The Beatitudes are very challenging. And it is God’s intention that they be so. We should leave on a Sunday morning a little bit uneasy, a little bit uncomfortable. And if we are prepared to listen again today we will find that this Beatitude will also make us think again about our relationship to God.
Jesus said “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God”.
So, firstly, we must ask, what does it mean to be ‘pure in heart’?
It is best understood as describing someone who is single-minded or sincere.
We are going to need some examples to help us understand this better. It describes a person whose motives are singular or sincere. So for example if someone comes to my door collecting for the Salvation Army I should give generously with the sole purpose of supporting their good work among the poor and needy.
But do I do that? It is more likely that I will make a donation depending on whether or not I know the person who has come collecting. Or, I may ask myself whether this person may know my friends in the Salvation Army and will tell them if I refused to give them any money or only gave a little. Or I may give because I feel sorry for the person who has had to risk having a heart attack after climbing up my very steep driveway. We are complicated people and we tend to complicate our entire decision-making.
I have very fond memories of a time in 1968 when I was on a training course in Wellington. There were six of us from all around NZ and all in our early 20’s except for Sam who was nearer 30. He was an amazing guy. He was outgoing, extremely friendly and caring and naturally became our leader. We were staying at an hotel and it didn’t take Sam a minute to learn our names and the names of the six waitresses. Every night he organized a party in the hotel with us and the waitresses. But it was a party with a difference. There was no alcohol, there was no pairing off. He knew some great ice-breaker games and he had a guitar. He was a charmer and a gentleman and you could see that the girls were captivated by him. And at 10.30pm he reminded us that we had lectures the next day and packed us all off to bed. It was great clean fun. At the weekend he arranged for us all to go to the zoo. When I learnt that Sam wasn’t a Christian I decided to watch him closely as I thought that he was setting up the waitresses in order to later exploit them. But as far as I could see it didn’t happen.
And I thought that this is how life is meant to be. It seemed to me that Sam had a singular purpose. He wanted everyone to get to know one another, to appreciate one another, and to have the best week of our lives. And we did.
I am wondering whether young people today have opportunities like this or would a week like this be simply an opportunity to sexually exploit each other? I wonder whether people with charm are being pure in heart and seeking to use their gifts to build up one another or whether they are using them in an abusive way to satisfy their own needs.
It is important to point out that in many areas of life it is okay to have mixed motives. For example; if you are a school teacher, you should be primarily motivated by the desire to help children learn. But it is perfectly okay to have other motivations. You may love escaping the boredom of your home; you may love the social contact with other teachers; you may enjoy the praise children, their parents and even other teachers may heap on you for your ability and commitment. And the salary may also be a motivating factor.
But what is wrong is being motivated as a teacher in order that you may climb to higher levels of authority. It is wrong to be motivated as a teacher so that you may have power over children so that you can exploit them in some way.
We may also have mixed motives in, say, buying a car. Why would I change my car or buy a new one? It could be because my present car is unreliable, or it pollutes too much, or is too costly to run, or simply to help the countries economy by spending some money. It could be that I am now too old and stiff and I can’t easily get into my old car.
But it is wrong when we add impure motives to the list. For example I want to impress my neighbours with the wealth I have. Or I want a car that will go really fast.
Jesus is calling us to critically examine our motives in all that we do.
For example, why do we come to church? Do we have a singular motive – to come to worship the Lord and thank him for his mercy and grace? And yes, it is okay to add for fellowship, to pray, to give. But it is wrong when we add impure motives like coming so as to catch up with the latest gossip or to show off our new suit or hat or shoes. Or simply coming so that people think I am godly when I would rather be at home.
Or why am I involved in Christian ministry? Is it because I want to use my gifts in the service of the Lord or is it so that I can impress other people? Or why do we read our Bibles? Is it because we want to get to know the Lord better or is it because we are fearful that if we don’t read our Bibles God might be angry with us and punish us?
Or why do we pray? Is it so that God can move more freely in our hearts and the hearts of those that we are praying for or is it because we believe that if we pray we can manipulate God in some way?
To examine our motives is a challenging exercise but one that will profit us well.
What blessing did God promise to those with a pure heart? He said that we would ‘see God’. This means that those with a pure heart would come to know God as he truly is. If we were just to read the Old Testament then we could end up with a very different picture of God than that which we find as revealed by Jesus with his mercy, grace and forgiveness. The OT has stories of God ordering the destruction of every Canaanite man, woman and child and the animals are to be slaughtered as well. Yet we cannot do as some suggest and abandon the God of the OT as some pre-historic monster. The God of the OT is the same God as revealed in Jesus and we need to struggle with OT stories in order to discover why God ordered such killings. Only then will we be able to see the God of the whole bible as he really is. Only the pure in heart can understand God as judge, as saviour and as lord. Only when we examine our motives and seek to be pure in heart can we truly know God as he really is.
And it is only as we know God as he really is that we will be able to understand life. It is only as we understand God that we will know about the frailty of life, that it is passing and that it is okay to die. It is only as we understand God that we will have a deep conviction of the heavenly life to come which in turn will allow us to live this life in the dazzling beauty and wonder of that glorious life still to come with Jesus.
It is only as we know God as he really is that we will be able to know his will and purposes for our lives and so know the peace and joy that a true relationship with him can bring.