Life is in the Heart


I. Verses 1-10 – The Father has learned that wisdom itself is the fountain from which flows all of life. Make sure, therefore, to have wisdom and base everything on it.

A. These words are the cumulative wisdom of two generations (1-4).

  1. In verses 1 and 2, Solomon is insistent on the attention of his sons to his instruction. This insistence continues throughout this chapter.
  • He uses different words to make his point clear: “Hear,” “give attention,” “do not abandon.” He works under the assumption that this is absolute truth. By his own experience combined with his purposeful observation of the consequences of certain actions (Ecclesiastes 1:13, 16, 17), Solomon has learned humanly the tendencies of actions and attitudes as they either conform to or diverge from God’s law. Also, and most importantly, Solomon was aware of the Spirit’s instruction in these matters (Ecclesiastes 12:9-11 –“Given by one shepherd.”).
  • He uses words to describe the content and the impact. Twice Solomon used the word “instruction.” He called his words “sound teaching” or “good precepts.” By giving such close adherence to this sound instruction, the sons would “gain insight, or understanding.”
  1. Solomon reports the same insistence on such attention that David his father gave to him (3, 4). Solomon recalls that when he was young and Bathsheba’s only son these instructions began.
  • David emphasized that the commandments must take root in Solomon’s heart—in his heart he must hold them fast. In the context of keeping the commandments, he will find life. From the beginning life was dependent on keeping the commandments. To obey God’s single positive command would have meant life for Adam and all his posterity. Forsaking life, however, through his disobedience Adam brought death to himself and his posterity.
  • In his last words to Israel, Moses gave a command that is the basis of this urgency found in Solomon to his sons and David to Solomon. “Set you hearts unto all the words which I testify among you this day, which ye shall command your children to observe to do, all the words of this law. For it is not a vain thing for you; because it is your life” (Deuteronomy 32:46, 47). Both David and Solomon are following the instructions of Moses under the clear conviction that these principles, as certain intimations from the Mosaic writings, are revealed by God. Disobedience not only would be to dishonor their father (a violation of the commandment in itself) but to reject the word of God.
  • Having forsaken the life that is in the law, we find that it presently gives us a curse (Deuteronomy 27:26; Galatians 3:10) and puts us under condemnation. Life, however, still is in the law for only thereby is the righteousness that God requires of us attained. Jesus the Christ has taken all the obligations of the law on himself and has fulfilled them without any shadow of failure. The death it requires for our disobedience, he has taken by becoming a curse for us; the life it grants through perfect obedience is ours for, in our stead, Jesus committed no sin.

B. Everything in life—thoughts, possessions, and actions—must be governed according to wisdom, for it is the most vital and necessary possession (5-9).

  1. Note the language that David used with Solomon to encourage to give himself wholeheartedly to the acquiring of wisdom. Verse 4 says “Let your heart hold fast.” Verse 5 says, “Do not turn away.” Verse 6 says, “Do not forsake her; . . . love her.” Verse 8 says, “Prize her; . . . embrace her.” This language is designed to communicate that wisdom and understanding and knowledge as set forth here should be desired and kept at the expense of everything else. This is saving truth and leads to the true knowledge of God and love for him.
  2. Note the advantages for this earnest and relentless quest. “She will guard you; . . . she will watch over you. . . . She will exalt you; she will honor you; . . . She will place on your head a garland of grace; she will present you with a crown of beauty.” Safety, security, exaltation, honor, victory and accomplishment—all these things gained as eternal spiritual blessings are found in the acquiring, loving, and clinging to the knowledge of God. We are reminded of Paul’s exhortation to unrelenting pursuit of the prize promised in the gospel: “So run that you may obtain it. . . . They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable” (1 Corinthians 9: 24-27).
  3. Note that David spoke of the gaining of wisdom was, in a sense, an end in itself. Verse 5 exclaims twice giving an absolute certainty to the necessity and eternal advantage of the discipline, “Acquire wisdom! Acquire understanding!” Then in verse 7 note how he virtually absolutizes wisdom as fundamental to all other blessings and virtues: “The beginning of wisdom is: Acquire wisdom; and with all your acquiring, get understanding” (NASB). When one gets wisdom, all else comes along with it. “And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption, so that as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:30, 31).


