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.” —Hebrews 4:12

THE Scriptures make it crystal 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 has led to much that has been unjust, and frequently unkind.

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 young man who at the time was considered the least likely prospect of all the sons of Jesse. (I Sam. 16:15-22) 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 (Heb. 4:13), 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 to train 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.

“Thou Knowest”

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. Can we be this confident?

In the light of what we have done today to preach “righteousness in the great congregation,” can we 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 are we glad that he knows, glad because deep down in our hearts we have done the very best we could? Can we go to the Lord in prayer tonight and say, “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts”?—Ps. 139:23

Peter’s Testimony

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 Nathaniel 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 simple 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 saith unto him, Yea, 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 thoughts, yes, even 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 intent 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, “Get thee behind me, Satan.” In Gethsemane he commanded him to put up his sword. Thus 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.” 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 that as our Advocate he makes it possible for us to stand before the Heavenly Father, not according to our imperfect fallen flesh, but according to the intents of our hearts.

“I Know Thy Works”

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 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. In each of the churches mentioned, both faithful and partially faithful disciples are described, the promised rewards applying only to those who are faithful—faithful unto death. 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; whether the true disciples, or the nominal believers, it was and is true of Jesus, as he said, “I know thy works.”

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. 2:2,3) These words of commendation were spoken of a group of faithful disciples. Are we sure that they would be true of us as individuals?

Can we say to Jesus, “You know my works. You know my labor and my patience. You know, dear Lord, that I cannot bear that which is evil. You know how zealous I am in doing my part in upholding the high standards of doctrine and righteousness of those whom I support or condone as teachers in the church. You know that by thy grace I have not become weary in well-doing. You know all these things, dear Lord; you know that I love thee.”

Would Jesus reply to us, yes, I know your works. I realize that you are very sincere in all that you say. I know that you cannot bear that which is evil. Nevertheless, I have somewhat against you, because you have left your first love. He knew this about the church at Ephesus, and it could be true of us even though we may not realize it concerning ourselves. In searching our hearts we are confident that they are pure, that we are harboring no selfish motives and no roots of bitterness. But what about our first love?

We can all look back to the time when we first knew the Lord in the light of present truth, and remember our great enthusiasm. As the scales of darkness fell from our eyes, and through the truth we saw the Lord high and lifted up, the vision was so entrancing, so all-compelling, that we would permit nothing to stand in our way of serving him and praising his name. There was no task too difficult, no sacrifice too great to undertake for the Lord.

The dull, drab cares of life took on a brightness we never before knew. “Sweet prospects, sweet birds, and sweet flowers” all gained new sweetness. Through the truth—the mysteries of the kingdom which the Lord gave us to understand—the love of God and the joy of the Lord filled our hearts.

We loved the Lord’s people and longed to be with them—not once a week merely, at the Sunday meeting, but as often as we could. They were the Lord’s people, and we were the Lord’s, and we wanted to be with the members of the Lord’s family, for they were our people, our family.

We eagerly sought out every possible opportunity to be in the service of the Lord, either ministering to the brethren in some manner, or bearing witness to the glorious Gospel of the kingdom. If there were tracts to be distributed, we wanted to share in that work. If there was follow-up work to be done we wanted to participate in that also. We regretted only that there was not more time, more hours in the day, that could be devoted to the Lord, to his people, and to the truth.

This was our first love. Today, as the Lord looks down into our hearts and lives, what does he find? Can we say to our Lord, you know that I love you, love your people, and love the truth today more than I ever did before. You know I have lost none of my enthusiasm, none of my first love zeal. You know that today, even as when you did reveal yourself to me through the truth, I have the same consuming zeal to serve you and to tell the whole world the glad tidings of your kingdom as I had then. No, dear Lord, I have not lost my first love.

