Hashkama: Follow your heart?
Speaking about people who say that they have got Jesus in their heart, the preacher questioned “what is your heart anyway?” Actually, there are many references to the heart in Scripture, so it must be significant to God and to us. “The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us” (Romans 5:5). If God is love and He has shed His love abroad in our hearts, why is it so wrong to speak of Jesus being in our hearts? It is a simple and sincere expression that Jesus is at the centre of our lives and being. We are not all college-trained theologians. The theologians will tell us that the Church is the Body of Christ, and so it is, and Christ is the Head. Forgive my poor effort, but I am trying to explain something important. It seems to me that there is a sense in which the Church is as the womb of God. I am speaking of the ekklesia, not a building. It is where His children are, or should be, safe and secure. It is a warm and loving environment where they can be fed and grow, so that they can enter the world knowing they are loved by God and accepted in the beloved through His Son Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:6). Being rooted and built up in Him and strengthened in the faith (Colossians 2:7), they have the capacity to go out into the world, birthing new believers, and making disciples themselves. It is not a perfect illustration because we have to remember that there are tares sown among the wheat (Matthew 13:25). Sometimes our experience of Church can be quite the opposite to what I have described. Sadly, and shamefully, it can be more like an abortion clinic, where the doctor’s scalpel is reaching in to cut you up, to steal, kill, and destroy your spiritual life. Instead of a scalpel it might be a poison fed to one, injected into your thought life and spirit, while the leadership concerned put on a public display of piety and spirituality. Those who have experienced this kind of thing will understand what I am saying. In conversation with a well-known preacher, he told me most of his counselling sessions were with people that had been damaged by their church/fellowship/organization leaders. He was a godly man, and is now with the Lord. Those who have suffered can know that “He heals the broken hearted and binds up their wounds (Psalm 147:3). “The Lord is near to the broken-hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18).
It is unfortunate, but our concept of Church often centres on a building; we go to church. When we leave the building, we sometimes leave our spiritual life and behaviour there; we carry a backpack containing the form of religion, but we deny and lack its power. We see this a lot on social media. Christian love and compassion are often lacking, and our true hearts are revealed. We have become used to having left the Church once we leave the building. We are the ekklesia; wherever we are, we are Church; we are the people of God and God’s word is applicable all the time. We need a change of heart and a sense of God’s sempiternal presence.
Included in the Christmas Story there is the lead up to Jesus’ birth, “But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). It is not speaking of the physical heart that beats inside one’s chest. The biblical word “heart” is used to refer to the whole of the innermost part of the human, and consists of various parts. We think with our minds, so the mind is part of the heart (Matthew 9:4). It includes our will (Acts 11:23); the emotions are part of the heart (John 16:22); and it includes the conscience (Hebrews 10:22). One’s heart thinks, decides, and senses right from wrong.
Years ago, before computers and laptops were readily available, one of my activities included corresponding with Muslim individuals in different countries. They would invariably tell me how much harder their religion is compared to mine. There was an element of pride in what they said. They would explain about all the praying they do each day, and the washing of various parts of their bodies. The questions I put to them were: “How do you wash your heart? How do you keep your heart clean? I never ever received an answer.
The Bible speaks of God’s heart, “So the Lord was sorry that He had made mankind on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart” (Genesis 6:6), and, “David was a man ‘after God’s own heart’” (Acts 13:22); but what of the human heart? It is interesting how many TV celebrities, especially during quiz shows will say, “Just follow your heart.” Perhaps in this instance it is an update on “follow your instinct.” Another example from Scripture concerning the heart is, “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; Who can understand it?” The root meaning of “crooked” is worth considering here too. It is an etymology of Jacob’s name in Genesis 27:36. The crooked human heart is the manifestation of a pathological condition. No human can fathom the deviousness of the human heart, but God can – “I am the Lord who probes the heart…” (Jeremiah 17:9-10. See Proverbs 4:23); so to take the advice to follow one’s heart would be complete foolishness. We are called to follow Jesus, not our hearts – “And He said to them, ‘Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men’” (Matthew 4:19); there was purpose in the call of Jesus; and the purpose in following Jesus was that He would make them into something useful in His Kingdom. They had known what it was to fish and to bring in the catch in this world; now they would learn new skills that would be effective in bringing people into God’s eternal Kingdom. It was not simply a matter of being saved and going to heaven when they died; their purpose was to serve the King and the Kingdom in the here and now. That too is our purpose. One could say we are saved to serve. Not only that, but we are saved to serve and as a consequence, to be served, as we serve God and one another in the love of God – love for others growing out of God’s love for us. There is meaning and purpose to God’s gift of life, it isn’t simply pie in the sky when you die.
