idea. And certainly our lives are being stretched never to be the same again.
We come now to the sixth beatitude, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”
What It Means
The Greek word for pure is katharos. We get our name Kathryn from it. Besides being a wonderful name, katharos has several uses.
It can mean “clean,” as in “Are the clothes clean?”
It can mean “sifted,” as in “Has this wheat been winnowed?”
It can even mean “purged,” as in “Has this army unit been purged of all cowardly and ineffective soldiers?”
It can mean “unmixed,” as in “This wine hasn’t been watered down, has it?”
And, finally, katharos can also mean “unalloyed,” as in “This ring is pure gold. It has not been alloyed with any other metal.”
So, what does the sixth beatitude mean? “O the bliss, the blessed fulfillment of the pure, the clean of heart, those unalloyed . . .”
It is a fair question to ask what it means to be “pure of heart.” The Greek word for heart is kardia which means “the middle,” or “the thoughts and feelings and will of a human.” Simply put, the heart is the center of one’s personality.
Hence, the purity Jesus is speaking of is not so much the outer cleanliness of a scrubbed face, clean hands and feet. Rather, it is the inner cleanliness of thoughts, motives and feelings.
As an example, consider the Pharisees of Jesus’ day. They dressed with ceremonial appropriateness, ritually washed their faces and hands, and extraordinarily performed every religious rite— fasting, tithing, praying, praising. Yet in Luke 11:39 Jesus criticized these Pharisees harshly, “You make clean the outside of the cup, but your inward part is full of extortion and wickedness.”
You see, it’s rather easy to look religious by getting dressed up, taking a seat on a pew, being baptized, having your name on a church roll and mouthing a hymn. But while one sits there looking pious, one can be brimming full of jealousy, lust, pride, and anger.
Martin Luther wrote, “Christ wants to have the heart pure, though outwardly the person may be a drudge in the kitchen, black, sooty, grimy, doing all sorts of dirty work.”
So, “blessed are the pure in heart . . . , fulfilled are the clean, the unalloyed, the sifted, the purged . . . blessed are these pure, not just on the surface, but inside as well.” That is something of what this beatitude means.
Now this . . .
The Trouble With Purity
Sigmund Freud, the father of modern psychology, taught that there are only two motives: sex and money.
If in your busy week you will pause and inquire of yourself, “Why am I doing this?” you will surely find you have some hope for financial gain or you are flirting so as to be thought clever, attractive, and even desirable sexually. Truly these two motives lurk in the shadows of the human heart, motivating what we do. Oh, we may deceive ourselves, veneer our motives with pious talk, but as the prophet Jeremiah observed, “The heart is deceitful above all else, and desperately corrupt. Who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9).
In 1971 I visited the Soviet Union. While in Leningrad I found an old Christian cathedral now housing a museum of atheism. Inside was chronicled every failure, every sham, every loveless deed of Christendom. I’ll never forget holding a lovely crucifix, golden and bejeweled. The curator smiled and said, “Nice, isn’t it? But push this button and see what happens!” I did and to my horror, a dagger blade shot forth from the bottom of the cross. Such is the human heart.
Several years ago, at the height of the televangelists’ sex and money scandals, Skip Stogsdill and I interviewed Billy Graham at the Grove Park Inn in Asheville, North Carolina. “How do you stay pure, Mr. Graham?” we inquired. “I constantly run scared,” the great evangelist confessed. “Why, I can look in my life and see the depths of hell.” And so can we all, if we’re honest. For ever since the fall, sin has reigned, bringing every sort of base motive, falsehood and ravening wolflike desire within.
But now this!
How to Achieve Purity of Motives
A hard-bitten American businessman watched a young and pretty Christian nurse clean a man’s gangrenous leg. The puss and odor were utterly revolting and the man exclaimed, “I wouldn’t do that for a million dollars!” The nurse looked up, met his eye, and quietly spoke, “I wouldn’t either. But I will do it for Jesus.”
