6. Blessed Are The Pure In Heart (Matthew 5:8)Related Media
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Matthew 5:8 (NET)
As a reminder, the fourth beatitude, hungering and thirsting for righteousness, marked a pivot in the Beatitudes. From there, God begins to fill his people with righteousness. He makes them the merciful, the pure in heart, and the peacemakers. In many ways, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” is the chief beatitude. Some have wondered why it is not the first beatitude or the last, as the culmination.1 Throughout history, seeing and knowing God has often been considered the summum bonum—the highest good in life. Jeremiah quotes the Lord:
Let not the wise boast of their wisdom or the strong boast of their strength or the rich boast of their riches, but let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know me
Jeremiah 9:23-24 (NIV)
He names three things that people often pursue in life as the highest good: wisdom, strength, and wealth; however, the highest good is knowing God. This is essentially what Matthew 5:8 promises—to see and know God more intimately.
Moses cried out for this in Exodus 33:18, as he asked to see God’s glory. God responded to him that no one could see his face and live. However, he would show Moses his back—a manifestation of his glory, but not his full glory. Here in Matthew 5:8, Christ promises the highest good that man can achieve—seeing and knowing God. It is for this reason that some view this beatitude as the climax or pinnacle of the Beatitudes; the first five lead to it and the last two flow from it.2
In this study, we’ll consider the sixth beatitude: the blessing on the pure in heart and the promise of seeing God.
Big Question: What does the sixth beatitude mean and what applications can we take from it?
The Pure in Heart
Interpretation Question: What does it mean to be pure in heart?
The word “pure” has had a variety of uses: It was used of soiled clothes which had been washed clean, and an army of soldiers which had been purged of the discontented, unwilling, cowardly, and inefficient soldiers—with only first-class fighters remaining.3 It was also used of metals that had been refined until all the impurities were gone—leaving only pure silver, pure gold, etc.4 Therefore, the word generally means both “clean” and “unmixed.”
When Christ adds the word “heart” to it, he is not just referring to emotions. In the biblical mindset, “heart” refers to the mind, will, and emotions.5 Therefore, we must ask what does Christ mean practically by being “pure in heart”?
1. To be pure in heart refers to having an inner moral righteousness.
When people follow God and are born again, God begins to change their hearts. He starts ridding them of jealousy, anger, pride, and selfishness, and replacing these attitudes with selflessness, humility, love, patience, and other virtues. The more a person grows in these godly virtues, the more they see God. Therefore, to hold on to ungodly attitudes is to hinder our relationship with God and our ability to see him. We see this commonly in Scripture. James 1:7-8 describes how the double-minded man is unstable in all his ways and how he will receive nothing from God when he prays. The double-minded man is somebody who wants to live for the world and live for God at the same time (cf. James 4:3-4). Therefore, he is unstable and ineffective in prayer. Likewise, David said if he cherished iniquity in his heart, the Lord would not hear him (Ps 66:18). To love sin, to cultivate unforgiveness, or pride is to hinder our relationship with God and our ability to see him.
This was especially important for the Jews and Pharisees to hear, as they tended to focus on outward compliance to God’s laws instead of inward compliance. They thought if they hadn’t killed anyone, they had kept the law against murder, but Christ said to be angry is to commit murder in our hearts. They thought if they hadn’t committed adultery, they had kept that commandment, but Christ said to lust is to commit adultery. To commit either of these is to fail to both love God and man, which are the greatest commandments. Christ rebuked the Pharisees for this by calling them white-washed tombs—clean on the outside but filled with dead men’s bones on the inside (Matt 23:27). He described them as drawing near God with their mouths while their hearts were far from him (Matt 15:8). Clearly, the Pharisees didn’t give attention to cultivating pure hearts.
Psalm 24:3-4 (NIV) says, “Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place? The one who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not trust in an idol or swear by a false god.” This Psalm seems to describe the ideal worshiper. “Clean hands” refers to godly works, and a “pure heart” refers to inner morality. When our heart is right, it leads to right actions. This is the person that God allows into his presence. He seeks after worshipers, who worship him in spirit (heart) and truth (John 4:23).
