“Please stand” for the reading of Provers 4:20–27. “...Thanks be to God.”
This past week TFC conference on “Communion with the Triune God.”
Biology of the heart. Our physical heart. It’s place in our bodies. Way blood flows from it to the organs and muscles of our body. Takes that oxygenated blood from the lungs and then sends it all throughout our bodies—organs, muscles, our brain. 100,000 times a day, pumping the equivalent of 5,000 gallons of blood a day.
When our heart isn’t working right, it’s not this or that part of us that is affected. EVERYTHING in our physical body is affected. A bad heart isn’t like a broken finger: “It’s ok, I’ve got others.” A bad heart creates real problems. Comprehensive problems.
And what’s true of our physical heart is true of our spiritual heart.
“The heart” in the OT isn’t a reference to an organ of our body. It’s a figurative word that refers to the part of us which isn’t our physical body. We are a body and a soul. Our “heart” is our soul. It’s the part of us that thinks and feels and desires and worships and fears. When we’re “fearing man” like Phil talked about last week, it’s our “heart” that is fearing man. When we’re “trusting in ourselves” like John talked about, it’s our “heart” that’s trusting in what it shouldn’t.
This morning is
Series: Living in the fear of the LORD. The fear of the LORD is the foundation for all that is wisdom, all that is true knowledge. We trust in the Lord, not ourselves. Diligence. Parent by discipline and instruction. Fear God and not man. And this morning, “watch over your heart.”
Sermon: What (4:23), Why and How (4:20–27), One Specific Application (6:20–27).
Now we want to focus on 4:23, the “heart” of our morning. Notice it’s a command and then a reason why. The command is to “keep your heart with all vigilance.”
The Hebrew reads a little differently. The Hebrew starts with the phrase, “MORE THAN ANYTHING ELSE.” And then it says to, “guard your heart.”
The NIV has captured the sense of it well (other verses, not so well, but this one is helpful):
Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. (Prov 4:23, NIV)
As if the verse imagines you’re guarding a lot of different things. You’re keeping watch on a bunch of things. You can’t do this equally, so you watch some things more than others.
Solomon is saying that the most important thing you have to guard is your heart.
In the game capture-the-flag, you divide into teams. If the teams are big, there’s a lot going on. People are running everywhere. There’s decoys and then real attackers. But for your team, the most important thing you have to guard is your flag. You don’t care how much the team runs around on your side and causes problems. You care about the flag. So if your job is to guard the flag, that’s what you have to keep all your attention on.
For us, what we’re guarding is our hearts.
We’re going to watch over and keep watch over our (1) bank account, (2) body weight, (3) daily schedule, a lot of things. But above all these things, we need to “keep watch over our hearts.”
Why? The verse attaches a critical reason to do this: “for from it flow the springs of life.”
Just like our physical heart flows out into our bodies and affects everything, so our spiritual heart produces “the springs of life,” all the things we say and do and think in life.
In a town like Apex, drinking water is a big deal. It takes a lot of machinery to get water from Jordan Lake to our taps.
We keep watch on the water as it comes into our business or home. We pay attention to it. But nothing like how Apex watches over the water treatment center and all the pumps and purification stages to get that water from being something that would make us all sick (or worse) to something we can drink freely.
They watch over the treatment center so closely because from it flows the springs of water for the whole community. It’s the source of water for all the homes and businesses in the community.
Our lives are like that, where everything is flowing from the source of our heart. So we must guard our heart more than anything else.
Application: Bible before phone
One practical way to guard your heart. At the conference Craig Cabaniss spoke on communion with God and the “noise” that gets in our hearts that makes it hard to commune with God. It makes it hard to love the right things and even do the right things. So, he gave us a tip he picked up from The Common Rule by Justin Earley. Simply this, “Bible before phone.”
This is personal, but for many of us, this is a simple way to “guard your heart.” Before you let all those voices and messages in your day and in this world invade your heart, give attention to God’s Word, God’s Voice. Let his truth be the truth that lets you interpret all other truths.
Now we want to flesh out this guarding of our hearts with the rest of the paragraph. Read Proverbs 4:20–27.
The HOW is in verses 20–23a and then the WHY is in 23b–27. Verse 23 is the hinge of the passage.
The HOW: Devotion to God’s Word. This is what you’re allowing to come in to your soul in the first place and how you treat it. Here you’re allowing God’s Word to come in to your soul and then giving it proper attention.
Derek Kidner summarizes the message of these verses with the word “Concentrate.”
The perspective is a father speaking to a son and telling him to listen well. But in this case, the father is speaking the very words of God and not just his own words.
So, you can read 4:20 as Solomon speaking to his biological children. But even more, it’s God our heavenly Father addressing us in a very literal way: “My son/daughter, be attentive to my words; incline your heart to my sayings.” That’s what all Scripture is—“breathed out by God” (2 Timothy 3:16)—the very words of our heavenly Father speaking over us.
And when we give ourselves to God’s Word, the Bible promises wonderful things. Here the promise is “LIFE” and “HEALING” (Proverbs 4:22).
Remember Peter speaking to Jesus. As many were challenged by Jesus’ words and leaving, Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” (John 6:67).
Peter responded, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).
When we read and believe and feast on God’s Word, it is LIFE. And it is HEALING.
Psalm 23:2 says, “He restores my soul.” That’s a HEALING, isn’t it? When our soul is dirty and dysfunctional and then gets clean and functional, that’s a powerful healing.
