I was surprised when it was brought to my attention that I had neglected to post a study of the New Testament uses of the word “heart”. I was even more surprised to discover that there is not a single instance among its 158 appearances where it is used with its primary meaning, “the organ in man or animal which is the center of the circulation of the blood”!
There is also no reference to “giving one’s heart to the Lord”, and only one which speaks of his “dwelling” in the hearts of the faithful (Eph.3:17). There are only two referring to anyone’s heart being “broken” – one in Lk.4:18, where it is a condition that Jesus said he was sent to heal, (and certainly not held up as the crowning achievement – like scalps on a belt – of a self-styled “evangelist”)! The statement in Ac.2:37, often used as an excuse for this attitude / effort, uses katenugesan, “to pierce with pain”, a word quite unrelated to suntetrimmenous, “broken or crushed”. The other is Paul’s scolding (Ac.21:13) of his companions’ attempt to dissuade him from going toward certain disaster in Jerusalem, complaining that they are “breaking his heart.”
So having thus disposed of a very large portion of popular (though almost totally imaginary) rhetoric, let’s have a look at what is actually said.
Ever since the earliest classical writings, the heart (kardia) was considered the seat of one’s feelings, passion, anger, fear, courage, sorrow, or joy as well as love (L/S). A somewhat parallel use of splagchna (inward parts, vital organs), 10x as a noun, an 12 as a verb, which some modern translators render as “heart” – probably because they think it more “proper” than “guts”! – the KJV said “bowels” – is more often confined to expressions of compassion or deep affection. Kardia was also assumed to function in one’s mind, intention, inclination, desire or purpose. It also referred to the center of anything, animate or inanimate: as the heart wood of a tree, the depth of the sea, or Jesus’ reference to “the heart of the earth” (Mt.12:40).
Bauer’s list is similar, suggesting “the seat of physical, mental, or spiritual life, the source of one’s volition, the faculty of thought or understanding, the organ of natural or spiritual enlightenment, moral or emotional decisions, wishes, or desires” to which he adds “the dwelling place of heavenly powers or beings”, whether good (Eph.3:17) or evil (Ac.5:3, Jn.13:2).
Most of these aspects can be found in New Testament writings. The heart may represent the repository of treasured memories (Lk.1:66, 2:19, 2:51), the source of motivation or purpose for both good and evil speech and action (Mt.5:28, 9:4, 12:34-45, 15:18-19, 24:48, Lk.6:45, Ac.5:4, 7:23, 39; Rom.1:24, 6:17), and the “location” of arguments or “reasoning” – dialogizomai – (Mk.2:6, 8; Lk.3:15, 5:22, 9:47, 24:38; Rom.10:6). Jesus and others spoke of “understanding with your hearts” (Mt.13:15, Jn. 12:40, Ac.28:27, Rom.1:21), and warnings against the hardening of hearts (lack of receptivity to truth or mercy) are not rare (Mt.19:8, Mk.3:5, 6:52, 8:17, 10:5, 16:14, Jn.12:40, Rom.2:5, Heb.3:8, 4:7).
The condition of one’s “heart” is revealed by his attitudes and behavior, whether commendable (Mt.11:29, 12:35, Lk.1:17, Lk.2:35, 8:15, Rom.6:17) or reprehensible (Mt.15:8, 19; Lk.1:51, 6:45, Ac.8:21, 22, Eph. 4:18, Heb.3:10,12; Jas.1:26, 3:14, 5:5; II Pet.2:14), as is his love for God (Mt.22:37, Mt.12:33, 22:37, Lk.10:27, Mk.12:30).
We are assured that God not only knows our hearts (Lk.16:15, Ac.1:24, 15:8; Rom.8:27, I Cor.4:5, I Thes.2:4, Heb.4:12, 8:10, 10:16; I Jn.3:20, Rv.2:23), but also guides and directs the hearts of those who seek his ways (Ac.14:17, 15:9, 16:14; Rom.10:8, I Cor.2:9, Phil.4:7, Col.3:15, I Thes.3:13, II Thes.3:5, II Pet.1:19) and even sometimes those who don’t (Rv.17:17)!
That does not, however, absolve us from the responsibility to be selective regarding what we allow to influence our hearts! (Mt.6:21 and parallel Lk.12:34; Mt.13:19 and parallels Mk.4:15, Lk.8:12; Rom.16:8, Heb.10:22, Jas.4:8, 5:8; I Pet.3:4, 15; I Jn.3:19).
