What does it mean to be “Pure in Heart”?
by Brian Knowles
When Jesus was describing the kind of people who make up his kingdom, he said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God,” (Matthew 5:8).What does it mean to be “pure in heart”? Here, Jesus was not teaching the “multitudes” but his own disciples (Matthew 5:1-2). He was preparing them for a life of apostleship. After Jesus had died and was resurrected, they would strike out on their own to spread the Gospel. It would be important to internalize the qualities listed in these “beatitudes.”
Purity of heart in Hebrew thinking implies the discipline of single-mindedness – that is, an undivided heart. An example is found in I Chronicles 12;33 – “From Zebulun, such as went forth to battle, expert in war, fifty thousand who could keep rank. They were not of a double heart.” Keeping ranks and being focused – or single hearted – was important to success in battle. In the recent invasion of the terrorist group ISIS, the Iraqi defenders broke ranks and paid the price of defeat.
In one of his psalms, David was bemoaning the fact godly, faithful, men were becoming increasingly rare in his time (Psalm 12:1). How did these lowlifes conduct themselves? “They speak falsehood each one with his neighbor; with flattering lips and a double heart they speak,” (verse 2). In Hebrew age, “heart” and “mind” are more or less interchangeable.
We’ve all known people who are flatterers; they say one thing to our face and another behind our back, They are double minded and inconsistent.
James applied the principle to the issue of trials (James 1:2). He wrote: “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you are beset by various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. But let endurance have its perfect work, so that you may be perfect and complete, not lacking in anything. However, if anyone lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, Who gives to every one freely and does not reproach the one who asks; and it shall be given to him. But let him ask in faith, not doubting at all because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven by the sea and tossed to and fro. Do not let that man expect that he will receive anything from the Lord. He is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways,” (James 1:2-8).
To be pure in heart or mind is to be consistent, single-minded, focused on the task at hand. A person who is wishy-washy, inconsistent, hypocritical and duplicitous is not pure in heart.
James uses the term again toward then of his letter, sealing the meaning of the term “pure in heart.” “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your heart, you double-minded’” (James 4:8).
As one commentator put it, to be pure in heart is to be free of “the tyranny of the divided self.” The reference here is not primarily about sexual purity, but about consistency of purpose and the avoidance of “moral schizophrenia.”