A Manual for Christian Living: 5

 

In the previous article (Barnabas Aid, January-February 2024, pp.i-iv) we looked at the fourth and fifth beatitudes and our yearning to be like Jesus. In the article below, we see how this is focused more sharply in the sixth and seventh beatitudes and the glorious honours we are promised of seeing God and being called His sons and daughters.

 

B lessed are the pure in heart,  for they will see God. (Matthew 5:8.) When Jesus said these words to His closest disciples, sitting together on a mountainside, no doubt they were gazing intently at Him while they listened. They did not realise it, but they were seeing God. 

It was a stunning promise for those who had grown up in a faith which, perhaps uniquely in the Middle East at that time, had no images of its God. They were strictly forbidden by the second of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:4).  

Yet some believers yearned greatly to see God. David prayed that he could “gaze on the beauty of the Lord” (Psalm 27:4).  This was his heart’s desire. “One thing I ask from the Lord,” he said, “this only do I seek.” Yet he did not envisage more than spending time in the Tabernacle, where the Lord was specially present but still could not be seen with physical eyes. 

The closeness of Moses’s relationship with the Lord was likened to God speaking to Moses “face to face, as one speaks to a friend” (Exodus 33:11). Yet it seems that Moses never actually saw His face. Once Moses asked, “Now show me your glory.” The Lord passed by but let Moses see only His retreating back, not His face
(Exodus 33:17-23).

Like so many of the other beatitude promises, the complete fulfilment of this one will happen only in heaven. There we shall indeed see God, with the eyes of our resurrection bodies. “They will see his face” (Revelation 22:4). 

But the promise of seeing God begins to be fulfilled in this life too, because of its many layers of meaning. The Aramaic word Jesus probably used for “see” was chaza, which is not about physical vision. Rather, it is about a deep awareness. Those who see God in this life recognise Him in what is happening to them and around them. By an inward spiritual perception, they see Him at work in circumstances, in nature, in miracles, in suffering, in day-to-day life, in other people, in themselves. They can distinguish His providence and His grace in the tumult of our world. 

With this awareness we also discern the presence of Immanuel (God with us, Matthew 1:23) in our own lives. We feel, personally, the reality of promises like “I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20). For the one who sees God, the head knowledge of such Scriptures is transformed into a heart knowledge of felt experience. From that heart knowledge flows the abundance of comfort, peace and joy which the presence of Jesus would bring if He were standing visibly before us. With this awareness we can affirm that in Jesus “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). 

Another layer of meaning comes with the Greek text of Matthew 5:8. Out of many possible words for “see”, the one used here means to gaze. It is not a casual glance. Nor is it simple, passive observation. It means looking long and hard, feasting our wide-open eyes on something wonderful. John used the same word in Revelation 22:4. 

This is how it will be when we see God in heaven in the fullness of His glory. We shall be absorbed and held as we gaze and gaze on Him. It can be the same here on earth, when we see Him with the eye of faith.  

In the first century, mirrors were made of bronze, tin or silver, highly polished but giving a reflection that was blurred and somewhat dark. At the end of 1 Corinthians 13, where Paul compares earth and heaven, he tells us “now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face” (1 Corinthians 13:12 ESV). When we find it a struggle to see God in our daily lives, let us encourage ourselves with the knowledge that one day we can throw away the mirror, lift our eyes and gaze directly upon His dazzling beauty. 

This promise is for those who are pure in heart, meaning those whose hearts have been purified, as if all the toxins have been purged out and all the stains removed. The phrase would have brought to the minds of Jesus’s listeners a picture of pruning away the useless branches of a vine to make it fruitful, or preparing a field to be planted by removing the stones and ploughing it.

It is the blood of Jesus that purifies us from all sin (1 John 1:7) but we have a part to play in developing a pure heart. We must confess our sins (1 John 1:9). We must strive to avoid wrong desires, wrong attitudes, and wrong motives or intentions. We must try to keep out selfishness, pride and ambition. We must be sincere and focused simply on serving God. The yearning for such purity of heart forms part of the fourth beatitude’s yearning for righteousness.

Paul gives some practical advice: “Fill your minds with those things that are good and that deserve praise: things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and honourable” (Philippians 4:8 GNT). But, by God’s grace, as we grow in purity of heart, we will become those to whom all things are pure (Titus 1:15). Then we are fitted to see God face to face, to be in His presence (Psalm 24:3-4). 

