The beginning of Proverbs contains 10 lessons of wisdom (Ch. 1-9). Today we will examine lesson # 7 from Proverbs 4:20-27, beginning as usual with the familiar introductory words “My son…”
The main topic in this lesson is about “Guarding the heart.” In terms of a biblical anthropology, the “heart” is the “source” of all our other activity. Here it is called (in Hebrew) the fountain or “well spring.” (ESV “spring”) This term would be universally understood by the readers of Solomon’s time because you always had a water source in every human settlement. A city would be built around the wellspring, and then walls would be built around the city so the wellspring could be guarded and protected.
Friends, there is a wellspring or reservoir in each and every one of us, it’s called “the heart.” The Message translation reads, “Keep vigilant watch over your heart; that’s where life starts.” Let’s look at the lesson as a whole:
My son, pay attention to what I say;
turn your ear to my words.
Do not let them out of your sight,
keep them within your heart;
for they are life to those who find them
and health to one’s whole body.
Above all else, guard your heart,
for everything you do flows from it.
Keep your mouth free of perversity;
keep corrupt talk far from your lips.
Let your eyes look straight ahead;
fix your gaze directly before you.
Give careful thought to the paths for your feet
and be steadfast in all your ways.
Do not turn to the right or the left;
keep your foot from evil.
(Prov 4:20-27, NIV)
The overarching theme in this lesson has to do with the human anatomy. Notice all the parts of the human body that are mentioned: “the ear” (v 20), the “eyes” (v 21), the “mouth” (v 21), the “lips” (v 21), the “whole body” (v 22), the “feet” (v 26), and most importantly “the heart” (v 21 and v 23). The lesson here is that all of the entire self will need to be fully engaged in the task of living out God’s wisdom.
With our feet we are to make morally good decisions. The phrase “Do not turn” means no moral deviation, staying on the path of wisdom. Don’t swerve. Don’t go down the way of folly. There is no third way. (see Lesson # 6)
With our eyes we are to be careful what we allow into our lives. You may be familiar with the children’s song, “Be careful little eyes what you see.”
With our mouths we are to honor God. With our lips we are to stay away from corrupt talk. Why? Where does all of this behavior come from? It all comes from the wellspring. For example, you may recall that Jesus said in Matthew 12:35, “the mouth speaks what the heart is full of” – whether good or evil. In other words, when I let myself have a moment of unrestrained conversation, whatever comes out of my mouth is what’s in my heart. What one is and what one says are inseparable. Our words and actions all flow from somewhere … this leads us to the center of the lesson, the command to put a guard around the heart.
Proverbs 4:23 says, “Guard your heart!” Notice the phrase “above all else,” this command is supreme. A pastor and friend of mine, Peter Pendell, calls this the “mother of all battles.” The heart is the place where God works. This is where conviction takes place, at the heart level. This is what we are to “guard.”
What are the signs and symptoms of a heart that is unguarded and in danger?
First, there are emotional signs, like low grade anger or depression. Or, there are signs that your emotions just went AWOL and aren’t there. You are flat-lined. You just “study and do” in a kind of robotic way. But you are just doing things out of duty, your heart isn’t in it.
Second, there are also relational signs. Those kinds of stoic or out of control emotions don’t make for good relational connection. You begin to hurt others as you become insensitive to where they are.
Friends, this is so important. God desires our hearts be guarded. It affects everything! Above all else, guard your heart!
You must post a guard around your heart today. You must be careful about what or who you allow in. You must also be careful about becoming too busy or carrying too heavy a load. You must be careful about what is most important to you. Anything other than God at the center of our being becomes idolatrous. Tim Keller’s book “Counterfeit gods” goes deeper into this issue. St. Augustine said it well, “Thou hast made us for thyself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee.”
Guard your Heart.
For further study on this, I would like to recommend watching this sermon by Peter Pendell on this topic. Next we will consider Lesson # 8.
The Ten Lessons of Wisdom:
- Lesson # 1: “Reject the Enticement of Sinners” (Prov 1:8-33) – Part 1
- Lesson # 1: “Reject the Enticement of Sinners” (Prov 1:8-33) Part 2
- Lesson # 2: “Diligently Seek Wisdom … and You Will Experience Her Protective Benefits.” (Prov 2:1-22)
- Lesson # 3: “Live before God with Consistency.” (Prov 3:1-12)
- Lesson # 4: “Wisdom is a Tree of Life.” (Prov 3:13-35)
- Lesson # 5: “Your Spiritual Inheritance Comes With a Price.” (Prov 4:1-9)
- Lesson # 6: “Choose the Way of Wisdom.” (Prov 4:10-19)
- Lesson # 7: “Guard your Heart!” (Prov 4:20-27)
- Lesson # 8: “Flee from Immorality!” (Prov 5:1-23)
- Lesson # 9: “Avoid three Kinds of Fools: “The Swindler,” “The Sluggard” and “The Sociopath.”” (Prov 6:1-19)
- Lesson # 10: “If You Play With Fire, You Will Get Burned.” (Prov 6:20-35)
- Conclusion: Two Invitations from Wisdom and Folly (Prov 7:1-9:18) – Part 1
- Conclusion: Two Invitations from Wisdom and Folly (Prov 7:1-9:18) – Part 2
- Conclusion: Two Invitations from Wisdom and Folly (Prov 7:1-9:18) – Part 3