My son, pay attention to what I say; turn your ear to my words. 21 Do not let them out of your sight, keep them within your heart; 22 for they are life to those who find them and health to one’s whole body. 23 Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. 24 Keep your mouth free of perversity; keep corrupt talk far from your lips. 25 Let your eyes look straight ahead; fix your gaze directly before you. 26 Give careful thought to the paths for your feet and be steadfast in all your ways. 27 Do not turn to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil. (Prov. 4:20-27 NIV)
The Teacher introduces a new instruction by addressing the disciple as my son. The instruction to listen and get hold of wisdom is repeated because human nature is so prone to take the wrong path. He has to ‘turn his ears’, literally meaning ‘give it your attention’. A casual mind, or mere passing interest will not take the firm hold of wisdom that is required for life. He is to give both his ears and eyes to getting wisdom and then that has to be kept within his heart. The heart is the spring of life, so we ought to guard our hearts because everything that we do flows from it. The teachings that direct a person’s life and walk have to be cultivated within the heart. We need to see how these teachings should change what we brood over. What we spend our time musing upon – some hurt, some perceived insult – will shape what we say. Guarding our heart is not so much about keeping bad things out, it is about putting good things in and keeping them in.
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable– if anything is excellent or praiseworthy– think about such things. (Phil. 4:8 NIV)
If we can control the heart, then we will find it easier to control the mouth. Control of the heart also teaches us discretion. We don’t all need to know what you are really thinking. Sometimes it is better for all, yourself included, to keep your own thoughts to yourself. One conceals both heart and speech to avoid trouble.
Crooked paths, wickedness and perverse words go together. It is easy to be negative with our words, and to criticise people, or institutions. We should really examine our hearts carefully to see if it is better to conceal the negative thoughts and instead bring out something positive that builds people up.
To stay on the straight path it helps to look straight ahead, to have our eyes fixed on the goal, the prize for which God took hold of us. When we allow our eyes to deviate away from wisdom and the goal in life, we spot other perverse things that we make into projects that just distract us from what is important.
We are to be thoughtful about our paths. Where is this course of action going to lead? If I start this conversation and cause hurt, how can I fix it? Or does it just not matter that it never gets fixed? The goal we chose was just to speak out and not consider the consequences. This is the wrong approach, wisdom should teach us to choose the path carefully and be steadfast in all our thoughts, words and actions. When we wisely choose the path and set our eyes on the goal then we should turn neither to the right or to the left, but pursue wisdom and understanding right to the end of our days.
Lord God we see the need to repent, because we have not loved You with our whole heart, mind and strength, and we have not loved our neighbour as ourselves. We know what the right thing is to do, but it satisfies something in our hearts to choose the wrong way. Lord help us to hide wisdom in our hearts, and may Your word work in us that we might expel that which is wrong. Help us to choose our paths wisely and to walk before You with integrity of life, because we ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.