Why Missionaries Need Clean Hands and a Pure Heart

It’s far too common for Christian workers in the world to do the right thing for the wrong reasons.

“Who may ascend the mountain of the LORD? Who may stand in His holy place? The one who has clean hands and a pure heart, who has not set his mind on what is false, and who has not sworn deceitfully. He will receive blessing from the LORD, and righteousness from the God of his salvation.” (Ps. 24:3-5 CSB)

What does it mean to have both clean hands and a pure heart?

A negative biblical example would be King Saul’s decision to make sacrifices in a disobedient way. He made sacrifices to God (with an arguably good intention) but did them the wrong way in direct contradiction to the Biblical prescriptions of how to make sacrifices.

Then Samuel said: Does the LORD take pleasure in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the LORD? Look: to obey is better than sacrifice, to pay attention is better than the fat of rams. (1 Sam. 15:22 CSB)

We can read in the books of Kings and Chronicles to see repeated attempts to worship the One True God in the wrong way. Half of the point is that good intentions alone aren’t helpful. In fact, sometimes they can be hurtful. We must be careful in what we do and how we do it. We need to have good intentions and to do the right thing. Clean hands and a pure heart.

One the other hand, have you ever seen someone do the right thing for the wrong reasons? At best, it leaves a sour taste in the mouth, and at its worst it is offensive and degrading. The apostle Paul reminded the believers in Corinth that doing good deeds with the wrong motive gains no spiritual benefit.

And if I donate all my goods to feed the poor, and if I give my body in order to boast but do not have love, I gain nothing. (1 Cor. 13:3 CSB, emphasis mine)

Good deeds, or even what may be considered the best of deeds—sacrificing all your possessions and your life for others—cannot gain any spiritual benefit when it is done with wrong motives. Yet those who do things out of love and pure hearts are commended.

It is a stunning realization to see that we could sell all our possessions and become sacrificial foreign missionaries, all for no spiritual gain. If we serve without love, that service is worthless in God’s eyes.

Finally, the psalm concludes with the revelation of the anointed one of God who is the rightful ruler of all the earth.

Lift up your heads, you gates! Rise up, ancient doors! Then the King of glory will come in. Who is this King of glory? The LORD, strong and mighty, the LORD, mighty in battle. Lift up your heads, you gates! Rise up, ancient doors! Then the King of glory will come in. Who is He, this King of glory? The LORD of Hosts, He is the King of glory. Selah (Ps. 24:7-10 CSB)

While we seek to please God by having clean hands and a pure heart, we must realize that only one person has ever fully accomplished that task. He is the King of Glory and our Savior Jesus Christ. We need to follow his example in having both clean hands and a pure heart, but we must recognize that we have not been (and cannot be) perfect in our obedience to God. We have rebelled against God. We have had wicked hearts and blood on our hands.

This King of Glory has, not only fully satisfied the law of God by having perfectly clean hands and a pure heart, but we will also find that he is a perfect Savior who is faithful to forgive all of those who repent and believe in him. He washes the hands of his people and gives them new hearts. He makes them his brothers and sisters, and he brings them with him to God’s holy mountain.

Let us then have the mind of the Son and follow his example in obedience to the Father through the work of the Spirit in us.

Editor’s Note: This article is eighth in a series journeying through the psalms. Read the previous installment here.