************ Sermon on Proverbs 4:23 ************

By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman

This sermon was preached on October 2, 2016

Proverbs 4
Proverbs 4:23
"Guard Your Heart"

I Teaching the Next Generation
A In Proverbs 4 we overhear a father coaching his teenage sons in wisdom.
(Prov 4:1) Listen, my sons, to a father's instruction; pay attention and gain understanding.
If there were daughters, we can safely assume that the mother would be saying something similar to them.

How does the father and mother go about this business of coaching their teenagers in wisdom? The father of Proverbs 4 goes back to when he was a boy. He is saying, "I remember when I was a boy in my father's house. I remember how my dad trained me." This is not the first time we have heard this father talking to his sons (Prov 1:8,10,15; 3:1,11,21). But this is the first time grandpa has been mentioned.

I don't know about you, but this warms and excites my heart. We see three generation in the same family serving the Lord. We see parents and grandparents passing on God's wisdom to the next generation. We see sons and daughters being invited into a tradition of wisdom. We see the covenant in action in families.
Two summers ago a very important picture was taken. It is on my computer screen so I see it every single day. In the picture are Alexander, David, me, my dad. Four generations. More importantly, four generations of believers.
This picture captures what Proverbs wants to say to us this morning. This picture captures what we try to do as a church with our youth ministry -- from Sunday School, to GEMS and Cadets, Youth Group, even Young Adults -- we strive to pass on God's wisdom to the next generation. We strive to pass on a tradition of wisdom.

What is tradition? Some people and churches view tradition as a bad word, as a dirty word. It is nothing less than previous generations handing down to the next generation the values and principles they consider to be important. So we don't look down on tradition. We value tradition.

B You might wonder what qualifies our forefathers to speak to our lives and the lives of our children and grandchildren? Paraphrasing from Paul's letter to Timothy, they fought the good fight, they finished the race, they kept the faith (2 Tim 4:7). The Bible says,
(Heb 13:7) Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.
Previous generations speak from proven experience. So, they are more than qualified to speak to us. And, wisdom say we are to listen to them and imitate them.

Let me say something to parents of young children and teens. You don't stand alone. Most of you stand in a line of believing parents and grandparents and even great grandparents. On top of that, we have many aged and wonderful saints in this church. Imitate whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy of previous generations. Listen to their tradition of wisdom. Think about such things and put them into practice as you raise your sons and daughters (cf Phil 4:8-9). For by doing this, you will pass on God's wisdom to the next generation.

C So, what are dad and grandpa saying to our children and young people?
(Prov 4:5a,7) Get wisdom, get understanding ... (7) Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom.
Girls and boys, young people, your father and your grandfather are looking you in the eye and saying to you, "Whatever you do, get wisdom."

Now, did you catch what verse 7 adds to this? "Though it cost all you have, get understanding." This reminds me of one of Jesus' parables:
(Mt 13:44) The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.
For the sake of the treasure, the man sold all he had. Why? Because the treasure was worth so much. In the same way, wisdom is worth everything you have.

Let's break this down for us. Wisdom is more important than family and friends. Wisdom is more important than work. Wisdom is more important than fun and toys. Wisdom is more important than vacation. Wisdom is more important than riches. Wisdom is more important than farms and businesses and bank accounts.

Why? Why is wisdom worth so much? Because -- like the kingdom of heaven -- "wisdom is supreme." Remember what we learned a couple of weeks ago? Wisdom is more precious than silver, more costly than gold, more beautiful than diamonds, and nothing we desire compares (Prov 3:14-15). Wisdom, according to verse 22, is a matter of life and death:
(Prov 4:22) for they are life to those who find them and health to a man's whole body.
So get wisdom. Pursue wisdom. Seek wisdom. Treasure wisdom.

II Heart
A What, specifically, does wisdom say to our children and youth? What does a Christian grandpa and father say to the next generation? The words of our text for this morning: "Above all else, guard your heart" (Prov 4:23). Heart.

I showed the boys and girls a heart. It is the physical organ pumping blood in each of our bodies. Your doctor and your spouse might tell you to guard your heart. That is, exercise, lose weight, get rid of stress, stop over-eating, lower your cholesterol, take up cycling, and so on. "Guard your heart," says your doctor, because he wants you to be healthy. "Guard your heart," says your spouse, so you can grow old together and together enjoy life's many blessings. But this is not what Solomon has in mind.

B "Guard your heart," says our text, "for it is the wellspring of life" (Prov 4:23). I love that word "wellspring." Don't forget, Solomon was in the land of Israel when he wrote this. A place like our valley here in California. A place where water is very important. A place where the best wells are fed by springs of good, clean, fresh, life-giving water.

"Guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life" (Prov 4:23). In Solomon's writings, heart refers to our inner being, the center of our mind and will and emotions and character, our seat of consciousness, the core of our decision-making. It is the heart that determines how we respond to crises, make decisions, interact with people, and whether or not we live according to the wisdom of God. This understanding of heart is important to Solomon -- so important that Proverbs refers to it more than seventy times. According to wisdom, this is the heart we are supposed to guard.

"Guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life" (Prov 4:23). We can say more. We all know that if you are a Christian, the Lord Jesus has given you a new heart, a changed heart. Life, new life, does not start from me, it does not start from inside of me; it starts from outside of me because of Jesus. Thanks to Jesus, out of our changed hearts comes what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy. Thanks to Jesus, our heart is the wellspring of life and Christian living.

III Guard
A "Guard your heart." Guard. This implies something. This says something. Namely, that the new hearts of our children and youth are under attack. Their hearts and our hearts are under siege. From all directions. Advertisers, pornographers, drug lords, Hollywood producers, social media, video game makers, public schools, network TV -- they all attack the hearts of our children and youth. Every day they tell us and our children that if we want to live, really live, we need to be young, thin, tanned, sexually active, rich, tolerant, drink alcohol, have a smart mouth and lots of gadgets. This is our cultural ideal, the wisdom of our age.

