September 24, 2021 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – Matthew 5:8 (NIV)
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
If God is invisible, what is Jesus talking about? What does it mean that the pure in heart will “see God”?
And why does Jesus single out those pure “in heart”? Doesn’t our outward behavior matter too?
Looking directly at the Sun with the naked eye is really a bad idea. Thankfully, the Sun’s very brightness makes people squint and look away. That’s a good thing because it protects our eyes from lasting damage. The sun, which sustains life on earth, can destroy humanity’s capacity to see if it’s looked at directly without appropriate protection.
That’s a helpful metaphor for how Israel understood the Living God. Only for Israel “seeing God” had more serious consequences than looking at the Sun with unprotected eyes. Even Moses, who had unprecedented access to God, learned that “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live” (Exodus 33:20, NIV). And lest anyone think things are different now that Jesus has come, the Apostle Paul writes about “God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see” (1 Timothy 6:15-16, NIV, italics mine).
So, if God can’t be seen, what is Jesus talking about? What does it mean that the pure in heart will “see God”?
And why does Jesus single out those pure “in heart”? Doesn’t our outward behavior matter too? In the words of the Psalmist, isn’t it “the one who has clean hands and a pure heart” who will be able to “ascend the mountain of the LORD” (Psalm 24:3-4, NIV)?
In Jesus’ day as today, it’s easy for religious people to focus on external practices to the detriment of their interior lives. As the Psalmist reminds us (and as Jesus surely knew), both things matter. But Jesus underscores the nature of the relationship between our interior life and our exterior life. One comes before the other. Or to put it in the language of the Jewish wisdom literature, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it” (Proverbs 4:23, NIV).
Today’s devotional has a picture of a great modern invention: the spray bottle that attaches to a garden hose nozzle. The invention illustrates how introducing something at the water source has a pervasive effect on the resulting spray. It can be life-giving (as in adding plant nutrients) or lethal (as in adding an insecticide to treat a garden for unwanted bugs). In either case, introducing something at the source is the easiest and surest way to get the broadest result.
Proverbs (and Jesus) are making a similar point. Stated negatively, contamination at the source has consequences throughout our lives. What goes on at the core of our interior lives – our hearts – invariably makes its way out into our outward behaviors. As Jesus says later in Matthew, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts – murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what defile a person” (Matthew 15:19-20, NIV).
So how do we get a pure heart?
Strangely, purity of heart is both a gift of grace and something in which we get to participate. Jesus comes to fulfill God’s ancient promise that fallen humanity would get a new, pure heart (Ezekiel 36:26). In that most basic sense, purity of heart is a gift of the Spirit. But in another sense, we ourselves participate in a way of life which shapes our hearts in a particular way, in what the ancient writers called “the Way of Holiness” (Isaiah 35:8, NIV). As the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews says, “Pursue peace with everyone, and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14, NRSV).
The relationship between our eyes and our hearts is surprisingly circular. On the one hand, God initiates the transformation of our hearts, which makes them pure, which in turn enables us to see him. On the other hand, purifying our hearts (and lives) enable us to see God, who then in turn transforms our hearts further. This virtuous cycle (if ever there was one!) is ultimately described by the Apostle John in this way, “Now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure” (1 John 3:2-3, NIV).
While seeing God in totality remains an impossibility (as the Apostle Paul suggested earlier), we have been given the gift of the person of Jesus Christ, “the Son (who) is the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15, NIV). “Seeing God” means seeing Jesus rightly. And that means, among other things, giving careful attention to and becoming a follower of his life and teaching. In that sense, the more we see of Jesus, the more our hearts will be transformed. And the more our hearts are transformed by our response, the more we can see of (and be like) Jesus. What we see and who we become are thereby deeply connected.
Or to put another way, who you see is who you’ll be.
In what ways has your heart been “contaminated” at the source? What can you do to remove the “contamination”?
Identify one specific action coming out of your above reflection to eliminate something that compromises your inner life.
Lord Jesus Christ,
We are grateful that you reveal the invisible God to us.
Grant us eyes to see you rightly. Help us to see what has contaminated our hearts and thereby polluted our lives. Give us faith and courage to purify ourselves as you are pure.
We ask in your name.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Commentary on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: “Blessed Are the Pure in Heart, for They Will See God” (Matthew 5:8)
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During his adult life, Uli Chi has lived and worked in the intersection between business, the academy and the church. He has had the privilege of serving as past Board Chair of Regent College in Vancouver, BC, as current Vice Chair of the Board of the Max De Pree Leadership Center at Fuller Seminary, and as current Chair of the Executive Committee of the Center for Integrity in Business at Seattle Pacific University. He has also been involved in all aspects of local church leadership, including as a member of the adult ministries team’s teaching faculty at John Knox Presbyterian Church in Seattle.
Click here to view Uli’s profile.