Beatitudes - Matthew 5:8-12
A. The Pure in Heart - 5:8
One would be hard-pressed to identify a period in human history when people were as obsessed with their bodies, physical health, and external appearance as they are today. In a day when beautification of one’s “outer self” has become something of national hobby, purification of the “inner self” is a much needed emphasis.
1. What is the “heart”?
Contrary to what many have suggested, the heart is not the opposite of the head, as if to suggest that the purity Jesus describes does not extend or apply to our minds or to what we think. In fact, often in Scripture “heart” = “mind”. E.g., “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he” (Prov. 23:7). “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer” (Prov. 19:14). “Why are you thinking evil in your hearts?” (Mt. 9:4; cf. Rom. 1:21). Other texts where “heart” = “mind” are 2 Cor. 4:6; 9:7; Eph. 1:18. At other times “heart” = “emotions” or “passions,” even = “will”. In other words, the heart refers to the center of the personality: thinking, feeling, willing, hoping, yearning. The heart is the core of our souls, the fount of our inner being. Thus we read, “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life” (Prov. 4:23).
2. Why does the “heart” need purifying?
“The intent of man’s heart is evil from his youth” (Gen. 8:21).
“The heart is more deceitful than all else, and is desperately sick. Who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9).
“Do you not understand that everything that goes into the mouth passes into the stomach, and is eliminated? But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders” (Mt. 15:17-19).
See also Rom. 1:21; 2:5; Eph. 4:17-18. If our hearts were not pure, we would not differ from the Pharisees. Their holiness was wholly external. See Mt. 5:20.
3. What kind of purification does the heart need?
In one sense, all Christians are already pure in heart: see Acts 15:8-9 (a reference to justification). But that is not what Jesus has in mind here. This “purity” is not so much a completed possession as it is a current project. It is not imputed righteousness that Jesus has in mind but imparted righteousness. It is not justification but sanctification that is in view. See Heb. 12:14; Ps. 24:1-4.
4. What does purity of heart involve?
a. The pure in heart is the person who mourns over the impurity of his/her heart! To be pure in heart begins with the acknowledgment of one’s spiritual bankruptcy apart from the grace of God (5:3). To be pure in heart is to hunger and thirst after righteousness. To be pure in heart is not absolute perfection in this life, but the intense, relentless pursuit of it (see Phil. 3:12-14). To be pure in heart is to engage in an on-going, never-ending pursuit, in the power of God’s grace, for holiness. It is a pursuit of holiness in which we are never satisfied, never full, always hungry for more; never quenched, but always thirsty for more; never rich, but always with a sense of our spiritual poverty. “That heart is impure which sees no need of purity” (Watson, 176). The pure in heart may sin, but he feels no complacency in it.
b. Purity of heart is internal, not external. Simply being civil isn’t enough. “A man may be wonderfully moralized, yet but a tame devil. . . . Morality may damn as well as vice. A vessel may be sunk with gold, as well as with dung” (Watson, 175). Says Carson:
“Purity of heart must never be confused with outward conformity to rules. Because it is the heart which must be pure, this beatitude interrogates us with awkward questions like these: ‘What do you think about when your mind slips into neutral? How much sympathy do you have for deception, no matter how skillful? For shady humor, no matter how funny? To what do you pay consistent allegiance? What do you want more than anything else? What and whom do you love? To what extent are your actions and words accurate reflections of what is in your heart? To what extent do your actions and words constitute a cover up for what is in your heart” (25).
c. The pure in heart serve God with the whole of their heart. Although purity of heart is never to be reduced to civility, it certainly results in it. The pure in heart must never be half-hearted in their devotion. “How blessed are those who observe his testimonies, who seek him with all their heart” (Ps. 119:2).
d. The pure in heart hate sin. It is possible to leave your sin, yet still love it. Like a rattlesnake that sheds its skin but retains its poisonous venom, so also some cease from evil but wish they hadn’t.
5. How do we obtain purity of heart?
It is always a gift of God’s grace, but he has appointed certain means or instruments for us to employ.
a. The Word of God – “Thy Word is pure” (Ps. 119:140) . . . “Sanctify them through thy Word; thy Word is truth” (John 17:17). The Bible functions much like a water purifier, filtering out of our spiritual system the debris, dirt, germs, etc. that would pollute our souls.
b. It we wish to be pure in heart, we must walk and talk with others who are pure in heart. “He that walketh with the wise shall be wise” (Prov. 13:20).
c. We must pray for purity of heart. Job cried: “Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean?” (14:4 and 15:14). God can! Pray with David: “Create in me a clean heart, O God!” (Ps. 51:10).
d. Deal ruthlessly with whatever tends to defile your heart (Mt. 5:29-30).
e. Fix your eyes and energy on Jesus (Heb. 12:1-2).
