Singleness of Heart

Singleness of Heart

Late in his ministry, Paul lamented the departure of Demas, “For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica” (2 Tim 4:10). Our modern sensibilities are shocked to hear that Demas went from a co-greeter in the letters to Colossae and Philemon to having deserted the mission in only a few years. What happened to Demas? What led him astray?

Paul gives an insight when he says Demas was “in love with this present world.” Demas’ heart was divided between God and the world, a heart disease Jesus warned about in his sermon on the mountain, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matt 5:8).

Many people read “pure” as Bauer, Danker, Arndt, and Gingrich suggest in their lexicon, “3. pertaining to being free from moral guilt, pure, free from sin…. a. of a person, Mt 5:8” (BDAG, s.v.). While there may be some merit to this idea, it appears the primary meaning of “pure” is more apropos, “pertaining to being clean or free of adulterating matter, clean, pure.” In other words, “pure in heart” means to have a singleness of heart—undivided.

This fits better with the rest of Jesus’ sermon. He warned his hearers not to worship God with a heart divided by anger (5:21-26), lust (5:27-32), self-importance (5:33-37), vindictiveness (5:38-42), or hatred (5:43-48). Jesus also addressed hypocrisy in helping the poor (6:1-4), praying (6:5-15), and fasting (6:16-18). Hypocrisy refers to giving an impression to others that is at odds with one’s actual belief or motivation—the essence of a divided heart.

Jesus told them to lay up treasures in heaven and not on earth, implying, it was one or the other, not both (6:19-24). Then he declared, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (6:24). This may be the best explanation of being “pure in heart,” because it illustrates James’ point, “a double-minded man [is] unstable in all his ways” (Jas 1:8).

In the last section of Matthew six, Jesus addressed anxiety—which comes from faith in God being mixed with not trusting God’s provision and care (6:25-34). This may be the ultimate division of the heart because faith means trust. Hence, they trusted God and distrusted God at the same time.

What does a divided heart look like today? When we love God, but also love the things of this world, we have divided hearts. When we put family and friends ahead of God, we have divided hearts. When we put jobs and careers before the church, we have divided hearts. When we put more emphasis on money, entertainment, and education than we do on God’s mission to the world, we have divided hearts.

Singleness of heart means putting Jesus first in all things—family, work, society, and education. Paul said it best, “He is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent” (Col 1:18).

As we develop this deepened commitment and singleness of heart, God appears. By removing things which clutter our spiritual vision, we can see God more clearly now. However, as we maintain our singleness of heart through kingdom living, we will ultimately see God when we are united with him at the Judgement.

Let us be careful not to fall into the same trap that ensnared Demas. Let us serve God with a singleness of heart.


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