“Above all else, guard your heart,
for everything you do flows from it.” -King Solomon. Prov 4:23.
I grew up in the mid-2000s, hyper-purity youth group culture of Christianity. Youth group emphasized saving yourself for marriage, dating was implied to be bad, and everyone was always wondering whether or not you “liked” a guy because you talked to him for more than eight seconds. I remember specifically attending a conference on relationships as a teenager where the entire emphasis was, literally, about keeping your pants on. They were selling checkered suspenders in the lobby.
And then I went to Bible College.
Cue confusion over courtship, paranoia about sneak-attack coffee dates (“Is is a date? Does he like me? WHAT DOES THIS MEAN”), and engagements left and right. It’s a strange arena to attempt navigation, and the Starbucks counter down the street has witnessed many a DTR conversation or processing session among confused men and women from my campus.
All the while, this one verse has been skipped down the corridors of my subconscious by pastors, well-intended mentors, teachers, and parents.
“Are you guarding your heart?”
“Make sure you’re guarding your heart!” “Don’t forget Proverbs 4:23!”
Have we ever stopped to actually pause about what this means? What was Solomon talking about?
If we look at the context of Proverbs , Solomon is providing instructions about wise living and the results of heeding his commandments. There are active verbs here: keep, receive, ponder, let, do and do not, get, hear. We’re looking at the blueprint for, as John Piper puts it, how to attain true and lasting happiness: the “fear of the Lord that consists in humbly hearing and doing God’s will perceived both in Scripture and in the unique circumstances of the moment.”*
Guarding one’s heart means preventing impurity, foolishness, and the things of the world from setting up root there, for out of our heart comes who we are, what we say, and what we do. Guarding one’s heart involves putting wisdom in the forefront so we can walk in the way of integrity–the way of God–instead of the dark, destructive way of sin where garbage is all that pours out of our wellspring.
When it comes to dating, human relationships, and emotions, this is where practical knowledge and fear of the Lord enable us, by his power, to be wise people. Guarding our hearts, then, does not mean trying to put a steel hatch over our emotions or never being vulnerable with others; it does not mean being fake or never being friends with someone of the opposite sex because we are afraid of developing feelings for them.
It means keeping the pollution out and the wisdom in.
Christ is the keeper of our lives, for he has purchased them with his blood (Gal 3:13; Col 1:14). God is the object of our hearts, for it would be idolatrous to try and give ourselves in worship and love to another (Deut 6:5; Luke 10:27). Wisdom, the knowledge that stems from a healthy fear of the Lord, is direly needed to walk through the realm of relationships. But it is foolish to equate Proverbs 4:23 with something it was never intended to mean; it can be applied to the dating realm, as with many other helpful truths from our Lord, but let’s please stop making this the cornerstone verse and see the full truth instead:
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Prov 1:7).
The first wise thing you can do and the first of wisdom’s fruit in your life.
*qtd. from John Piper in his sermon here: http://www.desiringgod.org/messages/get-wisdom