One might wonder: why bother? It seems so strenuous and demanding. Several reasons might be given.
· First, we must seek holiness of heart because that is what God is like: “Be ye holy, for I am holy” (1 Pt. 1:16).
· Second, it is the goal of our election. “He chose us . . . to be holy and blameless” (Eph. 1:4). Cf. Rom. 8:29 and 1 Pt. 1:1-2.
· Third, it is the reason or purpose of Christ’s death. “He gave himself for us that he might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for himself a people for his own possession, zealous for good deeds” (Titus 2:14).
· But fourth, the primary reason for pursuing purity of heart is that the pure in heart shall see God! God’s reason for commanding purity of heart isn’t because he wants to deprive us of the pleasures of impurity. It isn’t that God is a killjoy, a celestial sourpuss who lives in fear that someone somewhere might be having a good time. God’s motive is his loving desire to impart to us a pleasure and joy and happiness that far exceed both in depth and duration anything that impurity could ever produce. And what might that be? Seeing God!
The importance of purity of heart is nowhere better illustrated than in the anonymous, highly-praised article, The War Within. First published in Leadership magazine in 1982, this testimonial is the stirring, first-person account of one man's battle with the destructive impact of lust (Fall, 1992, pp. 97-112). The author, a pastor, husband, and father, describes in vivid and disturbing detail his ten-year war with pornography, peep-shows, and strip bars. His story is a seemingly endless cycle of sin, tears of conviction, repentance, restoration, more sin, more tears, repentance yet again, restoration, sin . . . . Countless hours of counseling, deliverance ministry, self-imposed discipline, agonizing prayer, Bible-reading, and virtually every known remedy available in both the Christian and secular community proved fruitless to set him free from the shackles of lust and its paralyzing shame.
Not long ago I read in a denominational newspaper a similar story of another man's battle with pornography. At the conclusion of the article he recommended a four-step approach to breaking free from the cycle of addiction. He suggested that a person begin with counseling, preferably with someone who is experienced in dealing with sexual addiction. The second step is getting in a relationship of accountability with someone who is not afraid of asking the tough questions. Maintenance is the third step. The addict must take steps to avoid putting himself in a position or place of vulnerability where he is likely to fall back into old habits. Finally, one must rely on the power of God.
I don't want to sound critical or unappreciative of this author's advice. It's not as if his counsel is wrong. It's simply inadequate. Perhaps it has proven effective in his own case. But I'm not convinced it will prove fruitful in the long term. Six months or a year down the road, when the watchful eye of concerned friends and family is turned in the other direction, when loneliness and boredom and frustration with God set in, four-steps to freedom or seven-principles to deliverance or whatever program one has embraced will prove no match for the deceitful lies of the Enemy and the powerful throb in the human heart for satisfaction. One's craving for pleasure will not magically disappear or even dissipate. Odds are it will only increase. Every loss must be for the sake of or with a view to a superior gain. Saying No to the pleasure pornography brings will last only if in its place is a Yes to the pleasure one finds in fascination and fellowship with the person and presence and splendor of Jesus.
The courageous author of The War Within didn't discover this until he read a simple book of memoirs entitled What I Believe, by the Roman Catholic Francois Mauriac. Mauriac had been taught that marriage would cure lust. It doesn’t. He finally came to the conclusion that self-discipline, repression, and all the arguments in the world are inadequate in the battle against lust. He then realized that there is only one reason to seek purity. It is the reason Christ proposed in the Beatitudes: 'Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.' Purity, says Mauriac, is the condition for a higher love -–for a possession superior to all possessions: God himself” (108). Hear now the impact of this discovery on one tormented pastor's soul:
"The thought hit me like a bell rung in a dark, silent hall. So far, none of the scary, negative arguments against lust had succeeded in keeping me from it. Fear and guilt simply did not give me resolve; they added self-hatred to my problems. But here was a description of what I was missing by continuing to harbor lust: I was limiting my own intimacy with God. The love he offers is so transcendent and possessing that it requires our faculties to be purified and cleansed before we can possibly contain it. Could he, in fact, substitute another thirst and another hunger for the one I had never filled? Would Living Water somehow quench lust? That was the gamble of faith” (108-09).
What does it mean to “see” God?
