What is the meaning of the Heart in the Scriptures?

What is the meaning of the Heart in the Scriptures?

When David Livingston died on May 1, 1873 his heart was removed and buried in the African soil. He was so beloved that the Africans wanted his heart to remain in their land. His body was prepared and shipped back to England. There he was interned in Westminster Abbey.

The Scriptures have a great deal to say about our heart. But, they do not normally refer to the physical heart but rather to the immaterial part of man. Its importance is clearly seen from the fact that the word occurs more than 700 times in both the Old and New Testaments.

As the physical heart is vital for the wellbeing of our bodies so our spiritual heart is vital for our spiritual wellbeing. Our hearts are the point of our contact with God. He deals with us in our hearts.

He deals with us according to His knowledge of our hearts. (1 Samuel 16:7; Luke 16:15)

The wise man Solomon wrote “Guard your heart with all diligence for out it springs the issues of life.” (Proverbs 4:23) Here the heart is like a spring of water out of which flows water. Out of our spiritual heart flows our thoughts and behavior. (Matthew 12:35)

God desires to conform us into the image of Christ. (Romans 8:29; Galatians 4:19) This transformation begins in the heart. Godly living issues from the heart. So, the all-important question is… what is the heart according to the Word of God?

Many years ago a well-known Bible teacher A. T. Pierson gave a very helpful principle of interpretation. He said, “God often hangs the key on the outside of the door.” He meant that often the first occurrences of a word help us understand how that word will be used in the rest of Scriptures. Some would call this the “principle of first reference.”

This principle is very important for us to understand the meaning of the heart. To know its meaning will help us understand what “guarding the heart” really means.

The first reference to this word is found in Genesis 6:5. The world of people has become exceedingly wicked and God and God will destroy them with a flood. Moses wrote “Then 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.” (NKJV)

The heart refers to man’s mind or intellect first. In our mind we think, we remember, we reflect, we make resolutions and in the mind we meditate. The Scriptures have no word for the brain but many references to the “mind.” It is the control center of our behavior. Thoughts take place in the heart.

The second reference to the heart is found in Genesis 6:6. “And the Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart.” (NKJV) God was “grieved” in His heart. Grief is an emotion. God has emotions in His heart. We are made in His image so we have emotions as well. Sadness, sorrow, affection, likes, dislikes, anguish, pain are all emotions and are felt in the heart. Our emotions are linked to the mind. Whatever the mind is thinking it will affect our emotions.

The third reference to the heart is Genesis 8:21. “And the Lord smelled a soothing aroma. Then the Lord said in His heart, ‘I will never again curse the ground for man’s sake, although the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; nor will I again destroyed every living thing as I have done.’ ” (NKJV)

After Noah came out of the Ark and had offered burnt offerings on an altar God decided in His heart to never destroy the world by a flood again. (Not that this decision was an afterthought with God for all of His decisions are eternal in nature.) The point is God decided “in His heart.” So our decisions are made in our hearts. We determine courses of action; we make resolutions in the heart, etc.

So the heart refers to our mind, our emotions and our decision making capability. Whatever occupies our mind will affect our emotions which in turn will determine our choices.

Suppose a Christian young man sees a Christian young woman and she impresses him. He begins to think about her and begins to notice her sweet disposition and godly behavior. As he thinks about her he begins to feel emotionally attracted to her. The more he thinks about her the more he wants to get to know her. The interaction of his mind and his emotions influence him to ask her out for a meal together. His thoughts about her, his attraction to her and his decision to invite her for a meal are all activities of the heart.

God wants to renew our minds so that we think the way He does. A godly mind leads to godly emotions which will result in godly living. As He controls our minds we grow in Christ-likeness.
By His Spirit we are to take on the outward appearance of the Christ who dwells within us. This is the meaning of “Christ being formed in you.”

Our responsibility is to guard our hearts. In light of the Biblically meaning of the heart this means we need to guard our mind, our emotions and the decisions we make.

When He dwells in our hearts (Ephesians 3:18) we can have godly thoughts, godly emotions and make godly decisions.

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