Let me challenge you to do something, congregation. For 24 hours observe your part of the world. Keep track of how many times the world tries to influence your opinion, change your values, or affect your behavior. You will be shocked. It is relentless. It never stops. Day in and day out the heart is under attack.

B "Guard your heart." The key image in the second paragraph of our Bible reading is "the way." Verse 11: "the way of wisdom ... straight paths." Verse 14: "the path of the wicked ... the way of evil men." Verse 18: "the path of the righteous." Verse 19: "the way of the wicked." Do you know what this tells us? Life is a trip, a journey. On this trip, this journey, we can go the way of the world or we can go the way of Christ. We can choose to guard the heart for Jesus or we can choose to surrender the heart to the plots of Satan and the world.

Listen to what Proverbs says about the way of the wicked which is the way of the world:
(Prov 4:14-17,19) Do not set foot on the path of the wicked or walk in the way of evil men. (15) Avoid it, do not travel on it; turn from it and go on your way. (16) For they cannot sleep till they do evil; they are robbed of slumber till they make someone fall. (17) They eat the bread of wickedness and drink the wine of violence ... (19) But the way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know what makes them stumble.

The way of the world, the way of wickedness, does it work? Is life happy and fulfilling if you are young, thin, tanned, sexually active, rich, tolerant, drink alcohol, have a smart mouth and lots of gadgets? Proverbs pictures evil as compulsive. It turns us into slaves. Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin" (Jn 8:34). We are like addicts. Picture an addict -- whether it is to pornography, alcohol, drugs, gambling, sex, power. The addict needs his or her next fix and can't wait to get it and doesn't care who gets hurt. When we don't guard the heart, when we give in to Satan, we unleash dark powers inside ourselves. The wise father and grandfather of Proverbs 4 is warning us that our hearts will be tempted, and behind every temptation is an overwhelming power of darkness and despair.

In contrast to this is the way of Christ which is the way of wisdom:
(Prov 4:11-12,18) I guide you in the way of wisdom and lead you along straight paths. (12) When you walk, your steps will not be hampered; when you run, you will not stumble ... (18) The path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, shining ever brighter till the full light of day.

Proverbs tells us that fullness of life comes from wisdom. Fullness of life comes when you fear the Lord. Fullness of life comes when you set your heart on Jesus. Fullness of life comes when you prize wisdom above everything else.

Girls and boys, young people, congregation, we have a choice to make. We can choose the way of the world or -- by grace -- we can choose the way of wisdom and Christ. We can choose to guard the heart or we can choose to lose the heart. And, whatever choice we make will cost us all we have (Prov 4:7).

IV Above All Else
A The Hebrew of our text begins with the phrase "above all else." "Above all else, guard your heart" (Prov 4:23). The Hebrew language uses word order to emphasize an idea, usually placing the most important point first in the sentence. Normally, the verb comes first, followed by the subject, then the object. But Solomon switched this order to stress the importance of his advice. Since Proverbs is part of the inspired Word of God, it is God Himself Who thinks the advice is crucial.

"Above all else." The Hebrew word used here focuses on a place to be closely observed, protected, preserved, or guarded -- such as a city wall or gate. Above all else, with due diligence, more than anything else, it is the duty of the gate-keeper or guard to keep his focus on the wall or gate. The lives of everyone in the city depends on his diligence.

B "Above all else, guard your heart" (Prov 4:23). Guard. Watch over. Keep. The Hebrew word is used frequently in wisdom literature to describe the work of the shepherd. A shepherd watches over his flocks. He keeps them from harming themselves. He protects them from predators. He supplies their needs.

The Hebrew word is also used to describe the duty of the guard in a watchtower. He continuously scans the horizon for approaching armies or nighttime raids. He knows who may enter the city and who must be kept out.

"Above all else, guard your heart" (Prov 4:23). When it comes to your heart, be like the shepherd. Be like the guard. Protect your inner being, your mind and will and emotions and character, your seat of consciousness, the core of your decision-making.

If you were responsible for protecting secret documents critical to the security of the USA, how would you protect that information? Whom would you trust? Where would you keep the documents? This is the mindset, the attitude, we are to have when it comes to guarding the heart.

C "Above all else, guard your heart" (Prov 4:23). Put this altogether. What are we being told? Your most important job is to guard your heart. The most important job of parents and grandparents and pastors and elders is to guard the heart of the young entrusted to their care. "Above all else." More important than anything else. Which means this comes first. Which means this takes priority over everything else. Which means nothing else is allowed to come in the way.

V Three Practical Instructions
"Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life" (Prov 4:23).

Earlier, I mentioned Solomon's imagery of a trip or a journey. In verses 24-27 Solomon directs our attention to the traveler making his or her way through the world. He uses the imagery of the traveler to give us three practical instructions on how to guard the heart. To sum it up, he said:
-ignore false directions (vs 24)
-focus on the destination (vs 25)
-stay on the path (vs 26-27)

"Guard you heart." If someone in your life regularly gives false directions, then it is time to get that person out of your life. If someone regularly contradicts the Word of God, have nothing more to do with them!

"Guard your heart." Focus on your destination. Our destination as Christians is the Kingdom of Heaven and the glory of God. As Jesus puts it, "seek first his kingdom and his righteousness" (Mt 6:33).

"Guard you heart." Stay on the path. Don't take detours. Keep your eyes on the road. Do not swerve to the right or the left. Don't allow anything or anyone to distract you.

If you are in Christ, if you believe in Jesus, then yours is a new heart, a changed heart. "Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life" (Prov 4:23).
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