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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:Keep Your Heart with All Diligence
Text:LD 44 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:10th Commandment (Jealousy)
 
Preached:2017
Added:2017-09-10
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 24:1,2                                                                                

Hy 1

Reading – Proverbs 4

Ps 37:1,2,3,16

Sermon – Lord’s Day 44

Hy 43:3,4,5,6

Hy 65:1,4

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved in Christ, how’s your heart? That’s always where good health begins. If your heart has a strong and steady beat, then you’ve got a lot to be thankful for—that “ticker” inside of us is really so essential. The same is true for the heart in another sense. It’s the centre of our physical life, and also our spiritual life. The heart is what rules our thoughts our behaviour, so its good health is of primary importance. Like Solomon says in the chapter we read: “Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life” (4:23).

That word “spring” is central to this verse, yet it’s one we may not fully understand. For when we want water, we simply turn on the tap—there’s little thought to where it comes from. But some still draw their water from a well. A deep hole was once drilled, and there was found an underground spring, providing water for the household. Whatever’s used for bathing, drinking, or cooking, it all flows from that one source.

That’s just what the human heart or spirit is like too. It’s the origin of so much else in our lives. Our speaking, our doing, our thinking—it all flows from there: like Solomon says, “out of it spring the issues of life.”

And just like a well, our heart can be good or bad. You could find an underground spring, but the water might be smelly and undrinkable, filled with impurities. Or you could dig a well, and find good, clear, sparkling water: this is water that’ll sustain life. In the same way, human hearts can be of two different characters: they can be sources of never-ending wickedness; or through the work of the Spirit, they can be springs of refreshing goodness.

So what’s inside of us? What’s stored up in our heart? That’s a key indicator of our spiritual health. This is why God instructs us through Solomon, “Keep your heart.” Take care of it, and make sure it’s in good shape! The tenth commandment has a similar theme, for it covers our inner attitudes and yearnings. God teaches “that not even the slightest thought or desire contrary to any of God’s commandments should ever arise in our heart” (Q&A 113). Using Proverbs 4 as our guide, I preach to you from Lord’s Day 44,

God commands us to keep our heart with all diligence:

  1. not chasing after folly
  2. but pursuing wisdom

 

1) not chasing after folly: It’d be incorrect to say that the tenth commandment forbids “coveting.” For “to covet” something is simply to desire it eagerly, to yearn or to want. Once in a while, you’ll hear someone say, “I covet your prayers,” or “Your financial support is coveted.” Sounds wrong, but it is alright.

What God forbids here is desiring something that belongs to another, something that’s not rightfully yours. The tenth commandment provides some examples: your neighbour’s wife, his house, his field, his servants, his animals—“anything that is your neighbour’s” (Deut 5:21). From that list we can see that this commandment has a wide reach. It goes past those actual incidents of dishonouring someone with your words, or taking something that’s not yours, or committing adultery, or whatever else, and it drills down to the core desires that gave rise to them in the first place.

And this brings us close to the essential nature of human sin. For you could say that it was with coveting that sin entered the world! Remember Genesis 3, when Satan told Eve to look at that tree in the middle of the Garden: “When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate” (v 6). See how it all began with that wrong desire, with those “slightest thoughts that were contrary to God’s commandments.”

Little has changed since that day. Since then, the old nature is unbearably greedy. Since then, it sees, and it wants—even when what we desire isn’t allowed, or when God has kept it from us for a good reason. We might be covetous all day long, greedy our whole lives long.

So Solomon’s words to his son are words for us to consider too, “Let your eyes look straight ahead, and your eyelids look right before you” (4:25). God wants us to be very careful about what we look at. Just like with the heart, Solomon isn’t talking here about what is merely physical, that pair of eyeballs we have in our head. We also have spiritual eyes—the “eyes of the heart,” you could say. We have eyes that we use for seeking what has value, looking for what provides security, and considering what gives meaning.

Actually, these two kinds of vision can be closely related. Sometimes the things that we physically look at become so precious that we find in them our identity, our joy, our refuge from a scary world. And the result can be that we can lose sight of what’s really important.

One of these attractions for us is possessions and money. That desire for wealth can captivate us, when we see the luxuries and opportunities that others have, and we want it ourselves. Or when we see what fancy new toys and gadgets and accessories are available for purchase, and we can’t think of anything else ‘til we get them. We imagine that our life will be so much better once we do get them! God tells us in Proverbs, “The fool’s eyes wander to the ends of the earth” (17:24, NIV). Our eyes can be wandering in that endless search for material things.

Another draw for the eyes is food and drink—and perhaps especially drink. The pleasure that alcohol brings, the escape it promises, the ease it provides, these things stand out to us like a guiding light. But God warns, “Do not look on the wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup, when it swirls around smoothly” (Prov 23:31). Don’t be enslaved by alcohol, or any other substance. You’re only pursuing folly. It’s a mirage that promises much, but deceives you.

A third magnet for our eyes is powerfully described by Solomon in the next couple chapters, the temptations of adultery. Like in chapter 7, when Solomon describes that young man who encounters a woman who’s bent on seduction. She’s available and enticing, and who could refuse? Who can say no? That young man can’t resist, and he goes to his death.

