Being a Proverb, this verse tends to stand its own without reference to context. As such, it exists as a piece of collected wisdom. Considering its source, its probably something that Solomon himself observed and wanted to pass on. It is an important component of our understanding of the human being.
What is the heart? Anatomically, the answer is simple. It is the organ we have so-named because it is the body’s primary blood pump. If the heart fails, we call it “cardiac arrest” and this can often result in death. So the heart is essential for the function of the human body. But is Solomon advocating for proper cardiac care here? A heart-healthy diet? Solomon being who he is, that would not surprised me, being how prescient he is. But I also don’t think that’s what he’s talking about here.
The heart is also considered in Biblical terminology the place of the soul, as distinct from the mind. In my work as a Chaplain, I’ve discovered that people have three distinct layers to their person, as illustrated below:
As you might notice, some things transcend layers. Some things are firmly rooted within their layers. But the innermost layer, as Solomon describes, is the heart. It is the source of life and the source of your being. Diseases which affect the body, or even the mind do not cause eternal damage. But a disease of the heart lasts forever. If your conscience is “seared” or burned through where you don’t care if you sin anymore, is eternal damnation, even for the former believer. The heart needs to be guarded the most closely, the most carefully. And in this we have a ready defense.
You might remember the passage in Ephesians 6 about the armor of God. tucked within verse 14 is this phrase, “righteousness like armor on your chest.” What is it that protects the heart? It is righteousness, namely the kind of righteousness (and holiness) that God affords. We have been made righteous in Christ, exchanging our pitiful rags for His holiness. Since this is the armor of God, it is God’s righteousness that guards our hearts. When you allow the darts of unrighteousness in, behind the armor, your damage your heart. You cannot sin without consequence. Even “small” sins cause heart damage. While there is healing in Jesus, and grace from the cross, sin has consequences. Your witness and your capacity for service may be greatly diminished if you continue in sin. Sin carves out little bits for itself, reducing your capacity to serve the Lord. The Lord can do much with a little, but the less you sin, the more He has to work with.
This heart, this redeemed soul you possess if yours to do with as you will. But the Lord has claimed it as His own when He sanctified you by His blood. The Lord took ownership of your soul and even staked His claim by moving in, for we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, who works with our own hearts to make us holy. If you continue to sin, you drive out His presence, for God cannot tolerate the presence of sin.
Lord, help me today to guard my heart against all the million little things that threaten it, all the tiny temptations and zillion darts that assault me constantly. Lord I want to serve You more. I want to be as much as I can be in Your presence, so that I can be even more effective at working out Your will in this world. Help me to put that guard over my heart so that I may not sin against You. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.