Obviously there are other possible motives beside sex and money. True, the unregenerate may be pushed and pulled by a chaos of urges all cantering around money and sex. But for the regenerate, the born-again, the spirit-filled Christian, there is the fact of a new heart and a new motivation.
I call it “The most amazing picture of the twentieth century.” It is the photograph of a man in a South African hospital. He is sitting up in bed, holding a jar in his hands, and looking at his own heart! The man had received a heart transplant so now he was examining his old, diseased one.
In the Scriptures we are told our old kardia is sin diseased. There is no purity in it. It is turned to stone before God. Yet our Lord Jesus, the great physician, can perform spiritual surgery on us, take out our old heart, and give us a new one. In Ezekiel 11:19 God promises, “I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.”
Once any of us has received this spiritual transplant a whole new array of motives comes into play. One may observe this in First and Second Corinthians. The apostle Paul had gone to Corinth to minister. And he found it one tough city! They criticized his preaching, did not respect his authority, refused to pay him, infighting broke out among the congregation, and drunkenness and sexual immorality were apparent.
Any time you think your church has problems just go read Corinthians!
The question is, why would a man of Paul’s caliber tough it out among the Corinthians? It certainly wasn’t for sex or money! This is why it is so exciting to read the letters Paul wrote to the Corinthians. They are among his most intensely personal epistles. It is as if Paul takes the top off his head and lets you look inside. For there you can discern his motives.
In 1 Corinthians 15:11-21, Paul writes about the motivating power of love. “For the love of Christ constrains us.” Elsewhere he mentions the motivating power of gratitude, duty, hope, beauty, reward and faithfulness. Then in 2 Corinthians 5:11, he mentions fear as a motivation. “Therefore, knowing the fear of God, we persuade men.”
There is fear that debilitates; these are your basic human phobias. But there is fear that facilitates, the sort of fear related to awe, respect, and reverence. The facilitating fear is what Paul is talking about. It is the fear of the Lord!
I’ll never forget taking my son Bryan with me to a university debate on abortions. I was representing the pro-life point of view while my worthy opponent took the pro-abortion position.
I was nervous. The feminist I was to debate was polished, intelligent, and wily.
I arrived three hours early, went over my reams of notes, prayed feverently, couldn’t eat, and paced in a garden. All the while my 12-year-old son tagged along. Finally, Bryan looked me squarely in the eye and said, “You’re scared, aren’t you, Dad?” I told him I was. “But what are you scared of?” he pushed. I confessed I was scared I wouldn’t do a good job. I was frightened my opponent would make me look silly.
“Then why didn’t you just stay home?” he asked. And he reminded my favorite television show was airing at that very hour.
I grew quiet for some time. And when finally I spoke again, I had the answer from my own heart, a new motivation Christ himself had put there. “I am afraid, Son. Fearful of being unprepared, of being made to look silly in front of hundreds of students, but most of all I fear God. What will his judgement be for our nation when we sit back and allow over a million babies a year to be slaughtered by abortion?”
So you see, God can take away our impure motives and replace them with love, reverence, a sense of beauty, faithfulness, hope, heavenly reward. As Jesus himself said, “Out of the heart flow streams of living water!”
You will notice in the sixth beatitude that the Lord offers a reward for the pure in heart. This is the case with every beatitude. For the poor in spirit there is the kingdom of heaven. For the mournful, comfort. For the meek, an inheritance of the earth. For the hungry and thirsty, satisfaction. For the merciful, mercy. But for the pure in heart, there is the most special gift of all! “They shall see God!”
Think of it! We shall behold the Creator, the Almighty God, Ancient of days. The indescribable Holy One in whose heart was born the divine redeeming strategy of the incarnation, the cross, the resurrection, and the indwelling fullness of His Spirt. We shall see him! And that will forever be enough!
Lord, take my diseased heart and give me yours that my motives might be pure. For Christ’s sake. Amen.