One of the ways he heals our soul is by us reading and believing and feasting on God’s Word.
It clarifies who you are and why you’re here and what your real problems are and where to find help.
It humbles you if you are walking in pride. It tells you that you have fewer gifts than you think, and the ones you have are all from God.
It raises you up if you are walking around with a soul that’s been crushed. It tells you that you are made in the image of God, loved, massively important, and fearfully and wonderful made.
But for both the proud and the humble, the ultimate answer is the same: The Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To the proud, you learn that without a Savior, you deserve nothing more than hell. To the humble, you learn that the Son of God gave his life to open up God’s love to the likes of you.
That’s the main HOW of this passage. Then there’s the WHY. Why should “keep our hearts with all vigilance”? Because it affects all our behavior.
Solomon goes from talking about the heart to talking about all the behaviors of our lives:
This might feel a bit random but remember what we said from Proverbs 4:23, “everything you do flows from it.” All these behaviors flow from our heart, so we need to “keep our heart with all vigilance.
Jesus taught in several places about this connection between our HEART and our BEHAVIOR:
43 “For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, 44 for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thornbushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. 45 The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks. (Luke 6:43–45)
“Out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks”—his eyes gaze, his feet walk, he lives a certain lifestyle. “Everything you do flows from the heart.”
This is true for our good works and also our sins. That’s why true change in our lives always has to include HEART-CHANGE.
Sin is first and foremost a matter of the heart. Since you live out of the heart (see Luke 6:43–45), sin always originates there. Sin is always a matter of the thoughts, desires, motives, and choices of the heart. Sin is a matter of the heart that expresses itself in the behavior of the body—your body physically goes where your heart has already gone.
Paul Tripp, New Morning Mercies, December 11
Now we turn to a specific desire of the heart that can be a dangerous one—so we need to watch over it: Sexual desire. The reason to address this is that it appears so many times in the opening chapters of Proverbs. Proverbs is addressing a young man and likely a man who grows up in a king’s palace with tremendous power and privileges. He’s being commanded to live a life of self-control and purity.
Read Proverbs 6:20–27.
The passage has many echoes of Proverbs 4:20–27. It begins with a father’s call to his son to “keep” and “forsake not” his parent’s teaching—a father’s “commandment” and a mother’s “teaching” or torah.
The son is to “bind them on your heart always” (v. 21). In the Hebrew, it’s the same word as “heart” in Prov 4:23. But in the Greek OT the translators used a different Greek word to capture the meaning: psyche, the word for “soul.” A reminder that “heart” in Proverbs is our inner being, the inner part of us that thinks and feels and desires and pursues things.
The promises sound familiar from other passages in Proverbs: God’s Word (“commandment,” “teaching”) is a guide (v. 22) and called “a lamp...a light...the way of life” (v. 23).
But then the passage goes in a different direction than chapter 4. The passage becomes a warning to avoid “the evil woman” and the “adulteress.” It’s a call to sexual purity.
But notice that the heart stays a focus. Proverbs 6:25, “Do not desire her beauty in your heart, and do not let her capture you with her eyelashes.”
When the man’s “heart” is “captured” (v. 25), he’s in trouble. He begins to walk down a path that ends in destruction. The chapter ends with the man disgrace, despised, and destroyed. He has sought after a forbidden woman and experienced all the destruction it brings.
We need to see the connection between the heart and his behavior. Impurity starts in the heart. It doesn’t always end there, but it always starts there.
Now someone might read Proverbs 6 and think that only physical adultery is condemned. But the teaching of Jesus reminds us that adultery has layers to it.
Jesus taught on the 7th commandment, “You shall not commit adultery”:
27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matt 5:27–28)
It’s true that physical adultery is more sinful than “adultery” in the “heart,” but Jesus reminds us that both are sinful. Both need to be dealt with.
Solomon is talking about an adultery in the heart that leads to an adultery in the body.
Let’s focus on v. 25: “Do not desire her beauty in your heart, and do not let her capture you”:
Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised. (Prov 31:30)
Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life. (Prov 4:23 ESV).
Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. (Prov 4:23 NIV)
One more question to consider on this topic of watching over your heart with all vigilance: Is your use of social media making your heart more godly or more sinful?
It’s possible you need some more drastic changes.
Sin is a matter of the heart that expresses itself in the behavior of the body—your body physically goes where your heart has already gone. This is precisely why we need rescuing grace. We can run from a certain situation, location, or relationship, but we have no ability whatsoever to escape our hearts; for that, we need rescuing grace.
Paul Tripp, New Morning Mercies, December 11
If you’re not a Christian, you need a heart transplant. You need a new heart. That’s what’s available when we become a Christian. In Jesus Christ is “rescuing grace.”
If this is you, pray along with me:
If you’re a Christian, maybe it’s not a transplant you need but maybe some surgery.
You don’t need a new Savior. You just need to go deeper into the Savior you already have.
It’s a lifestyle of turning to Christ and depending on Christ—while we do the hard work of pursuing obedience and holiness.
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Eph 2:8–10)
Prayer and song
 Derek Kidner, Proverbs (IVP Academic, 2008), 65.
 Paul Tripp, New Morning Mercies (Wheaton: Crossway, 2014), December 11.
 Paul Tripp, New Morning Mercies (Wheaton: Crossway, 2014), December 11.
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