Last time we got together we continued discussing the proverbs of Solomon and concluded with Proverbs 20:25 where Solomon wrote that, “It is a trap for a man to dedicate something rashly and only later to consider his vows.  You may remember we ended with the story of Jephthah who had vowed to God that if God would help him defeat his enemy in war, he would sacrifice as a burnt offering the first thing that came out the door of his house when arriving back home.  Well God did help Jephthah defeat his enemy and when he returned home the first thing to come out of his house was his daughter.  You know the rest of the story.   

       Today we are going to move on in Proverbs beginning with chapter 21.  Proverbs has 31 chapters so starting today we have ten more chapters to go before completing this series. Chapter 21 has over a dozen brief and concise sayings and we will begin today by looking at 21:2 and also consider a parallel passage found in Proverbs 16:2. 

       Proverbs 21:2: All a man's ways seem right to him, but the LORD weighs the heart.

      Proverbs 16:2: All a man's ways seem innocent to him, but motives are weighed by the LORD.

       When Scripture speaks of the heart of man it is not talking about the organ in our chest that pumps blood to keep us alive.  The word heart is used to describe our innermost being where thoughts, motives and aspirations take shape. Now we know from our modern day knowledge of physiology that thinking takes place in the brain and involves neuro transmitters and other physical components that make up the gray matter that we call the brain.  So are references to the heart simply another way of speaking about the human brain?  Let’s explore this a bit.

       While the human brain is physical and its parts must be working properly to facilitate thought and all that is derived from thought, there appears to be a non-physical component involved in the thought process as well.  This component is found in both God and man.  This component is called spirit.  It is apparent God has spirit and so does man.  Apostle Paul made some very interesting statements about spirit.

       1 Corinthians 2:11:  For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man's spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.

       Romans 8:16: The Spirit itself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children.

         2 Corinthians 1:21-22: Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.

       Paul speaks of the spirit in man knowing the thoughts of man and the Spirit of God knowing the thoughts of God.  Paul tells the Romans that the Spirit of God testifies with our human spirit that we are God’s children. Paul also speaks of God putting His Spirit in our hearts. What does it meant for God to put his Spirit in our hearts?   God putting His Spirit in our hearts appears to relate to the placing of the seed of eternal life in our hearts which bears witness to our being son’s of God.  However, it would also appear that for God to put his Spirit in our hearts is for God to put His thoughts in our hearts. 

       While human thoughts are processed and facilitated by physical components of the brain, it is apparent there is a non-physical component of thought called spirit.  Paul writes that we can know the thoughts of God by Gods Spirit uniting with our spirit.  The Scriptures speak of the mind of man and the mind of God.  It appears it is thoughts that make up what is called mind and it is mind that is a component of Spirit.  Paul actually speaks of the mind of the Sp[rpt of God.

       Romans 8:27: And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's will.

       Paul talks a lot about the mind of man being either controlled by the sinful nature or by the Spirit of God.  We see this in Paul’s letter to the Romans.

       Romans 8:5: Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.

       Romans 8:8-9: Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God. You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.

       Our nature is what generates our thoughts which in turn generates our behavior. If we allow sinful nature to generate our thoughts which is to say control our minds, our behavior will be sinful.  If we allow the Spirit of God to generate our thoughts, we are in essence allowing God’s nature to determine our behavior which translates into righteous behavior.  Paul speaks of being transformed in mind which means a change of thinking resulting in a new attitude.

       Romans 12:2: Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will.

       Ephesians 1:22-23: You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds.

       When Solomon writes that God weighs the heart, it would appear that God is looking at the intent behind the thoughts of man.  Are we diligently seeking to have our behavior generated by the Spirit of God or are we content to have our behavior controlled by sinful nature.  What is our intent?  A Godly intent is one that is based on the mind of God.  It is based on thoughts generated by the Spirit of God and not the thoughts generated by sinful nature.  Jesus said that it is from the heart that evil thoughts are generated.

       Matthew 18:15-19: But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man `unclean.’ For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.

       When Jesus said to the paralytic man that his sins were forgiven, some teachers of the law took offense at this and were thinking to themselves that Jesus had committed blasphemy.   

       Mark 2:8: Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, "Why are you thinking these things?

       Jesus knew what was in the hearts of these teachers of the law which is to say he knew what their intent was.  As seen throughout the Gospels and much of the NT narrative, the intent of the religious leaders was to discredit Christ.  Because this was their intent, their thoughts were negative regarding Christ and they felt perfectly comfortable with these thoughts. 