Still today, how hard it can be to divert our eyes, to look away from that woman walking down the street, to look away from that provocative billboard, away from that video! Here, as in so many cases, the desires of the heart can almost overwhelm us and override our holy instincts. “Just looking” can cause intense desire to well up within us, that desire can push us into action, and suddenly we find ourselves far from God.

Solomon explains in 11:6, “The righteousness of the upright will deliver them, but the unfaithful will be caught by their lust.” He mentions “lust,” but he means much more than lusting after another person sexually. Because in our heart we might lust after that promotion at work, or we might lust after the praise and recognition we get from other people, or we might lust after a body that is fit and healthy, or we lust after knowledge and ability.

Beloved, there can be many good things that we set before our eyes, and many worthwhile things that we desire. But we need to ask, “What’s this really for? Am I chasing these aims and goals for their own sake? Will I delight in them apart from the LORD? Am I desiring them, at the great cost of neglecting Christ?” And in the end, if it’s taking us away from Christ, doesn’t that mean that we’re only pursuing folly?

This is exactly what Solomon teaches in Ecclesiastes. He says that a life lived apart from God’s wisdom, a life of pursuing human rewards, is all vanity. You’ll be striving after the wind. How true it is: “the unfaithful will be caught by their lust.”

The Spirit gives us insight here into the self-centredness of coveting. Solomon teaches in 18:1, “A man who isolates himself seeks his own desire.” Have you ever thought about how a covetous person disconnects himself from others? Our heart becomes ingrown, bent inwards on itself. When we’re consumed by our desires, when it’s always about how we can gain and we can advance, our world becomes very small. The refrain of our thoughts becomes very repetitive, because it’s all about us, and our happiness, and our satisfaction. “A man who isolates himself seeks his own desires.”

A covetous spirit usually makes us resent other people, too. This is what it says in Proverbs 14:30, “A sound heart is life to the body, but envy is rottenness to the bones.” Envy, or its ugly cousin jealousy, is that miserable feeling that can take hold when you notice that someone else is prospering. In your heart, you’re envious of another person’s spouse, another person’s good position, or their wealth. It can make you sick, to hear about another person’s praise, to see them happy. Next to them, your own life feels like rubbish.

Proverbs warns against this in another place, in 27:4, “Wrath is cruel and anger a torrent, but who is able to stand before jealousy?” Jealousy has a terrible power. Those hidden thoughts of envy can burst forth in a wave of unkindness or cruelty. Jealousy means that you might even take delight in someone’s downfall, or your brother’s loss. You could find it hard to be thankful for any blessing, because it’s never enough.

No, a life of coveting is going to be far from happy. If you’re always wishing that you had something different, if you’re always hoping for another increase, then you’re bound to end in despair. Solomon says somewhere else, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick” (13:12). Sure, sometimes we have to wait a long time for God to give us good things—that kind of waiting and hoping is worthwhile. But what if you spend your whole life hoping for things that won’t last? What if you’re always pursuing an idol that won’t satisfy—the ideal body, the ideal job, the ideal home? We can give so much attention to something that will only fade! It’s a perpetual frustration, and it can drive a person right into the grave.

That’s what came of the desires of Adam and Eve: with death. And that’s how it will end for all who don’t repent of this sin. Like Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 6:10, “the covetous…will not inherit the kingdom of God.” That’s a warning we need. If the wellspring inside us is bitter, contaminated, or cluttered with garbage, it’s going to ruin our whole life.

This is why Solomon tells us so sternly to guard our heart. Keep your spirit from the things that’ll corrupt it. Don’t let your heart embrace things that will only distract you. Don’t be busy with things that can destroy you! And again he says, “Let your eyes look straight ahead” (4:25). The same warning put another way in the following verses: “Ponder the path of your feet... Do not turn to the right or the left” (4:26-27).

There’s an alternative. Instead of being slaves to our foolish desires, go to Jesus Christ and He can set you free. He sets us free from the sin of empty longing, and He sets us free from the captivity of selfishness. He gives us something far better and far more lasting to pursue. The Catechism outlines this new way of Christ, “With all our heart we should always hate all sin, and delight in all righteousness” (Q&A 113).

 

2) but pursuing wisdom: We’ve been saying that the health of the heart is vital. Yet is it even a possibility? We know that heart disease runs in the family. Ever since our first parents gave in to sinful desire, everyone is born with hearts that are no good at all—hearts that are capable of producing nothing but evil. Is there a spiritual cardiologist who is skillful enough to help us in our miserable condition?

But there’s an assumption behind Proverbs, even a promise. That hearts can be changed! In God’s power and grace, a new beginning has been made possible. When Christ restores our hearts through his Holy Spirit, that dirty and polluted wellspring within us becomes cleansed, and is purified right down to the depths. Amazingly, our heart begins to issue forth good things, holy things! It will produce!

What will we do with this new ability that we’ve received? The Catechism answers, “While praying to God for the grace of the Holy Spirit, we [must] never stop striving to be renewed more and more after God’s image” (Q&A 115).

