Thursday, June 05, 2008

A Divided Heart

I’ve been taking a class on the Gospel According to Matthew this week and between this class and the one I took last winter, the Sermon on the Mount, one concept (of many) has been fodder for a lot of thought. Particularly in regard to Matthew 5:8 and what Dr. Pennington refers to as “virtue ethics.” “Virtue ethics”, generally speaking, means a wholehearted mind and heart in what you think and do in your actions. So while there is certainly right and wrong things don’t always fit into a cookie-cutter formula regarding how they might be corrected. Heart issues are the main focus. While external actions are certainly involved the heart issue is the cause, and the solution isn’t always so black and white. It’s the complexity of the noetic effects of sin. So one of the things that Jesus kept coming back to in His ministry is that we should not be “double-minded” or “double-souled.” We must not be a divided soul. The book of James is thought of as an extended wisdom reflection on the Sermon on the Mount and it calls this a case of being “double minded” (Jas 1:5-8).
“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.”

Jesus was addressing the issue of having a right heart or a right motivation of desires and affections working out in godly actions. So as James makes this point with a negative illustration we can infer the positive, namely, that personal holiness issues from a consistent stable mind, heart, and action (this is also clear in his point that faith without works is dead in 2:14-26).

This is Jesus’ beef with the Pharisees. They didn’t have a right heart, and this divided heart and mind resulted in the fruit of hypocrisy. This is the main point of Matthew 7:1, “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.” It’s not that we are never to make judgment calls on what is right and wrong but we are to do so with humility recognizing our sin. We must understand our rightful place before the God of the universe before we would think to look to others. Notice that Jesus says later in 7:5 that we need to deal with our flaws so we can help others deal with theirs. We need to be humble and recognize that we are not perfect so we can make judgment calls from a right heart.

This is also the main point of the language of cutting off the hand that causes to sin and cutting out the eye because of lust (Matthew 5:29-30). This is hyperbole…but we have to feel the rub of this. This should challenge us. That being said I am certain all have had lust before and most people have not gouged out their eyes. Are we then disobeying Christ? I would argue, “No.” As long as we are on this side of heaven and the new creation we carry sin. So our eyes and hands will be involved with it. We are not cutting our hands off because of our sin. Don’t get me wrong this should challenge us severely. If we are in sin we must take radical measures to mortify it, but it seems that Jesus’ main point is that our bodies are to be wholly directed toward a life of worship toward Him and we must do whatever we can to maintain this “undivided life” toward Christ.

So God is in the business of changing hearts James further draws this out by saying, “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you (James 4:8-10).” This passage is coming directly after his statement that we should, “submit to God,” and further that if we, “Resist the devil…[the devil] will flee from you (James 4:7).” So becoming whole hearted is linked to submitting to God and resisting the devil.

Okay, so what does that have to do with Matthew 5:8, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Well, we had a discussion about how this is linked to Matthew 6:22, “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light.” This should be read in light (pardon the pun) of the ancient near eastern theory that was prevalent during the time this was written that light is emitted from the eye (e.g. Plato and others argued this). One Old Testament example of this was Leah’s weak eye or “dim” eye in Genesis 29:17 may have been an indication that there was less light in her, which was part of the reason she was less desirable to Jacob. So if the heart is not “divided” among itself it will be more pure hence enabling light to emit from the eye in such a way that they might see God more wholly as well. The idea that many have had about the “evil eye” (in which one can give a curse by looking at someone in a certain way) is part of the same kind of logic. It’s really interesting that even science can’t really figure out what light is (It’s clear that light does not emit from the eye in the physical realm; although, this may be true in the spiritual realm in some sense). It seems that God’s word has an enlightening effect of bringing the Lord’s purity to our eyes and then it works itself out of our lives in a rejoicing heart (Psalm 19:8).

This all roots into the main thrust of the Sermon on the Mount that it is ultimately about heart issues. Actions were taking place coming from a poor condition and posture of the heart. This is the same reason why Jesus said, “Knowing their thoughts, he said to them, ‘Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand?’ (Matthew 12:25-26).”

I have been thinking about how this plays itself out in regard to faith and works. Do my works then issue from a divided heart? If they do are my works hypocritical? Further, if I believe my heart is in a certain condition…do the works that issue out from my heart betray my perceived condition? It seems that a pure heart is God’s desire. A pure heart that is purely one hundred percent sold out to the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is clearly a theme in the Bible (Psalm 24:4; 73:1; Proverbs 20:9; 1 Timothy 1:5; 2 Timothy 2:22; Hebrews 10:22; and 1 Peter 1:22).

I pray that God would grant pure hearts to His people that we may be able to see Him and live lives that are one hundred percent for Him. May His people cry out to Him with Moses, “Please show me your glory (Exodus 33:18),” and may His people trust that, “Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:2).” Ultimately, God changes hearts, and makes them whole. By our own will we cannot make our hearts undivided; we need the Lord Jesus Christ.

Just some thoughts.


Anonymous said...

Great post. Have you read Studies from Sermon on the Mount by Martyn Lloyd-Jones? Great resource on Matthew 5-7.

Noah Braymen said...

I have it...Lindsey's read it;^) So I've gotten quite a few sound bites. I have read the following books on the Sermon on the Mount though: D. A. Carson, Sinclair Ferguson, Dale C. Allison, and James Boice. I've also read much of R. T. France's treatment of the Sermon on the Mount in his newest Matthew Commentary. As well as Craig Keener.

I'd like to get Stott on the Sermon on the Mount...

Oh, also N. T. Wright's essay on the Lord's Prayer has some excellent stuff in it.

Thanks for the comment brother;)

In Christ,

Anonymous said...

Shane... Lindsey here. Did you like Lloyd-Jones? Noah didn't really mention - I really really LOVED that book! Hope you did, too!