Purity, Peace, & Persecution

By Sinclair B. Ferguson

Who are the pure in heart? At first glance, Jesus seems to be thinking about those whose hearts are morally clean. Undoubtedly, His words have Ezekiel’s prophecy as their background: “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you’ (Ezekiel 36.25-26).

Yet this purity, of which the Old Testament also speaks, is not so much a matter of cleanliness (although it involves such) as it is really a matter of the commitment of the heart and will to the Lord.

The Danish theologian-philosopher Soren Kierkegaard expressed Jesus’ meaning well: Purity of heart is to will one thing. To be pure in heart is to be uncompromisingly dedicated to Christ! This is the way
to truly see (or “know”) God.

Being pure in heart means letting nothing stand in the way of our vision of Christ. He is a great Savior and Lord. But great things can be completely obscured by small things if the small things are brought
near enough to our eyes. The issue, therefore, is not how important something is in itself, but how closely we fix our gaze upon it. We see that this world has nothing to compare to Jesus Christ and all that He offers to us. But when we hold this world and its contents too near, we no longer see Christ and His glory so clearly. The value of this world grows out of proportion. We compromise, stumble, and fall.

Jesus’ teaching here provides us with a simple test of the strength of our Christian lives. How clearly do we see God in all His glory? Do we see Him as clearly as we used to? Or has He become obscure and
distant? Have we maintained the sharpness of our vision of Him through wholehearted commitment to Him? Are we pure in heart?

Peacemaking

Jesus says that peacemakers enter into His covenant blessing. They will be called the sons of God. Jesus’ logic is not difficult to follow. God is described in Scripture as the God of peace. As such, He has made peace for us through Christ; He has reconciled us to Himself (2 Corinthians 5:19-21). Making peace is part of God’s gracious character. Those who have become members of His family will share in His family likeness. His sons will be peacemakers.

Like the other beatitudes, this one has been wrested out of its context many times. Jesus is not speaking about the mere cessation of hostilities among the nations. He is speaking about the cessation of
hostilities between man and God. This is the peace He came to establish The Old Testament word for peace is shalom. It is a rich word, and conveys the idea of wholeness, health, well-being. It could
almost be translated “salvation.” Those who make peace are those who earnestly seek the “shalom,” the salvation, of their fellows.

There is another dimension to the peacemaking activities of the children of God. The sons of God will seek peace among themselves, in the fellowship of the family of God. That is very often part of a
pastor’s vows when he is installed in that position. He promises to keep “the peace of the church.” It seems easy to say, but the fact of the matter is that it is very challenging. Many churches are destroyed
because the members, or leaders, shirk their responsibility precisely here. They do not regard the work of peacemaking to be appropriate for them. They forget that those who destroy God’s temple will be
destroyed by God (I Corinthians 3:17) Their own wisdom and their own ways are more important than God’s will-peace and harmony among His people.

Of course, there are occasions when error has to be rooted out, and men have to make their stand on the truth of the gospel. But is it not strange that the churches that experience a great deal of disruption
are often those that most loudly proclaim allegiance to God’s infallible Word?

Are bitterness and strife strangers in evangelical fellowships? Alas, no. They were not absent in Rome, or Corinth, or even Philippi in the first century. And they continue to rear their ugly heads in our
fellowships today. Too often the causes are pride and the desire for power and posi tion. How slow we are to learn that we are a family, and that the Father’s will is that we live together in harmony.

Paul used two marvelous word pictures to underline Jesus’ teaching. In Colossians 3:1 5 Paul writes, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.’ We can
Americanize his statement: Peace is the referee who blows the whistle on any action that is out of line. Paul does not mean that we arc to feel peace deep down. Whether we do or not is beside the point.
Rather, he means that God has called us to peace. Therefore, peace in our fellowship must have priority. We will subordinate other considerations (our will, our position, our natural desires) to the harmony of our fellowship.

Some Christians never do that. They do not seem to know or care that Jesus prayed that His people might dwell in unity as He and His Father did. To disrupt peace in a church fellowship is to despise both the prayers of Christ and the blessing of Christ.

Imagine a man collecting wood for his fireplace. He finds a good supply of branches, but they are of varied shapes and sizes: some long and thin, others short and thick; some straight, others twisted. He
binds them together with a rope, and in one bundle easily carries them home.

So it is in the Church. What a varied bunch we are! How will Christ carry us home? He ties us together with the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:3). Cut that bond, and you cut the cord Christ Himself has tied.

Can you honestly say that you have faithfully sought the peace of Christ’s Church?

Persecution

The climax to the Beatitudes almost seems to be an anti-climax. We are told that we will be persecuted. Perhaps Jesus realized how surprising this might seem to His disciples, so He emphasized His point by
applying it directly to His followers.

Isn’t this the reverse of what we would expect? Men and women who are poor in spirit, mourn for their sin, live lives of gracious meekness, long for God’s righteousness, show mercy to others, are pure in heart, and seek peace between God and man-wouldn’t such people be welcomed with open arms? After all, these are the very men and women the world needs!

The world in which we live assumes that it will welcome Christians with open arms-until the first time it meets Christians. Until then, it is ignorant of its real response to the gospel. It assumes that it is well disposed to Jesus Christ and to God.

But Scripture tells us otherwise. We read that the world is in extreme rebellion against God. Jesus Himself said to His disciples that if men persecuted Him, they would also persecute His followers (John 15:20). He told them, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first’ (John 15:18).

Christians are persecuted for righteousness’ sake because of their devotion to Christ. Real love to Him creates friction in the hearts of those who pay Him only lip service. Loyalty arouses their consciences,
and leaves them with only two alternatives: Follow Christ, or silence Him. Often their only way of silencing Christ is by silencing His servants. Persecution, in subtle or less subtle forms, is the result.

The gospel produces a lifestyle characterized by righteousness. I practice, that means absolute integrity, whether at home, in the work place, or even at play. But such integrity challenges the moral
indifference of the world, especially in our age. Not to do the things “Everybody does does” stirs the world’s sleepy conscience. More than that, it irritates it, and causes annoyance and even anger.

You would not think that simple honesty could be a dangerous life style, until you put it into practice on the shop floor! For the Christian who is employed by another person, righteousness demands that
he give his employer the time and energy for which he is paid. But how angry other employees can be when such integrity is displayed.

At the beginning of the Christian life, we need to grasp the reality of persecution. This awareness will save us from discouragement and disillusionment. We follow a crucified Savior. We should not think it
strange if we ourselves encounter fiery trials (I Peter 4:12). Rather, we should learn to rejoice that we have been counted worthy to suffer for the name of Christ (Acts 5:41). Ours is the Kingdom of God!

The above material was taken from KINGDOM LIFE IN A FALLEN WORLD by Sinclair B. Ferguson, 1986. Published by NavPress. Used by permission. This material is copyrighted and may be used for study and research purposes only.

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