Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.–Matthew 5:8
Did you know there’s an acceptable percentage or amount of insect parts or excrement in the food we eat and drink? That the FDA considers that “pure.” Somehow, that makes me gag a little bit but it makes me think there’s hope for me to be the “pure in heart” that this Be-Attitude talks about in Matthew.
Jesus is used to getting into tussles about what it means to be pure. Looking at Matthew 15:1-11, we see that the Pharisees wanted to come down hard on Jesus, that they thought they’d really caught him this time, that he was really going to be sure of their religious superiority. The Pharisees and teachers of the Law came to Jesus, and wait for this really hardcore condemnation… they said, “your disciples were seen eating without washing their hands!”
Do you ever wonder if Jesus just wanted to roll his eyes sometimes? Or maybe just look up and ask, “are you kidding me?”
But instead, he replies with a set of questions for them. We looked at corban before, a religious understanding about setting aside money for God, and about how the Pharisees had basically allowed people to disown their own relatives and fail to care for their families. We know from our look at “Honor your father and mother” in our Ten Words series, that Jesus doesn’t really agree with their interpretation of God’s word.
Jesus quotes Isaiah 29: “‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.'” And he turns to everyone else, the Pharisees, the disciples, the random people who’ve come to hear him speak, and he says, “What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.”
Let’s quickly recap:
The Pharisees define purity by the kinds of rules that make us wash our hands before eating or number prayers we should repeat or what songs we must sung or how we dress or interact or tithe.
Jesus shows up and says that what happens to us, and what we eat, and what rules we follow, don’t matter as much as how we love other people, how we speak to them, and what we do with our time.
If purity of heart is about love then it seems like there’s something about love that’s important to Jesus.
-The way we understand God’s love for us.
-The way God shows us love through Jesus.
-The way we show God that we love him.
And one, amazingly complicated and often maddening love: the way we love each other.
We read I Corinthians 13 earlier, and I watched some of you glaze over. A couple of you even fell asleep! But I’d like to read the first ten verses to you now, from The Message translation, and we’ll see if maybe there’s more to this package than just a cute Bible passage for weddings.
See, the thing is, Paul wrote this to the church at Corinth. Not to bless his niece and nephew’s wedding, not to use in some kind of marriage counseling. Paul wrote this to explain to one of his churches how to do church right, how to love one another, how to reflect the pure heart of God. Let’s not forget: the pure in heart will see God.
No pressure, right?
1 Corinthians 13 (The Message)
If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate. If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing. If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.
Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.
Love never dies. Inspired speech will be over some day; praying in tongues will end; understanding will reach its limit. We know only a portion of the truth, and what we say about God is always incomplete. But when the Complete arrives, our incompletes will be canceled.
Check out the list of actions in the introduction:
If I am the best speaker in the world…talented and eloquent…
If I can channel the heavenly behavior and spirit of the angels…I am spiritual…
If I can speak God’s Word powerfully, and make everything understandable about God for everyone else…I am a good teacher…
If I have the faith to make a mountain move…I am faithful…
If I am willing to die for my faith by being executed publicly…I believe and mean what I say…
But I don’t have love, then it means nothing.
Those are some wonderful traits, some powerful things, some things we aspire to for ourselves to know that we’re getting close to what God wants us to be. And maybe that’s the point.
There’s no partial credit here. You can’t do the right things or have the right gifts or even believe in your head all of the right ideas about God, and not have love, or it just flat out doesn’t matter.
The Message says that I am bankrupt without love. Bankrupt: giving everything up, financially spent, having no resources, penniless.
All of those things that are heroic, faithful qualities don’t matter at all to the Apostle who took the good news of Jesus Christ and shared it with the world. With. Out. Love. We can’t checklist ourselves onto the ledger here. We have to really love which is intangible, sometimes impractical, and fairly… abstract.
But love it seems, is crucial, live giving, absolutely necessary. It’s like water to our parched bodies, oxygen to our suffocating lungs, blood to keep the oxygen moving around.
Love is the official “gotta have it”– Pepsi, move over.
If we’re going to “get” Jesus, be disciples, understand what it means to be pure in heart, then we need to get figured out how to really love.
Not like “oh my goodness, I love your sweater!”
Or, “He’s so wonderful, I love him!” even though you met thirty minutes ago.
No, love as in the relationship between people, as individuals and groups, that must include God.
But how can we wrap our minds around what real love is? How can we make our hearts so purely burn for God that everything else fades away?
Let’s dive into the mid-verses of I Corinthians 13. I see 10 things that love carries with it as aspects of purely seeking God out and wanting nothing-but-God.
#1 Love never gives up. What do you think of when you think of not giving up? I think of… a picture my dad had hanging on his office door when I was in high school. It was a picture of a stork eating a frog. The whole frog was in the stork’s mouth– except for the hands of the frog, that were wrapped around the stork’s throat.
When I think of not giving up, I think of Jimmy Valvano, and his speech at the inaugural ESPYs. Valvano, the coach of NC State basketball in the 1980s, lost his battle with cancer, but his passion for research and battling cancer has saved thousands of lives.