How grand and reassuring it is to think that we can go to our loving Heavenly Father, through our advocate Christ Jesus, realizing that in knowing all things they know that our love for them is supreme, and that it in no way has abated. It would be cause for correction should the situation be otherwise. Surely we would not want to say to the Lord that while we did still love him, for some reason our enthusiasm, our zeal, had somewhat cooled.

Would we want to say to the Lord that while we still enjoyed fellowshipping with his people, it was not too difficult to find an excuse not to attend the meetings. And, as for the things we enjoyed doing in his service, well, there were others now who could do those things. In matters of conscience we sometimes hear people say, Well, you know, I have to live with myself. Even more important with the Lord’s people is the fact that we have to live with Him before whom the very thoughts and intents of our hearts are uncovered, naked.

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) Here is a wonderful commendation! He who knows everything about his people, who understands every innermost thought and intention, could say to these faithful brethren that they had increased their works, charity, service, faith, and patience, that the last was more than the first. Can he say this of us?

How much more encouraging it is when he who knows our works is able to say that instead of losing our first love, we now have more than at first. If we were enthusiastic in the beginning, why should we not be more enthusiastic now? If we had charity, or love, in the beginning of our discipleship, why should not that love continually increase, filling and controlling our lives more and more completely as the days go by?

If in the beginning the service of the Lord brought joy, why should it not bring more joy to our hearts today?

In the beginning we had faith—in the Lord, in the truth, in the brethren. Should not that faith be stronger today? We see the plan of God progressing, the prophecies being fulfilled. Should we not now lift up our heads with more faith and assurance than ever before?

And patience! Surely we would not want to confess to the Lord that we had lost our patience waiting for the fulfillment of his promises. Neither would we want to admit that we could no longer with faith lean upon the Lord and thus patiently endure the trials which his wisdom sees are necessary to prepare us for a place in the kingdom to which we have been called.

How much better it is to be able to go to the Lord and say, Thou knowest all things, so thou knowest that with thine aid in my every time of need, and as a result of the encouragement thou hast given me, I find more joy in thy service now than ever before. I find, also, dear Lord, that my love for thee, for thy people and for thy cause is becoming more and more the all-consuming power in my life. I do not love my family less, but I love thee more. I love thy people more, and find greater joy in their fellowship. I love thy truth more than at the beginning. It is a melody in my heart that is daily becoming sweeter, and an ever-increasing delight.

Yes, Lord, since you know all things, you will, when searching my heart, realize that my faith and patience are also increasing. In the beginning I had faith, but like Peter on the storm-tossed sea, when the billows of trouble would begin to mount around me, I was fearful. But you have helped me through my trials so many times that my faith is now stronger than at the first.

I can trust thee now, Lord, even though I do not always understand the meaning of thy providences. Now I would rather walk in the dark with thee than go alone in the light. My faith in thy truth as well as in thy providences in my own life is daily increasing. And with that increasing faith, made possible by thy great love for me and thy patience in dealing with me, I am learning more clearly the meaning of patient endurance.

You know all things, Lord, and therefore know that I have much progress yet to make. But I know that you will continue to work in me to will and to do thy good pleasure, and I gratefully and expectantly ask for your help in every time of need. I know that if I have this help nothing can separate me from thy love as long as I keep my heart emptied of self and wholly sincere toward thee.

A “Little Flock”

As we have noted, the messages to the angels of the seven churches apply in part to the faithful believers, and in part to less faithful Christians. To the angel of the church at Sardis Jesus said, “I know thy works, … I have not found thy works perfect before God.” But because Jesus knew the works of this church he could also say, “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) Whether in the Sardis epoch of the church or at this end of the age, those who defile their garments will not walk with the Lord in white, for they will not be worthy.

So now when the Lord says to us, “I know thy works,” does he know that we have not defiled our garments? James wrote that “pure religion and undefiled” is “to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction,” and to keep our garments “unspotted from the world.” (James 1:27) The fatherless and widows in their affliction might well be symbolic of those in need and to whom we can minister, particularly with the truth, while the world and the pursuits of the world reflect the defiling spirit of selfishness.

