On Monday night we continued our study of the book of Proverbs by looking at what God’s wisdom tells us about our hearts. Here are the notes:
1. Wisdom about your heart begins with understanding how important your heart is. The Heart is the center of who you are.
20 My son, give attention to my words; Incline your ear to my sayings. 21 Do not let them depart from your eyes; Keep them in the midst of your heart; 22 For they are life to those who find them, And health to all their flesh.23 Keep your heart with all diligence, For out of it spring the issues of life.
The idea of v.23 is that everything you do comes from your heart. So if you ask God, “what’s the big deal about my heart?” He’ll say something like, “Well, it runs your whole life.” Bruce Waltke, in his commentary on Proverbs, paraphrases the last half of verse 23 as “the heart is the source of all your behavior.” “The heart,” he says, “governs all activity.”
Here is the extended quote from Waltke on the word “heart” in Proverbs:
This word—“Heart (leb/lebab) is the most important anthropological term in the Old Testament, but the English language has no equivalent. It occurs 46 times in Proverbs and 858 times in the OT…The ancients attributed the body’s functions to the heart…The heart in biblical anthropology controls the body, its facial expressions, its tongue, and all its other members. The Old Testament also attributes the psyche’s functions to the heart. No other English word combines the complex interplay of intellect, sensibility and will…The Lord, who knows the heart, experiences all of its emotions. The heart also thinks, reflects, and ponders. As the eyes were meant to see and the ears to hear, the heart is meant to discern and prompt action…it is the inner forum where decisions are made. Then, too, the biblical writers attributed spiritual functions to the heart; it accepts and trusts in the religious sphere. The heart feels all modes of desire, from the lowest physical forms, such as hunger and thirst, to the highest, spiritual forms, like reverence and remorse…[The] direction or bent of the heart determines its decisions and thus the person’s actions.” [Waltke on Pr 4:23, Proverbs. 90-91]
And this is what New Testament scholar R.T. France says about the idea of the heart in the New Testament:
“’Heart’ is the term most commonly used in biblical literature for the essential personality. Whereas in English ‘heart’ tends to connote emotion, in both Hebrew and Greek it conveys equally, and perhaps more strongly, the spiritual and intellectual processes, including the will. It refers to what makes people what they really are, their individuality.” [France on Mark 7:19, Mark]
So there is such a thing as a crucial part of you. It’s not true that nothing really matters, or that everything matters the same. Your heart matters. And in some ways, it’s more important than other things.
2. Therefore, if we are wise about our hearts, we will do two things:
First, (v. 21) We will “keep” the wise words of the scriptures “in our hearts.” This could go with Josh’s study last week. He was talking about how Proverbs teaches us to get wisdom—and this would have to be part of that. Proverbs 2:1 says “treasure my commands within you,” that’s along the same lines of thinking. What these kinds of thoughts point to is the fact that one of the first wise things we can do for our hearts is to stock our hearts with wise words. God likes this kind of imagery. He returns to it several times through the scriptures—this idea that one of the best things we can do is to fill our hearts with his words. Questionà will you do this? Do you do this? Do you give real time and effort and thought (and heart) to making sure your heart is continually stocked with God’s word? Is it on auto-order? Are you reading and listening and studying and discussing God’s words with others—so that when you need wisdom in life, you’ve God a heart full of God’s wisdom, and then, wisdom is what flows out of you? That’s the first bit of wisdom about our hearts that we can easily apply.
Second, (v.23) We will “keep (guard) our hearts.” What does this mean? Possibly you guard your heart by “stocking” your heart with God’s wisdom (v.21)? Possibly it is by doing the things listed in 4:24-27?
24 Put away from you a deceitful mouth, And put perverse lips far from you. 25 Let your eyes look straight ahead, And your eyelids look right before you. 26 Ponder the path of your feet, And let all your ways be established. 27 Do not turn to the right or the left; Remove your foot from evil.
So guarding our hearts has to do with what actions we take to make sure that the center of who we are—our inner environment where our thoughts and emotions live—that that part of us is full of God’s words. And, we see in verses 24 through 27, it also has to do with understanding that our hearts are the source of all our actions. If you look at those verses, they’re describing the things that we do with our lives—how we talk, where we look, what we want, where we go—and all those things come from our hearts.
Wise men and women hear the bible tell them to guard their heart guard their hearts, and they listen to those words, because they understand how important the heart is—they’ve let the wisdom of the bible tell them what’s true about themselves—that the heart is the center of who we are, and because humans are the kind of creatures whose actions are determined by what’s in their hearts, what flows out of our lives is determined by what lives in the center of our being.
And that means that no one can ignore their heart or neglect the bible’s wisdom about their heart without heading towards life-disaster. It’s that crucial. And that’s exactly how Proverbs talks about all these things.
