Who am I? Thoughts are the true measure

“Do not eat the bread of a miser, nor desire his delicacies; for as he thinks in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23:6-7, NKJV)

It is frequently stated that the figures of speech used in Biblical times regarding body parts may be relocated one organ higher for today’s audiences. Emotions were thought then to originate in the bowels or intestines, and thought or reason were properties of the heart. Today we feel emotionally with our hearts and think or reason in our minds.

The modern reader of Proverbs 23:7 understands that wise Solomon is describing the intellect as a more accurate indicator of one’s true self than simply his or her actions. The fact that someone offers a delicious meal does not establish him as a generous and considerate host. He may well be serving his own interests and may begrudge every bite the guest takes. Another translation renders this passage:

“For he is like one who is inwardly calculating. ‘Eat and drink!’ he says to you but his heart is not with you” (Proverbs 23:7 ESV).

How do we judge character or worth? Many standards are used in various cultures, including wealth, ability, kinship, appearance, and even age and gender. The Bible anchors worth in the characteristics of one’s mind (Romans 12:2; Ephesians 4:22-24). Those include sincerity (consider the condemnation of Pharisees as hypocrites, Matthew 23), honesty (1 Thessalonians 4:12 KJV), and moral purity (Mark 7:20-23).

A student of Eastern cultures observed that Westerners fail to understand the vast difference in value systems between the two hemispheres. In the west we have historically emphasized character values like those listed in the previous paragraph, and intrinsic elements such as wealth, ability, or appearance. In much of Asia however a premium is placed on honor or respect. The Asian is insulted if he perceives disrespect, and that may lead to resentment and the lust for vindication or vengeance. Moral virtues are of much less importance. Lying, stealing, and other “immoral” activities may be wholly justified depending on why they are done, or to whom.

Jesus taught that one’s thoughts produce his actions, therefore thoughts are the true measure of one’s genuine identity and of his condition before God – whether or not he is righteous (Matthew 15:18-20). Righteous actions may proceed from faithful hearts, but they may also be prompted by false motives (Matthew 6:1-4).

Paul discussed the conflict between mind and body. “For I delight in the law of God in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members (Romans 7:22-23 ESV). Righteousness results from the triumph of mind under the guidance of the Spirit of God through inspired scripture (Romans 8:1-11; Galatians 5:16-25; James 1:21-22).

The Biblical emphasis on the mind is not primarily about knowledge or intelligence for its own sake. The mind is the custodian of character and values. In our minds is where we establish goals, standards, and priorities. The mind evaluates evidence and decides upon what is real and true, therefore it is in the mind that one believes that God is (Hebrews 11:6). Faith goes beyond mental assent, but it must always include it (James 2:18-19).

From the beginning God has evaluated mankind from the inside out. David was a better candidate for the throne of Israel than his older brothers not because of physical stature or accomplishments, but because of his heart (1 Samuel 16:7). The apostles of Jesus were chosen on the basis of their potential for faith, not their social status or training.

It is easy for us to judge ourselves and others on the basis of actions. We attend worship assemblies, we give generously, perhaps we serve in official capacities, and therefore we must be faithful Christians. But the ancient Pharisees and their companions could claim the same. Yet Jesus said, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 6:20). Their actions seemed good; it was their inner selves (their minds) which betrayed them. Let us strive diligently to renew our minds and prove true to Christ.

Mike is the author of In Search of Perfection: Studies from Job.

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