It Starts In the Heart.
“Fire tests the purity of silver and gold, but the Lord tests the heart.” – Proverbs 17:3 NLT
At first glance, the Proverbs seem to be all about good behavior versus bad behavior. It contrasts the life of a wise person against that of the foolish person, and it would appear that we are to choose one over the other. We must make the decision as to which behaviors will characterize our lives. But there is an underlying assumption that Solomon goes back to time and time again. There is a important ingredient required, without which none of us will ever be able to enjoy a life marked by consistently good behavior. He hints at it in verse 3: “Fire tests the purity of silver and gold, but the Lord tests the heart.” The source for ALL behavior, good or bad, is the heart. In the Hebrew mind, the heart referred to the inner man. It was the seat of his mind, will, desires, and emotions. The heart is what drives us. Our behavior is a direct reflection of our heart. But here’s the problem. “The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is? But I, the Lord, search all hearts and examine secret motives. I give all people their due rewards, according to what their actions deserve” (Jeremiah 17:9-10 NLT). Our hearts are wicked. Our desires are naturally skewed toward evil, all as a result of the fall. Good behavior is achievable, but it is impossible to maintain long-term. It is not natural for us to do what is good because our hearts are bad. So any good behavior we attempt is short-lived because it is manufactured in the flesh. Yes, we may fool one another with our acts of compassion and deeds of apparent righteousness, but God knows our hearts. God warned Samuel the prophet, “The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7 NLT). We may even be able to fool ourselves into thinking we are good, because of all the “good things” we do. But Solomon gives us the bad news: “People may be right in their own eyes, but the Lord examines their heart. The Lord is more pleased when we do what is right and just than when we offer him sacrifices” (Proverbs 21:2-3 NLT).
Good behavior is only possible when our hearts are good. And none of us can produce a good heart apart from the intervention of God in our lives. He must change our hearts before we can see a change in our behavior. Jesus Himself said, “A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart” (Matthew 12:35 NLT). A good heart is the work of God, not man. It is not a case of behavior modification, but heart transformation, which only God can accomplish. So when Solomon describes wrong-doers, liars, mockers, fools, the wicked, the unjust, quarrelers, crooked and deceivers, he is simply listing characteristics that naturally flow from a heart that remains unchanged. Wisdom, love, common sense, understanding, friendship – these are all the characteristics of a heart committed to and under the control of God. Paul described it this way: “So be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise. Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days. Don’t act thoughtlessly, but understand what the Lord wants you to do. Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit” (Ephesians 5:15-18 NLT). He told the Galatian Christians, “So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires” (Galatians 5:16-17 NLT). And then he described what the fruit of a life lived under God’s control looks like: “But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23 NLT). It all starts in the heart. It all flows from the heart. And only God can transform the heart. Reading the book of Proverbs should remind us that the behavior God desires from us is unnatural and impossible for us. We can’t do it without Him. And because of what Christ accomplished on the cross, we can live new lives because we have new hearts that are being transformed daily by the power of the Holy Spirit. The Word of God reveals our need for God. “For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires” (Hebrews 4:12 NLT). If you find your life more characterized by the negative characteristics outlined in the Proverbs, thank God for showing you the true condition of your heart and ask Him to renew His work of transformation. Confess that you can’t change your behavior without His help. Submit to His Spirit’s control. Let Him produce in you what you can’t produce on your own.
Father, I can’t change my heart and because I can’t change my heart, I find it impossible to change my behavior. I need You. Continue to keep me in Your Word and under the control of Your Spirit. Keep revealing to me my weaknesses so that I might turn to You for help. Amen.
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men