Of course, when I think of love not giving up, I think of Forrest Gump’s love for Jenny: no matter what Jenny did to Forrest, no matter how many times she betrayed him, he refused to stop loving her.
Love’s refusal to give up is a decision, not a feeling.
#2 Love cares more about other people than itself. There are two people whose pictures pop into my head when I think of selfless love. Well, two people and a dog. Mother Theresa, who devoted her life to caring for the neglected and untouchable in India, lived a life without focus on herself, only on how she could make the lives of these forgotten about people better.
And I think of my Grandma. Sure, she always wanted me to play “Blessed Assurance” on the piano over and over again, but outside of that, I never remember her wanting anything from us. She wanted to make sure we were happy, and well fed. You probably have a grandma like that!
When it comes to unconditional love, I can’t think of any better picture for that than my dog, Annie. You’ve got to love her: she’s forgotten how much trouble she was in and how angry you were with her, before she’s even made it out of the room. Good day, bad day, in between, she’s the picture of love, especially when I don’t deserve it.
#3 Love doesn’t worry about what it doesn’t have. See Ten Commandment #10. “Thou shall not covet.” We’ve covered this before, right?
#4 Love doesn’t strut, believe it’s always right, think it’s all that and a bag of chips. Okay, so I added in there about the bag of chips. But have you ever met someone who really, really loved someone else and thought they (themselves) were the most important person in the universe? No? Seems like those two things are mutually exclusive in Paul’s mind (and he chose not to get married) and in our personal experience!
#5 Love doesn’t lose it’s temper. This could be a sermon in itself right? I’ll admit it, my family doesn’t always get my best, because they get me when I’m hungry, tired, done with work, and ready for a break. Maybe some of you feel that way, too. Maybe your family and friends (and frenemies at work) are the ones who know where all your buttons are and push them with alarming speed. The thing is, if we really want to be about God, about love, disciples of Jesus, we need to learn to control our emotions, our actions, and our tongues.
James 3 launches into a discourse on controlling what we say and emphasizes it with this in 3:5: “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness.” Um… yeah. If we’re going to say we want to be more like Jesus, then maybe we should start talking more like Jesus, too. And I don’t mean using Aramaic.
#6 Love forgives; it doesn’t worry about how many times it’s forgiven. Peter asked Jesus in Matthew 18 how many times he should forgive. Jesus told him seventy times seven (or a number that would’ve required a calculator). Jesus wasn’t telling Peter to keep track, but he was trying to help him see that forgiveness isn’t quantifiable. [Yes, you can forgive a person and still not allow them the freedom to hurt you again.] Jesus was telling Peter that forgiveness frees up the forgiver and the forgiven; Peter understood forgiveness better after he denied Jesus three times and still became the rock on which Jesus would build the church (John 21).
#7 Love cares more about God being first than who comes in second, and always finds the best. We live in a competitive society. We want to sell more, do more, make more, earn more, last longer, whatever. And when we sit back and think about it, thanks to Cosmos we even have a picture of it, we’re just a really small blip in the big picture. But if we can recognize that we’re part of God’s picture, or as the image goes- we’re important enough to have our pictures on God’s refrigerator- then our place, our finish in the race, doesn’t matter, but we’re seeking the best for ourselves and everyone else. That’s love.
#8 Love never looks backwards. Frank Sinatra sang “regrets, I’ve had a few” in “My Way,” but supposedly he ended up hating that song, too. I’ve never been much for giving regrets a lot of my attention, because the present and future are the only things we can control. Sure, Hollywood wants us to consider the romantic story where the girl marries the wrong guy only to reconnect with the right guy in the middle of a lightning storm (Sweet Home Alabama) or during a coma (While You Were Sleeping). The truth is, we can regret it all we want, but love doesn’t worry about what it can’t change.
#9 Love keeps going to the end… and it never dies. I imagine love personified like the Energizer bunny. “He just keeps going and going and going.” Love can’t die because real love comes from God, it is God living and moving in us. Love doesn’t give up because it’s breathing the belief that “there’s always a chance!” like Lloyd Christmas in Dumb and Dumber. It doesn’t die because it’s unkillable, like Westley in The Princess Bride.
And finally, #10, Love recognizes that the here and now are incomplete, but that what comes next will be awesome, amazing, healing, life-giving, forever, and better-than-anything-you’ve-ever-seen. Love knows that we’ve been given one life and we better do our best with it, but it doesn’t worry about after death because that’s in God’s hands and we know it is pain-free, trouble-free, and God-focused. Love knows that things are broken here, that there’s not a reason for everything, and that living into God’s plan is the most important thing.
Whew, ten earmarks of love. What a whirlwind. We may never perfect any one of them, but if we keep them in the forefront of our minds, if we really practice them, there’s a strong possibility that in the end, we’ll figure this whole love thing out.
How will you make unconditional love your focus this week? Who will you love better, more completely?
The more you love, the purer you get.