My son, pay attention to what I say; turn your ear to my words. Do not let them out of your sight, keep them within your heart; for they are life to those who find them and health to one’s whole body. Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. Keep your mouth free of perversity; keep corrupt talk far from your lips. Let your eyes look straight ahead; fix your gaze directly before you. Give careful thought to the paths for your fee and be steadfast in all your ways. Do not turn to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil. – Proverbs 4:20-27
We can use Proverbs 4:20-27 as a personal spiritual inventory to see if we’re living in obedience to the Lord. Let’s ask ourselves:
“WHAT COMES INTO MY EARS?’ (Proverbs 4:20).
Whatever enters my ears will ultimately influence my mind, my heart and my decisions, so I’d better be careful what I listen to. Paul warns us to beware of “obscene stories, foolish talk and coarse jokes” – Ephesians 5:4, and Psalm 1:1 tells us to avoid ungodly counsel. When people speak we must be able to identify God’s voice (John 10:3-5, 16) and obey what He says.
“WHAT IS WITHIN MY HEART?” (Proverbs 4:23).
Whatever the heart loves, the ears will hear, and the eyes will see. When our children were small, no matter where we were driving, they could usually find the ice cream shops and the toy stores; I must confess that I managed to locate the bookstores! The thing that occupies the attention of your heart “determines the course of your life” (v.23). If we pollute that wellspring, the infection will spread; before long, hidden appetites will become open sins and public shame. The Bible warns us to avoid a double heart (Hebrews 3:12), a cold heart (Matthew 24:12), and an unclean heart (Psalm 51:10). “Search me O God and know my heart” – Psalm 139:23.
“WHAT IS UPON MY LIPS?” (Proverbs 4:24).
Whatever is in the heart will ultimately come out of the mouth (Matthew 12:33-34). Gods children must be careful to have “sound speech that cannot be condemned” – Titus 2:8; speech that is gracious and attractive (literally, “seasoned with salt” – Colossians 4:6). The ancient Romans, listening to one of their orators, would look at each other, smile and say, “Cum grano salis” – “Take it with a grain of salt.” But Christians are supposed to put the salt into their speech and keep their words pure and honest.
Proverbs has a great deal to say about human speech; in fact, the word “mouth” is used over fifty times and the word “lips” over forty times in some translations. Among other things, Solomon warns us about:
- perverse talk (Proverbs 4:24);
- undisciplined talk (Proverbs 10:19);
- lying lips (Proverbs 12:22);
- gossip (Proverbs 20:19); and
- deception (Proverbs 24:28).
In fact, “those who control their tongue will have a long life; opening your mouth can ruin everything” – Proverbs 13:3.
“WHAT IS BEFORE MY EYES?” – Proverbs 4:25.
Outlook determines outcome. Abraham was the friend of God because he walked by faith and was “looking to a city…designed and built by God” – Hebrews 11:10. Lot became a friend of the world because he walked by sight and moved toward the wicked city of Sodom – Genesis 13:10. Everybody has some vision before them that helps to determine their values, actions and plans. We would all be wise to imitate David who said, “I refuse to look at anything vile and vulgar” – Psalm 101:3 and the writer of Psalm 119 who prayed, “Turn my eyes from worthless things” – Psalm 119:37. If we are “keeping our eyes on Jesus” – Hebrews 12:2 as we walk the path of life, then we keep that posture of faith. If we look back (Luke 9:62) or around (Matthew 14:30), we may go on detour.
“WHAT IS THE DIRECTION OF MY PATH?” (Proverbs 4:26-27).
The Hebrew word translated “mark out” means “to weigh” or “to make level”. It is related to a word that means “scales” (Proverbs 16:11). Paul wrote, “Examine yourselves to see if your faith is genuine. Test yourselves. Surely you know that Jesus Christ is among you; if not, you have failed the test of genuine faith” – 2 Corinthians 13:5. The Lord is weighing our ways (Proverbs 5:21) and our hearts (Proverbs 21:2), as well as our actions (1Samuel 2:3) and we had better do the same. Life is too short and too precious to be wasted on the temporary and the trivial. If we are walking in the way of wisdom, God promises to protect our paths, direct our paths, and perfect our paths.
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