Jesus overcame the world, and he wants us to be overcomers. The selfish, pleasure-mad lusts of the world have no rightful place in the hearts and lives of Jesus’ disciples. Participating in the things of the world will defile our garments, and with garments defiled we will not be able to walk with our Lord in white. Any yielding to the selfish ambitions engendered by the world would make a spot on our garment. The way of love, trusting in the merit of the precious blood of Christ, is the only way to keep our garments undefiled.

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. Am I in that little flock? When today the Lord says, “I know thy works,” I know there are some who are worthy because they keep their garments undefiled, does he include me? Does he see in me that purity of heart and life, that unselfish devotion to him and to his cause that keeps me completely separated from the world and the spirit of the world?

Help me, Lord, that I may not lose my first love, but continue patiently and rejoicingly on in the narrow way, enduring every trial which thy wisdom sees best for me, serving thee faithfully, even unto death. I know that only thus will I be worthy to receive the crown of life.

Dear Lord, give mean ear to “hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches”—the words of encouragement, of warning, of rebuke. Help me to take heed that I may love thee more at the last than at the first. Thus, by thy grace, may I be an overcomer, and hear you say to me, “Thou art worthy,” and I will give to you “to eat of the hidden manna,” and I will give you “a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it.”—Rev. 2:17

I realize, dear Lord, that proving worthy is the work of a lifetime. I know you appreciated my first love, and by thy grace I want it to be an abiding love, a love that is in me as a burning, deathless force impelling me to give, to serve and to suffer, as daily I take up my cross and follow thee. Increase my joy in service, and thus my joy in thee, who loved and served unto death, the cruel death of the cross. I want to be worthy because it means being like thee. I want to keep thy works unto the end, and to be given power over the nations, not just to rule them, but to bless them, even as you have received of your Father, and my Father.—Rev. 2:26,27

Another reason, dear Lord, why I want so much by thy grace, to be worthy, is that I might be clothed in white raiment, and not have my name blotted out of the book of life, but instead may experience the ineffable joy of hearing you confess my name before my Father, and before his angels. O Lord, thy promised grace impart, and fill my consecrated heart, that I may be found worthy to be there before the Father’s throne, face to face with him, and hear you confess my name.—Rev. 3:5

And then, dear Lord, you have set another joy before me by your promises which give me added incentive to be worthy. You have promised that if I overcome, you will make me a pillar in the temple of your God, and my God, and that then there will be no danger of falling away. You have also promised you will write upon me 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. You have also promised to write upon me your new name.—Rev. 3:12

These, dear Lord, are joys which my finite mind cannot comprehend. But I know that the new Jerusalem which will come down from God out of heaven will be prepared as a bride adorned for her husband, and I know that one of the angels said that this new Jerusalem was the bride, the Lamb’s wife. From this, dear Lord, I know that if I am to be a part of that bride I am to be made ready for it, and that in this also I will need to be faithful. Help me to be faithful, that I may have written upon me the name of our Father, the name of the new Jerusalem, and your own new name, dear Lord.—Rev. 19:7; 21:2,9,10

And now that we are in the end of the age, when you are again present with your people, I have heard your knock, and I have heard your voice, dear Lord. I have heard you say you will come in and sup with me. I am rejoicing in this feast of present truth. It is through this feasting that I have learned to know you so intimately. More than ever this makes me want to be an overcomer, and when I have been faithful unto death, hear you say to me that I may sit with you on your throne, even as you overcame and are now set down with our Father in his throne.—Rev. 3:20,21

Help me, then, dear Lord, indeed to hear and obey what the Spirit said unto the churches. Since the thoughts and intents of my heart are naked before thee and before our Father, help me to be sincere and pure of heart, and cover my imperfections with the robe of thy righteousness until I prove worthy.

Dawn Bible Students Association
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