· God is a spirit, invisible to the physical eye. Finite man cannot, in himself, see the Infinite God, in himself. Indeed, to “see God” is to die (Ex. 19:21). See also John 1:18; 1 Tim. 6:15-16.
· Whenever someone is said to have “seen” God, it is always a mediated or partial vision. Moses saw the “back-side” of God, from within the cleft of the rock. R. C. Sproul explains:
“Men are not allowed to see the face of God. The Scriptures warn that no man can see God and live. We remember Moses’ request when he ascended into the holy mountain of God. Moses had been an eyewitness of astonishing miracles. He had heard the voice of God speaking to him out of the burning bush. He had witnessed the river Nile turn into blood. He had tasted manna from heaven and gazed upon the pillar of cloud and the pillar of fire. He had seen the chariots of Pharaoh inundated by the waves of the Red Sea. Still he was not satisfied. He wanted more. He craved the ultimate spiritual experience. He inquired of the Lord on the mountain, ‘Let me see your face. Show me your glory.’ The request was denied. . . . (see Exod. 33:19-23). When God told Moses that he could His back, the literal reading of the text can be translated ‘hindquarters.’ God allowed Moses to his His hindquarters but never His face. When Moses returned from the mount, his face was shining. The people were terrified, and they shrunk away from him in horror. Moses’ face was too dazzling for them to look upon. So Moses put a veil over his face so the people could approach him. This experience of terror was directed at the face of a man who had come so close to God that he was reflecting God’s glory. This was a reflection of the glory from the back of God, not the refulgent glory of His face. If people are terrified by the sight of the reflected glory of the back parts of God, how can anyone stand to gaze directly into His holy face? Yet the final goal of every Christian is to be allowed to see what was denied to Moses. We want to see Him face to face. We want to bask in the radiant glory of His divine countenance” (The Holiness of God, 34-35).
· The sight of God Jesus refers to in Mt. 5:8 is more than mere physical vision. Although Jesus was himself God, he had more in mind than merely seeing him. After all, he was standing right in front of them, although “veiled” in human flesh. To “see” God, therefore, is to encounter, experience, and know him in the deepest and most intimate way possible. See esp. Rev. 22:3-4.
What are the characteristics of this “vision” or “sight” of God?
· It will be utterly transparent. Paul says that now “we see through a glass darkly.” But God will one day unveil himself in all his resplendent brilliance, glory, and clarity for us to see!
· It will be altogether transcendent. It will in every conceivable respect transcend the glory and majesty of anything we have ever seen on this earth. It will transcend any and all joy we have experienced here. We will never grow weary of seeing Him!
· It will be totally transforming. See 1 John 3:1-3. By his grace we become wholly pure in heart.
See 2 Cor. 3:18. Just as the vision of Christ in the future will sanctify us wholly, the vision of Christ in the present (in Scripture) sanctifies us progressively. It is our experience of Christ that sanctifies. If progressive assimilation to the likeness of Christ results from our present beholding of him through a glass darkly, to behold him face to face, i.e., "to see him as he is," will result in instantaneous perfection or glorification.
What is the precise causal relationship between the vision of Christ and final glorification? Two views are possible:
· On the one hand, it may be that we shall see Christ because we are like him; likeness, then, is the condition of seeing him (cf. Mt. 5:8; Heb. 12:14). Thus, this view says that holiness is a prerequisite to the vision of Christ and thus must precede it (the holiness, of course, is God given, not earned by man).
· More likely, however, is that he shall appear, we will see him, and as a result of seeing him we shall be made like him. I.e., in his presence sin will be eradicated from us and we will reflect his glory and through the majesty of that moment we will be made like him.
The possession of such hope is the strongest imaginable incentive to purity of life. It is no passing fancy; it is a hope securely fixed upon him. Simply stated: the Christian hope is incompatible with moral indifference. "A mind singularly focused on meeting Jesus will discover a renewed power to pursue righteousness" (Burge, 147).
The words purify and pure stress the personal, internal aspect of purification. The emphasis is on one's sensitivity to sin, the tendency to shrink away from all contamination. It is an intense, inner purification from sin because of a deep sensibility to it.
B. The Peacemakers – 5:9
What being a “peacemaker” does not mean:
1. Jesus does not say “blessed are those who are at peace,” as if he has in mind some subjective, inner calm in one’s spirit.
2. He does not say “blessed are the peaceable” or “peaceful” as if to pronounce blessed the person who is inoffensive, cowardly, or those who never engage in quarrels.
3. Still less does he mean blessed are the “peace-lovers”, although loving peace is surely a prerequisite for making peace.
