“Guard your heart with all diligence, for out of it springs the issues of life,” Proverbs 4:23.
If you are like me, and grew up in the evangelical Purity Culture of the 1990s, you have probably never connected this verse to anything beyond romantic relationships. We were told as young tender buds to “guard our hearts and not give them away too easily.” Because– if we did the rest of our lives would be plagued with guilt and the shame of betraying a far off, future husband.
Unfortunately, the Purity Culture did a terrible job of delivering its argument, implementing a meaningful abstinence for young people, or teaching the biblical approach to singleness. See the heart of 1 Corinthians for a beautiful portrayal of what the young, single, and chaste should be enjoying in Christ.
The heart is not synonymous for love, our love life, nor is it the singular place from which we love God. In fact, it is our whole self that loves God. “Love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, all your mind, and all your strength.”
This verse taken from Deuteronomy 6:5 is reiterated throughout the rest of Deuteronomy and is notably quoted by Jesus in each of the synoptic gospels.
What peaks my interest is that each reiteration of this command includes different aspects of the self.
Sometimes strength is explicitly considered a function of the mind (inner being), and sometimes it is external (keeping laws). Sometimes mind and soul are distinct, and sometimes equivocated. The heart, however, is always listed first, and is always simply referred to as “the heart.”
In the King James Version of the Bible the word “heart” is used 725 times in the Old Testament and 105 times in the New Testament.
Interestingly, as each new translation is released the use of the word translated as “heart” decreases. My off-the-cuff analysis of the linguistic shift would be that subsequent translations use words like soul, inner being, and other comparable words for heart as they diverge from the KJV.
Until further notice, I am making the argument that each component of the soul is unique in function, particularly in the functionality of relationship to God and the spiritual realities of existence. This means that I would rather dynamic equivalencies not be used in translating the words for “heart.”
Regardless, the heart is of utmost importance to the Lord. Thus the ubiquity of Proverbs 4:23– “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” (NIV)
A survey of the word “heart” in scripture gives a dynamic picture of both the centrality of the heart to man’s person, and the central importance God puts on the heart, and the singularity of His interest in it.
Above all else, God cares about the state of our hearts.
He takes action upon our hearts and commands us to take action upon them as well.
Here are some observations of what scripture tells us about God’s expectations and edicts for the heart:
- When reconciled to God we get a new one. To me, this is an argument against the heart being merely the seat of the emotions; it is rather the seat of the whole person.(Psalm 90:12 and Ezekiel 11:19)
- The heart is not incapable of good but it is inherently bad— dead in trespasses.
- A perverse heart can have no access to God (Psalm 101:4).
- The heart is the thing that qualifies a person as either pure or defiled.
- It defiles itself but God regenerates it.
- It is the thing by which we are judged.
- It is what is tested.
- The heart has intent— it is the motivational center of the inner being.
- It is the thing that believes.
- The heart and the spirit are candidates as the two inner being components that are synonymous, rather than the heart and the soul (Psalm 51:17). Theologians look for evidence of synonyms between spirit and soul because of the ongoing confusion as to whether or not they are distinct. (Psalm 139:23. Proverbs 17:22)
- There is a thing within us that can command our heart. What is that?
- The heart is definitely a faculty distinct from the mind.
- No matter our deeds, it is the motivation of the heart that dictates the spiritual quality of our actions (Ephesians 6:6).
- The heart generates active sins. It is not just a philosophical/spiritual/qualitative center, but it is a moral center.
- Desires come from it.
- It meditates. Is this a thinking or a ruminating? To me ruminating can be subconscious. The heart might “think” apart from the mind based on my observation.
- It plans (Proverbs 16:1).
- It prays.
- The heart is a reflection (mirror) of the person— it produces fruit that reveals the fabric of a person.
- It is intended by God to be glad, have joy, be tranquil and at peace, and to not be troubled.
- Philippians 4:7 says the peace of God guards it. The heart is supposed to be at peace when operating in its created purpose of abiding in God.
- God works on the heart to work on a man. This “heart part” can act as the whole in responsiveness to God. (Acts 16:14, and Pharaoh in Exodus.)
- The mind’s quality is influenced by the heart’s quality.
- The sincerity or insincerity– proof of an emotion– comes from the heart.
- The heart is the recipient of the Word and the gospel.
- The Lord can act on the heart to make it soft or hard, or established, or He can put a fear of God within it.
- Only God knows, and only God searches, the hearts of man.
- The heart follows a person’s treasure.
(For references to all of the verses that I pulled these notes from click here.)
“To guard” in Hebrew has the same meaning as “to cultivate” and “to tend.”
So, these instructions I leave with you to cultivate and tend to your heart:
- Take action on your heart. Do not be passive about the state of your heart.
- Meditate on what God wants for your heart: peace, tranquility, good. If something doesn’t align with those attributes, it is fair warning.
- Receive the Word of God and the Gospel of Christ into your heart. Believer, never stop receiving the Gospel into your heart just like you did at first.
- Assess, reassess, and assess again what your treasure is and where you have invested it.
Your heart itself is a treasure to be invested. I can’t help but think of the Garden of Eden when I see that “to guard” also means to cultivate, tend, and “to keep” in the original language.
We are hopeless in sin and depend on grace constantly to do anything; we cannot save ourselves in any way. Yet, concerning our heart we have been given a mandate, an action step.
When God made Adam He put him in the Garden of Eden expressly to “work it and take care of it,” Genesis 2:15. “And the Lord commanded him…you are free…but you must not…” Genesis 2:16-17.
Our heart is now the place where we walk with God, and it comes with a mandate– With instructions. Cultivate, tend and keep it, for the rivers of your life flow from it.