The Pure in Heart

“Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8).

Purity has been a sacred matter throughout the generations. It seems that almost every culture has some ritual declaring or making participants clean or pure; we tend to value pure, clean things. Insistence on cleanliness and sanitation is perhaps the greatest accomplishment of the medical and public health fields. In general, we associate good, positive things with purity and cleanliness, and negative, evil things we portray in dirtier, filthier ways. Purity is good.

In order to communicate the value of purity in a physical way, God established many commands regarding cleanliness for Israel in the Old Testament. Certain foods were reckoned as clean, and others unclean and defiling (Leviticus 11:1-47). Many bodily discharges rendered a person ritually unclean, needing purification (cf. Leviticus 12:1-8, 15:1-32). Various skin diseases also rendered a person unclean (Leviticus 13:1-14:57). Many of these cleanliness laws were established to limit contagion and the spread of disease; others were designed to mark out Israel as a special people. All of the cleanliness laws, at some level, were designed to instruct Israel about God’s sanctity and the need for cleanliness before Him.

By the first century, the Israelites were quite faithful when it came to ritual cleansings. Many small pools used for such ritual cleansing, known as mikva’ot, have been discovered through archaeological digs; some are mentioned in John 5:1-4 and John 9:7. The Israelites understood the concept of ritual cleansing; they placed a high priority on remaining ritually clean and pure.

External cleansing is great, well, and good, but Jesus’ radical message in Matthew 5:8 is that it is not enough. External cleansing can only remove the symptoms of defilement, not the cause.

Jesus considers those who are pure in heart to be blessed, or happy. It is the internal purity which allows for external purity and righteousness; despite whatever pretense people may try to maintain, as long as there is impurity and defilement within, impurity and defilement must come to the surface some day. True defilement is not something a person can ingest; defilement comes out from what is within, which is Jesus’ powerful message in Mark 7:14-23.

This “beatitude” is as much a challenge as it is a declaration of blessedness. None of us can be fully pure in heart; we all fall short of God’s glory and sin (Romans 3:23, 7:14-25, 1 John 1:8). There is always a strong temptation to foster and harbor impure thoughts and attitudes within ourselves; we easily deceive ourselves into thinking that since no other human can perceive our thoughts, no one else knows what we are thinking. To this day people face strong societal pressures to make sure that their outward actions conform to societal norms; this is why we rarely tell others how we really feel about them, and very few of us feel comfortable admitting the darkness that is often present deep within us. Thus, we keep things inside.

But God does see and know; all things in darkness will be revealed by light at some point (Ephesians 5:7-13). Meanwhile we labor under significant burdens, trying to save face and keeping up a false exterior. It never works out; it always collapses somehow.

This is why God throughout the New Testament insists on a complete cleansing and renewal of the individual. It is not as if people are generally good and just need a little help here or there; we must come to terms with our sad reality. Sin has corrupted and defiled not just our deeds but also our thoughts and feelings, and we must fully repent, changing our minds so that our attitudes and actions will follow (Acts 2:38). This is why we must capture every thought unto obedience in Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5); this is why we must mentally dwell on that which is good, holy, and profitable (Philippians 4:8). We must in every way seek to remove all that which is unholy, impure, and defiled from our thoughts and feelings; then we can live without hypocrisy, allowing our exterior to shine with the interior light which comes from Christ (Matthew 5:13-16).

Those who are pure in heart shall see God. We are not intended to understand this verse on a physical, concrete level: after all, the heart is merely an muscle pumping blood, and no man can see God (John 1:18). Purity in heart involves purity of mind and emotion, and none of this is possible without purity in soul. Little wonder, then, that the Risen Jesus speaks of the saved as those who have not soiled their garments and who walk with Him dressed in white (Revelation 2:4-5), and Paul speaks of Jesus presenting a church to Himself which is pure and unblemished (Ephesians 5:25-27). Those who are pure shall be with God forever and will stand in His presence in the resurrection (cf. Revelation 21:1-22:6).

