The Heart of Man from a Biblical Perspective
By Denny Smith
The Bible has much to say about the heart of man. The word “heart” in the New King James Version of the Bible is found 835 times in 775 verses according to E-Sword. The study of the heart of man is thus a massive study and I might add from a human point of view a complex one. God knows all of our hearts, “For you alone know the hearts of all the sons of men.” (I Kings 8:39 NKJV) The question is do you and I know our own heart?
How many times has each of us questioned ourselves over the years? I suspect those who have never doubted themselves are a tiny minority. When we read passages in the Bible about men deceiving themselves like in Gal. 6:3 and James 1:26 it causes us all the more concern for the question becomes am I being honest with myself? We obviously need to learn all we can about the human heart with the hope being that we can come to know ourselves better and improve our hearts. Who is the real me? Who am I? What is the true state of my heart, not what I think about it but what is its true state in reality?
When the Bible speaks of the human heart it is speaking of the thinking of a man, a man’s will, a man’s emotions or feelings, a man’s conscience, or any given combinations of these. However, the word may also have reference to the whole inner being of man combining all these elements into the one whole that makes up the man. Each of these aspects of the human heart is worth taking a look at.
(1) The heart is the thinking aspect of man. “For as he thinks in his heart, so is he.” (Prov. 23:7 NKJV) Jesus asks, “Why do you think evil in your hearts?” (Matt. 9:4 NKJV) “For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts.” (Matt. 15:19 NKJV) “If that evil servant says in his heart, ‘My master is delaying his coming.’” (Matt. 24:48 NKJV) The evil servant says this in his heart because that is what he is thinking. “But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19 NKJV) Mary thought about these things and mulled them over in her mind. One could go on and find verse after verse in the Bible teaching the same thing about the heart being the place of thought, reasoning, and understanding within man.
The question that necessarily comes to mind when one thinks about this aspect of the human heart is “Am I responsible for the way I think?” The Bible answers in the affirmative. “For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be.” (Rom. 8:6 NKJV) “Whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy–meditate on these things.” (Phil. 4:8 NKJV)
I readily admit it is a tough to change the way you think but I ask the question – is that not what every man does when he repents? Yes, repentance is certainly a change of the will but is it not also a change of the mind, a change of our thinking? When a man comes to accept the Bible and its teaching is he not committing himself to a new way of thinking about the world and his relationship not only with God but also with his fellowman? When one accepts the gospel he is saying I am going to let the Bible guide my thinking and I am not going to think about things the way I use to. While we will never be perfect we can change our attitudes and the way we think.
(2) The heart is the will of man. I have already talked about repentance which God requires of man (Luke 13:3, Acts 17:30) in the paragraph above involving the will of man. It is hard to separate the will from thought but I think there is this much difference in it – the will provides man with the determination to carry through with his thinking. Daniel was told in a heavenly vision, “From the first day that you set your heart to understand, and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard.” (Dan. 10:12 NKJV) Daniel willed or determined to understand and to humble himself. “Set your heart” means to “will in your heart.”
“Take from among you an offering to the Lord. Whoever is of a willing heart.” (Exod. 35:5 NKJV) One cannot obey God whose heart is unwilling. There were rulers who believed in Jesus (John 12:42) but were unwilling to confess him lest they be put out of the synagogue. The widow who put in two mites into the collection did so for she willed to do so. (Mark 12:41-44 NKJV) No man has obeyed the gospel who did not first find it in his heart to do so, will in his heart to do it.
It is good to be a strong willed person provided the will has been directed by proper knowledge and correct thinking. Only the strong willed can get on a diet and stick with it. Only the strong willed can successfully train for and run a marathon. The list could go on and on of things which require a strong will to succeed. Christianity is one of those things for, “All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” (2 Tim. 4:12 NKJV) Paul could never have succeeded in view of all the things he had to suffer (see 2 Cor. 11:23-27 NKJV) had he not had a strong will. A strong will is good if directed properly by correct thinking and proper knowledge. Without such guidance of the will the will can become a man’s worst enemy for oftentimes it can be said of strong willed people that they are only stubborn people. Pharaoh is an excellent Bible example. Pharaoh hardened his heart time and again. The will in his heart was to do his own will, not God’s. It is very difficult to convert a strong willed person who has been brought up on false doctrine. (A radical Islamist would be a good example.) Samuel speaking to Saul said, “Stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry.” (1 Sam. 15:23 NKJV) We must have the will to do God’s will but we must make certain it is his will and not our version of what we would like his will to be.
(3) The heart is a man’s feelings or emotions. “The Lord was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and he was grieved in his heart.” (Gen. 6:6 NKJV) Grief is ascribed to God’s heart on this occasion but is also ascribed to man’s heart, “Your heart should not be grieved.” (Deut. 15:10 NKJV) The heart sorrows, “Even in laughter the heart may sorrow.” (Prov. 14:13 NKJV) Joy resides in the heart, “My servants shall sing for joy of heart, but you shall cry for sorrow of heart.” (Isa. 65:14 NKJV) Rejoicing takes place in the heart, “Your heart will rejoice.” (John 16:22 NKJV)
In fact, all of the following emotions can be found in the heart (check the passages out for yourself): gladness (Psalms 4:7), desires (Psalms 20:4, 73:7, Prov. 6:25), is troubled (Psalms 25:17), trusts (Psalms 28:7), is broken (Psalms 34:18), suffers turmoil (Psalms 38:8), fails one (Psalms 40:12), is pained (Psalms 55:4), is proud (Psalms 101:5), hates (Psalms 105:25), is wounded (Psalms 109:22), is distressed (Psalms 143:4), despises (Prov. 5:12), is anxious (Prov. 12:25), is bitter (Prov. 14:10), is merry (Prov. 15:13), is haughty (Prov. 18:12), is proud (Prov. 21:4), envies (Prov. 23:17), delights (Prov. 27:9), anguishes (2 Cor. 2:4). This list is not meant to be exhaustive of all the emotions of which the Bible speaks that are attributed to the heart. The reader can readily see that I went through the books of Psalms and Proverbs with a concordance to come up with the list and with one added from 2 Corinthians. That leaves a lot of other books and verses that need to be looked at before one can say his research has exhausted all the available biblical sources.
