By the Way, Our Ways Are Weighed by The LORD | Proverbs 21:2 [Sermon]

What follows is a timed (7-minute) sermon first shared in my seminary Homiletics class. For sources, please refer to the footnotes in the text and the bibliography at the end of the page.

All a person’s ways are right in their eyes, but the LORD weighs hearts (Proverbs 21:2). All a person’s ways are right in their eyes but the LORD weighs hearts.1

Where Do You Feel It?

Have you ever seen or heard or felt something that just made you sick to your stomach? Have you ever got news that was gut-wrenching? Have you ever had a crush on someone who gave you butterflies in your belly?

It seems that we feel some of our most intense emotional reactions in our guts. We have gut feelings. We feel things in our – to use a more technical term – our bowels. When it comes to describing the seat of one’s inner emotions, this is the metaphor that the biblical authors typically used – the bowels.[1]

Now today, when we think of the seat of our emotions, what part of the body part (metaphorically) comes to mind? The heart.

However, in the Bible, the heart is the richest metaphor used to describe the totality of one’s inner self.[2] This includes not merely emotions, but personality, intellect, desires and will.[3] [4] In Scripture, and in much of ancient literature, the heart not only feels, it wants, it thinks, it reasons.

All a person’s ways are right in their eyes, but the LORD weighs hearts. The LORD weighs our motives, our desires, and our thoughts.

Weighing Hearts?

But what does it mean to “weigh a heart?” Apparently, the Israelites appropriated Egyptian imagery when using this figurative language for the evaluation of hearts. For, according to ancient Egyptian theology, when you died, your heart was balanced on a scale opposite a feather that symbolized Truth.

During this final judgment – or final exam – your heart had to answer questions. If you answered correctly, the heart did not outweigh the feather, and it avoided being eaten by a crocodile demon.[5] This was (but also was not) a light-hearted matter.

Follow Your Heart?

But what does this matter? Why am I telling you this? Does this proverb really offer some fresh theological insight pertinent to our society’s problems? I think so. Simply translate the popular platitude: “Follow your heart.”

Does this not mean “do whatever you feel is right?” “Do whatever you think is right?” “Do whatever you desire?” Follow your dreams, pursue your passions, do what makes you happy.[6] Is this not the doctrine of the American secular religion? Our ways are weighed by our own hearts.

Heavy-Hearted Stats

A 2015 poll conducted by the Barna Group suggests that 57% of American adults believe that “knowing what is right or wrong is a matter of personal experience.” Moreover, 74% of Millenials – those born between ‘84 and 2002 – agree or strongly agree with the statement: “whatever is right for your life or works best for you is the only truth you can know.”

The study also suggests that only 35% of American adults believe that moral truth is absolute. And, 51% of Millenials believe that moral truth is relative.[7] Depending on culture and circumstance, what’s right in your eyes may not be what’s right in my eyes.

Moral Relativism

On this view, often called moral relativism, morality is all a matter of opinion. Some people like chocolate, others like vanilla.[8]

No matter your favorite flavor of softserve, it’s hard to consistently hold this view. For the study suggests that a whopping 80% of Americans believe that the moral condition of our society is cause for concern.[9]

But how can the moral condition of society be objectively wrong or right if there is no objective standard outside of our subjective experience? By what standard outside of ourselves can we use to judge the moral condition of society? C.S. Lewis might ask, how can we call something “crooked” if we do not know what is “straight”?[10]

Unequal, Opposite Reactions

It’s been said that our morality is made manifest less by our actions, and more by our reactions.[11]

For example, some of us may lie from time to time. We may even feel justified in doing so. But let someone lie to us – a boss, a bank, a business, even a brother or sister. We get upset. We sense that there is something objectively wrong about lying.

Similarly, in our society, I believe we reveal our objective moral standards by our reactions. By our reactions to headlines about certain politicians, our reactions to the plights of refugees, immigrants, and the poor, our reactions to human trafficking and genocide. Our reactions to unarmed black and brown people being shot by police 20 times. By our reactions to racism, sexism, oppression – regardless of the perpetrator’s cultural upbringing.

No matter anyone’s personal preferences, we feel that it is objectively wrong to unload an AR-15 upon innocent schoolchildren. Moral relativism might sound open-minded and appealing in theory, but it can be disastrous in practice.

“Me” Morality

Yet, it seems to be a core tenet of American morality – a morality that seems to center on self-fulfillment. The Barna poll suggests that a majority of American adults somewhat or completely agree with the following statements.[12]

“The highest goal of life is to enjoy it as much as possible” (84%). “To be fulfilled in life, you should pursue the things you desire most” (86%). And, “the best way to find yourself is by looking within yourself” (91%).[13] In our increasingly self-centered society, we are increasingly grounding our morality – how we ought to live – in our own hearts. All a person’s ways are right in their eyes.

Baptizing Our Desires

Now what may be the most disturbing insight from the study is the fact that apparently a majority of practicing Christians [15] agree with all three of those statements.[16] This “Morality of Self-Fulfillment” has permeated not only our society, but our churches.

My brothers and sisters, it can be so tempting to baptize the desires of our hearts. We might say, “the Spirit told me to do x, y, and z.” But let us be careful that it is not primarily our own hearts guiding us, but the Triune God to whom we are to love with all of our hearts (Dt 6:5, Mt. 22:37). For I doubt the Spirit of Christ will lead any of us to say or do things that are not Christ-like.

