March 26, 2008

Majoring in the Heart

2008 1509 page36 capT’S AMAZING HOW ONE WORD CAN cause such an epiphany. But that’s what one Greek word has done for me. At the heart of the famed Beatitudes, Matthew reaches deep into the Greek language and employs a word rich with meaning when He quotes Christ. “Blessed are the pure in heart,” Jesus says, “for they shall see God” (Matt. 5:8).*
One author notes: “Verse eight sets the keynote for the entire sermon.”1 It is not a coincidence, then, that Jesus addresses the human heart, while at the same time addressing the heart of the gospel message. In all our discussion about the Christian life—from Sabbath observance, to health reform, to loving others—what deserves our attention most are matters relating to the heart. While the Pharisees were busy trying to clean the outside of the cup—and we spend much of our time doing the same—Jesus wanted to address the root of all that pertains to the Christian experience. Thus, He exhorts His followers: “Blessed are the pure in heart.”
The Greek word for “pure” that Matthew uses is katharos. Because New Testament authors often referred to the Greek translation of the Old Testament—known as the Septuagint—Matthew’s reading audience would immediately have linked this word to the Old Testament, where the verbal form of the word is used more than 250 times. In Psalm 24, for example, David wonders: “Who may ascend into the hill of the Lord? Or who may stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who has not lifted up his soul to an idol, nor sworn deceitfully. He shall receive blessing from the Lord” (Ps. 24:3-5).
2008 1509 page36It’s almost as if Christ is alluding directly to this psalm. Those who receive blessing from the Lord, David writes, are the ones who have a pure heart, which is what David desired for himself. For one of his most well-known psalms, the Greek translators also use the same language when David petitions: “Create in me a clean [katharos] heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (Ps. 51:10).
Majoring in Minors
In much of today’s discussion and theological debate we far too often focus our energies on peripheral and symptomatic issues. Quite honestly, we major in minors. While we spend a lot of time talking about jewelry, structural reorganization, or becoming more “progressive”—issues that all have their place but are, nonetheless, “outside of the cup”—many of us fail to address our human hearts. We miss the thing that Jesus focuses on. This is precisely what Jesus addresses in the Beatitudes.
Elsewhere, as well, Jesus plainly states: “For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies” (Matt. 15:19). While we may try hard to keep these “bad acts” from ever occurring, unless we go to the root of the problem—the heart from which these actions flow—we will simply be treating cancer with pain medication. Such an action may rid the person of temporary discomfort, but it will never prevent a person from inevitable relapse.
Of course, we cannot clean or purify our own hearts. It was Solomon who wondered: “Who can say, ‘I have made my heart clean, I am pure [katharos] from my sin’?” (Prov. 20:9). The obvious answer: no one.
Heart Cleansing
But this is the beauty of our understanding of Christ’s day of atonement ministry. More than simply looking through a stack of books to see who’s worthy of heaven and who isn’t, Christ’s Most Holy Place ministry focuses primarily on providing total cleansing of the human heart. Again, the Greek version of the Old Testament utilizes the same word for “clean” when we read in Leviticus: “For on that day the priest shall make atonement for you, to cleanse you, that you may be clean from all your sins before the Lord” (Lev. 16:30). This is precisely what Christ is doing now.
We sinful human beings have no way of cleansing ourselves. We cannot gain purity of heart through any resolution that we make, however sincere it may be. But Christ, in His great heavenly ministry, is working to cleanse a people who will stand in His presence when He returns.
As author Roy Gane puts it: “By His Spirit, God can speed up the spiritual growth of His people so that they outgrow sin. By cleansing His people and presenting them to Himself without blemish, Christ works Himself out of the job of forgiving sins. He does not walk off the job. We could say that He is ‘laid off’ from this work because there are no more forgivable sins to forgive.”2
Amazingly, this is precisely what we see in the book of Revelation, where John utilizes the same Greek word to describe God’s people at Christ’s second coming. With one accord the great multitude shouts, “Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready. And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean [katharos] and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints” (Rev. 19:7, 8).
God can finally place a clean wedding dress on His bride when He knows that the wedding dress is a reflection of a clean heart and a pure character. That is the only way that the clean dress will not be dirtied.
God desires cleanliness of heart and purity of character. We cannot achieve that if we are left to ourselves, however. Fortunately, God has set up a system by which He can achieve that in the lives of His people. We can respond to this good news by faith and thus be truly blessed when we accept Christ’s heart of purity.
Heaven awaits us and, more important, so does God.
*Bible texts in this article are taken from the New King James Version.
1Stanley D. Toussaint, Behold the King: A Study of Matthew (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2005), p. 97.
2Roy Gane, Altar Call (Berrien Springs, Mich.: Diadem, 1999), p. 330. It appears that Gane is responding to the idea that Ellen White proposes when she says that we will live in the last days without a mediator (Early Writings, p. 71; The Great Controversy, p. 425).
Shawn Brace is a district pastor who serves congregations in New Hampshire and Vermont for the Northern New England Conference.