Jesus urged his disciples to “settle it in your hearts” (Lk.21:14) not to worry about planning a defense when on trial for their faithfulness, but to trust in the leading that he would provide.
With the gracious gift of the Holy Spirit, the necessary vigilance and confidence is both enabled and assisted (Rom 5:5, II Cor.1:22, 4:6; Gal.4:6). This, of course, includes the several references in which traditional translators have inaccurately chosen to represent parakaleo by the word “comfort”, conjuring up the image of a teddy-bear or security “blankie”. Please see #138 for a correction of that image. Jesus – and Paul – are neither offering a “blankie” nor asking the faithful to provide such artificial “comfort” to one another. They rather have in view consistent and courageous encouragement,support, and “coaching” in faithfulness (Jn.14 and 16, Col.2:2 and 4:8; Eph.6:22, II Thes.2:17).
The hearts of the faithful are also expected to be deeply involved in their interaction on a purely human level. Paul conveys heartfelt concern for his readers, especially when there has been any misunderstanding (Rom.9:2, 10:1; II Cor.2:4, 3:2-3, 6:11, 7:3, 8:16; Phil.1:7, I Thes.2:17), and expects commensurate sincerity within their respective groups (II Cor.5:12), both in their worship (Eph.5:19, Col.3:16) and their more ordinary affairs (Eph.6:5, Col.3:22, I Thes.3:5, I Tim.1:5, Rom.2:15, I Cor.7:37, II Cor.9:7) as does Peter (I Pet.1:22).
Jesus had also recognized normal human emotions in his farewell (Jn.14 and 16), and did not condemn them, but gave instructions for dealing with them. This is seen also in Mt.18:35.
The heart is represented as the source of one’s deliberate commitment to faithfulness (Mk.11:23, Lk.24:25, Ac.8:37, 11:23, 13:22; Rom.2:29, 10:9-10; Eph.3:17, I Thes.3:13,Heb.10:22, 13:9, Jas.4:8, I Jn.3:19-21) as well as of the choice not to listen and obey (II Cor.3:15, 5:12, and the quotes from Isaiah 6:9-10 in Mt.13:15, Jn. 12:40, Ac.28:27).
Here are a few other random observations, in no particular order – some surprising, some just interesting – for you to explore and “reason [discuss] in your hearts”!
* James’ instructions to the folks teetering on the brink of unfaithfulness (4:8) to “wash their hands and purify their (own) hearts”! Haven’t we always been told that was an almost magical act of God connected in some esoteric way to Jesus’ death? Although Peter in Ac.15:9 did attribute it to God’s act in response to faithfulness, the verbs in this instance are both active aorist imperatives!
* “Pure” hearts are evidenced by (I Tim.1:5) “charity” [love – agape] and (II Tim.2:22) “calling on the Lord” – which is the “fuel” for “fleeing youthful passions, and pursuing justice, faithfulness, love, and peace” and “avoiding useless arguments (v.23).
* The “umpire” brabeueto when one’s heart must deal with an uncertain situation (Col.3:15) is the peace of God. How would that affect your choices or decisions?
* Does the “location” of our “treasure” (Mt.6:21, Lk.12:34) affect our reaction to situations like the one described in Rv.18, when the economy tanks and everything falls apart? Is Jesus’ warning in Lk.21:34 connected to this?
* In Rom.1:21-32, Paul clearly describes the depraved condition of the “hearts” of the unfaithful as their choice, not their “original condition”. Why do people who are so fond of quoting Romans for their “doctrines” consistently ignore this?
* And finally , please review the beautiful effects of the unity resulting from the Holy Spirit’s activity around Pentecost (#187). In Ac.2:46, Luke describes the general mood of joyful celebration as they shared their meals “with rejoicing and simple hearts.” He goes into more detail in Ac.4:32-34, “the multitude of those who had become faithful was one heart and one life [identity; traditionally “soul”], and freely shared all that they had, until “there was no one needy among them.” He never pretends that there were no bumps in the road – see the very next chapter if you think that the account is whitewashed!
But the community that resulted was mightily attractive to observers.
A Body was being formed – described later by Paul as having only one Head – the Lord Jesus – but here Luke concentrates on their one heart. That was / is just as essential to the interaction of many widely-varied members, and probably the most undeniable evidence of the hand of God.
May we continue to serve him – and each other – with one heart!