“The Intents of the Heart”

“The Word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do.” —Hebrews 4:12,13

THE SCRIPTURES MAKE it very clear that the great God of the universe, our Heavenly Father, is able to know our every thought and motive, that there is nothing which can be hidden from him. Even without the Bible to confirm it, reason alone would tell us that the Creator of that marvelous mechanism which we call the brain would be able to read the thoughts which it records, and understand thoroughly just what motives inspire those thoughts.

We are unable to know what is in the mind of another except as it is revealed by word or deed. Much less are we able to know the motives which prompt another to speak or act as he does. In general we can at best gain only a superficial understanding of others, as we note what they say and do. Because of this limitation, fallen humanity has passed many wrong judgments, which, in turn, have led to much that has been unkind and frequently unjust.

When Samuel was sent by the Lord to anoint a king for Israel to take the place of Saul, he was reminded as he was making the selection from among the sons of Jesse that he was not to be guided by outward appearance, for the Lord—who would indicate his choice—looked upon the heart. (I Sam. 16:7) David was the Lord’s choice, a man who at the time was considered the least likely prospect of all the sons of Jesse. (vss. 15-22) But the Lord knew David’s heart. It was this knowledge of David’s true heart loyalty that caused the Lord later to be merciful to him when, through the weakness of the flesh, he committed gross sins.

We should never overlook the fact that all our thoughts and motives are ‘naked’ before the Lord, that there is nothing we can do to hide them from him. The realization of this will, on the one hand, help us to scrutinize our thoughts and motives very carefully; and, at the same time, be an encouragement as we realize that our mistakes and failures are not of the heart, and that He with whom we have to do knows this, and is dealing with us accordingly.

The encouraging aspect of this is mentioned particularly by Paul in the verses following our text. He writes, “Seeing then that we have a great High Priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. For we have not an High Priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.”—Heb. 4:14-16

From God’s standpoint we can ‘come boldly’ to the throne of grace because we know that through the blood of his Son we can plead mercy and forgiveness for all our unwilling sins. From our own standpoint this bold approach to the throne of grace is possible if we know that our motives are pure in all we say and do.

Not only do we need to keep our motives unselfish and pure, but we also have a responsibility in training our desires in keeping with the expressed will of God as it is clearly set forth in his Word. Our text declares that God’s Word is ‘a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart’.

It is not enough that we be sincere in what we say and do. Saul of Tarsus was sincere in persecuting the disciples of Jesus, but he was wrong. As we progress in the Christian way, various situations will arise in which we will need to take action. It would be quite possible to decide on a certain course which, according to our imperfect reasoning, would seem quite proper, but would it be pleasing to the Lord? Doubtless there are times in every Christian’s life when the simple question, “What would the Lord have me do in this situation?” would suggest an outcome much more to the glory of the Lord.

Jesus is our true and perfect Exemplar. His heart was pure in the sight of his Heavenly Father, and his perfect humanity responded with ready obedience to every holy impulse of his heart. His thoughts were ‘naked’—completely uncovered—before his Heavenly Father, and he was glad to have it that way. Prophetically Jesus is represented as saying in prayer to his Father, “I have preached righteousness in the great congregation: lo, I have not refrained my lips, O Lord, thou knowest.”—Ps. 40:9

Here Jesus particularly mentions his faithfulness in bearing witness to the kingdom message, and through this message declaring the ‘righteousness’ of his Heavenly Father. Jesus knew that he had been faithful in this service. He realized that his Heavenly Father also knew this. “Thou knowest,” he said to Jehovah. Let us strive more earnestly that we may be this confident about ourselves.

In the light of what we have done today to preach ‘righteousness in the great congregation’, we can with confidence sincerely look up into the face of our Father in heaven and say, “Thou knowest.” He knows, of course, whether or not we acknowledge it. But if we do the very best we can we will be glad that he knows—glad because deep down in our hearts we are confident that we have done the very best we could. Then we can. go to the Lord in prayer and say, “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts.”—Ps. 139:23

When Jesus was on earth, he was able to read the thoughts and intents of the hearts of others. This in part was due to his perfection, but more particularly it was through the power of the Holy Spirit. He knew that Judas was plotting against him. He knew the thoughts and heart condition of Zacchaeus, referring to him as a “son of Abraham,” and to Nathanael as an “Israelite indeed.”—Luke 19:2-10; John 1:47

How much the apostles as a whole realized before Jesus’ death and resurrection this miraculous power which their Master possessed is not clear; but Peter certainly became convinced of it, and so testified after Jesus was raised from the dead. This was when Jesus appeared to them early one morning on the shore of Galilee. The apostles had decided to return to their fishing business, and had been out in their boats with their nets all night, but had caught no fish.

In the morning they saw a ‘stranger’ on the shore, to whom, upon questioning, they confided their lack of success. The stranger suggested that they drop their net on the other side of the boat, which they did, and to their great surprise it was quickly filled with fish. A similar miracle had occurred when Jesus first called them to follow him, so they knew that this again was Jesus on the shore. Peter swam ashore in haste to meet and fellowship with the Master.

They ate a meal together there on the shore, and after that Jesus entered into a very personal conversation with Peter. He “saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these?” Peter’s reply was, “Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee.” Jesus asked the same question again, and received the same reassuring reply.

