Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Beatitudes: Blessed are the Pure in Heart

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

Mt. 5:8

A. Two possible lines of interpretation:

1. Those who are pure in heart are blessed because they will see God in Heaven, in the future (and others won’t). OR

2. Those who are pure in heart are blessed because they will perceive God here and now (and others won’t).

The two are not necessarily mutually exclusive, but the distinction is important for understanding what is in view when Jesus speaks of the “pure in heart.”

B. This beatitude is closely related to an earlier one, Mt. 5:6. To hunger and thirst for righteousness—give it first priority—and to be satisfied with God’s righteousness, appears to be at least a prerequisite for purity in heart.

C. Understanding the promise—“they shall see God.”

1. The future verb “shall see” (also a simple future in Greek) favors the “eternity future” reading, but only slightly. Tomorrow is also future.

2. Several commentators also favor the “not in this life” interpretation.

3. It is argued that no one will literally “see” God in this life. But we all perceive God, at some point in our lives. (Rom. 1:19-22). The verb here (οράω) is a primitive verb that has a fairly broad range of meaning—it can mean “perceive” (with an emphasis on visual perception).

4. During Jesus’ time among us in the flesh, MANY people saw God, but did not perceive His presence in His Son. (John 14:9; Phil. 2:6-10.)

5. In the final judgment, EVERYONE will both see and perceive God (Rev. 21:11-15; Mt. 25:31-46).

The blessing that distinguishes the pure in heart is their ability to perceive God. This flows directly from their purity in heart…

D. The “heart”—καρδια, the broadest of several different words that are translated “heart,” “mind” or “soul” depending on context (or simply “inner being” in some modern translations). The first of the three words used in Mt. 22:37, the first and greatest commandment. “The center and source of the whole inner life, with its thinking, feeling and volition” (per Bauer’s Lexicon), but with a focus “more upon the result of thought” than upon emotion (per Louw & Nida).

E. Pure—καθαρος—a simple word: “clean, pure, unadulterated.” Would be used of hands that have been washed (a derived verb is used in James 4:8 for exactly this), dishes that have been washed (Mt. 23:25-26, with reference to the Pharisees!), or metals that are free of impurities (the gold in the streets of the New Jerusalem, Rev. 21:18, 21). Also used of ritual cleanness or purity. (E.g., Luke 14:11). So to be “pure in heart” would appear to mean a state of being washed free of all impurities in the very center of the inner life.

F. Where purity in heart leads:

1. Love (from a pure heart, a good conscience and sincere faith) (1 Tim. 1:9); compare the works of “pure and undefiled religion” in James 1:27.

2. Righteousness, faith, love and peace; fleeing youthful passions (2 Tim. 2:22).

3. Sincere love of other believers (1 Pet. 1:22).

G. Examples from the Sermon on the Mount (the immediate context of Matt. 5:8):

1. Negative examples of keeping God’s rules with an impure heart: harboring anger like murder (5:21-22); harboring lust like adultery (5:27); divorce also causes adultery (5:22).

2. Positive examples of a pure heart in contrast to misapplied parts of the Law: being truthful rather than relying on oaths (5:33-37); giving to those who make demands, even evil people, rather than seeking revenge (5:38-42); “love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you” (5:44).

3. Doing right, but not to be seen by other people and praised by them (6:1), specifically: giving alms in secret (6:2-4); praying in secret (6:5-6) and without imagining that it is my words that make God hear me (6:7); fasting in secret (6:16).

4. No one can serve two masters. (6:26).

H. What does all this have to do with being able to perceive God? Everyone who practices evil hates the light, and avoids it, so that what they are doing will not be exposed. But those who live by the truth come to the light. John 3:19-21. Or, as Paul says, God’s wrath is revealed against an unbelieving world that once recognized Him, but suppressed the truth “by their unrighteousness,” with the result that their understanding was darkened. Rom. 1:18-21. It was because the people of Jesus’ day clung to the impurity of their hearts that they were unable to perceive God walking among them—except for the minority Jesus chose to give sight. This is still what prevents people from perceiving God today, even though He is working among us. This also has effect in my life as a believer. To the extent my loyalty is divided, and I am clinging to myself and my own interests, I will not clearly perceive God at work.