Guard Your Heart
Topic: English Passage: Proverbs 4:20-27
Read Passage: PROVERBS 4:20-27
World War 2 was fought between the Axis Powers and the Allied Powers. Along with Britain and France, the United States was part of the Allied Powers, while the Axis Powers included Japan, Italy, and Nazi Germany.
Imagine if you were alive during World War 2, and came across a magazine or a newspaper, and these were the headlines you were reading:
- A German victory is certain. The Axis powers will triumph easily.
- Britain and France have horded up natural resources that can be used to help and benefit Germany.
- Germany needs more land to support its growing population, yet the nations have denied it to them.
- Germany is fighting in self-defense. The Allies have attacked without provocation and are using inhumane weaponry.
- If Germany loses, it will mean the end of ordered civilization.
- A German victory will benefit all mankind.
What would you think? Those kinds of headlines are obviously a little slanted. They come with a specific bias.
Those weren’t specific headlines at the time, but those are examples of the kinds of messages that were being pushed to some degree by the Germans. They wanted people in their country, and even many outside to sympathize with them. They wanted people to join their cause. And their tactic for that was to release these kinds of messages.
The word we give for those kinds of messages is propaganda. Propaganda can use truth, it can use rumors, and it can use lies, but the purpose is the same—to get people to think differently. And propaganda is especially used in times of war, no matter what side you’re on.
Have you ever been a victim of propaganda? Have you ever been told something enough times, maybe even very subtly, that you eventually started to believe it? Can things outside you change the way you think?
I think we all would like to answer “No.” But I’m afraid that the biblical answer to that is “Yes. Our minds can be changed by forces outside us.” How do I support that?
Well, one way to support that idea is to use the book of Proverbs. Solomon, the father who wrote this book, is using his own words to change the way his son thinks. And he’s also warning his son to personally pursue wisdom so that his mind isn’t taken captive by the world.
First John 5:19 says that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one. Satan is the prince of the power of the air. And when Jesus describes Satan, He says there is no truth in him. He is a liar, and he is the father of lies.
Lies are Satan’s primary weapon. This is his primary involvement in the world. It’s not just the extremes of devil-worship or witchcraft. It is the propagation of lies—lies that seduce the human heart, which (because of sin) is already prone to deception.
We are in a spiritual war. And we are up against the propaganda of the world every day. And whether we admit it or not, we will be affected by it, unless we take deliberate steps.
Speaking of our spiritual warfare, Paul says in 2 Corinthians 10:3, “though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. The weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.”
What are those strongholds we’re up against? Verse 5 says: “We destroy arguments and every kind of lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.”
Our battle is against opinion, false knowledge, and evil thoughts. It is a battle fought in the mind, and it’s a battle for truth. That’s our battle. We are in a battle for truth.
Now, I’d like to start our time in this passage today, by looking at Proverbs, chapter 4, verse 23. This is a very popular verse, so you should get familiar with it. PROV 4:23.
Proverbs is a book about life. It’s about fearing God and walking in righteousness and navigating life. But, the starting point is the heart. It’s the heart. What is that?
In the Bible, the heart is who you truly are. Who you really are. In our culture today, we use words like mind and heart to talk about different functions, but in the language of the Bible that all gets combined into the heart.
One of my seminary professors said it like this: The heart is the invisible control center of your life. It’s who you are. And it might be helpful to categorize the functions of the heart into 3 main categories. We elders read a book together last year. It was about the biblical perspective of the human heart. And these are the same categories we read about.
The first category has to do with thinking. Your heart, according to the Bible, is responsible for thinking. Your heart believes. It remembers. It interprets data. In fact, when it’s used like this, sometimes our English translations will even use the word “mind,” but it’s the same word as heart.
The second category has to do with feeling. With emotions. Your heart has desires. Your heart wants things. And the things that you want show up in your emotions. If you get what you want, or avoid what you don’t want, you have good feelings. And if you don’t get what you want, or get what you don’t want, you get negative feelings like anger or sadness.
So your heart is responsible for thinking and believing. It’s responsible for feeling and wanting. And the third category has to do with choices and commitments. Your heart is what makes decisions. Your heart is what weighs possible actions and then makes a choice.
So those are the three main categories of your heart. There’s what we might call the mental aspect. Then there’s the emotional aspect. And then there’s the practical aspect.
Now just so you know, inside your heart, it isn’t like there’s just a random assortment of thoughts, beliefs, desires, and commitments. They are structured in a specific way. Some take priority over others. Some are more foundational. They take priority. And it’s that order of beliefs and ideas and desires and commitments that make you who you are.
