As a believer begins to understand what is at work in his life—a warfare of flesh against spirit—and he chooses, by God’s grace, to say “yes” to the spiritual side of the contest, he develops an increasing hunger for spiritual food. Jesus gave an amazing response to the devil’s temptation for Jesus to satisfy Himself of His physical hunger:
“It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God’” (Matthew 4:4). That answer He gave has a broader impact than just a lesson on how to resist the devil. It makes a very definitive statement about the source of spiritual sustenance, as we will discover as this article develops further. And so, we come to the next level of spiritual life progress.
To the really spiritually hungry, this Beatitude imparts great hope: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled” (Matthew 5:6). In the original King James Version (KJV) there is an extra word, do, that seems to imply something like “extreme sincerity” in their hungering and thirsting: “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst….” If they really do hunger and thirst, then they shall be filled—that seems to be the way the Lord searches out those who will seek Him with all their hearts.
Babes in Christ are told by Peter, “…as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby,if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious” (1 Peter 2:2-3). And when Paul met with the elders of the Ephesian church while on his way back to Jerusalem, he told them, “So now, brethren, I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified” (Acts 20:32).
These were among his parting words to them, for he also said, in that meeting that “they would see his face no more,” which brought great sorrow to them at his departure. It was not an incidental remark, that recommendation.
There is an age-old saying that speaks to the value of God’s Word in our lives: “God’s Word will keep you from sin, or sin will keep you from God’s Word,” and the psalmist tells how it can be consistently in the positive: “How can a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed according to Your word. …Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You” (Psalm 119:9, 11).
A lesson from the temptation of Jesus (Matthew 4:4) affirms this principle, for He responded to the devil’s tempting with an immediate “it is written” and a quote of the appropriate scripture. The Word is the sword of the Spirit and works like a whiplash in the face of that evil one!
In connection with the principle of having the Word of God hidden in our hearts, there is an interesting progressive development in the life of Jeremiah that is worthy of mentioning. Here is the first passage that tells of his calling:
“Then the word of the Lord came to me, saying:
‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you;
Before you were born I sanctified you;
I ordained you a prophet to the nations.’
Then said I:
‘Ah, Lord God! Behold, I cannot speak, for I am a youth.’
But the Lord said to me:
‘Do not say, ‘I am a youth,’ for you shall go to all to whom I send you,
and whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of their faces, for I am with you to deliver you,’ says the Lord.
Then the Lord put forth His hand and touched my mouth, and the Lordsaid to me:
‘Behold, I have put My words in your mouth. See, I have this day set you over the nations and over the kingdoms, to root out and to pull down, to destroy and to throw down, to build and to plant” (Jeremiah 1:4-10).
Note that Jeremiah was a lot like Moses, who claimed he had no ability to speak to people, and in Jeremiah’s case, God put His words in his mouth that he might speak for God. (It is an interesting parallel, to, with Psalm 139:13-16, when the Lord tells Jeremiah of His plans for him before he was born.)
As time progresses, note what Jeremiah says:
“Your words were found, and I ate them, and Your word was to me the joy and rejoicing of my heart; for I am called by Your name, O Lord God of hosts” (Jeremiah 15:16). (And Jesus says to us, in this day, “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11)).
Finally, when the goi8ng gets really tough for Jeremiah, he wants to shut down the program, as far as he is concerned, for he said, ‘I am in derision daily; everyone mocks me.’ Then, an amazing thing happened. Here it is:
“Then I said, ‘I will not make mention of Him, nor speak anymore in His name. But His word was in my heart like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I was weary of holding it back, and I could not” (Jeremiah 20:9).
Years ago I was at a servicemen’s Bible conference, young and zealous, but without knowledge when the speaker asked what spiritual maturity involved. Someone had told me it was when one was beginning to learn those deeper biblical doctrines. So, I spouted off that answer, and was immediately “slam-dunked,” and rightly so.