What of the suggestion made by my past Muslim contacts, that Christianity is easy? Have they, and we really understood the teaching of Jesus, or is it an impression gained from some of the evangelism that takes place? Is the Christian life and faith easy? We can examine this only briefly here, and we will begin with some words from Jesus: “For I tell you truly, until heaven and earth pass away, not a single jot, not a stroke of a pen, will disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. So then, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do likewise will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever practices and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.…” (Matthew 5:18-20). Christians tend to focus on what one believes, but Matthew’s Gospel focuses rather on how one acts, and on what one does (Matthew 5:19-20). Knowing the truth sets us free…to do God’s will (John 8-32). Speaking to His disciples Jesus said “If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them” (John 13:17). Jesus said He was here to do the Father’s will (Hebrews 10:9), and we are here to do His will. According to the historian, Josephus, Jesus, in referring to Pharisaic behaviour as the minimum, is not setting a low standard. The Pharisees were in fact popular teachers. They were known for their mutual friendship (War 2.166), “conduct of reason,” respect for their elders, and belief in free will (Antiquities 18.12-15). Josephus compares them to the Stoics, a respected philosophical school (Life 12). Josephus also suggests that the Pharisees were popular because their traditions of Torah interpretation “alleviated the harsher prescriptions of the Bible and civil law” (Antiquities 13.294). Christ’s righteousness has been imputed to us; no-one can excuse themselves from serving Him by saying we are not good enough. It is somewhat ironic and perhaps even shocking, that Jesus in fact promotes practices that have harsher prescriptions than the Pharisees mandate. Jesus is not abolishing Scripture nor substituting Scripture with something else; and with our knowing that, we are better able to understand what might be described as His extensions: (1) murder and by extension anger, (2) adultery and by extension lust, (3) divorce and by extension the breaking of the family, (4) oath-taking (swearing) and by extension personal honesty, (5) proportional justice and by extension retribution, and (6) loving the neighbour and by extension loving the enemy. The first (murder), second (adultery), and fourth (swearing) allude to the Ten Commandments, with swearing relating to the commandment forbidding taking God’s name in vain (Exodus 20:7).
Reading Matthew 5:21-47 there are the six statements we have considered. There is some variation to the introduction, “you have heard it said…But I say to you.” The first and fourth contain a longer formula, “You have heard that it was said by people of old.” In His discourse, Jesus is bringing out the seriousness of what goes on in the heart of man. It might be considered that Jesus, a Jew, is doing what the Jews eventually did with the Ten Commandments in building a fence around the Torah, an expression that comes from the Mishna, Avot 1:1. The purpose of the fence around the Torah is to protect the commandments by making it more difficult to violate them. However, Jesus is teaching much more than that. Since we have been considering the “heart” of humankind, let us look at an example from the teaching on the Mount that actually refers to the heart. Alluding to the Torah, Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery’ (Exodus 24:14). So here one might suggest that Jesus builds a fence by equating lust with adultery – “But I say to you that everyone that looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:27-28). When is a fence not a fence? Jesus is getting at the very essence of the commandment. In the Book of Genesis, God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die” (Genesis 2:16-17); that is the commandment and the consequences of breaking it. “When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it” (Genesis 3:6). I would not interpret it this way myself, but some in Judaism equate Eve’s disobedience here to sexual activity. The sequence of events is similar to what Jesus taught. In her heart, Eve desired and lusted for the fruit before she physically ate it. She had already moved from the commandment when she saw and desired the fruit. Previously, in Genesis Ch.1, it was God that “saw that it was good”. In Genesis 3:6, it is Eve that saw that the tree was good…The effect of knowing good and evil was already occurring in Eve’s experience. The Greek term for “lust” or “desire” (epithymeō) appears in the Septuagint’s translation of the Ten Commandments: in forbidding the coveting of the neighbour’s house and of his wife (Exodus 20:17; Deuteronomy 5:21). It is about seeing and believing; desiring, coveting, lusting after, and believing you can have what doesn’t belong to you. Jesus said that the heart’s secrets are betrayed by the mouth, even as a tree’s fruit discloses its nature (Matthew 12:33-34), and that “from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts” (Mark 7:21). “A wise man’s heart guides his mouth” (Proverbs 16:23). And, the mouth confesses what the heart trusts (Romans 10:9; cf. Deuteronomy 30:14).
Love is the greatest
Here is the commandment, on which both the Old Testament and New Testament revelation of love is based:
“You shall love Yahweh your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:5); where ‘heart’ always takes the first place, and is the term which in the New Testament rendering remains unchanged (compare Matthew 22:37; Mark 12:30,33; Luke 10:27, where “heart” always takes precedence).
Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God” (Matthew 5:8).
Blessings and shalom