Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise: Living Ethically in the Light of the Bible
Luke 12:35-40; 1 Timothy 5:17-25; Proverbs 4:20-27; Nehemiah 11
Proverbs 1-9 contain a series of poems exhorting the reader to pursue wisdom. These lay the general framework before getting into the details of later proverbs. Today’s poem uses the imagery of the body to point to the importance of our hearts. ‘Above all else, guard your heart’ (v. 23). The verses before this describe what enters the heart, and the verses afterwards, what flows from it. To be wise, we must shape and protect our hearts.
The Hebrew term for heart is its most important word about humans, but there is no precise equivalent in English. The heart controls the whole body and is the centre of the intellect, emotions and will. It is central to our desires and our spiritual functioning. The way the heart is inclined leads to good or bad decisions. It is central to our ethics ‘for everything you do flows from it’ (v. 23).
The heart is also malleable, being shaped from outside us, but also shaping how we interact with the outside world. Our eyes and ears are gateways to the heart (v. 20-21), and at the same time our hearts decide what we hear and see (v. 25). Likewise, our words arise from our hearts (v. 24) and they set the course for our life (v. 26). The heart is the control centre of our being. Hence the importance of carefully monitoring what we allow into our hearts through our eyes, ears, affections, mind or spirit. If we are interested in ethics, we must be concerned about our hearts (Matthew 15:19).
Going beyond listening to the father’s words and seeking wisdom, this poem adds the importance of retaining what has been learned. Wisdom can slip away if we are not diligent. We must retain the words received, guard our hearts that have been shaped, keep our mouths free of perversity and corruption, watch where our eyes wander, and carefully watch our walks. Wisdom is not something learned once and stockpiled for later. Our hearts need on-going nutrition and exercise. Without good food, the heart grows sick and callous; without walking on the right path, our hearts waver and lose direction.
For those who guard their hearts, the Proverbs promise life (v. 22). As in English, the Hebrew term for ‘life’ has many meanings. Most often in Proverbs it refers to the abundant life of health, prosperity and the good opinion of others, in addition to physical life. This is the abundant life offered by Jesus (John 10:10). We find health for our whole body, a restoration to a former state of well-being. Physical health is included here, as God is concerned about this. We see this in Paul’s advice to Timothy to drink a little wine for his health (1 Timothy 5:23). The health of Proverbs arises from a life lived in relationship with God that goes well beyond our physical health, and includes our mental, emotional and spiritual well-being.