Such purity cannot come from our own futile efforts; we can try to cleanse ourselves all we want, but the stain of sin remains. None of us will walk in white because we, by our own power, have kept from defilement. We all need cleansing, and continuous cleansing at that, from Jesus through the blood shed for the forgiveness of our sins (Romans 5:6-11, Ephesians 5:25-27). We must seek after purity in Christ; we must seek to align our will to His so that we can be conformed into His image (Romans 8:29), and thus maintain our cleansing. Let us seek to be pure in heart so that we may see God!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Exercise

And exercise thyself unto godliness: for bodily exercise is profitable for a little; but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life which now is, and of that which is to come (1 Timothy 4:7b-8).

Exercise is not one of those things where there is much middle ground. It is something that you either do or you don’t. If you do it, you either enjoy it or you don’t. If you don’t do it, you probably don’t enjoy it much at all if you ever feel compelled to do it. Exercise is one of those practices in life that also tends to generate a lot of emotion. People get quite passionate about engaging in exercise or in avoiding it.

1 Timothy 4:8 tends to be “ground zero” in religious discussions about exercise. Much is made about how Paul declares that bodily exercise is only profitable for a little, and yet godliness is profitable for all things. And this is quite true, and exactly for the reason Paul provides– the spiritual will endure after the body perishes. All flesh is as grass (Isaiah 40:6, 1 Peter 1:24); if we obsess over our physical appearance and our physique, we are investing too much in what will not endure, and comparatively too little in what will endure.

But let us not distort Paul’s words too far the other way. Paul is not giving license here to gluttony; self-control and sober-mindedness must prevail even in terms of eating and physical exercise (Galatians 5:24, 1 Peter 4:7). Paul does say that there is benefit in physical exercise; yes, it is comparatively lesser than the value of spiritual exercise, but it presents benefits nonetheless. Both Paul and Timothy were far more active than most Americans today; we should not imagine that they would approve of Christians having neither concern nor repentance regarding the care and maintenance of their physical bodies. Just as we should not obsess over the physical condition of the body, so we also should not entirely neglect the physical condition of the body. We are not to be Gnostics; we are to understand that the body has temporal value as the “Temple of the Holy Spirit,” and it is hard for us to “glorify God in our bodies” when we show little concern for our physical health and well-being (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

This entire dispute misses the point of what Paul is really trying to accomplish in 1 Timothy 4:7-8: he is attempting to help Timothy, and us by extension, to understand how to grow and develop spiritually in terms of physical exercise. The metaphor is quite appropriate.

In order to function effectively, a human being must exercise his or her body. If we do not use our muscles, they atrophy and quit working entirely. When we maintain good discipline and work our muscles through exercise, be it through actions in daily life and/or through time we devote to conditioning, we actually tear up our muscles in the process. But when the body works to heal those muscles, they end up growing bigger and stronger. As long as we keep conditioning those muscles, they will maintain their size and/or grow. If we stop exercising at any time, we will experience loss of muscle and will be less strong and dextrous. Exercise must be a continual event– it cannot be done once or only for a short period of time and be successful. Recent studies seem to show, in fact, that the worst thing we could do to our bodies is to exercise in spurts, being active in exercising for a few weeks or months, quitting for a while, and then taking it up again. In such situations it seems that no exercise would be less damaging to the body!

As it is with the physical body, so it is with our spiritual lives. If we are going to live spiritually, we must exercise spiritually. If we do not devote ourselves to spiritual matters– learning more about God’s Word and will, indeed, but also practicing the spiritual disciplines, including prayer, evangelism, service, etc.– we spiritually atrophy and die (Romans 12:1-2, 1 Thessalonians 5:17, 2 Peter 3:18, etc.). When we seek to develop spiritually, we are going to be hurt and injured at times, having to learn from failures, perhaps experiencing persecution, but it is through those experiences that we experience spiritual growth (James 1:2-4, 1 Peter 1:3-7). We must continue to devote ourselves to the spiritual disciplines lest we lose what we have obtained and grow weak (2 John 1:8). We must devote ourselves ot the spiritual disciplines continually, understanding that we will not automatically spring up to be spiritually full-grown with only minimal effort (Hebrews 5:11-6:4). While we might experience spiritual growth in spurts, we should not spiritually exercise in spurts– we must maintain a pace if we want to make it to the goal (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).

