Thursday, September 17, 2009

Guarding your heart: it doesn't mean what you might think it means...

The following paragraphs are excerpts from a book I am writing, priumarily discussing dating, courting, and relationships from a Christian perspective. Indirectly, I touch on the issue of "guarding your heart," which is, perhaps, the finest example of Biblical misinterpretation one could find. I tthought that they might find a nice home here in this blog about truth.

The phrase “guard your heart,” while Biblical in its origins, provides a hint of truth upon which Satan has forged numerous lies concerning ourselves and how we relate to others. Certainly, Jesus (who is himself the Word of God), never advised use to hide from the world to guard our hearts. In fact he commanded us to go out into the world and bring the light to it (see Matt 28:18-19, the “Great Commission”).

I believe that the phrase “guard your heart,” much like the phrase “don’t settle,” is a tired and lonely expression that damages Christian relationships today. Quite frankly, this scripture has nothing to do with dating or relationships, and it is taken out of context more often than any other scripture with which I am familiar. Churches have been using this phrase, for years, to advise young men and women from engaging in activities that might cause hurt feelings, with dating being the chiefly prohibited activity.

Proverbs chapter four is a message from a father to his son concerning the need to get wisdom and live a life of light without straying from the path of righteousness and into a wilderness of evil. Verse 23, in the ESV, says, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” However, in the (less literal) NIV translation, it reads, “Above everything else, guard your heart. It is where your life comes from.”

This is great advice, but it is not advising Christians to hide from situations where our feelings might get hurt, and neither does it justify hiding from people we think might hurt us. It is certainly not attacking dating, courting, or relationships. The goal is to live our lives Biblically in those situations, to guard our hearts FROM EVIL and SIN. Even in the NIV, which is a less than literal translation (and therefore a less desirable translation in my opinion), the purpose for which this father advised his son to “guard your heart” can be concretely discerned by examining the verses that immediately follow. Here it is, in more detail:

“Above everything else, guard your heart. It is where your life comes from. Don't speak with twisted words. Keep evil talk away from your lips. Let your eyes look straight ahead. Keep looking right in front of you. Make level paths for your feet to walk on. Only go on ways that are firm. Don't turn to the right or left. Keep your feet from the path of evil” (Prov 4:23-27, NIV) (emphasis supplied).

What wonderful advice this is, and what a shame it is that so many misuse this chapter to advance agendas other than what the inspired author intended. No one will argue the merits of the author’s words, but he was not advising us to avoid interacting with the opposite sex or to hide in a hole from the things in this world that might hurt our feelings.

Christianity merits boldness, not fear. In fact, our slogan should be: "Fear not!" Remember 2 Timothy 1:7:, "For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control." The Bible, in advising us to vigilantly keep our hearts (guard them) is referring to protecting them from sin, not from emotional suffering. In fact, to do God's work, sometimes we have to risk heartache. That's part and parcel of being bearers of the truth.


  1. can't it mean both? isn't it just as true that we should guard are hearts from all kinds of damage? why is it not good to avoid getting hurt?

  2. I see what you are saying, and without being disrespectful, may I suggest that you are interpreting the passage based on what already seemed logical to you?

    Look at it this way: you are driving down an interstate highway, and you see a sign that says Exit 4, Hwy 13 to Norfolk 3 miles. Now, this may not seem immdiately clear, but that sign is communicating only that exit 4, which leads to a highway called 13 that goes to Norfolk, will come up in 3 miles. Can it also mean that Norfolk is only 3 miles away? It is possible, but the sign isn't communicating that, and if you get off at that exit in 3 miles, you might find yourself driving 50 or even 500 miles to Norfolk. It might also be 3 miles. However, the sign was silent to that issue, so you shouldn't use the sign to support the proposition that Norfolk is only 3 miles away. Instead, you should take it to mean exit 4 is 3 miles away. this confused me when I first started driving years ago, and there are a lot of signs like that.

    Similarly, passages in the Bible communicate some things directly, others by implication, and, on some matters, it remains silent. Since the Proverb above doesn't say, "avoid heartache" directly, there are two options: the passage implies this or is silent regarding this. The context of the surrounding verses makes such an implication less reasonable, while 2 TIm 1:6-7 contradicts that meaning. Since there is a consistent way to read Proverbs 4 and 2 Tim 1, I conclude that consistent interpretation is the correct one, because I do not believe the Bible contradicts itself (I believe contradictions to be the result of our limited human understanding). Hope that helps.

  3. it does help. i don't think i get it 100% but ur saying that the proverb doesnt say exactly to avoid heartache but 2 tim 1:6-7 says not to be fearful. i see how that could be a contraditcion. if we act afraid of heartache what else is there to be brave about? so they can't both be true unless i read proverbs wrong. i wish reading the bible were easier, though.

  4. Well, few things worth doing are easy, but that's why we are here to help. We need to read the Bible for ourselves, but how we read it matters a lot. Things that I have found don't work so well: (1) reading the Bible with an agenda/to prove a point; (2) reading one or two verses at a time (they rarely make sense that way); (3) ignoring who the writer is actually talking to (the audience); (4) giving up.

    If you avoid those things, that is a good start. If you get confused, then remember that God is the author of logic. While our logic doesn't always work perfectly, if we don't jump to conclusions, logic and reason will help us understand the Bible. Sometimes cultural differences between us and the people in the Bible make things confusing, so aks a pastor you trust. Contact us if you like. Christians are supposed to help each other.

  5. yeah i need to read closer.