One will readily notice that the word “love” as an emotion of the heart is not found in my listing? Does not the Bible teach we are to love the Lord our God with all of our heart? Yes, it certainly does. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” (Matt. 22:37 NKJV) Human emotions are a part of the Bible heart (“all your heart”) and so love as a tender longing emotion toward God is commanded. But, did you know that the word love when traced back to the Greek does not often mean affection?
The Greeks had, if I recall correctly, 4 words which when translated into English are all translated by the one English word “love.” When we talk about sex, friendship, affection, etc. we just kind of lump it all together into one big word, the word “love,” and let the reader decide for himself what we are talking about. The Greeks were much more precise in their language. The Greek word found behind our English word “love” most often in our New Testaments is the word agape (noun) or agapao (the verb form).
The reader may be surprised to learn (speaking of this Greek term) that, “Christian love…is not an impulse from the feelings, it does not always run with the natural inclinations, nor does it spend itself only upon those for whom some affinity is discovered.” (W. E. Vine, An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, page 693) “Christian love has God for its primary object, and expresses itself first of all in implicit obedience to his commandments.” (Ibid) “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments.” (1 John 5:3 NKJV)
The Greek word “phileo” is also translated in our Bibles as love (though used far, far less frequently) and it “more nearly represents tender affection.” (Ibid) “Phileo is never used in a command to men to love God; it is, however, used as a warning in 1 Cor. 16:22.” (Ibid) All of this according to Vine, a recognized authority in the Greek. However, when you read 1 Cor. 16:22 there is no doubt one must love God with the tender affections for the verse reads, “If anyone does not love (phileo – DS) the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be accursed” (NKJV) thus while it may not be a direct command it has the force of a command and all the authority of a command. (Matt. 10:37 teaches more or less the same thing using the word “phileo.”)
I have gone through this in order to make an application to today. How many times do we hear people talk about loving God yet not understanding that love for God is not all about my emotions (or yours) but about keeping God’s commandments, “For this is the love (agape – DS) of God, that we keep his commandments.” (1 John 5:3 NKJV) “He who does not love (agapao – DS) me does not keep my words.” (John 14:24 NKJV) “He who says, ‘I know him,’ and does not keep his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” (1 John 2:4 NKJV) They live their lives dedicated to God (they think) but the reality is they are dedicated to their religious emotions and what the word of God actually says is only of secondary importance to them. Any specific passage of scripture that conflicts with the popular belief can be explained away one way or another to suit the ears that itch.
We must love God with our emotions (1 Cor. 16:22) but to make the emotions alone the whole heart of which the Bible speaks is not honest scholarship and easily leads to destruction. Paul’s religious emotions toward God were doing just fine while he disbelieved and persecuted Christians. False doctrine taught and believed while it may well be emotionally satisfying will never be made into what it is not – truth. So, yes, love God with your emotions but never set emotions on a throne and allow them to rule as king in your relationship with God for there is far more to a man’s heart according to the Bible than just emotions.
(4) The heart is a man’s conscience. When Peter preached on the Day of Pentecost the Bible says of many who heard him that they “were cut to the heart.” (Acts 2:37 NKJV) They felt guilty. Their conscience was bothering them. See also Acts 23:1 and John 8:9 for other passages teaching the same. One cannot separate the conscience from the heart.
Finally, and this is important for the Bible student, when we read about the human heart in the Bible we can clearly see as shown above that oftentimes maybe only one aspect of the heart is under consideration in a passage. In other places sometimes more than one aspect of the heart is under consideration but not all. For example, in Matt. 22:37 where we are told we must “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” we can see that the mind (the thinking aspect) is separated from the heart in this passage. The context will often make these things clear as we read. However, oftentimes the word simply refers to the entire inner being of the man himself. My heart reflects (or is) all I am in my thinking, my will, my emotions, my conscience – to the totality of my being wrapped up into one package. Again we must read carefully the context.
So, here at the conclusion of this article, it is time to ask the question upon which all of our fortunes depend. Upon what treasure has my heart set itself upon? “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matt. 6:21 NKJV) It is really all up to us for, “The preparations of the heart belong to man.” (Prov. 16:1 NKJV) God has empowered us and now it is up to us what we will do with that power. We can prepare our heart if we are willing to do so. Pharaoh was not willing. Will we be? He heard God’s will but was not of a willing heart to obey it. Am I? Are you?
Denny Smith’s articles are all listed on his web site – dennysmith.net – along with many audio sermons by Waymon Swain. There are also links that will take you to hundreds of other articles and audio sermons found on other recommended sites.
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