Are you developing an inner morality? If so, you will increasingly see God. The more you cultivate honesty, integrity, patience, perseverance, hatred for sin, etc., the more you will experience God’s presence.
2. To be pure in heart refers to being sincere—free of hypocrisy.
This is certainly part of inner morality, but worth separating for emphasis. As we continue to study the Sermon on the Mount, and the Gospels in general, Christ will repeatedly mention this. In Matthew 6, he calls for the disciples to not be like the Pharisees and teachers of the law who did their acts of righteousness (praying, giving, and fasting) to be seen by men. He says if we do this, then we have received our reward—the acknowledgment of men—but we will not be rewarded by God.
This is something those who serve in ministry must be particularly aware of. It is easy to start to do good works for the applause of men. We can tell if this is in our hearts by how we respond when criticized or praised by others; criticism will overly discourage us, and praise will overly excite us. Are we really seeking God’s honor and praise alone? It is also possible to do good works primarily for financial purposes. Christ stressed that he was the good shepherd and all who came before him were just hirelings—doing ministry simply for pay. When the wolf comes, the hireling flees because he is only there for pay (John 10). How do we respond when we encounter trials in our ministry—our service to God and others? If we are just there for the benefits, we will not stay committed.
Are our motives for serving God pure? Or are they mixed and insincere?
3. To be pure in heart refers to being single-minded in devotion to God.
As mentioned, the word “pure” was used of cleansing an army—getting rid of the cowardly and the uncommitted and leaving only the most devoted and effective fighters. Sadly, we are often like this with God—divided between love for the world and its things, and love for God and his kingdom. Therefore, many Christians are stunted in their growth. They are not hearing God’s voice, not enjoying his presence, because this is something God gives to the single-minded—the devoted. Matthew 13:22 describes how “worldly cares and the seductiveness of wealth choke the word, so it produces nothing.” It’s the divided heart that misses God’s best.
In Philippians 3:13 (NIV), Paul said, “this one thing I do”—referring to his pursuit of knowing and being rewarded by Christ (cf. v. 10-12, 14). Sadly, for most, God is just one of their many things, and therefore, they miss out on a heightened intimacy with God. Through Jeremiah, God said this to the idolatrous Israelites who were deported to Babylon, “When you seek me in prayer and worship, you will find me available to you. If you seek me with all your heart and soul” (Jer 29:13). It is when we turn away from our idols and come after God with our whole heart that we will truly see him and know him.
Are you pursuing God with your whole heart or are you half-hearted?
Application Question: Which aspect of purity of heart stood out to you most and why (inner morality, sincerity, single-minded devotion)? What are common idols that distract people from single-minded devotion to God? Describe a season (or seasons) in your life when you were the most single-minded. What contributed to your passion and devotion? What eventually detracted from it?
Growth in Purity of Heart
Application Question: How can we grow in purity of heart?
1. To grow in purity of heart, we must make sure that we are saved.
It is the pure in heart, and they alone, who will see God. As with the other beatitudes, these characteristics are only true of the born again. Hebrews 12:14 says without holiness “no one will see the Lord.” What God does at salvation is give us a clean heart—a new nature. It is a promise of the New Covenant. Ezekiel 36:25-26 says,
“‘I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries; then I will bring you to your land. I will sprinkle you with pure water and you will be clean from all your impurities. I will purify you from all your idols. I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit within you. I will remove the heart of stone from your body and give you a heart of flesh.
At salvation, purity of heart begins; God gives us a new nature and new desires—desires to pursue him and obey him. This is one of the ways that we know that we are saved. We know something of purity of heart—singleness of mind—a desire to follow Christ as Lord and please him above ourselves and everybody else.
Have you experienced this new heart?
2. To grow in purity of heart, we must continually confess anything unpleasing to God.
While on earth, we will never be completely pure of heart. Jeremiah 17:9 says that our hearts are “deceitful above all things and beyond cure” (paraphrase) and yet, Christ still commands us: “be perfect, as your heavenly father is perfect” (Matt 5:48). Consequently, we must continually confess pride, anger, lust, and everything that dishonors God. In fact, we must ask God to help us discern the evil in our hearts, as we often are blind to its defects. In Psalm 139:23-24, David prays, “Examine me, and probe my thoughts! Test me, and know my concerns! See if there is any idolatrous tendency in me, and lead me in the reliable ancient path!” As we discern wrong attitudes and actions, we must confess and repent to God. When we do this, God is faithful and just to forgive us and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).