Physical exercise does have profit; it is good to maintain a body in decent condition, able to meet the challenges of each day, practicing discipline in what is consumed and in effort expended so that the work of God is as unhindered as possible from physical ailment. Spiritual exercise has greater value because it will endure longer than bodily exercise. Nevertheless, notice how Paul indicates that there is always benefit in exercise and the maintenance of the self-discipline that it demands. Let us maintain that kind of self-discipline in terms of both body and soul, working towards self-control and growth in Christ!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Tenth Commandment

Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife, nor his man-servant, nor his maid-servant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor anything that is thy neighbor’s (Exodus 20:17).

God had now come to the tenth and concluding commandment. Matters regarding man’s relationship with God had been thoroughly covered– Israel was to have no other god before God, they were not to make an image of anything to bow down to it and serve it, they were not to take the name of the LORD their God in vain, and they were to honor the Sabbath and rest upon it (Exodus 20:3-11). The Israelites’ relationship with one another was also established: they were to honor their parents, and they were not to kill, commit adultery, steal, or bear false witness (Exodus 20:12-16). As the list concludes, God comes to a much more fundamental challenge, one that all too often leads to the other problems already addressed: covetousness, the desire of the human heart (Exodus 20:17).

The desire to have something that belongs to another is one of the most primal desires of humanity and one of the hardest to control. We might already have spouses, houses, employees, or other possessions. It is easy, however, to think that the “grass is greener on the other side.” Our neighbor’s spouse may seem more alluring, their house nicer, their stuff of better quality. Whatever the justification or the reason may be, the result is the same– it is easy to want it, and to do things in order to get it.

Covetousness is one of the main impulses that lead to other sins. David had many wives, but coveted Bathsheba– and ultimately committed adultery and murder in the process (2 Samuel 11:1-27). Despite being king of Israel, and having much property, Ahab coveted Naboth’s vineyard, and his desire led to false witness and murder (1 Kings 21:1-16). By falling prey to covetousness, these men fell prey to violations of two other commandments. They also prove just how irrational covetousness can be– it is not as if David had no other women around, or that Ahab had no other property to enjoy. Even though they already had plenty, they wanted more– things that did not belong to them but still looked nice. And, in the heat of covetousness, acted very poorly.

But if covetousness is what leads to other sin, why does God wait to mention it until the end? Perhaps it is because how private covetousness is. Dishonoring parents tends to be a public matter. Murder, adultery, theft, and false witness leave victims in their wake. These are all sins done “outside the body.” While covetousness often does lead to the committing of other sins (cf. also James 1:13-15), it does not necessarily produce any physical symptoms. One can covet without any other person knowing it.

The tenth commandment, therefore, presents quite a difficult challenge, one that Jesus will discuss in greater length in Matthew 5:17-48. Righteousness cannot merely limit and direct one’s outward conduct, although that is included. It cannot be enough to just not violate one’s neighbor, his property, or his reputation publicly. In order to be truly righteous one must control the very thoughts, impulses, and attitudes that might lead to such conduct. God tells Israel in the Ten Commandments that it is not enough to just not steal or not to commit adultery– one must not even nurse the covetous desire that leads to theft and adultery. Jesus will later expand on that premise– it is not enough to avoid murdering your brother, you must not even hate him or despise him in your heart (Matthew 5:21-26). Looking upon any woman with lustful intent is committing adultery in the heart (Matthew 5:27-30). Not harming your neighbor is good; loving him as yourself, blessing him and praying for him even if that love is not reciprocated, is better (Matthew 5:43-48)!

Moses will later declare to Israel that they were to “love the LORD [their] God with all [their] heart, and with all [their] soul, and with all [their] might” (Deuteronomy 6:5), a message affirmed by Jesus in Matthew 22:37-38 as the “great and first” commandment. Such complete love cannot exist only on the surface– therefore, Israel’s concern could not just involve their surface conduct. Such complete love demands complete reformation of the whole man– not just outward conduct, but also mind, body, and soul. God hints at this for Israel with the tenth commandment, showing that sinful desire is as bad as sinful action, since it is a precursor to sinful action. We should not allow this message to be lost upon us as we seek to serve the Lord Jesus, following in His footsteps, understanding that God is as concerned about how we think and how we control our desires as much as He is concerned about how we conduct ourselves outwardly. Let us not even covet so that we may not break God’s commands!

Ethan R. Longhenry