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“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God” (Matt. 5:8).
2008 1509 page38 capOR CHARLIE, THE DOG PARK IS LIKE heaven on earth.
With rolling fields of green, sticks and leaves, the neglected ant pile, plenty of new friends to smell and to chase, the dog park is Charlie’s favorite place in the whole wide world.
Charlie is our 1-year-old “puggle” (pug/beagle mix). He is rambunctious and bursting with nearly unending energy, yet he loves to snuggle in our laps any chance he gets.
When we walk in the door, Charlie’s entire body shakes from side to side as he desperately tries to wag his corkscrew tail. When we give him a treat, he dances around the room in wobbly circles. As mischievous as Charlie can often be, he never fails to radiate a nearly tangible purity of heart.
The lessons we can learn from our dogs are simple, yet profound.
2008 1509 page38In his book, Marley and Me: Life and Love With the World’s Worst Dog, John Grogan writes: “A person can learn a lot from a dog, even a loopy one like ours. Marley taught me about living each day with unbridled exuberance and joy, about seizing the moment and following your heart. He taught me to appreciate the simple things—a walk in the woods, a fresh snowfall, a nap in a shaft of winter sunlight. And as he grew old and achy, he taught me about optimism in the face of adversity. Mostly, he taught me about friendship and selflessness and, above all else, unwavering loyalty.”
I have learned many lessons in our first year as dog owners.
One evening while tempting Charlie with a tasty treat, I watched him wiggle and beg until I laughed out loud. The thought struck me: Maybe the “pure of heart” of the Beatitudes are surrounded by the same things as all the rest of us, but they just choose to enjoy them more. Perhaps they are able to experience a boundless and “undogged” joy in the simple pleasures because they’ve decided not to be burdened by the weights of this world. The focus is on what’s to come.
I like the paraphrase of this beatitude from Jack Blanco’s Clear Word: “Happiness comes to those with pure hearts and motives. Such people will one day have the privilege of seeing God . . . face to face” (Matt. 5:8).
Similar to young children, dogs are largely untainted by the ink of this world: greed, envy, worry, disappointment, disillusionment. If we shared their innocence, perhaps we would also be able to see God and His gifts through life’s everyday moments of joy.
Solomon writes about the happiness we can experience from enjoying life’s simple pleasures: “So I commend the enjoyment of life, because nothing is better for a man under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany him in his work all the days of the life God has given him under the sun” (Eccl. 8:15).
I believe God speaks to us in the quiet moments, just as He spoke to Elijah in the whispers of the wind. And I believe God gives us opportunities to see Him every day in unadorned, and often unexpected, places. If that’s true, I wonder where I might see God today.
Maybe I will see God in the solitude of a sunny afternoon, the optimism of a clear blue sky, the joy in meeting new, furry friends. I wonder: If I’m able to purely enjoy the simple pleasures in life, then maybe the dog park won’t be just Charlie’s favorite place in the world—but mine, too.
 Amanda Sauder Maggard is a corporate trainer in Orlando, Florida.

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                                                       to see     and
                                      Sycamore-fig          c
                                                     a         l
                                                  d         i
                                                e        m
                                               b       b
                                             m       e
                                            i        d
                                          l         d
                                        c          o
                         Zacchaeus             w
Finally focused,                              n   blessed.
Zacchaeus (Greek from Hebrew zakak: pure, transparent, clean)
Carol June Hooker, a community health nursing teacher, wrote this when she was in her 20s. She lives in Landover Hills, Maryland.