Psalms · Psalms Book 1 · Sermon on the Mount Series

Diagnosing the Heart

Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God.

Matthew 5:8

That was this week’s verse at Avalon. You can listen to the service here if you missed it. It got me thinking about our hearts and what it means to have a pure heart. Sometimes the easiest way to define something is to look at its opposite. Jesus talks about what defiles our hearts (since pure hearts are undefiled, seems appropriate for an opposite) in Matthew 15. The Pharisees are accusing Jesus’ disciples of breaking their traditions by not washing their hands. Jesus turns their words back on them. He says that they break God’s law in order to follow their traditions. He quotes Isaiah to them: “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.” He goes on to directly answer the Pharisees accusation by pointing out that it isn’t what goes into the mouth that defiles people, but what comes out of the mouth. The disciples are confused. So they ask Jesus to explain what he means, and Jesus answers. First though he reminds them about how food is digested. (Did you know Jesus talked about THAT in the Bible?) Then he explains:

Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled. But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.

Matthew 5:17-20

While it might give you COVID, unwashed hands don’t defile us. Rather it is what is in our hearts that does that. The state of our hearts determines our status before God. Is our heart pure? Then we are also pure or clean. But if our hearts contain all of the junk that Jesus mentioned, then we our unclean. The NLT says, “The words you speak come from the heart — that’s what defiles you.” Jesus clearly connects the status of our hearts with our words.

I am in Psalm 5 this week, and I was surprised by how this psalm describes the wicked. I think I assumed that the psalmists always described the wicked by their actions. But not here. Here the wicked are described mostly by their words. They are boastful. They speak lies. They are treacherous and deceitful. They have no truth in their mouth. Their throat is an open grave. With their tongue they tell lies. And one of the things the psalmist wishes for them is that they would fall by their own counsel. That’s the psalmist’s complete description of the wicked in this chapter. It’s all about what comes out of their mouths not necessarily their actions, though I’m sure those follow. And what comes out of their mouths comes from their hearts, according to Jesus, and here that heart is filled with destruction (verse 9).

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on

So how do we know if our hearts are pure? It seems we do that by examining the things that come out of our mouths. That’s a scary thought. Jesus’ brother James talks about that in James chapter 3. He says that if anyone can control their tongues, they would be perfect. In verse 6 he says of the tongue: “It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set you whole life on fire….” Whoa! He keeps going. “No one can tame the tongue.” Then he has this great metaphor.

With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.

James 3:9-11 (NIV11)

James doesn’t pull any punches does he? Our words come from a source much like a spring does. And if we draw the thread through Scripture, we see that the source of our words is our hearts. James is honest with us that we will always need God’s help with our tongues. But if the pattern of our words is destructive, you can bet that the source, our heart, might be filled with destruction too.

So what’s the status of your heart? How do you know if it’s pure? It seems that we need to look at our words to know. We need to stop and examine how we talk about others. Are we boastful and arrogant when we speak or do we have humility? Do we speak lies or do we try to tell the truth? Are we treacherous with our words and deceitful or are we trustworthy and honest? Is their death in our words or life? Is their blessing or cursing? Examine your words this week. Stop and think about what you say and how you say it and what circumstances you are in when your words are negative versus positive. It’s definitely a challenge to me to look at how I speak to and of others in all circumstances. I don’t want to be a Pharisee where my heart is far from God. I want to see God. And apparently that takes a pure heart which is identified by our words. The challenge is hard according to James, but the reward is great.

May you be blessed by God’s word today.

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