Now, here’s what’s important about all this. Your heart can be changed. It doesn’t happen all at once, and it takes work. But your heart can change for the better or for the worse.
You can restructure the order. Or you can add new items. Or you can remove them. And the process of restructuring your hear to look more like Christ is called sanctification. That’s spiritual growth.
Spiritual maturity isn’t just about sinning less. It’s about a change in your desires and beliefs and commitments. It’s a change in who you are, at the heart level. And God does it in us. But He does it through specific means. He does it through His word. His truth…
And this Proverbs dad, wants his son to focus on his heart. That’s the starting point. And in order for you and I to grow spiritually, we need to focus, we need to direct our energies at our hearts.
I’ve got three sections for the sermon today. And they are sections that this father wants his son to know about. And they are things our heavenly Father wants us to know about too.
First, we have the heart’s protection. Second, there is the heart’s motivation. And lastly, we’ll look at the heart’s application.
And this really will be very practical, if you pay attention.
Let’s start with our first heading: the heart’s protection. I already mentioned that your heart can be changed for the better or for the worse. And obviously, this dad wants his son heart to change for the better.
How does that happen? Well, it happens because of what comes in. I hope that’s a simple concept. Your heart begins to change based on what it’s taking in. If you bring truth into your life, your heart begins to align more with truth. If you bring in lies or wickedness, your heart changes in the negative direction.
I should also say that your heart doesn’t keep changing positively, just because you learned something positive. That truth that gets learned needs to be reinforced or else it will get lost.
So in order to change your heart in the positive direction you need to protect it. You need a filter. You need to keep the bad stuff out and the good stuff in. The bad stuff from Satan and the world is trying to get in. And the good stuff from God’s word has a tendency to get forgotten. So your heart needs protection.
Look at verses 20 and 21. Notice the commands that are being given. VERSES 20-21.
Essentially, there are four ways to protect your heart. Get good in, and get bad out. And then keep good in, and keep bad out. That should be easy enough to understand. Get good in, and get bad out. And then keep good in, and keep bad out.
Well, how exactly do you get stuff into your heart? These verses give us two ways. Your eyes and your ears. That’s how messages get to your heart. You hear them and you see them. Your eyes and your ears have direct paths to your heart, so you need to keep out the bad stuff and let in the good stuff.
Verse 20 is talking about your ears. The commands there are “give attention/incline” which speak about a readiness, and a teachability. That word “incline” literally means to stoop down. You need to have your ears perked for godly wisdom.
We all know what it’s like to turn other things off when we want to hear something specific. We plug one ear, if we’re on an important phone conversation. We shush the other people. Because that message matters to us. Certain text messages or phone calls get answered right away, because there’s a readiness.
Well, that should be our approach to God’s wisdom. Whether it be from a sermon, or from your parents, or from your own Bible reading. You need to give yourself to hear these messages.
Let me ask you, what are you listening to during the week? What’s going in your ears? And what’s coming in through your eyes? Does it honor God? Does it lend toward biblical wisdom?
When I read this passage and thought about our eyes and ears, I couldn’t help but think about how many people these days walk around with headphones or ear buds on, or their eyes fixed down onto a cell phone.
It’s not inherently sinful, but it does communicate something, doesn’t it? It says to other people, I’m listening to something of my choosing, and I’d rather not be bothered by whatever else is going on in the world right now. That may not be your heart, but that’s the message it sends sometimes.
Well, what kind of message are we sending to God? Are we conveying a readiness to hear from Him and to respond to Him? Or are we just saying, “I’d rather be focused on this right now”? Your eyes and your ears are changing you.
Let me give you another example. Just think about whatever else you do with your time. You might watch a movie. You might play video games. You might watch TV or a sports game. Again, it’s not inherently sinful. But you need to be aware of the messages you’re getting.
There are the obviously wrong messages about violence, language, and sexuality. But deeper than that, there are other messages that are being reinforced.
You’re forming answers to questions like: What is attractive? What is beautiful?... Think about that for a second. Why do you find a certain type of person attractive? That’s not completely innate to you. That was moved along by outside forces.
Culture, friends, TV, movies, celebrities—they all change the way we perceive beauty and other people. That’s not fixed. Every culture defines it for themselves, and by-and-large Hollywood wins. But if we really want to answer what or who is beautiful and attractive, the place we’re supposed to go is in the Scripture. Where it tells us what it means to be a man, and what it means to be a beautiful and precious woman in the sight of God.
Another questions that media is answering for you is this: what’s the best use of your time? What is going to give you the best return for your investment of time? What is going to bring you the most satisfaction? Again, we can let God’s word answer that or we can let the culture answer it.
