Editor’s note: The purpose of this series is to walk our readers through the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7 in order to help them understand what it teaches and how to apply it to our lives. This is our first such series here at Servants of Grace through an extended biblical passage and is part of our larger commitment to help Christians learn to read, interpret, reflect, and apply the Bible to their own lives.
- Dave opened the series by looking at Matthew 5:1-3.
- In the second post in this series, Dave explored Matthew 5:4.
- In the third post in this series, Zach looked at Matthew 5:5.
- In the fourth post in this series, Jason looked at Matthew 5:6.
- In the fifth post in this series, Dave looked at Matthew 5:7.
- Today Dave looks at Matthew 5:8.
Purity of heart has two distinct but related senses in Scripture. First, it is that inner moral holiness that is the opposite of external piety. The Old Testament prophets contrasted ritual observance of the law (especially laws of sacrifice and circumcision) with covenant obedience that flowed from love and sincerity of heart. Moses called on Israel to circumcise their hearts, not simply their flesh (Deut. 10:16; 30:6). Samuel said, “To obey is better than sacrifice” (1 Sam. 15:22). In a Psalm of worship, David asked in Psalm 24:3-5:
Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord?…
He who has clean hands and a pure heart.…
He will receive blessing from the Lord
and righteousness from the God of his salvation.
Jeremiah heaped scorn on Israelites who claimed refuge in the temple of the Lord while they oppressed the weak and chased after other gods (Jer. 7:2–10; cf. Isa. 1:10–17).
Second, purity can mean simplicity and freedom from double-mindedness. The pure, on this view, are those who show mercy because they love mercy, not to gain a reward. The pure show kindness to children who cannot thank us, to strangers whom we will never see again.
In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus promotes purity in both senses. As for the first, Jesus expects our internal purity to match our external purity. For example, we must shun adultery in thoughts and deeds (5:27–30). We should pray in public, but should be more intent on praying in private (6:5–6).
Jesus flays the scribes and Pharisees for their merely external religion: “You tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness” (Matthew 23:23 ESV). They look righteous on the outside, but are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness (6:1–18).
As for the second sense of purity, Jesus blesses the eye that is set on one thing, the will that determines to serve one master (6:22–24).
Purity of motivation is essential to discipleship. We hope to make a difference in this world, but we also hope to gain recognition for it. As D. A. Carson says:
We human beings are a strange lot. We hear high moral injunctions and glimpse just a little the genuine beauty of perfect holiness, and then prostitute the vision by dreaming about the way others would hold us in high esteem if we were like that. The demand for genuine perfection loses itself in the lesser goal of external piety; the goal of pleasing the Father is traded for its pygmy cousin, the goal of pleasing men.
The second and sixth beatitudes form a pair. The disciple who mourns over sin will desire to be pure in heart. If we recognize our sins, both sinful deeds and sinful thoughts, and if we hate those sins, then we will try to rip them out, like so many noxious weeds. We will become pure in heart; we will see God.
We may find ourselves at a party where we do not belong. Inebriated guests may tell lewd or racist jokes and embarrass themselves with clumsy dancing. Or we may be with society mavens eating cucumber sandwiches and waxing eloquent about Hungarian linens. God also has a party, a feast for the Redeemed. The party is grand and happy for all who feel at home at God’s kind of party. That sense of belonging comes not from our race, gender, social class, or musical tastes, but from a desire to see the pure God and to share His holiness.
To be pure in heart means to live without compromise. Studies of World War II have shown that some American industries did a profitable business with Nazi Germany until the final stages of the war. IBM and the Holocaust, by Edwin Black, shows that Hitler’s regime used American technology to organize slave labor and to manage death camps. IBM facilities operated in Germany throughout the war. Indeed, IBM’s chairman, Thomas Watson, received Germany’s Merit Cross for his contributions to German industry during wartime. Other researchers have shown that IBM was hardly alone. ITT sold components for V-1 “buzz bombs.” Ford and General Motors sold trucks; Standard Oil sold oil. RCA, Chase Manhattan, and others did the same, selling what they could. William R. Hawkins says that when national security and profits collide, expect businessmen to be businessmen.
Not so with you, Jesus says. In Jesus’ house, men and women seek purity and single-mindedness. We shun dual loyalties. We do not serve two masters, God and mammon. To pursue the Lord is to pursue His purity.
The great blessing of those who are pure in heart is that they shall see God. The Greek here is in the future indicative tense and the middle voice, and a more literal translation is, “They shall continually seeing God for themselves.” It is only they, the pure in heart, who shall see God. Intimate knowledge of and fellowship with God is reserved for the pure.
When our hearts are purified at salvation we begin to live in the presence of God. We begin to see and to comprehend Him with our new spiritual eyes. Like Moses, who saw God’s glory and asked to see more (Exodus 33:18), the one who is purified by Jesus Christ sees again and again the glory of God.
To see God was the greatest hope of the Old Testament saints. Like Moses, David wanted to see more of God. Psalm 42:1, “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so my soul pants for you, O God.” Job rejoiced when he was able to say in Job 42:5, “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you;”
Purity of heart cleanses the eye of the soul so that God becomes visible. One sign of an impure heart is ignorance, because sin obscured the truth (John 3:19-20). Evil and ignorance come in a package. Other signs of an impure heart are self-centeredness (Rev. 3:17), pleasure in sin (2 Timothy 3:4), unbelief (Heb. 3:12), and hatred of purity (Mic. 3:2). Those who belong to God exchange all of those things for integrity and purity.
F.F. Bullard wrote:
When I in righteousness at last
Thy glorious face shall see;
When all the weary night has passed,
And I awake with Thee,
To view the glories that abide
Then and only then will I be satisfied.”[i]
[i] Cited in William Hendriksen, The Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1973), p. 278.