Being allowed into the presence of kings was traditionally considered a high honour. In the culture of Bible times, to see the king’s face was a special favour, granted to his friends. The queen of Sheba exclaimed to Solomon, “How happy your people must be! How happy your officials, who continually stand before you and hear your wisdom!” (1 Kings 10:8). If there was such joy in being continually in the presence of a human king, then to be continually in the presence of our heavenly King must fall into the category of unimaginable blessedness that Paul struggled to express (1 Corinthians 2:9). 

This beatitude promises us the honour of seeing the face of the King of kings and the joy of seeing the face of our Beloved Friend. This is the bliss of the pure in heart. 

Perhaps such purity seems beyond our reach. Let us not despair. The more clearly we see God in His purity, the more we become aware of the pride and deceit in our hearts and the need to repent. So we increasingly feel our unworthiness, even as we grow in Christ-likeness. Paul called himself the chief of sinners  (1 Timothy 1:16). Godly Job repented in dust and ashes (Job 42:5-6).

In the end, however, “when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). Alfred Plummer describes a gradual process, begun on earth and completed in heaven, as we grow in purity and simultaneously grow in our ability to see God:

Those who are admitted to the Presence will see Him, because they are like Him, and they will become more like Him because they see Him. Assimilation is the natural result of intimacy, and the intimacy must be begun in this world, if it is to bear fruit in the next. 1

There is a sense in which all will see God, for all will appear before Christ’s judgment seat (2 Corinthians 5:10). My terminally ill brother, a Marxist and a militant atheist all his adult life, said to my mother that he had died and found himself before God, who told him that he was not yet ready, because of his sinfulness, and sent him back to earth. My brother found himself alive and back in his hospital bed. He asked for a cross and I believe that in his last few days he turned to Christ.    

We are also told that every eye will see Jesus when He returns and then “all peoples on earth will mourn because of him” (Revelation 1:7). But the sixth beatitude does not refer to the dread experience of seeing God in His role as Judge and the terrible grief of having despised and rejected Him. Rather, it is a precious promise for those who have longed for his appearing (2 Timothy 4:8) that in heaven we shall at last see our dearest Lord. 

O the joy and honour of feeling the presence of our Beloved, the King of kings, whom we shall one day see face to face, as our hearts are purified by our growing experience of Him and His holiness.

B lessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. (Matthew 5:9.) After six beatitudes about the thoughts and inner life of a Christ-like Christian, we now move to one – the only one in the whole list – which involves a specific outward action. We know that being merciful (the fifth beatitude) involves actions, but it is only here in the seventh beatitude that we are given a specific action to perform: we are to make peace. 

“Peace” in the New Testament is the Greek word eirene. Its everyday meanings include harmonious relationships between people and between nations, security, lack of conflict and orderliness. Its Christian meaning focuses on a harmonious relationship between God and humans. The Biblical concept of peace is also strongly coloured by the Old Testament word shalom, meaning wholeness. Shalom indicates a complete wellbeing of body, mind and spirit and in our relationships with each other. 

Because “peace” has so many meanings, “peacemaking” also has many meanings. One of them, corresponding to the everyday meaning of eirene, means practical efforts to bring peace between individuals who have quarrelled. In our sinful world, peacemakers are not always welcomed. Their efforts may be rejected as interference. Peacemaking is a task that needs courage, patience, wisdom, insight and tact. It can be costly and sacrificial.

This type of peacemaking could be called spreading the peace of the world. But a Christian should also be a spreader of the peace of God. This means we are to help others to be reconciled with God. We are to help them find peace with Him by repenting and trusting in Jesus who saves us by His atoning death, just as we ourselves have done. For we are His ambassadors, speaking the words He would speak, imploring people to be reconciled with God (2 Corinthians 5:19-20). Our message is the “gospel of peace” (Ephesians 6:15). Christians should be not only “healing the outward sores of the world” but also “staunching the deep inward hurts of men’s souls”. 2

The peacemaker who is bringing a challenging spiritual message may find themselves viewed as a troubler like Elijah (1 Kings 18:17) or criticised for creating division rather than unity (Matthew 10:34-37). Peacemaking may result in hostility towards the peacemaker, but this is part of the cross that we take up when we follow Christ (Matthew 10:38). 