There’s a couple vital things in that answer. First is the work of the Holy Spirit, the gift for whom we must pray constantly. There is no progress and no growth without the Spirit’s work. There is no keeping of the Ten Commandments, without the constant help of the God who gave us the commandments. So pray for the Holy Spirit, that He may enable you to pursue the wisdom of God!

And did you catch the second essential point in that answer? It said that “we must never stop striving.” Or yearning, chasing after, desiring! Beloved, we’re still supposed to covet—but to covet the right things, to pursue holy aims. Solomon says in 13:4, “The soul of a lazy man desires, and has nothing; but the soul of the diligent shall be made rich.” Desire, we said before, can be so futile. We can work so hard to get things that are worthless. So if you’re going to be earnest about anything, diligent in any pursuit, let it be for the things of Christ—invest in that, so you may become rich toward God.

I don’t want to make it sound too easy. We recognize that “in this life, even the holiest have only a small beginning of this obedience” (Q&A 114). The reality is that as we grow in our faith, we only become “more and more… aware of our sinful nature” (Q&A 115). This is probably because as we get older, we tend to deepen and broaden in our knowledge of Scripture, and we come to better understand what truly pleases God. Our holy knowledge is increasing, but our ability to apply that knowledge and understanding doesn’t increase at the same pace. We recognize that God’s Word is giving us lots of work to do, and we can’t always do it. We’ve got only a small beginning.

But that’s not a reason to give up the pursuit. For “nevertheless,” says the Catechism, “with earnest purpose [we] do begin to live not only according to some but to all the commandments of God” (Q&A 114). We know that what we do here on earth, how we live today, and what we believe—that these things really and truly matter.

Just for lack of energy and will, we can lose so much. Some people would gladly be Christians and members of the church, if it didn’t cost them anything, if no sacrifices were involved. But all the good intentions in the world won’t bring you to life. Aimless wandering will never lead you to God. A few minutes of cold prayer every day won’t win the prize. No, the Lord says, be diligent and vigorous and focused. We need to progress and deepen and strengthen in faith. Probably every one of us desires to overcome sin, to grow in faith, to walk with God—the desire is good, but then there also needs to be effort, an earnest purpose, a pursuit of holiness!

It’s then that the LORD will grant his blessing. We heard it before, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but when the desire comes, it is a tree of life.” There can only be real flourishing when we seek the Lord. And how can we do it? We must return to the heart of the matter: your heart! “Keep it with all diligence,” says Solomon. Instead of letting it weaken on the diet of the devil, make it strong with the food from heaven.

Solomon tells us what this food is. He says to his son in 4:4, “Let your heart retain my words; keep my commands, and live.” God has given us a heart that’s ready to be filled with his wisdom, to have his words of life poured in, right to the brim. Solomon keeps saying that to with his son, like in 4:7, “Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom.” Or 4:13, “Take firm hold of instruction, do not let go; keep her, for she is your life.”

Get wisdom: fill your heart with the fear of God! Know who God is, and what He can do. Know God, in a real and meaningful way. Because if you do, that fear of the LORD will start to give vitality to everything else. It’ll spring forth with clear and refreshing water, irrigating every corner of your life. When you know God, you notice it: your character is being shaped by his character: you’re shaped in love, in mercy, in faithfulness, in justice. That’s the power of God’s Word, if we’re willing to lay hold of it: it can give a new character, a new health to our being.

The Lord Jesus said the same in Matthew 12. There He taught his disciples, “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him” (v 35, NIV). Having something good “stored up within you” is much more than knowing vaguely what God has said, more than having the Bible nearby, in case you need to look something up. Laying hold of God’s words with your heart means keeping his will right at the centre of your life. It means carefully pondering what He has said. Meditating on his decrees. Memorizing his promises, and applying his commands.

This is something that needs our constant attention, because it won’t happen by itself. Devote yourself to pursuing God’s wisdom and growing in the fear of his Name. Don’t fill the heart with the foolish things of this world, with all the content that the devil is churning out day and night. But fill your heart with the holy things of Christ. One heart condition leads to certain death, and the other to everlasting life.

Paul exhorts in Philippians 4:8, “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Because above all, we have a Saviour whom we can look to in faith. Think about his life, his death, his resurrection. Fix the eyes of your heart on him! Set your desires on him, and you’ll realize there’s nothing needed that He will not give.

So, beloved, it’s a question for all of us to consider: Where’s your heart? Or how’s your heart? Is it healthy and strong? Is it is beating with the gospel of Christ? Daily, is the pace of your life determined by the wisdom of God? Or is your heart being slowly clogged with sin? Is your rhythm being slowed down by evil desires, and are you getting stuck in useless things?

The Lord commands us, “Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it springs the issues of life.” So submit your heart to the one who heals it. Bring it to the one who can work a wonderful change. The Catechism addresses every one of us when it says, “Seek more eagerly the forgiveness of sins and righteousness in Christ… and never stop striving to be renewed more and more after God’s image” (Q&A 115). This is what we need to do, every day. It’s our very life that depends on it.  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
The source for this sermon was: http://frcmn.org/sermons/

(c) Copyright 2017, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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