I have an issue with this phrase “guard your heart” when it is ripped out of context and re-packaged in a way that emotionally paralyzes some people from good vulnerability and God-given opportunities.
Commonly Christian authors and Christian “dating experts” will use Proverbs 4:23 out of context, which says:
“Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.”
Obviously there is a lot of truth to this simple phrase that universally applies to every area of our lives, including dating/intimate relationships. Although I want to look at this passage in full context and see what the author is saying. I want to look at other instances in the Bible where “guarding the heart” appears. What does the Bible say about this really?
First the context of Prov. 4:23:
Proverbs 4:20–27 (NASB95)
20 My son, give attention to my words; Incline your ear to my sayings.
21 Do not let them depart from your sight; Keep them in the midst of your heart.
22 For they are life to those who find them And health to all their body.
23 Watch over your heart with all diligence, For from it flow the springs of life.
24 Put away from you a deceitful mouth And put devious speech far from you.
25 Let your eyes look directly ahead And let your gaze be fixed straight in front of you.
26 Watch the path of your feet And all your ways will be established.
27 Do not turn to the right nor to the left; Turn your foot from evil.
Someone is writing advice to their son. The author tells the son to guard the heart from deceitful things and evils. While this is good advice for all aspects of life, especially even in dating….the verse is understood a LOT differently in this fuller context than when a dating expert quotes it alone out of context. “Guarding my heart” does not mean protecting myself from being hurt. There’s no way I can insulate myself from any possibility of pain. Pain is a regular part of relationships in this broken world. Guarding my heart does mean allowing no one access to that most central place of my affections but God. It means keeping the first commandment first—and loving Him with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength (Deut. 6:5). In full context we are talking about hurt from an evil world, not so much or not even necessarily relating to dating at all.
Some immediate cross references include:
Job 18:5, 6; Prov 2:13; Is 59:9, 10; Jer 23:12; John 12:35, Matt 12:34; 15:18, 19; Mark 7:21; Luke 6:45
These verses continue the theme: Keeping our heart and mind away from evil.
Mk 7:21 | “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries,
Lk 6:45 | “The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart.
Let’s take a look at the the Hebrew word for “heart” in Proverbs 4:23- –לב
It is used almost 600 times in the Old testament with definitions that vary from “inner man,” “character,” “disposition,” and “Center of man.” The word implies both mind and heart are involved. It is not just the ‘emotional heart’ but also involves thinking.
We are to guard our thinking and our emotions from evil in this world.
The UBS Handbook on Proverbs breaks it down like this:
“more than anything else you may guard.” NJB translates “More than all else, keep watch over your heart,” and NJPSV has “More than all that you guard, guard your mind.” We may also say, for example, “The most important thing you can do is be careful what you think” or “The most important … is to think good thoughts.” (pg 112)
In more of a whole concept theological cross reference, let’s look at Phil. 4:4-9 and Luke 21:29-38
Philippians 4:4–9 (NASB95)
4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!
5 Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near.
6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
8 Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.
9 The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
Verse 7 is another verse that is easy to take away from the full context and try to build a case for something that is not there, as if God will bless you when you guard your heart. In fact in its full context that is not at all what is happening here. The main theme again is to “think good thoughts.” Keep your mind on the things that are good, noble, true and excellent! Don’t get me wrong, this is great advice for people who are dating, it is great advice for every Christian! Instead of worrying, instead of negativity, instead of evil, think “good thoughts!”
Luke 21:29–38 (NASB95)
29 Then He told them a parable: “Behold the fig tree and all the trees;
30 as soon as they put forth leaves, you see it and know for yourselves that summer is now near.
31 “So you also, when you see these things happening, recognize that the kingdom of God is near.
32 “Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all things take place.
33 “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away.
34 “Be on guard, so that your hearts will not be weighted down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of life, and that day will not come on you suddenly like a trap;
35 for it will come upon all those who dwell on the face of all the earth.
36 “But keep on the alert at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are about to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”
37 Now during the day He was teaching in the temple, but at evening He would go out and spend the night on the mount that is called Olivet.
38 And all the people would get up early in the morning to come to Him in the temple to listen to Him.
The theme continues here: Let not your heart/mind/all of you be weighted down with worries in life and drunkenness and evil thoughts. Instead think “good thoughts.”
Instead of about dating it has more to do with keeping thought life righteous and on God instead of on the worries of the world
The Bible wants us to keep our thoughts pure, true and clean.
Ephesians 6 reminds us that the real battle is not of flesh and blood at all, but of the unseen supernatural battle. So get ready!: Put on the full armor of God!
“Pray without ceasing” – 1 Thessalonians 5:17. Continue filling your mind with God and His Word. Continue talking with God all day. He wants to help you fill your mind with “good thoughts.”
I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. – Psalm 119:11
Fill your heart with His Word!
Jesus said in Matthew 6:33, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” This was right after He fed five thousand people with only two fish and five loaves of bread. He was speaking about worries and basic needs in life. He says “put me first” and I will take care of all your needs, no need to worry! Amen!
Earlier in another sermon Mathew (11:29) recorded Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”
Jesus said he wants to take away your worries and fears. He wants to help you get through the hard times in life!!!!
Instead of worry he wants us to have his peace and joy:
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. John 14:27
I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow! John 15:11
Leave you with a challenge-
Matthew 6:21 says “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
This goes for dating and for filling your mind with God instead of evil. Our lives reflect our heart. What we truly believe and think is reflected in our priorities, in our lifestyle, in what we treasure. In what we do with our time and money.
Let’s g back to the dating idea: “guarding your heart.” Sorry this post has been all over the place!
While I personally do not have anything against the dating principles that the authors are trying to make and I see some truth in what they mean, what I can not stand is the fact that these authors are ripping the Holy Word of God out of context to make a point that the original authors are not making.
“Guard your heart” is a good command because it is a Biblical command.
In full context, Prov. 4:23 suggests that keeping—or guarding—your heart means to retain wise words and resist wicked desires. Don’t confuse “guard your heart” with “don’t get hurt.”
C. S. Lewis provides the necessary rebuke:
There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket—safe, dark, motionless, airless—it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell. (From The Four Loves, as found in The Inspirational Writings of C.S. Lewis, 278-279.)
Basically, don’t suffocate the heart. If someone guards their heart too much then they will miss opportunities to serve God, love (by all definitions) people and even miss God-given life blessings.
We need to maintain our hearts properly. Feed on the Word of God. Protect the heart. The pure in heart shall see God (Matt 5:8). Hebrews 12:14 says that without holiness “no one will see the Lord” (NKJV). We need to make a choice; and if we don’t make it, that in itself is a choice!
So the dating principles of seeking God first are true, even as a general/overall life principle, it is true. We need to keep God first.
Mt 22:37 – Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’
We should keep God first in our heart and keep our hearts pure, focused on Him! This is true again in dating and in all of life. So I am not against the dating principles. I am concerned about how these principles are formed. I am not impressed when Scripture is ripped out of context and twisted.