II. Verses 10-19 – Wisdom establishes moral absolutes which define the way of life and the way of death.

A. Wisdom will guide into the right path for life (10-13).

  1. In light of David’s words to him, Solomon carries this emphasis to the next generation (10). “Hear,” that is, listen carefully with a view to understanding, receiving, and framing your purpose and execution according to these sayings. This will tend toward long life here and, when truly embraced, will be the ground of eternal life. Verse 11, likewise, emphasizes that the way of wisdom that he is about to unfold will be a way consistent with the moral perfection of divine law. The manner of life will be according to the revealed standard of righteousness (“upright paths.”)
  2. Having introduced the image of movement (“paths”), he begins to tease out the relation of physical movement to progress in righteousness. Movement is symbolic of various intensities in spiritual life. Isaiah 40:31 says that they who “wait on the Lord will gain new strength.” Their spiritual advances then are likened to flying, running, and walking. The writer of Hebrews might have had this image in mind when he wrote, “Let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1). When truth clears the path, neither walking nor running risk a fall into danger.
  3. Since this is the advantage of purely truthful instruction, it must be taken so as not to surrender it. It must be guarded, for, again, “she is your life.” God grants eternal life through perfect conformity to his law, for such perfect conformity involves undiluted righteousness and the presence of a holy and loving disposition that delights in God’s presence. His attributes constitute joy. Through careful and unflinching attention to wisdom, we are being fitted for eternity before the triune God. Merit for such a privilege is granted through Christ; fitness of mind and heart develops through the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit; the standard for this fitness is the law expressed in day-to-day wise word, relations, and actions.

B. Wisdom will expose the folly and destructive nature of wickedness (14-17).

  1. Solomon continues the image of movement by referring to the “path of the wicked” and “the way of evil men.”
  • Once the path or the way are entered the journey leads to death. The admonition increases in intensity. Not only should we not enter the path, not only should we not proceed in that way, but we must avoid it entirely. Don’t glance at it and ponder or put your toe in the water to determine how it feels. Its first touch could seem inviting. The advice, therefore, is “Avoid it, do not pass by it.” In fact, go the opposite direction. “Turn away from it and pass on.” There is no such thing as harmless dabbling in evil.
  • The image denotes a way of living that promises self-fulfillment and pleasure and abundance of possessions. It is a lie, for, even if such lasts through this temporal life, in the end, “the way of the wicked will perish” (Psalm 1:6). That “way” that so deceitfully promises grandiose advantages to the self will pass out of existence. Such a way will no longer make false promises for the way has itself come to its end. Then only a long unending struggle against just retribution of a holy God remains of this “way.”. “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Proverbs 16:25).The Christian says, “I will run the way of your commandments when you enlarge my heart” (Psalm 119:32) His commandments we should follow; we ask for grace to run in their way.
  • Verse 16 indicates that once the deceit of evil enters the mind, it acts as a virulent and pervasively active toxin. “The bread of wickedness” and the “wine of violence” (17) indicate that both sustenance and pleasure are envisioned in terms of wicked plans. The infatuation with the splendid picture it presents of evil will not allow the one who has tasted to rest until his plans are consummated. Evil insinuates itself into the mind and is restless until it effects its intent. “Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Romans 3:15-18). They convince themselves that they do right when they have effected a destructive plan.

