Have you ever played a game of word association in which each person must indicate the very first word that comes to mind when another word is spoken? The end result can be hilarious as the original word morphs into something completely different and totally unexpected—and the more players, the stranger it gets. Word association might also be a tool that a psychologist would use in an attempt to learn more about a patient’s underlying issues; or by a market researcher in an effort to ensure the proper message is conveyed in the promotion of a product.
What is the first thing that comes to your mind at the mention of the word, heart? If you’ve just been dumped by the love of your life, it might be broken. Around February 14th, you may respond with valentine or flowers—something to do with an expression of love. But if you are a cardiac patient, it’s more likely that you will think of such words as angina, pacemaker, bypass, hospital, medicine, fear, or death—it all depends on the individual point of reference. In written or verbal communication, context generally defines the meaning of heart. We easily differentiate between the physical organ beating away in our chests and a heart-shaped image on a valentine; a reference to the center of something, as in artichoke hearts; or a representation of one’s feelings or emotions. So it should come as no surprise that, as in everyday communication, the Bible also refers to heart in a variety of ways that validate our personal experience.
On the sixth day of creation God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them…Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good. (Genesis 1:26-27, 31) “Indeed, it was very good”—so what a sad commentary it is that within just ten generations, the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart. (Genesis 6:5-6) God’s original intent was that man’s heart would mirror His own, but it was quickly corrupted once Adam and Eve made the choice to be disobedient, and it appears that the heart became the battleground of good versus evil. On the one hand, Jesus died for us so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. (Ephesians 3:17) On the other, the devil comes and takes away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved. (Luke 8:12) Affairs of the heart; with God always making a way for mankind to be reconciled to Himself, and evil always scheming to mess things up:
• Jeremiah 32:40—And I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from doing them good; but I will put My fear in their hearts so that they will not depart from Me.
• Acts 5:3—But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself?
• Acts 16:14—Now a certain woman named Lydia heard us. She was a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God. The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul.
• Romans 16:18—For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple.
• Revelation 17:17—For God has put it into their hearts to fulfill His purpose, to be of one mind, and to give their kingdom to the beast, until the words of God are fulfilled.
• Luke 6:45—A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.
But what is the context of the word heart that the Bible uses so frequently—over 900 times in fact? I have a couple of friends who are very logical left-brain thinkers that have a tremendous amount of difficulty with the term—to them, heart means the physical organ beating in our chests, and the concept of an immaterial heart is illogical and makes no sense. But surely God doesn’t mean for his Word to be confusing, so let’s examine it for some clues as to the definition and function of the heart.
We have already determined that man is a triune being—body, soul and spirit—so where does the heart reside? The physical aspect as a part of the body is obvious; the intangible or spiritual less so—does it reside in the soul, the spirit or both? Scriptures do not clearly state the answer, but there is evidence to suggest the heart is present in each aspect of a person.
1. The heart does not appear to be exclusively a part of the soul. Repeatedly, scriptures list the two separately as we are encouraged to seek or serve the LORD with heart and soul, which could imply that the heart must exist in the spirit.
a. Deuteronomy 4:29—But from there you will seek the LORD your God, and you will find Him if you seek Him with all your heart and with all your soul.
b. Deuteronomy 11:13—And it shall be that if you earnestly obey My commandments which I command you today, to love the LORD your God and serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul,
c. Joshua 22:5—But take careful heed to do the commandment and the law which Moses the servant of the LORD commanded you, to love the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways, to keep His commandments, to hold fast to Him, and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul.”
d. 1 Kings 2:4—that the LORD may fulfill His word which He spoke concerning me, saying, ‘If your sons take heed to their way, to walk before Me in truth with all their heart and with all their soul,’ He said, ‘you shall not lack a man on the throne of Israel.’
e. 2 Kings 23:25—Now before him there was no king like him, who turned to the LORD with all his heart, with all his soul, and with all his might, according to all the Law of Moses; nor after him did any arise like him.
f. 1 Chronicles 22:19—Now set your heart and your soul to seek the LORD your God.
g. 2 Chronicles 15:15—And all Judah rejoiced at the oath, for they had sworn with all their heart and sought Him with all their soul; and He was found by them, and the LORD gave them rest all around.
h. Matthew 22:37—Jesus said to him, “ ‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’
i. Luke 10:27—So he answered and said, “ ‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and ‘your neighbor as yourself.’”