The speaker was not harsh in correcting me. He merely took us to the end of Hebrews 5 and the early part of Hebrews 6, where the writer is admonishing the readers that they should be beyond the milk of the Word and showing the maturity of leadership. The writer expresses it this way:
“For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil” (Hebrews 5:12-14).
Spiritual maturity, then, comes as we apply the truths of the Word to our lives, that is, as we learn to discern good from evil and then choose to do good and not evil. But who among us will commit himself to that end without reservation? Mark 8:36-37 comes to mind, in that regard: “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”
When I think of Jesus, when John writes of Him in John 7:37, I sense a deep cry of desperation for those who heard Him: “On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink.’”
Once while visiting relatives in the California Bay area, we walked by a very busy street corner in downtown San Francisco. Pedestrians were streaming back and forth across the intersection while a young black man stood nearby, seemingly fixed staunchly in place, quoting Bible verses aloud without a change of expression. I had to wonder about his motivation, but I also had to admire his courage.
The one thing alike in these two incidents—Jesus and the young man—is that no one seemed to be paying them any attention! Is it that way today, when we hear that cry from Jesus, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink?”
How Does Mercy Fit Into This?
It is interesting that the Lord comes out with the blessing of mercy right after He promises to fill those who are truly hungry and thirsty for righteousness. Why would He do that? Perhaps it is a reminder that, as the first Beatitude has taught us, we have nothing to offer God, even as spiritually well-fed believers, and must not forget His mercy has kept us from falling under that awful penalty of His righteous judgment.
It is said that mercy from God is receiving that which we do not deserve, and grace from God is not receiving that which we do deserve. It appears that mercy precedes grace, for in Hebrews 4:16 we are told, “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” We are to go to the throne of grace, but first, we obtain mercy. Why?
It may be that John 3:18 gives us the answer: “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” Since we are already condemned before we believe, judgment hovers over us, and mercy is what is needed, first and foremost.
Especially is this true for those who have not accepted Christ’s provision of a pardon for their sins by His death on the cross at Calvary, and having nothing of their own of spiritual value, mercy is that immediate necessity.
But this Beatitude speaks of one being merciful to others, as a result of being filled with the righteousness of God, and then obtaining mercy. While there is no mention of mercy in the qualities of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22, it is clearly shown in this Beatitude that it is a quality of a godly life. It is a reminder to the honest believer that he also needed mercy and received it without cost.
How Can the Pure in Heart See God?
This Beatitude seems to offer a blessing in a contradiction. It says, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” But did not God say to Moses, , “You cannot see My face; for no man shall see Me, and live” (Exodus 33:20). Did Stephen come as close to that vision as man will ever come, when he cried out, “Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” (Acts 7:56)?
Some have thoughtfully considered this and have concluded that it is quite likely believers will be in the visible presence of God in the form of a man, One having nail prints in His hands, for all eternity. Jesus did say He was going away to prepare a place for us, and if so, then He will come again and receive us to Himself; “that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:2-3). God did identify with mankind by coming in the form of a man. It is conceivable that that identity would continue. Certainly it will continue during His reign for the thousand years on the throne of David in Jerusalem.
There is the purity of innocence that sees no evil wherever it looks. Titus 1:15 tells us that: “To the pure all things are pure, but to those who are defiled and unbelieving nothing is pure; but even their mind and conscience are defiled.” It has been recognized that a person thinks in pictures, probably planted there by some previous experience or encounter.
For example, think of a car and a picture comes to mind, or a house, and a picture of one forms in the mind. Job, that patriarch of ancient times, seemed to have that figured out, for he said, in Job 31:1: “I made a covenant with mine eyes; why then should I think upon a maid?” (KJV) Truly out of our hearts, our inner being, arises that impurity of the flesh, should we allow it to come forth. Our carnal flesh is not submissive to God, “neither indeed can it be” (Romans 8:7).
The purity that comes from the expected return of Christ for those He has saved, or even the realization that eternity is within a heartbeat away is that which is most compelling, however. In his first epistle, John writes, “Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure” (1 John 3:2-3). And that Blessed Hope is just offstage!
(Continued in Part Three.)