       When Solomon says that “All a man's ways seem right to him, but the LORD weighs the heart,” he is saying that we may conclude our behavior is OK but God sees the motive behind our behavior.  God looks at our innermost attitudes and can see whether our outward behavior is generated by truly righteous thoughts or by something else.  In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus pointed out that even when ones behavior may be the right thing to do, the motivation for the behavior may be totally wrong. 

       Matthew 6:1-2:  "Be careful not to do your `acts of righteousness' before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.   "So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.

       Verse 5: And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.

       Those giving to the needy and praying in the synagogues probably felt they were doing the right thing.  After all, they were providing for the poor which is a Godly thing to do.  Certainly offering prayer to God during a public worship service was an OK thing to do.  But, as can be seen, these behaviors, while OK in and of themselves, were generated by a wrong attitude.  They were generated from a desire to puff up the self, a desire to look good in the eyes of others.          

       Concern for the needy and a desire to worship God were secondary concerns and not the primary concern they should have been. Jesus made it clear that God is more interested in our intent.  The Pharisees of Jesus day were good at looking good on the outside while the motivation for their visible behavior was totally unacceptable. Jesus pointed this out to them and emphasized that it is what goes on in the heart that is the most important thing in the eyes of God.

       Matthew 15:7-8: You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: "`These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.

      The use of the word heart appears to signify the innermost thoughts of man. In this respect the heart is identified with the spirit in man that Paul talked about.  The spirit in man appears to be where the seat of mans cognitive activity is located and it is here where the spirit of God can interact with man. 

       Proverbs 20:17: The lamp of the LORD searches the spirit of a man; it searches out his inmost being.

       It is instructive what David told his son Solomon when Solomon was to become king over Israel.

       1 Chronicles 28:9: "And you, my son Solomon, acknowledge the God of your father, and serve him with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind, for the LORD searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts. If you seek him, he will be found by you; but if you forsake him, he will reject you forever.

       God is seen as searching every heart and understanding every motive behind our thoughts.  Sounds a little scary, doesn’t it.  Maybe Solomon had this teaching from his father in mind when he wrote that the LORD weighs the heart and motives of man in determining what we are really up to.  David told his son to serve God with wholehearted devotion.  We humans often fail to do this and instead serve God halfheartedly.  Our hearts are divided between service to God and service to ourselves.  David was considered a man after God’s own heart in that he strove to serve God with his whole heart. 

       We know David was anything but perfect in his behavior. But his heart appears to always have been right with God which means his intent was always to serve God with undivided heart.

       Psalm 86:11: Teach me your way, O LORD, and I will walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name.

       Mark 12:30: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.'

       Jesus taught we are to love God with our entire heart, soul, mind and strength.  God requires complete commitment to His will.  God requires complete dedication to living our lives by the standards of behavior He has established for us. It all starts with the heart which is to say it all starts with the innermost intent.

       What we should learn from all this is that God searching our innermost thoughts should be welcomed.  By God revealing thoughts that we may be unaware of will hopefully lead to repentance and spiritual growth and development.  In this respect we should come before God with the same attitude David had.

       Psalm 139: 23-24: Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.  See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

       In summery here, it would appear when the Scriptures speak of the heart of man it is the innermost thought, motives and intents of man that is being addressed and this is what God is most interested in.  While outward behavior would appear to reflect our deepest motives and convictions, it doesn’t always.  Our outward behavior sometimes simply reflects the expression of our human weaknesses and not how we really feel about something.   

       When David committed adultery with Bathsheba, it wasn’t because his innermost thoughts were in favor of committing adultery.  As soon as Samuel pointed out to David the sinfulness of his behavior, he realized the gravity of what he had done and was very remorseful.  That is why David, despite his sins was seen to be a man after God’s own heart which means the innermost thoughts of David’s heart were the same as the thoughts of God’s heart.  The goal is to have the thoughts of God’s heart become the thoughts of our heart.

Proverb #2

       Proverbs 21:3: To do what is right and just is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice.

       In studying what Solomon wrote in Proverbs 21:2, we learned God is very interested in what goes on in the heart of man, what mans motives are for what he does.  Even if we mess up and fail to always do what is right in God’s sight, it appears God looks upon the heart and judges us accordingly.

       In the same manner, God is more interested in us doing what is right and just than He is interested in sacrifice.  Solomon is not here talking about the sacrifices we humans make to do good things like giving of our time and resources to help those in need. Solomon is talking about animal sacrifices. The Hebrew word rendered “sacrifice” is zebach (zeh'-bakh).  It means a slaying or the flesh of a slain animal.  So even though Solomon is here talking about animal sacrifices which we don’t do today, the principle being expressed here is that God is more interested in our obedience to the behavioral standards He has established than ceremony and ritual in our worship of God.