I got sick this past week, and it really got me thinking about how diligent we need to be to protect ourselves.
When you see someone walking around with a mask during flu season, you might think they look funny. They don’t fit in. But it’s not as funny two days later when you have the flu and they don’t. And I think that’s a great comparison to this spiritual truth of guarding our hearts.
That’s actually another way of saying verse 23. Keep your heart. Guard your heart. Protect it. With all your energy. Even if it means you don’t fit in with those around you. Even if it means you don’t look like everybody else. Because that’s what it’ll mean to follow Jesus Christ.
Let’s move on now to our second point. We go now from the heart’s protection to the heart’s motivation. The heart’s motivation. Why should we guard our heart? Why is this such a big deal?
Well, as usual, the Proverbs dad wants his son to be motivated. He doesn’t just give him commands, he gives him reasons. And they are positive.
Look at verses 22 and 23.
I won’t spend too much time here, but just notice the reasons he gives. These commands that you’re hearing from me, and which come from God are life and health. And verse 23 says your heart is the starting point of life.
They re life and health. This sounds like a Kaiser Permanente commercial. I want you to thrive. I want you to be strong and active. These truths, these nuggets of wisdom are like medicine or like vitamins. They will refresh you.
Like I said, I got sick this past week, and at my worst, I woke up in the middle of the night. My shirt is covered in sweat. And my body is shivering. And I can’t get comfortable. And the only thing I want is relief. Relief in the form of Ibuprofen or acetaminophen. That’s what in most of those medicines.
And once I got some medicine, and once it entered my bloodstream, guess what? Life got better. Life went from miserable to bearable. That’s what medicine is supposed to do. Well, that’s what God’s wisdom is supposed to do for your life. And it doesn’t have any side effect. And it doesn’t have a limit on how much you can take.
Go back for a second to Proverbs 3:8. You see the same message there. PROVRBS 3:8.
Now, you have to understand that this was written during the Old Testament. And at this time God’s people were the Israelites. In order to know and worship God you had to come through Israel. And Israel did have specific physical blessings. You can read those in Leviticus and Deuteronomy. If they listened, God would physically bless the nation.
Well, for Christians today, the correlation is not exact, but there is still a blessing for obeying. There is God’s grace on your life. There is a clean conscience. There is a deepening walk with Jesus Christ and with those who also walk with Him.
So this principle still applies, even if not in the same way to us Gentiles. If we walk with Christ, we get God’s blessing, and that can include physical and tangible rewards. But if we disobey, according to Hebrews, we get God’s discipline. We get His chastisement. If we sow to the flesh, we reap corruption.
We end up fulfilling the warning of PROV 1:24-26.
Some of you know the saying: Put good in, get good out. That’s the principle here. Your heart is the starting point to life. So if you put good into your heart, you’ll get good out of life. If you don’t, then what comes out is wicked and it corrupts.
Let that truth motivate you to pursue and guard the wisdom of God.
3rd section: The Heart’s Application
(protection, motivation, application)
Wisdom needs to be reinforced. Wisdom needs to be applied. Wisdom works.
Path to heart = ears and eyes.
Exit paths form the heart = Mouth, eyes, feet
Pay attention to that.
Mouth (VERSE 24)
- Ephesians 4:29 (intention)
- Ephesians 5:3-4 (no immoral talk)
- You know the list: lying, slander, gossip,
- it all creeps in so easily
- If we let it out, then we let it build up in our hearts
Eyes (VERSE 25)
- Job made a covenant with his eyes
- Horse with blinders. Stay focused.
- Maybe the most obvious example is pornography, but it goes further than that. God calls us to flee from every form of sexual immorality. And sometimes, that means looking straight ahead.
- Target, Walmart (etc.) Check out lane. Just keep looking ahead. Choose the aisle with the candy (even if kids will beg).
Feet (symbolic of our entire life) (VERSES 26-27)
- Be intentional about where you step and where you go
- Stay on the right path
- If you see something that isn’t right turn away. Don’t keep going that direction.
- e.g. A different route home from work.
This takes intentionality.
This takes energy and effort.
This is tiring.
But this is possible if we rely on Jesus Christ and ask him for daily strength.
We all fail. But Jesus restores and forgives. And gives us grace to move forward again.
Let’s work to apply the wisdom of God in every aspect of our life. No matter where we are. And let’s lift our eyes to the blessing we have been promised. And let’s do all that we can to protect our hearts and guard them for the glory of Jesus Christ, and for the purpose of reaching others.