We could say it is the same within our own souls. We have made peace with God by yielding ourselves joyfully and trustingly to Him. But the moment that we make peace with God, Satan declares war on us. For the rest of our earthly lives we have to fight off his efforts to drag us from the Kingdom of the Son back into the dominion of darkness (Colossians 1:13). Richard Chenevix Trench, summarising the teaching of Augustine (354-430), writes of this inevitable war in a believer’s heart between the flesh and the spirit:

… in one sense in the redeemed man there is not peace but war – a war which this very redemption has brought in … yet this is in the way to that peace, which alone deserves the name. 3

The Beatitudes are for the followers of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, whose reign is characterised by endless peace and eternal justice (Isaiah 9:6-7). As peacemakers we are helping to extend His sovereign rule. Jesus’s own peacemaking was costlier and more sacrificial than ours can ever be, for He made peace with us by shedding His blood on the cross (Colossians 1:20).

He is the Son of the God of peace (Romans 15:33; 16:20; 1 Corinthians 14:33; Philippians 4:9; 1 Thessalonians 5:23; Hebrews 13:20). He is the Son of the God who makes wars cease (Psalm 46:9), the God who hates those who love violence (Psalm 11:5), the God who brought a mighty flood to destroy the earth because it was filled with violence (Genesis 6:13).

The rather rare Greek word used in Matthew 5:9 for “peacemakers” was usually applied to emperors. But, far better than being an earthly emperor, we are co-workers with God when we engage in peacemaking.

The title “sons of God” is bestowed on us by God Himself. In the wonderful affirmation of 1 John 3:1 we are called “children of God”, using the Greek word tekna, meaning offspring or children. But in the seventh beatitude, the word is huioi, meaning sons (which we can understand to include daughters too). Tekna carries the nuance of tender affection, but huioi indicates dignity and high standing. 4 When God calls us His sons and daughters, He is honouring us for sharing in His work of peacemaking. He is appreciating our efforts. He is recognising that, in our peacemaking, we are reflecting His Son Jesus. This unbelievable honour fills us with joy. 

The blessing in this beatitude is for peacemakers, not necessarily for peace-lovers. Passive peace-lovers might ignore problems and evade issues, perhaps in order to perpetuate a superficial peace. But there should be no peaceful coexistence with evil. 

The promised happiness of the accolade from God is for those who actively try to create peace where there is hostility, mistrust, oppression, violence or other conflict. It is for those who are willing, if necessary, to give up their own peace in order to bring peace to others.

To be a peacemaker is a high and noble calling, a privilege granted by God to His anointed ones, and “sons of God” is a high and noble title. Yet it is something to which every Christian is called, and a title of which every Christian should be worthy. 

If we are not peacemakers, we are not reflecting the character of our Lord Jesus Christ. Are we, then, His disciples at all? We are defined by what we do. Jesus warned that false prophets will be known by their fruit, continuing:

Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.  Many will say to me on that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?”  Then I will tell them plainly, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” (Matthew 7:21-23)

Christians should stand out as different from non-Christians. We are in the world but not of it. We cannot dwell comfortably with discord, hatred, anger or bitterness, which all spring from sin in the hearts of human beings. Satan is the destroyer (Revelation 9:11) but our God is the Creator. He is the author of peace (1 Corinthians 14:33 NKJV). He humbled Himself and came into the world to make peace by dying on a cross (Philippians 2:6-8): peace between each of us and God (2 Corinthians 5:19) and peace between His followers (Ephesians 2:13-16). 

We do not and should not fit the world’s mould or think the world’s way. As Christians, we are not called to deliver judgment, for judgment lies in the next life and in the hands of God, who alone knows the heart. We are not meant to be agents of division, fomenters of conflict, or encouragers of hatred. These are the actions of peace-breakers, and are all too easily achieved, even by something as seemingly trivial as a little gossip (Proverbs 16:28; 26:20). 

We have seen that human violence was the sin most abhorred by God in the time of Noah.  We have seen that peacemaking is the one named action in the Beatitudes, so we may consider it the “good deed” He most wants us to perform. From this we know that we are called to bring into every situation Jesus, the Prince of Peace, and His reconciling love, forgiveness and grace. 

The disciples of the Prince of Peace should be active peacemakers, no matter what it costs. God will honour them by calling them His sons and daughters and they will know superlative joy in their hearts.


DR PATRICK SOOKHDEO
International Director, Barnabas Aid

1 Alfred Plummer, An Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to S. Matthew, 3rd edition (London: Robert Scott, 1911), p.67.
2 Richard Chenevix Trench, Exposition of the Sermon on the Mount, drawn from the Writings of St. Augustine with Observations
(London: John W. Parker, 1844), p.16.
3 Trench, Exposition of the Sermon on the Mount, p.16.
4 R.C.H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Matthew’s Gospel (Minneapolis, Augsburg Publishing House, 1943) pp.193-4.
 
 

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