Conclusion

In spite of what the world preaches, our ways are evaluated by the Way of the LORD. As Christians, we affirm that our way should be that of The Way, The Truth, and The Life (Jn 14:6 cf. for judgment, evaluation Ac 17:31, 2 Cor 5:10, 2 Tim 4:1, etc.). It is not us; Jesus is the standard for morality. We have to counter the claims of the false philosophies of this age (2 Cor 10:3-5).[17] For, by the way, our ways are weighed by the Way.

Bibliography

Atkinson, David. The Message of Proverbs: Wisdom for Life. Edited by J. A. Motyer, John Stott, and Derek Tidball. The Bible Speaks Today. England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1996.

Garrett, Duane A. Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs. Vol. 14. The New American Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1993.

Goldingay, John E. “Proverbs.” In New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, edited by D. A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer, and G. J. Wenham, 4th ed., 584–608. Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994.

Geisler, Norman L., and Frank Turek. I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2004.

Harris, R. Laird, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, eds. Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament. Chicago: Moody Press, 1999.

Kidner, Derek. Proverbs: An Introduction and Commentary. Vol. 17. Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1964.

Lewis, C. S.. Mere Christianity (C.S. Lewis Signature Classics). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

Matthews, Victor Harold, Mark W. Chavalas, and John H. Walton. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament. Electronic ed. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000.

Ryken, Leland, Jim Wilhoit, Tremper Longman, Colin Duriez, Douglas Penney, and Daniel G. Reid. Dictionary of Biblical Imagery. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000.

Waltke, Bruce K. The Book of Proverbs, Chapters 15–31. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2005.

[1] In Song of Solomon (5:4), it reads, “My beloved thrust his hand through the latch-opening, my heart [or more literally my bowels or my belly] began to pound for him” (NIV). Is it getting hot in here or is it just me?

[2] “in its abstract meanings, ‘heart’ became the richest biblical term for the totality of man’s inner or immaterial nature. In biblical literature it is the most frequently used term for man’s immaterial personality functions as well as the most inclusive term for them since, in the Bible, virtually every immaterial function of man is attributed to the “heart.” Andrew Bowling, “1071 לָבַב,” ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 466.

[3] “The references in the Bible to the heart as a physical organ are few and by no means specific (e.g., 2 Kings 9:24), but the word heart is often used of such things as personality and the intellect, memory, emotions, desires and will.” Leland Ryken, Jim Wilhoit, Tremper Longman, et al., Dictionary of Biblical Imagery (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 368.

[4] We may recall that Solomon had the opportunity to ask for anything, and for what did he ask? Wisdom. But, more precisely, he asks for a “discerning heart” (1 Ki 3:12, NIV). “Wisdom and understanding are seated in the heart. The “wise heart” (I Kgs 3:12: RSV, “wise mind”) and “wise of heart” (Prov 16:23) are mentioned.” Andrew Bowling, “1071 לָבַב,” ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 467.

[5] “21:2. weighing the heart. In Egyptian religious tradition the dead had to face a final judgment before the gods. Thoth, the scribal god, recorded the responses of the examined, while the dead person’s heart was weighed in a scale against a feather symbolizing Truth. If the answers were correct, and the heart did not overbalance the feather, then the soul could enter the realm of Osiris and live for- ever. Failure meant extinction, since a demonlike god, Sebek, in the shape of a crocodile consumed the soul. The Pyramid Texts and the Book of the Dead contained spells and a list of the proper responses to be given during this “final examination.” Israelite thought took over the imagery of this idea, portraying God as weighing the “heart,” the seat of the intellect and thus the decision-maker, to determine a person’s capacity for good or evil (see Eccles 3:17; Jer 20:12).” Victor Harold Matthews, Mark W. Chavalas, and John H. Walton, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament, electronic ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), Pr 21:2.

[6] …do what’s best for you. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t be whoever you want to be. If you believe it, you can achieve it.

[7] https://www.barna.com/research/the-end-of-absolutes-americas-new-moral-code/>

[8] “One student, an atheist, wrote eloquently on the topic of moral relativism. He argued, “All morals are relative; there is no absolute standard of justice or rightness; it’s all a matter of opinion; you like chocolate, I like vanilla,” and so on. His paper provided both his reasons and his documentation. It was the right length, on time, and stylishly presented in a handsome blue folder…” Norman L. Geisler and Frank Turek, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2004), 173–174. The only absolute in this philosophy of moral relativism, is that, apparently, it is absolutely wrong to force one’s morality on someone else. This appears to be this philosophy’s first and greatest commandment. However, to enforce such a commandment, one has to break it. For if someone tries to stop someone who is “forcing their morality on someone else,” that person would, in turn, be forcing their morality on the other person. It does not seem to be logically consistent.

[9] Barna Study.

[10] “A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line.” Lewis, C. S.. Mere Christianity (C.S. Lewis Signature Classics) (p. 19). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

[11] Geisler and Turek, 174ff.

[12] Also, “Any kind of sexual expression between two consenting adults is acceptable” (69%). “People can believe whatever they want, as long as those beliefs don’t affect society” (79%), “People should not criticize someone else’s life choices” (89%). Barna.

[13] Barna Study.

[15] “Practicing Christian: Those who attend a religious service at least once a month, who say their faith is very important in their lives and self-identify as a Christian,” Barna Study

[16] Ibid.

[17] “Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered.” – C.S. Lewis

Sources

  1. Author’s translation
About @DannyScottonJr 141 Articles
Imperfect servant striving to be an unapologetically apologetic ambassador for Jesus the Christ. Princeton University Alum | Palmer Theological Seminary Student