       We know God ordained through Moses an entire system of animal sacrifices as part of the worship system for Israel.  These sacrifices were to keep the Israelites in constant awareness of both their worship and ethical/moral behavioral obligations before God. The system was designed to provide a means of coming before God to receive forgiveness for violations of the standards set fourth in the Covenant God made with Israel at Sinai.  We know in retrospect that the sacrificial system pre-figured the sacrifice of Christ. 

       What happened, however, is that doing the sacrifices became routine and meaningless and didn’t result in reinforcing the behavioral standards these sacrifices were designed to support.  Doing the sacrifices didn’t result in repentance.  It is apparent from the Scriptures that the Israelites dutifully did the sacrifices but failed to change their sinful behavior that required the sacrifices in the first place.  We see from the writings of the prophets that God became very frustrated with Israel as to their offering of sacrifices while at the same time living sinfully and failing to change. 

       Isaiah 1:11, 13-14:  "The multitude of your sacrifices-- what are they to me?" says the LORD. "I have more than enough of burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals; I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.

       Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations-- I cannot bear your evil assemblies.  Your New Moon festivals and your appointed feasts my soul hates. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them.

       At first glance it seems odd that God would say that Israel’s doing sacrifices and keeping convocations that God Himself ordained to be observed by the Israelites, were now a burden to Him.  How could God say He hates the very sacrifices and festivals He appointed for Israel?

       The reason God began to have no use for the sacrifices and convocations was because the Israelites were behaving in a contradictory manner.  They were offering sacrifices to God and coming before Him in holy convocations while at the same time behaving contrary to the moral and ethical standards God demanded of them which they had originally agreed to do at Sinai.  

       It wasn’t the offerings in and of themselves that became burdensome to God.  It was that the sacrifices and convocations became meaningless.  They became superficial and phony.  God said, “Stop bringing meaningless offerings.”  The offering of sacrifices and prayers became all form and no substance.  God wanted substance.  God wanted Israel to remove their evil deeds from His sight.  He wanted them to stop doing wrong and start doing right.

       Isaiah 11:15-17: When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood; wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing wrong, learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.

       There was no congruity between Israel’s worship of God in sacrifices and convocations and the moral and ethical behavior God required of them.  There was a severe disconnect between their public show of worship and their private conduct.  Like Isaiah, the prophet Micah deals with this issue as well.

       Micah 6:6-8: With what shall I come before the LORD and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

       Solomon said in Proverbs 21:3 that “to do what is right and just is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice.”  In Proverbs 21:27 Solomon says this:

       Proverbs 21:27: The sacrifice of the wicked is detestable-- how much more so when brought with evil intent!

       Many Christians today offer sacrifices in the sense they dutifully attend church every week and may contribute of their time, energy and resources in a variety of ways to do things for God and yet live personal lives that fail to reflect the moral and ethical standards God has established.

        We earlier talked about intent of the heart.  God is very interested in the intent behind our behaviors.  If our sincere intent is to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly before God as spoken of in Micah, then, even though we make mistakes and fail at times to behave in this manner, if we are willing to repent, God will honor such repentance with forgiveness. 

       Today we will again partake of the bread and wine in recognition of the death of our savior Christ Jesus.  Jesus died so we could be forgiven.  Forgiven of what?  The answer often given is that we are forgiven of sin.  What is actually forgiven is the penalty of sin.  In the province of God, sin requires the penalty of eternal death.   Jesus paid that penalty on our behalf. 

       Paul wrote the Roman Christians that the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus.  The sacrificial death of Jesus resulted in establishment of a New Covenant between God and man.  The Old Covenant was between God and Israel. The New Covenant is not only between God and Israel but between God and all of mankind as we learn from the NT narrative.

       The New Covenant allows for a new heart.  Not a physical heart that pumps blood to keep us physically alive but a spiritual heart that facilitates the ability to live righteously in the here and now and to live eternally after death of the physical body.  The New Covenant allows for the behavioral standards God has established for us to be implanted within us.  The writer to the Hebrews speaks of the law of God being placed in our minds and write in our hearts. 

       As we earlier discussed, our mind is where thought takes place and the heart is where our intent to behave as we do is cultivated and identified.  As we partake of the bread and wine, let us recognize that what we are doing is recognizing that Jesus died in our place and in so doing also provided us opportunity to live righteously in the here and now by having out minds and hearts renewed.