Proverbs is a book that does not lack of verses that teach wisdom, and similarly, Proverbs 4 is devoted to the topic of wisdom and understanding as well. Yet in the midst a crowd of verses regarding wisdom, there is a short passage that, though not detached to the topic of wisdom and understanding, is very much about something else. In Proverbs 4:23, we get the feeling that the author is trying to tell us, if you are wise, you will do all the other things mentioned in the prior verses; but if you are truly wise, on top and above of all these other instructions given, you will guard your heart, because your heart is the source of your life. In this study, we will examine closely what this means, and attempt to put some perspective into it.
guard your heart – Let’s think about situations that requires a guard. Prisoners – whose behaviour you do not trust and therefore need to watch for; Politicians – who are so powerful that many people could possibly won’t to kill them, and they cannot be trusted to protect themselves. I think the human heart belongs to both categories – it is so cunning that it cannot be trusted – Jeremiah says The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? – We can’t. Not even ourselves [Jer 17:9|Article]. Because our hearts are cunning and deceitful, and we do not understand it, there is a need for us to guard our own hearts, lest we go out and sin freely. Yet at the same time, we are weak to the temptations of the devil, who accuses us daily [Rev 12:10], and we need to be protected – But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted [Gal 6:1]. And the secret to any form of guarding is – it must be on 24/7. Even if you just lax and put down your guard for 1 minute, the prisoner can escape, the assassin can murder. The temptations of the devil, which we are weak against, can enter our hearts. It’s a hard, boring, and at times, seemingly meaningless job. But guarding is essential. Especially when we are talking about a part of ourselves so crucial in life.
for it is the wellspring of life – Biologically, what is the purpose of your heart? The heart pumps blood, and the arteries carry the blood throughout the whole body. Essentially, without the heart, we cannot live. Essentially, if there’s anything wrong with the functioning of the heart, our life is in danger. On a physical level, our hearts are certainly crucial to our lives. On a metaphorical or emotional level, it’s similar too. If your heart is broken, emotionally, you will wither. Spiritually too. The good works that we do in our lives stream from a desire to do good that is generally metaphorically understood to stream from the heart. Evil thoughts, or the urge to do evil deeds, are also perceived to be born out of the heart. All actions in life begin with our heart. Every gesture we make begins first with the heart pumping blood out to the rest of the body. Every word we say begin out of a desire to say something. In one of Christ’s reprimands, he said, You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks [Matthew 12:34] – if the heart is evil, the words uttered cannot be much good. Similarly, if the heart is good, the things you say won’t be too mean.
Above all else – The importance of guarding our hearts is highlighted in this phrase – above all else. Guarding our hearts is a task that is to be regarded more highly than any other tasks we may have in our to-do lists. Refer to this compact account of King Jehu of Israel – Yet Jehu was not careful to keep the law of the LORD, the God of Israel, with all his heart. He did not turn away from the sins of Jeroboam, which he had caused Israel to commit [2 Kings 10:31] – We are often told to do things with all our hearts in the Bible, which would likely refer to doing things genuinely, with a true desire to do it – Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength [Deu 6:5]. In order to do anything with all our hearts; we first need to guard our hearts. Otherwise, how is it possible to ensure that our heart contains God’s law, and only God’s law? Even if we try our hardest to guard our hearts, it is still not a guarantee that we can keep our hearts pure!
The book of Proverbs is generally regarded as the flagship book of Wisdom in the Bible, and very rightly so. In it exists seemingly wise, sagely teachings suitable for all kinds of situations and scenarios. When Solomon says, Listen, my son, and be wise, and keep your heart on the right path – is he not talking about guarding our hearts too? It is in accepting that we are weak, our hearts are weak, and require a guard – either to prevent it from being attacked and tempted, or to prevent it from attacking and sinning – it is when we accept this and proceed to guard our hearts that we are wise, in this regard. Jesus puts it simply – The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks [Luke 6:45].
So, let us daily guard our hearts. Above all else.