Are you daily confessing and repenting of wrong attitudes, words, and actions?
3. To grow in purity of heart, we must guard and protect our hearts.
Our hearts are idol factories—prone to love and worship things other than God. Because of this, we must continually guard it, not only from sinful things but also good things that might steal our affections. Proverbs 4:23 says, “Guard your heart with all vigilance, for from it are the sources of life.” In Matthew 6:19-21, Christ, aware of this sinful tendency in our hearts, commanded believers to not store up riches on this earth, not because riches are inherently sinful, but because wherever our riches are, our hearts will be also. Riches tend to steal our hearts from God and seeking his kingdom first. We must be aware of this disease in our hearts—they are prone to love entertainment, clothes, cars, career, social media, popularity, etc., over God. For some of us, we must forsake certain possessions, even as Christ commanded the rich man (Matt 19:16-22). We can’t handle them appropriately; they will keep us out of the Word, away from prayer, and serving God. For others, we will just have to be disciplined in our use of these objects. This is a wisdom principle; each believer will have to discern this through the Holy Spirit and the counsel of godly saints. What might be a treasure (and therefore a temptation) to one person, might not be a treasure for another.
4. To grow in purity of heart, we must pray for it.
In prayer, we recognize that only God can truly change our hearts. In Psalm 51:10, David prayed: “Create for me a pure heart, O God! Renew a resolute spirit within me!” Create in me a heart that is solely devoted to you—one that beats to honor your name and build your kingdom. We must recognize our lack of a clean heart and cry out for it. In Psalm 86:11 (NIV), David again prayed, “Give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name.” So many things pull me away from you, unify my mind to worship you, Lord. If we are going to grow in purity of heart, like David, we must cry out for it.
5. To grow in purity of heart, we must saturate ourselves with God’s Word.
Christ said this to his disciples in John 15:3, “You are clean already because of the word that I have spoken to you.” It was through hearing the Gospel and believing it, that the disciples were made clean, as Christ gave them new hearts. However, it is still through God’s Word that our hearts are daily made clean. Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any double-edged sword, piercing even to the point of dividing soul from spirit, and joints from marrow; it is able to judge the desires and thoughts of the heart.”
As we study God’s Word, it cuts us. It reveals wrong heart motives and makes us more into the image of Christ. It sanctifies us.
Are you living in God’s Word?
6. To grow in purity of heart, we must desire the promise of knowing God more than anything else.
If you really desire to see God more and more, then you will be willing to get rid of anything that corrupts your heart. Is it your entertainment—your music and TV watching—that defiles your heart with explicit content? If so, you must be willing to get rid of it to know God more. Is it your relationships that are drawing you away from Christ? If so, you must be willing to let go of them to know God more. If you don’t really want to see God and experience him, then you won’t do whatever it takes to be pure in heart.
Philippians 4:8-9 (NIV) says,
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
To think on what is noble, right, pure, and lovely, we must, by necessity, let go of what is common, wrong, compromised, and ugly. It is only when our thoughts and practices are right, that the God of peace will be with us, as we experience his presence and intimacy in a special way.
7. To grow in purity of heart, we must continually think on eternity.
First John 3:2-3 says,
Dear friends, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet been revealed. We know that whenever it is revealed we will be like him, because we will see him just as he is. And everyone who has this hope focused on him purifies himself, just as Jesus is pure).
The more we hope to see and serve Christ throughout eternity, the more we will want to purify ourselves because we want to please him. However, if our hearts are continually set on this world and the things of the world, we will become increasingly secular and worldly—dimming our spiritual sight.
Are you thinking on eternity and seeing Christ?
Application Question: What are some other practices that aid in developing purity of heart? In what ways is God challenging you to pursue growth in purity of heart?
