The next characteristic in our study of the Beatitudes is Purity of Heart. The word for pure in Greek is katharos [clean, pure, unsoiled]; the concept is brought forward from the Old Testament ideas of ritual cleanliness, such as handwashing, but I will give you 2 instances where the ritual symbol & moral integrity are united to show God's ultimate purpose.
Isaiah 52:11 from Youngs Literal Translation: Turn aside, turn aside, go out thence, The unclean touch not, go out from her midst, Be ye pure, who are bearing the weapons of Jehovah.
Psalm 24:3~4: [NASB] Who may ascend into the hill of the LORD? And who may stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, Who has not lifted up his soul to falsehood And has not sworn deceitfully.
The Book of Common Prayer in its General Confession puts it this way:
Most merciful God,
we confess that we have sinned against you
in thought, word, and deed,
by what we have done,
and by what we have left undone.
We have not loved you with our whole heart;
we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.
There are sins of omission as well as sins of commission. Both have their root in the selfishness of the human heart. It is not only our actions that reveal who we truly are & what we truly believe: our thoughts & words also betray us.
Once again Jesus is stressing it is not only our outward actions that matter. Nor is it simply a matter of our will & our mind. It is a matter of our core values, those things we hold closest to our heart.
We mentioned last week the discrepancy in the divorce rate between Christians & Jews. The key difference we identified lay in our expectations. Western culture teaches us to get what we can; Judaism stresses what we can give. Thus we have books like: The Art of The Deal, t.v shows like Survivor, quips like: You're the weakest link! It takes real mindfulness to stop & reverse this sort of thinking that preys on the weak & seeks to manipulate even the strongest for it's own advantage.
The writer to the Hebrews stresses the importance of our heart position when he states: Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord:[12:14]
There is a most delicate balancing act in this study. On one hand Jesus is explicitly calling us to action. On the other, none of it is possible without the grace of God. It is God who initiates, God who enables, God who strengthens us when we falter.
"...continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God who works in you to will and to act on behalf of His good pleasure. [Philippians 2:13]
I remind you again holiness is not an abstract word, as it seems in English. It simply means to be set apart for the purposes of God. Our actions may not always be pure, moral, right, but we ourselves are holy because we have been set apart by God for His plans & purposes. Part of becoming pure is to come into agreement with God by setting ourselves apart from worldly things that God might use us for Kingdom purposes.
It is not very popular any more, but the Christian life has always been a disciplined life. We receive, as gifts freely given, salvation, grace, forgiveness, mercy & probably the most heartfelt & honest prayer is: "Help!" Help to be who God sees us as. Help to do what God calls us to do. Help to be what God calls us to be. He has equipped us with everything we need through His Holy Spirit to walk the walk & mature in the Christian life but He only leads step by step. We have to follow. If we simply sit on our laurels content to be saved but progressing no further then our relationship with God will never grow & deepen ~ & we will never see Him!
Now I don't think this means we won't see Him in Heaven simply because nothing impure can enter Heaven but we are warned in 1st Corinthians 3:13~ 15: [NLT] But on the judgment day, fire will reveal what kind of work each builder has done. The fire will show if a person's work has any value. If the work survives, that builder will receive a reward. But if the work is burned up, the builder will suffer great loss. The builder will be saved, but like someone barely escaping through a wall of flames.
Everything Jesus was teaching was about building the Kingdom of God. This is the work He left for us to do, whether it is casting out demons, healing the sick, preaching the word, practising mercy, giving alms, prayer....whatever it is, if it is done with wrong motives, with an impure heart, it will not benefit either us or the Kingdom of God & worse it will make it much more difficult for us to Hear & experience God. It is absolutely essential that we agree with the Holy Spirit on this one for He will reveal to us the path in which we need to walk.
John tells us that God is Light ~ & in Him there is no darkness at all. Just think about that for a moment. The Father is Light without darkness. Jesus is light without darkness. The Holy Spirit is light without darkness. Are you beginning to see? Do you understand? God's Holy Spirit, His Light, His Truth, is in you but when you defile yourself with an impure heart you bring darkness into your Holy Place. The darkness cannot extinguish the light but it can obscure your ability to see & understand the heart of God.
If you truly want to know God better & experience more of His presence then purity of heart is essential. Nor is this primarily a moral position regarding sexuality, though that is included. It covers all aspects of our relationships. It calls us to radical servanthood toward others. It severs the tap root of our selfishness, our need to control & be in control. It allows us to rest. We have no hidden agendas. We attain the *single eye*, looking to Christ & Him alone.
Sometimes these concepts can be very difficult to grasp hold of & get right down into our spirit. We understand with our intellect but we live in a world that doesn't abide by these precepts. Many of us have never seen them lived out. We don't really know what they look like in action so we struggle apply them. This is where stories can sometimes help us, so I am going to tell you a story. It is not my story & I don't have time to tell all of it but you can find it in The Friendly Persuasion by the Quaker short story writer Jessamyn West. It is called Homer & the Lillies. It begins like this:
When Jess was 80 years old, somewhat gnarled, but still a very sturdy man, he came to know for a short time an asylum~boy as he was called, by the name of Homer Denham.
The story continues, describing the friendship between this 80 year old man & 12 year old boy as they fish, discuss whether mice can run backwards, & wonder @ the ways of the world. There is a catch though. If you are a parent or a teacher you will know it: he push to always teach & correct, so when Homer plucks 1/2 a dozen of Eliza's prized lily~of~the valleys Jess rebukes him ~ & everything he says is absolutely true: the flowers belong to Eliza; Homer has no right to touch them but...He didn't doubt he's done the right thing...still, doing the right thing shouldn't leave such an ache under the breastbone... Jess resolves to sort things with Homer but before He can do so a storm flattens the flowers & keeps Jess from doing what he had set his mind to do.
When he can finally leave the house he picks some of the lilies for Homer & sets off, half expecting to meet Homer on the way, but he is too late. Homer, never very strong, has died & the are flowers piled with all the others to soften, but not hide what the trestle had been set up to bear.
Jess is not only a deeply religious man, he is a philosophical man ~ & ruminating on what's happened he says to Eliza: I'm 80 years old. All my life I've been trying one way or another to do people good. Whether that was right or not, I don't know, but it comes over me now that I'm excused from all that. I loved Homer, but I tried to do him good...the way I see it now, that was wrong, that was where I's led astray. From now on, Eliza, I don't figure there's a thing asked of me but to love my fellow man."
As we go through these Beatitudes that comes closest to the heart of the matter. They are teaching us how to love: to love God & to love our fellow man.