3. Wisdom understands that the heart can be made to do things. It can be “applied” to understanding.
My son, if you receive my words, And treasure my commands within you, 2 So that you incline your ear to wisdom, And apply your heart to understanding;
We have this idea today—an idea that’s dominating our whole culture—that whatever is inside of you is just this fixed thing. You have feelings and desires and thoughts about yourself, and that’s just it. You can’t help it, you can’t change it, it’s who you are, and you’ve just got to go with it. In fact, going with it is the best thing for you. The healthiest thing is to just to use your body to do whatever your heart wants. Let your heart lead and make the rest of you get in line. That’s the thinking a lot of people are into these days. And there’s this kind of weird idea of domination—like—it’s inevitable, resistance is futile, you will lose in the end, so just give in now.
But wisdom tells us the opposite of all that. You’re not a slave to your heart. You can be, and should be, in command of it. This is huge to say in our day! You can make your heart do things. Wisdom instructs us to “apply” our hearts to really understanding things. Think about how revolutionary that would be if people could get a hold of that concept today.
But then—doesn’t thinking that kind of make you realize immediately that, even if everyone knew that you could make your heart do things, in the end, we’d find out that, what many people want is to be led around by their hearts—and especially, by their appetites? When freedom shows up, do we want it? Or would many of us choose slavery to our own desires?
4. Wisdom understands the foolishness of two big ideas in our culture:
Trusting your heart is foolishness. Wisdom will lead you to beware of trusting your heart. See Proverbs 28:26 — “He who trusts in his own heart is a fool, But whoever walks wisely will be delivered.” Proverbs 28:26 keeps pushing us in the counter-cultural direction we saw in chapter 2. And when you realize what a huge, tragic thing foolishness really is—and all the destruction and loss and heartbreak it causes—you see how much our culture has decided to push against wisdom. In fact, we’ve taken this exact foolishness (from Proverbs 28:26) and made it our main motto. We’ve decided that the crowning achievement of our wisdom is to preach that everyone should follow their heart, and yet, God takes half a sentence and declares that idea foolishness. The second half of this verse hints at why—there is a kind of “deliverance” that every human needs, and as you read Proverbs, it turns out that what we need to be delivered from is the effects of our foolishness and the judgement of God on foolishness and sin. If our hearts aren’t full of wisdom, and submitted to wisdom, and instructed by wisdom, they’ll lead us straight into this destruction and judgement.
Delighting only in expressing your heart is foolishness. Wisdom will lead you to be careful in expressing your heart. See Proverbs 18:2 — “A fool has no delight in understanding, But in expressing his own heart.” This another piece of totally counter-cultural wisdom in Proverbs. And I think it’s just as shocking as 28:26. So if we listen to God’s wisdom, we won’t trust our hearts, and, we won’t be all about expressing our hearts. We won’t make it our life goal or ambition. We’ll learn to see the foolishness of making expressing ourselves such a big deal. In fact, what wisdom will probably teach us is that, if our hearts aren’t full of wisdom, then all we have to express is foolishness anyway, that same foolishness that lives inside our hearts and makes trusting them a bad idea. And so wisdom will teach us to restrain our hearts.
5. Wisdom is: taking God’s words and writing them on your heart. This is the way to be able to “trust in the Lord with all your hear.”
My son, do not forget my law, But let your heart keep my commands; 2 For length of days and long life And peace they will add to you. 3 Let not mercy and truth forsake you; Bind them around your neck, Write them on the tablet of your heart, 4 And so find favor and high esteem In the sight of God and man. 5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; 6 In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths.
So we’re finishing up with a little recap here. Like we saw in chapter 1, wisdom about our hearts includes making it a life project to get a heart full of wisdom—and here’s another way to say it. In fact, maybe what we can say after we’ve read and thought about all these verses is that training our hearts to trust in the Lord… is how we learn to apply them to wisdom. Memorize the things God’s says. Concentrate on actually living them out. And train yourself to be alert—notice when your heart is not trusting the lord—and bring it back (like a dog on a leash) to trust in God.
Use the words of God to corral and direct your heart into faith. Leash train that heart! Make the words of God your heart’s tether. Use them to redirect your heart off the path of foolishness that Proverbs warns us about, and back onto the path of wisdom. Now, if our hearts are full of the wisdom of people who don’t know God, or if they’re full of our own thoughts and wants, then this kind of language can sound unrealistic or old-fashioned. That’s the difference between a heart fed on God’s wisdom and a heart that’s not. A heart full of God’s words learns to develop a taste for true wisdom—because it leads us to God. Wisdom always leads us to God. And a heart that is with God finally has what our hearts most deeply need—fullness, wholeness, and eternal life.