2. The Bible uses the words spirit and heart frequently in such a way as to imply that the heart is closely associated with the spirit. While the implication could be that the heart resides within the spirit, a case could also be made that it resides in the soul as well. What if the word heart in the context of the scriptures below could refer to the soul, in which case the verses would be about soul and spirit?
a. Exodus 35:21—Then everyone came whose heart was stirred, and everyone whose spirit was willing…
b. Deuteronomy 2:30—“But Sihon king of Heshbon would not let us pass through, for the LORD your God hardened his spirit and made his heart obstinate, that He might deliver him into your hand, as it is this day.
c. Joshua 5:1—that their heart melted; and there was no spirit in them any longer because of the children of Israel.
d. Psalm 51:10—Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
e. Psalm 51:17—The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart— These, O God, You will not despise.
f. Psalm 77:6—I call to remembrance my song in the night; I meditate within my heart, and my spirit makes diligent search.
g. Psalm 143:4—Therefore my spirit is overwhelmed within me; my heart within me is distressed.
h. Proverbs 15:13—A merry heart makes a cheerful countenance, but by sorrow of the heart the spirit is broken.
i. Isaiah 57:15—For thus says the High and Lofty One Who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “ I dwell in the high and holy place, with him who has a contrite and humble spirit, To revive the spirit of the humble, And to revive the heart of the contrite ones.
j. Ezekiel 18:31—Cast away from you all the transgressions which you have committed, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. For why should you die, O house of Israel?
k. Ezekiel 36:26—I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.
l. Daniel 5:20—But when his heart was lifted up, and his spirit was hardened in pride, he was deposed from his kingly throne, and they took his glory from him.
m. 1 Peter 3:4—rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God.
It appears very possible that the heart does exist in each part of our being—body, soul and spirit—but regardless of where it resides, one thing is abundantly clear; the heart, in its fallen state, is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked. (Jeremiah 17:9) We often fictionalize and laugh at the concept of evil within the heart, enjoying tales of black-hearted pirates and evil black knights, or joking about someone with a cold or hard heart. One of our songs when I was sang with Sweet Adelines was Hard Hearted Hannah—she was described as the vamp from Savannah, the meanest girl in town; and she had quite a reputation for loving and leaving all the men unlucky enough to encounter her. Unfortunately, it’s really not a laughing matter. There is nothing so serious in life as a hard heart—the consequences are dire.
• Exodus 7-14—Pharaoh repeatedly hardened his heart when there was relief from the plagues, until finally God made it a permanent condition.
• Joshua 11:20—For it was of the LORD to harden their hearts, that they should come against Israel in battle, that He might utterly destroy them, and that they might receive no mercy, but that He might destroy them, as the LORD had commanded Moses.
• 1 Samuel 25:37-38—So it was, in the morning, when the wine had gone from Nabal, and his wife had told him these things, that his heart died within him, and he became like a stone. Then it happened, after about ten days, that the LORD struck Nabal, and he died.
• Daniel 5:20—But when his heart was lifted up, and his spirit was hardened in pride, he was deposed from his kingly throne, and they took his glory from him.
• Psalm 95:7b-11—Today, if you will hear His voice: “Do not harden your hearts, as in the rebellion, as in the day of trial in the wilderness, when your fathers tested Me; they tried Me, though they saw My work. For forty years I was grieved with that generation, and said, ‘It is a people who go astray in their hearts, and they do not know My ways. ’So I swore in My wrath, ‘They shall not enter My rest.’ “
• Proverbs 28:14 But he who hardens his heart will fall into calamity.
• Zechariah 7:12—Yes, they made their hearts like flint, refusing to hear the law and the words which the LORD of hosts had sent by His Spirit through the former prophets. Thus great wrath came from the LORD of hosts.
• Mark 3:5—And when He had looked around at them with anger, being grieved by the hardness of their hearts…
• Mark 6:52—For they had not understood about the loaves, because their heart was hardened.
• Mark 16:14 Later He appeared to the eleven as they sat at the table; and He rebuked their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they did not believe those who had seen Him after He had risen.
• Romans 2:5—But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God,
Consider the contrast of the softened, flexible, receptive heart; the way God desires it to be:
• 2 Kings 22:19—because your heart was tender, and you humbled yourself before the LORD when you heard what I spoke against this place and against its inhabitants… I also have heard you,” says the LORD.
• Proverbs 7:2-3—Keep my commands and live, and my law as the apple of your eye. Bind them on your fingers; write them on the tablet of your heart.
• Proverbs 10:8—The wise in heart will receive commands…
• Proverbs 14:30—A sound heart is life to the body…
• Proverbs 21:1— The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD, like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes.
• Proverbs 27:19—As in water face reflects face, so a man’s heart reveals the man.
• Ecclesiastes 8:5—He who keeps his command will experience nothing harmful; and a wise man’s heart discerns both time and judgment.
• Isaiah 16:11—Therefore my heart shall resound like a harp for Moab,
• Isaiah 60:5a—Then you shall see and become radiant, and your heart shall swell with joy
• Ezekiel 11:19—Then I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within them, and take the stony heart out of their flesh, and give them a heart of flesh.