4. Neither should we think of peace-making in terms of “appeasement,” as if to say that a compromising spirit is sufficient to evoke God’s blessing. Some people are peaceful simply because they lack the courage of their convictions and quickly strike a bargain when they come under pressure.
5. Nor should we take Jesus to mean what many have in mind when they say “peace is priceless.” By this they mean that no price is too high to pay for peace, no cost too exorbitant. But Jesus is not pronouncing blessed that person who places peace at the top of his list of spiritual priorities. We must never buy peace at the cost of either purity or truth. Sometimes peace simply isn’t possible. Paul writes in Romans 12:18, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” The words “if possible” indicate that sometimes peace isn’t possible. The impossibility Paul has in mind, however, isn’t due to our inability to restrain our anger or resentment. He is referring to hindrances that are extrinsic to us, over which we have no control: (a) the spirit and temperament of others; in spite of our efforts to reconcile and maintain harmony, they refuse; (b) when peace and truth conflict; (c) when peace and purity conflict.
So what, then, is a “peacemaker”? The peacemaker seeks to do two things:
1. He/she seeks to extinguish the flames of strife and disharmony in the body of Christ.
2. He/she takes whatever steps necessary to see that no fire breaks out in the first place. The peacemaker isn’t satisfied with the status quo. He anticipates those circumstances in which discord may flourish and avoids them. He anticipates those subjects which will divide the brethren and refuses to let people dwell on or discuss them. He is wise enough to know not simply when to pour water on a fire but when to act in order to prevent a fire from breaking out in the first place.
How does one become a peacemaker? A peacemaker must be oblivious to himself, to his own needs. See Phil. 2:1-5. He must be utterly obsessed with Jesus. He must be the sort of person who is not always looking at everything in terms of the effect it has upon himself. He is not always asking: “How does this affect me? What will people think of me? Have my rights been trampled? Am I being treated fairly?”
Note the promise: “For they shall be called the sons of God.” If this is true, then surely the converse holds: “Cursed are the peace breakers, for they shall be called sons of Satan!” See Rom. 16:17-18; Prov. 6:19 (“There are six things which the Lord hates, yea seven which are an abomination . . . the person who spreads strife among brothers”). See James 3:15. As someone once said, “It is Satan who kindles the flames of contention in men’s hearts, and then stands and warms himself at the fire.”
Unfortunately, our efforts to make and maintain peace are not always successful. In fact, instead of peace there often comes war. Instead of being appreciated for our efforts, we are persecuted for them. Hence, the last beatitude . . .
C. The Persecuted – 5:10-12
This beatitude explodes several myths:
1. The myth that Christianity is a means of deliverance from suffering. As we become more like Jesus, we should expect to be treated like Jesus!
2. The myth that God loves his children too much to allow them to suffer at the hands of unbelievers. God does indeed love us, but that does not mean we will be insulated from the pain of persecution.
3. The myth that those who suffer persecution are being chastised for their sin. But remember: the persecuted are also the pure in heart! Often it is precisely because of one’s success in manifesting the characteristics contained in the other beatitudes that provokes persecution.
4. The myth that suffering is always the sign of God’s displeasure or anger.
5. The myth that suffering can separate us from the love of Christ. But see Romans 8:35.
6. The myth that suffering or persecution at the hands of the unbeliever is a sign of the latter’s victory. See Rev. 12:11.
7. The myth that suffering is selective, restricted to a few special saints. Says Stott:
“The condition of being despised and rejected, slandered and persecuted, is as much a normal mark of Christian discipleship as being pure in heart or merciful. Every Christian is to be a peacemaker, and every Christian is to expect opposition. Those who hunger for righteousness will suffer for the righteousness they crave” (53).
People may speak highly of these virtues, but they often despise the person in whom they appear. “The only homage that wickedness can pay to righteousness,” noted Spurgeon, “is to persecute it.”
Several other things to note:
· Jesus does not pronounce as blessed those who suffer for any reason whatsoever. The beatitude applies to those who suffer for the sake of righteousness. See esp. 1 Pt. 2:18-21. In this passage we are told that to keep our mouths shut and patiently endure when suffering for some sin we have committed is no great virtue (Peter’s words are: “what credit is there . . .”). But to restrain ourselves from retaliation and self-vindication when we are unjustly wronged is especially pleasing to the Lord. Some suffering and persecution is deserved and therefore disgraceful. But we have actually been “called” (1 Pt. 2:21) to endure unjust, undeserved persecution. Again, Peter encourages you to “keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong” (3:16-17).
