The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Christians: Purity
Matthew 5:1, 2, 8
Travel back with me to the year 1936.Travel back with me to the year 1936.
Adolph Hitler was at the peak of his power, and the Olympic Games were being staged in Berlin. The timing was perfect for Hitler. He would use the Olympics to parade before the world the rise of his Third Reich, the military power and prowess of Germany, and his twisted belief that the Aryan race was somehow superior to all other racial strains. (By the way, you may not know that the doctrine of Aryan supremacy arises from the Hindu religion in India. In fact, Hitler, early on, spent time in India, adopted certain Hindu beliefs, and carried them back to Germany. Hitler’s disdain for non-Aryan peoples and the resulting Holocaust—even Hitler’s swastika—grew out of the tenets of the Hindu religion. But I suppose I should speak to that on some other occasion.)
In any case, Hitler was determined to use the 1936 Olympics to further his evil cause. Yet the day came when the crowds at the Olympic Stadium were stunned into silence. For standing at center stage of the Olympics was a slender, humble black man wearing four gold medals. His name was Jesse Owens. He stole the thunder from Adolph Hitler, because he was everything Hitler said should not be. In the eyes of the world, Jesse Owens was the star of the 1936 Olympics.
I’m not sure that that is totally correct. You see, I believe that there were two stars in those Olympic Games—Jesse Owens, and…Well, one of the gold medals Jesse Owens won was in the long jump. If you pursue athletic trivia, you will know that Jesse Owens set a world record in the long jump during those Olympics and that record lasted more than 30 years. But what you may not know is that Jesse Owen’s chief competition was to come from a German—a fellow named Lutz Long. And you may not know that Jesse Owens almost failed to qualify for the finals of the long jump. In the qualifying jumps he kept scratching. He kept overshooting the takeoff board on his approach to the jump. He had only one attempt remaining in order to qualify. At that point, Lutz Long came to him and, in halting English, said to Jesse Owens: “I am going to put a white cloth on the ground six inches in front of the takeoff board. Jump off of the cloth, and you will qualify.” Jesse Owens did what the young German told him to do and he made the finals. Ultimately the quest for the gold came down to two men—Lutz Long and Jesse Owens. Jesse Owens was in second place with just one jump remaining. Still using the cloth given him by Lutz Long, Jesse Owens took off on his last jump and sailed an unprecedented 26 feet, 5 1/2 inches. The German crowd was stunned into silence. Adolph Hitler was in a barely controlled rage. Not a sound was heard. Suddenly, Lutz Long walked over to the sand pit, reached down and lifted Jesse Owens up, wrapped his arm about Owen’s shoulder, threw his hand in the air and began to chant: “Jesse Owens! Jesse Owens!, Jesse Owens!”
Lutz Long was a hero in my book because he had a heart that was pure. In the face of what was wrong, he could do what was right. Though surrounded by enemies, he could make a friend. In the swirling vortex of evil, he could stand tall for what is true. He was an embodiment of what Jesus meant when He said in the sixth Beatitude: “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.”
Let’s look then at the heart of this Beatitude.
Most of the time when I study the Bible, I read with a pencil in my hand so that I can underscore special phrases or words that I think need to be stressed or emphasized or internalized. If Jesus were to do that with this sixth Beatitude, I think He would underscore the words “in heart”—”Blessed are the pure in heart.” When Jesus spoke of the heart, He didn’t just mean the emotions. He meant the inner life, the total personality, the ideas and the ideals, the attitudes and the motives, the character and the commitments within. Therefore, when we in the church say: “Give God your heart”, what we mean is: “Give God your inner life. Give God the real you.”
I like what Max Lucado says. He writes: “The heart is the center of the spiritual life. If the fruit of a tree is bad, you don’t try to fix the fruit; you treat the roots. If a person’s actions are bad, it is not enough to change habits; you have to go deeper. You have to go to the heart of the problem which is the problem of the heart. The state of the heart is critical…when someone barks at you, do you bark back or bite your tongue? That depends on the state of your heart. When your schedule is too tight or your to-do list too long, do you lose your cool or keep it? That depends on the state of your heart. When you are offered a morsel of gossip marinated in slander, do you pass it on or turn it down? That depends on the state of your heart. Do you see the bag lady on the street as a burden on society or as an opportunity for God? That, too, depends on the state of your heart. The state of your heart dictates whether you harbor a grudge or give grace, seek self-pity or seek Christ, drink human misery or taste God’s mercy.”
The heart of the sixth Beatitude is the state of your heart. In other words, Jesus is saying to us: “Don’t be pretentious in your daily living. Don’t be fake. Don’t be artificial. Don’t be ‘holier than thou’.” Don’t be hypocritical. Don’t be like the chameleon and try to blend in to your surroundings. Don’t be silent in the face of wrong when you ought to be speaking for what is right. Don’t make a show of your religion and miss the message. Don’t let the pressures of the world and other people cram you into someone else’s mold. Don’t let your convictions be compromised and your witness be watered down. Be genuine. Be honest. Be real within. Give God your heart. O how near to the heart of God are those whose hearts are pure.
But now let’s take this Beatitude to our hearts.
The only way we can have hearts that are pure is to let them be cleansed by the One who is the “heart-purifier”. The One who made us is the One who can cleanse us from the inside out.
Years ago, back when I was still young, I read Thomas Costain’s novel, The Silver Chalice. I’ve never forgotten its message. When the main character, Basil, first laid eyes on the cup used at the Last Supper, he saw nothing special. To him, it looked like nothing more than an old stained, tarnished, dented silver mug. It looked cheap, ordinary, even worthless. He wondered what all the fuss was about. But then Basil was converted. He became a Christian. He gave His heart to God. He accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. His heart was purified by the cleansing, forgiving power of God in Jesus Christ. At that point, he looked again at the cup. This time he saw a magnificent chalice, brilliant with a light of heaven. The cup had not been changed in any way, but Basil had been changed. His heart and his eyes had been touched by the Christ. As a result, that cup from the Last Supper became the most beautiful thing he had ever laid his eyes on. He saw in it the sacrifice of Christ, the blood of Christ, the love of Christ. Before,he had been blind to it. But now Christ had come and purified his heart and opened his eyes to see God’s gracious acceptance of him.
That’s the way it works, my friends, and that’s what this sixth Beatitude is all about. O how near to the heart of God are those whose hearts have been changed and cleansed by the indwelling Christ. They are the ones who, in the end, shall behold the face of God.
Give your heart to God in Jesus Christ today.
There is no better place than here.
There is no better time than now.