Apr 25, 2012

Purity of Heart

“But the wisdom that is from above is first pure…”    ~James 3:17

“Flee also youthful lusts; but pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.”    ~2 Tim 2:22


     Most people (including me) tend to have a specific stream of thought when they hear the word “pure”. For most, purity suggests guarding one’s heart against the temptations of the flesh. But is this really what purity is? In the Bible, the definition of “pure” is “clean, innocent, modest, perfect”. Modest seems to fit with the common idea of purity. So do clean and innocent. But what about perfect? Does perfect simply refer to freedom from fleshly lusts? Not completely. Being perfect means not sinning. So when Scripture says, “purify your heart”, it is in essence saying, “be perfect.”

     Unfortunately, because purity is so often thought of too simply as not letting your heart get out of control, the true meaning is often missed.  Look at what Ps 119:9-10 says, “How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to Your word. With my whole heart I seek You; let me not wander from Your commandments!” “With my whole heart”, it says. Purity is not just keeping one’s heart from going in the wrong direction. If that were true, we could just put up walls in front of our hearts and then just sit there, because according to definition, we wouldn’t be going anywhere and therefore, wouldn’t be going in the wrong direction. But the passage says, “I seek You.” We are not to just sit and do nothing. We are to be actively seeking God with the whole heart. What does this leave? If we are seeking the Lord with our entire being, can we be distracted by the temptations of the world? Can we give in to anger or take joy in arguments or love frivolity and laziness? If the mind and heart have a single-minded purpose of seeking the Lord, can foolish passion, any weakness, any sin exist in them? No; if you seek after the Lord with your whole heart, your way is pure. If your way is pure, you are perfect. If you are perfect, you are without sin.  Now, has anyone ever been completely pure?  No one except Jesus Christ.  However, does that mean that we are not to “purify our hearts”? Not in the least. Matt 5:48 says, “Therefore be perfect, just as your Father in Heaven is perfect.” Despite our past failings or what we think is possible, because of Christ in us, we can seek diligently and completely after our God.

     In the past, I’ve wondered what then is acceptable. If my heart is wholly seeking after the Lord, does that mean that I can’t read Classical literature or watch movies or get married or play games or live in an ungodly city or be a friend to a sinner, a modern-day tax-collector? After all, if my whole being is seeking after the Lord, obviously my attention is going to be directed towards Him. But then I think of how in the Old Testament the Lord institutes feast days, how He gives directions about marriage, what He tells the Israelites to do while they are in captivity in Babylon, and what Jesus does during His ministry: eat with tax-collectors, befriend prostitutes, touch the unclean. None of the things I listed are wrong as long as they are done in a pure manner and as long as they teach us something about the Lord. We can still be seeking the Lord as we read a Classical masterpiece that portrays the victory of good over evil or that warns of the vanity of life. Think of the Book of Esther: good conquers evil. Think of Ecclesiastes: “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.” Be careful, though. A book or movie or action may have something good in it, but it may have something bad, too. It is up to your judgment as you use Scripture to determine whether you should read, watch, or do it. All that I’m getting at here is that seeking God with our whole heart does not mean we ignore everything on earth. Jesus obviously ate and drank and talked and went to feasts and worked as a carpenter. Yet He was always focused on bringing God glory in all that He did. May the same be true of us.

Your brother in Christ,

Apr 22, 2012

What Is Wisdom?

“But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.”   ~James 3:17-18

“’Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to depart from evil is understanding.’”   ~Job 28:28

     What is wisdom? As I’ve gotten older, this question comes to my mind more and more often. Situations come up and problems arise where I’ve spent hours, sometimes days, wondering what would be the wisest thing to do. Even in day to day mundane tasks I’m thinking about what would be the wisest action to take. Now, that doesn’t mean I always do it—make the wisest choices, that is. Even in the midst of arguments I know what would be the wisest course, but I deliberately refuse to take it. But let me get back to the question.  Truly, what is wisdom?

     In Proverbs, it says that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Here in Job, it also says that the fear of the Lord is wisdom. Without this fear, no one can truly be wise, at least according to biblical standards. Oftentimes we use the word “wise” to mean someone who is smart or makes profitable decisions. We say that someone is a wise stock investor, or a wise philosopher. It is important to know that being foremost in a field does not necessarily make one wise. To be wise, someone must first and foremost fear the Lord. However, it is also important to know that making good decisions is a result of being wise. So in other words, good decisions do not make you wise, but if you are wise, you will make good decisions. In Proverbs, we have chapter after chapter giving different characteristics of a wise man. In the first three chapters, Solomon gives us some of these traits. These include: listening to counsel, taking rebukes graciously, avoiding the path of sinners, fleeing from the seductress, keeping the commandments of the Lord, being humble, and honoring the Lord with our possessions…to name a few. In James, we have another list. Notice two things. First, notice that James puts purity at the beginning (more on that next week). Second, notice how many times he refers to peacemaking: gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy, without partiality (bias) and without hypocrisy (we are to be sincere). But wisdom is not just a bunch of traits. Wisdom is the application of knowledge. Knowledge is knowing all these things, wisdom is applying them. So here are a couple biblical examples of wisdom adapted for our times:

     You really, REALLY want a new toy – computer, bike, camera, trebuchet, etc. Unfortunately, it will cost a third of your savings. Your parents and friends have cautioned you against spending so much for an unnecessary object. What would the wise man do? Heed advice. Be careful that the advice is biblical, though. You don’t want to be like Ahaz was with Jezebel over the issue of Nabel’s vineyard. In that situation, Ahaz heeded his wife’s ungodly advice and suffered for it. In addition, since a wise man honors the Lord through his possessions, spending that much money for a single object probably isn’t the best idea. 

     You are in a room full of friends and suddenly everyone leaves because of some interesting attraction in the back yard. You’ve seen it before, so you stay inside only to find out that one of your sisters in Christ has remained inside as well (she’s already seen it before, too). What to do? Well, in this case, it doesn’t hurt to see the same thing twice. In simple terms, go to where other people are. It doesn’t matter if you still talk to her, just don’t do it when it is only you two in the room.  Avoid temptation or even the appearance of evil. Follow Joseph’s lead and flee.

     Lastly, you are in a group of people your age. You are all having a marvelous time: laughing, singing, maybe even having a good old political debate. However, you notice that most of these people aren’t Christians and so some of the topics, both for the songs and talks, aren’t really the best. It could be something really bad or it could just be a bunch of guys talking about how to win a level on a video game. But here’s the question: is this the type of company you want to be spending your time with? In Proverbs we hear a lot on the way of the sinner, but we often don’t realize that even foolish talk that draws us away from following the Lord can have negative results. The solution? Either try and turn the conversation to more edifying things or simply take your leave.

     To wrap up this long letter, be wise. Act upon your knowledge; don’t let it grow moldy from disuse. Above all, though, fear the Lord!

Your brother in Christ,