• Jeremiah 24:7—Then I will give them a heart to know Me, that I am the LORD; and they shall be My people, and I will be their God, for they shall return to Me with their whole heart.
• Jeremiah 31:33—But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.
• John 7:38—He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”
• Acts 14:17—Nevertheless He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good, gave us rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness.”
When we speak of “getting to the heart of a matter” it is generally understood that we want to discover a central issue, and it seems that the heart is indeed the central issue of our lives. It is here where our true motivations and intentions are hidden, unseen by anyone except God Himself. It is here where our actions are initiated. It is here that we store our treasures, as if hidden in a bank vault. It is here we experience both condemnation and redemption.
• Exodus 35:21-22—Then everyone came whose heart was stirred, and everyone whose spirit was willing, and they brought the LORD’s offering for the work of the tabernacle of meeting, for all its service, and for the holy garments. They came, both men and women, as many as had a willing heart, and brought earrings and nose rings, rings and necklaces, all jewelry of gold, that is, every man who made an offering of gold to the LORD
• 1 Samuel 16:7—But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the LORD does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”
• 2 Samuel 24:10—And David’s heart condemned him after he had numbered the people. So David said to the LORD, “I have sinned greatly in what I have done; but now, I pray, O LORD, take away the iniquity of Your servant, for I have done very foolishly.”
• Psalm 64:6—They devise iniquities: “We have perfected a shrewd scheme.” Both the inward thought and the heart of man are deep.
• Isaiah 32:6—For the foolish person will speak foolishness, and his heart will work iniquity: to practice ungodliness, to utter error against the LORD, to keep the hungry unsatisfied, and he will cause the drink of the thirsty to fail.
• Matthew 12:34-35—Brood of vipers! How can you, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things.
• Matthew 15:18-19—But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies.
• Mark 2:8—But immediately, when Jesus perceived in His spirit that they reasoned thus within themselves, He said to them, “Why do you reason about these things in your hearts?
• Mark 7:6—He answered and said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: ‘ This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me.
• Luke 3:15—Now as the people were in expectation, and all reasoned in their hearts about John, whether he was the Christ or not
• Luke 12:34—For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
• Galatians 4:6—And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!”
• 1 Corinthians 4:5—Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each one’s praise will come from God.
• 1 Peter 3:4—rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God.
• 1 John 3:19-21—And by this we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him. For if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence toward God.
Throughout the scriptures we find verses contrasting the heart that is godly versus the heart that is evil. It only seems logical that man would choose to have his heart described as loyal, upright, willing, faithful, glad, perfect, or merry rather than boastful, proud, wicked, deceitful, arrogant, perverse or haughty—but that’s not the case. Instead of heeding the oft repeated admonition to love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength (Mark 12:30), so many like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way (Isaiah 53:6). And how sad that is, for without the redemption of the heart, the individual must live in a state of brokenness, with the defects in the spirit carrying over and affecting day-to-day life in the physical realm
• Psalm 38:8—I am feeble and severely broken; I groan because of the turmoil of my heart.
• Psalm 69:20—Reproach has broken my heart, and I am full of heaviness; I looked for someone to take pity, but there was none; And for comforters, but I found none.
• Proverbs 15:13—A merry heart makes a cheerful countenance, But by sorrow of the heart the spirit is broken.
• Proverbs 17:22—A merry heart does good, like medicine, But a broken spirit dries the bones.
• Jeremiah 23:9—My heart within me is broken Because of the prophets; all my bones shake. I am like a drunken man, And like a man whom wine has overcome, Because of the LORD, And because of His holy words.
• Ezekiel 21:6—Sigh therefore, son of man, with a breaking heart, and sigh with bitterness before their eyes.
• Hosea 10:2—Their heart is divided; Now they are held guilty. He will break down their altars; He will ruin their sacred pillars.
We would do well to heed God’s word in regard to the heart, whether in the context of the Old or New Testaments, the message remains the same. “I make this covenant and this oath, not with you alone, but with him who stands here with us today before the LORD our God, as well as with him who is not here with us today… so that there may not be among you man or woman or family or tribe, whose heart turns away today from the LORD our God, to go and serve the gods of these nations, and that there may not be among you a root bearing bitterness or wormwood; and so it may not happen, when he hears the words of this curse, that he blesses himself in his heart, saying, ‘I shall have peace, even though I follow the dictates of my heart’—as though the drunkard could be included with the sober. “The LORD would not spare him; for then the anger of the LORD and His jealousy would burn against that man, and every curse that is written in this book would settle on him, and the LORD would blot out his name from under heaven. (Deuteronomy 29:14-15, 18-20) And, what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith which we preach): that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. (Romans 10:8—10) It doesn’t get much clearer than that!