C. A summary of the end of wisdom and wickedness (18, 19)

  1. Those who enter the path of righteousness will find greater clarity, more pleasant knowledge, more satisfying joys, more development of God-like virtues as they continue. Their faith will be tried so that its manifestations of genuineness will result in praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:7). During this present time of testing, genuine faith will unveil a beautiful spectrum of Spirit-induced attributes: embedded in faith will be found virtue, and virtue will be expressive of knowledge, and true knowledge is not in pursuit of lasciviousness but builds upon self-control, and self-control is the outflow of steadfastness, which is a manifestation of godliness, in itself a concomitant of brotherly affection, all of which give expression to love, the love that has been shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:5-7; Romans 5:5). It is like the shining of the sun from sunrise when the first lovely appearance of light breaks upon the horizon and gradually fills the sky from east to west. The sun goes on until in its strength at the maturity of the day all is warm and all is visible. Our goal is presently to “walk in the light as he is in the light” for the continual cleansing from sin and increased joy in fellowship with God (1 John 1:7). One day those who are on this path will have the joy of seeing the face of the Son of Man with his face “like the sun shining in full strength” (Revelation 1:16).
  2. The way of the wicked, however, has no light, proceeds into deeper darkness so that even the falls and stumbles are caused by unperceived obstacles. The way is full of dangers unforeseen and unseen that make the way perplexing, miserable, and finally fatal.


III. Verses 20-27 – When wisdom is lodged in the heart, it controls the tongue and the feet.

A. The gaining of wisdom must not stop at mere knowledge in the head but must be so internalized that it controls the heart (20-23).

  1. Solomon wants every part of the perceptive faculties to be engaged in grasping and internalizing his instruction. He calls for the mind not to waver in and out during these discourses but to “give attention.” He wants his son to use his ears and show determination to grasp every word, “Incline your ear.” He wants him to engage his eyes to the written text upon which the warnings and admonitions are based. He wants him to examine his affections for any misleading desires that would hinder his keeping these things “in the midst of your heart.”
  2. He cannot say too often that everything is at stake. We are created in the image of God and are responsible to reflect his moral image in all we think, do, and love. The present health of the body and the well-being of body and soul in eternity hang on how well the son apprehends and how deeply these instructions go into the heart. If firmly and joyfully embraced “they are life to those who find them.” Note that even though Solomon will be putting all of the proverbs and propositions before the mind, ears, eyes, and heart, still the ownership of them is like a discovery—“find them.”
  3. Jesus is the greater than Solomon who sets before us the words of life and points to the heart as the fountain of life, both good and evil. “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45). Jesus also spoke to this in Matthew 12:34, 15: 18, 19 and Mark 7:21. “Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (Matthew 15:19).

B. When wisdom controls the heart it will exert its power through the body.

  1. Every sense and every motor skill will be more and more attuned to seek and pursue God’s righteous standard.
  • The mouth and all its part that produce speech will be responsive to a pure heart (24).
  • The eyes will constantly be on the lookout for the way of righteousness (25).
  • Wisdom in the heart will help one take care how he walks (26, 27).
  1. There is ongoing conflict in the soul because we are fallen creatures living with indwelling sin but also indwelt by the Spirit of God. He teaches us to say, and love saying, “Abba, Father” (Galatians 4:6, 7). He also opposes the remnants of the flesh that wage war against them and gradually but certainly helps mortify those struggling opponents to holiness (Romans 8:13, 14; Galatians 5:16, 17).
  2. Paul showed the relation between instruction, heart devotion, and the necessity of divine grace in Philippians 2:12, 13.
  • “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence,” –Paul had given the church at Philippi clear instructions in the right way of conducting themselves according to gospel wisdom (4:8, 9). They had pursued that when he was among them. They had seen clearly what was consistent with the gospel and what was not; Paul found great encouragement in every indication of their genuine love for righteousness as displayed in the gospel (Philippians 1:3-11).
  • “but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” Now that he was not with them, their obedience would demonstrate even more clearly that the truth of the gospel had possessed their hearts. They would approach life with reverence and godly fear, desiring to live in a way consistent with the salvation granted them when the Lord opened their hearts to believe what Paul told them (Acts 16:14, 31-34).
  • “For it is God who works in you both to will and to do his good pleasure.” All laws of God and all admonitions derived from fair implication of these laws such as we find in Proverbs, shape the responsibility of all persons before God to live in true righteousness and holiness. Our sinful nature, however, drives us along a different path until God arrests us by his grace. “He who began the work in you will bring it to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6). The glad conformity to our obligation before God, therefore, is initiated in us by grace and is continued by that same grace until the Lord Jesus comes again in his glory at which time we will be perfectly conformed to his image (1 John 3:1-10). Those who do not pursue this are not born of God.
Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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