Again, the third time, Jesus asked, “Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me?” We read that then Peter was grieved, “and he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee.” (John 21:1-17) What a wonderful confession of faith in the Master’s ability! And Peter’s realization that Jesus did know all things, and could read his heart, made him wonder why he had been asked the same question three times. Peter’s confidence in the Master’s ability to read his heart intentions, was based on experience. On the night before the crucifixion Peter had assured Jesus that even though others might forsake him, he would not, that he would gladly die for him. Peter sincerely meant this. But Jesus knew something which Peter did not as yet even suspect. He knew that when the test came, Peter would deny him.

That Jesus knew this in advance, and foretold it, evidently made a very vivid impression on Peter’s mind. When Peter said to Jesus, that morning on the shore of Galilee, “Thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee,” it seems reasonable to suppose that his mind was reverting to those experiences of the night before the crucifixion. Jesus had then demonstrated that he did know ‘all things’ insofar as Peter’s thoughts and reactions were concerned. And Peter was assured that Jesus still knew every thought and intention of his heart.

Nor was Peter ashamed to have Jesus know what was in his heart. This was the important consideration for Peter. Previous to the crucifixion Jesus rebuked Peter, saying, “Get thee behind me, Satan.” In Gethsemane he commanded him to put up his sword. Jesus had thwarted Peter’s efforts to save him from the hands of his enemies. Considering Peter’s impetuous nature, this could easily have left a wound in his heart, perhaps even a trace of resentment. But not so.

By now Peter realized that he could hide nothing from his Lord and Master, hence his outburst, “Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee.” Paraphrasing Peter’s words: “You can look down into the deepest recesses of my heart. You know every motive and emotion that is there. Knowing this, you know that I love you more than I love life itself.”

Yes, Jesus did know what was in Peter’s heart, and he knows what is in our hearts. In the resurrection, Jesus was exalted to the divine nature and to the express image of the Heavenly Father’s person! And it is as true of him as it is of Jehovah that all our thoughts, and the very intents of our hearts, are open and naked before him. In fact, he knows and understands us better than we do ourselves. This would be a terrifying thought if we did not know that he is sympathetic and compassionate, and understanding of our imperfect, fallen flesh.

On the Isle of Patmos the resurrected and glorified Jesus communicated with the Apostle John, presenting to him the marvelous visions recorded in the Book of Revelation. Notable among the truths conveyed to John are the messages to the ‘seven churches’ of Asia Minor, which are recorded in chapters two and three of the Book. These seven churches, we believe, are also symbolic of seven stages in the development of the professed Christian church throughout the Gospel Age.

However, it is also evident that many of the conditions described in these seven churches, and certainly the promises made to each of them, are true of all. One thing common with respect to all seven of these churches is Jesus’ statement, “I know thy works.” Whether it was the Early Church, or the church at this end of the age, it was, and is, true of Jesus.

To the first of the seven churches Jesus said, “I know thy works, and thy labor, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars. And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name’s sake hast labored, and hast not fainted.”—Rev. 2:3,4

To the angel of the church in Thyatira, the. Lord said, “I know thy works, and charity, and service, and faith, and thy patience, and thy works; and the last to be more than the first.” (Rev. 2:19) These are wonderful commendations. He who knows everything about his people, who understands every innermost thought and intention, could say to these faithful brethren that they had increased in their works, charity, service, faith, and patience, and that the last was more than the first! How we long to be worthy of such a commendation as this! If we were enthusiastic at the beginning of our journey, why, with the faithful leadings of the Lord throughout our life, should we not have that love continually increase, filling and controlling us more and more completely as the days go by?

As we have noted, the promises given through the angels of the seven churches apply to true believers. To the angel of the church at Sardis, Jesus said, “I know thy works. … Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white: for they are worthy.” (Rev. 3:1-4) As in the days of the Sardis Church, so now, it is only the few, a ‘little flock’ who keep their garments unspotted from the world. Are we among those so described? When today the Lord says, “I know thy works,” does he see in us that purity of heart and life, that unselfish devotion to him and to his cause that keeps us completely separate from the world and the spirit of the world?

This is the Christian’s earnest desire and goal. We want to be worthy of hearing the words, that we have not defiled our garments, and that we will walk with him in white, because this means that we will have attained that goal, and are like our Lord, our Exemplar. We will receive “power over the nations,” not just to rule them, but to bless them, even as our Lord received of his Father. (Rev. 2:26,27) Those who are faithful until death will be found worthy to be clothed in white raiment, and to have their names written in the Book of Life. They will experience the ineffable joy of hearing the Lord confess their names before his Father, and before his angels. (Rev. 3:5) As the poet wrote: “Oh, Lord, thy promised grace impart, and fill [our] consecrated heart[s],” that we may be found worthy to experience these ineffable joys, which are incomprehensible to the human mind!

To the church at Philadelphia, the Lord made the promise, “Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown. Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, … which is New Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name.” (Rev. 3:11,12) We know that the New Jerusalem which will come down from God out of heaven will be prepared as a “bride adorned for her husband.” (Rev. 21:1-7) If we are to be part of that bride, we must be made ready, and remain faithful.—Rev. 19:7; 21:2,9,10

Now that we are at the end of the age when our Lord is again present with his people, we have heard him say, “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock:. if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.” (Rev. 3:20) We are rejoicing in this feast of present truth. It is through this feasting that we have learned to know Jesus so intimately. This makes us want more than ever to be overcomers, and to sit with our Lord on his throne, even as he is now set down with his Father in his throne.—vs. 21

Our prayer is that we will faithfully hear and obey and remain faithful unto death to ‘what the Spirit saith unto the churches’.

Dawn Bible Students Association
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