· In 1 Peter 4:12 we are told that we should “not be surprised at the fiery ordeal” of persecution and suffering that comes upon us, and that for 3 reasons. (1) The suffering of persecution plays an essential role in our sanctification. It is, says Peter, “for our testing” (4:12). Suffering is critical to the formation of Christian character: it hones, refines, purges, and purifies us, as well as compels us to rely more wholeheartedly on the all-sufficiency of God’s grace. (2) Suffering now will only serve to intensify the joy of our glorification (“to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing; so that also at the revelation of His glory, you may rejoice with exultation,” 4:13). (3) Finally, there is a special, unique anointing of the Spirit on Christians who suffer for Christ’s sake and bear his reproach. Indeed, “if you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you” (4:14). The word “glory” here has the definite article, lit. “the glory,” thus pointing (most likely) to the “glory” of v. 13, the “glory” of Christ to be revealed fully at his second coming. The point is this: to suffer reproach for Christ is to enter into the experience of that glory in advance of its ultimate and consummate display at the end of the age!
· Note also in 1 Peter 4:15-16 that, again, some suffering is shameful, namely, the suffering that comes from sinning (v. 15). However, as John Brown says, “there are (also) sufferings to which Christians may be exposed, merely because they are Christians, merely because they profess the faith, obey the laws, observe the institutions of Christ; and that such sufferings, however disgraceful in their own nature, and in the estimation of men, are no proper ground of shame to those who meet with them; but, on the contrary, should be subjects of giving glory and thanksgiving to God” (Expository Discourses on 1 Peter [Banner of Truth], 400).
· If you wish to avoid persecution in the world, here is what you must do: mimic the world’s standards, never criticize its values, keep quiet about the gospel, laugh at its sordid humor, smile and keep silent when God’s name is mocked and reviled, and be ashamed of Jesus Christ.
· Note also that Jesus broadens persecution to include insults and verbal attacks. For us, in our day, this is often the only form of persecution we experience.
· Notice that in v. 10 it is “for the sake of righteousness,” but in v. 11 it is “on account of Me,” i.e., Jesus. Two things to conclude from this: (a) The world not only does not care for these qualities, it cares even less for the person in whom they are found. (b) “This confirms that the righteousness of life that is in view is in imitation of Jesus. Simultaneously, it so identifies the disciple of Jesus with the practice of Jesus’ righteousness that there is no place for professed allegiance to Jesus that is not full of righteousness” (Carson, 28).
· Observe carefully how Jesus says we are to respond to such persecution: “Rejoice and be glad!” We are not to retaliate like an unbeliever would. We are not to sulk like a child. We are not to lick our wounds in self-pity like a beaten dog. We are not simply to grin and bear it like a Stoic. Still less are we to pretend that pain feels good. But even more: we are not only not to retaliate, we must not even resent it. Rather, we are to rejoice and be glad! But how can a sane person do that?
First, by reflecting on the fact that such pain is minimal when compared with the agonies of hell. Second, by remembering John 15:21 (“But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know the One who sent Me”). To claim exemption from persecution is to renounce one’s association with Jesus. If you think you are above and beyond persecution, you are above and beyond Jesus. Third, recall Acts 5:40-42. Fourth, recall Romans 5:3-5. Fifth, recall Romans 8:16-17 (suffering is a sign of our adoption as sons). Sixth, consider 1 Peter 4:12ff. Persecution is not only essential for our sanctification, it also intensifies our glory at Christ’s return! Seventh, we are promised reward in heaven (Mt. 5:12). See 2 Cor. 4:16-18. Says Piper: “One way of rejoicing in suffering comes from fixing our minds firmly on the greatness of the reward that will come to us in the resurrection. The effect of this kind of focus is to make our present pain seem small by comparison to what is coming” (Desiring God, 234).
Draw strength in the time of suffering by remembering Jesus. Are you poor? “Foxes have holes and the birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” Are you opposed? “Against the holy child Jesus . . . both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles . . . were gathered together.” Do your enemies claim to be religious? Remember who crucified the Son of God! Are you suffering reproach? “They bowed the knee before him, and mocked him, and said, ‘Hail, king of the Jews.’” Are you slandered? Jesus was accused of doing miracles by the power of Satan. Are you used and despised? They beat and spat upon the King of glory. Do your friends betray you? Remember Judas! Have you lost possessions? They cast lots for Jesus’ robe. Do you suffer unjustly? Pilate said, “I find no fault in this man.”