Interpretation Question: What does the promise of seeing God mean?
1. Seeing God has a present aspect to it.
- Believers will see God in creation.
In Psalm 19:1-2, David said that the heavens declare the glory of God and that they daily pour forth speech about him. In Psalm 29:7-10, David describes seeing and experiencing God in a thunder storm:
The Lord’s shout strikes with flaming fire. The Lord’s shout shakes the wilderness, the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh. The Lord’s shout bends the large trees and strips the leaves from the forests. Everyone in his temple says, “Majestic! The Lord sits enthroned over the engulfing waters, the Lord sits enthroned as the eternal king.
David, a man after God’s own heart, even saw God in his imperfect and aging body, as he declared how he was fearfully and wonderfully made (Ps 139:14). Only the pure in heart have this type of sight. They see God even in imperfect things like creation, as it still bears his marks. Similarly, when the disciples were fearful about their futures, Christ comforted them with God’s work in creation (Matt 6). He asked, “Did you see the lilies of the field today—how God clothed them? Did you see the birds of the air—how God fed them?” Christ saw creation as revealing God’s love and providence. As we grow in purity of heart, we’ll see God more in his creation.
- Believers see God in difficult circumstances.
We saw this with Joseph. After his father died, his brothers pleaded with him to not treat them harshly. Joseph responded, “As for you, you meant to harm me, but God intended it for a good purpose, so he could preserve the lives of many people, as you can see this day” (Gen 50:20). He saw God’s goodness in the storms of life where others might have doubted God, became angry at him, or turned away from him. We also saw this with Job—even after he had lost his family and much of his business—he declared, “The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. May the name of the Lord be blessed!” (Job 1:21). To him, both blessings and trials came from the hand of God. When Stephen was stoned, Christ appeared to him in the clouds—no doubt strengthening him to be the church’s first martyr (Acts 7:56). God works all things to the good of those who love the Lord, including trials (Rom 8:28).
Are you seeing his hand in your trials?
- Believers see God in acts of worship.
The purer our hearts, the more we will see and experience God, as we study God’s Word, pray, fellowship with others, and serve. When our hearts are not pure, we will meditate on Scripture and receive nothing. We will worship and pray, but it’s as if the heavens are shut. We’ll serve, and it will only be a burden. God reveals himself to those with right hearts.
2. Seeing God has a future aspect.
Obviously, we will most clearly see God in heaven. First Corinthians 13:12 says, “For now we see in a mirror indirectly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, just as I have been fully known.” This verse compares our vision of God to looking into a mirror. Ancient mirrors were made of polished stone or metal and therefore weren’t very clear—the reflection was dim at best. However, in eternity, we will see God face to face. We will know him, even as he knows us. This is the great hope of believers. Only those who are truly born again will ultimately see God.
Application Question: In what ways have you experienced the promise of seeing and experiencing God when your heart was pure before God? In what ways have you experienced a lack of intimacy with God when in sin or consumed with lesser things?
“Blessed are the pure in heart” is the climax of the Beatitudes. It is the climax because it brings the greatest blessing—seeing God. As seeing and knowing God becomes our highest pursuit in life, there will be no cost that we are unwilling to pay, and no height that we are unwilling to climb to know him. Blessed are the pure in heart for they, and they alone, will see God. Lord, purify our hearts. Amen.
Copyright © 2019 Gregory Brown
Unless otherwise noted, the primary Scriptures used are taken from the NET Bible ® copyright © 1996-2016 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.
Holy Bible, New International Version ®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®) Copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, Copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (NASB) are taken from the New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, and 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.
Scripture quotations marked (KJV) are from the King James Version of the Bible.
All emphases in Scripture quotations have been added.
BTG Publishing all rights reserved.
1 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (p. 202). Chicago: Moody Press.
2 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (p. 202). Chicago: Moody Press.
3 Barclay, W. (2001). The Gospel of Matthew (Third Ed., p. 122). Edinburgh: Saint Andrew Press.
4 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (p. 204). Chicago: Moody Press.
5 Boice, J. M. (2002). The Sermon on the Mount: an expositional commentary (p. 46). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.