Getting to the Heart of the Matter


"All a person's ways seem right to him, but the LORD weighs motives." Proverbs 16:2, CSB

Counseling cases often involve some type of ongoing conflict between two parties. From husband and wife, child and parents, to employer and employee, human relationships have been difficult to navigate and maintain since the fall of man into sin and death.

While the dawn of human conflict dates back to Genesis 3, the rise of technology and post-Christian culture is placing increasing moral and ethical pressure on decision-making processes. Ideas that seemed obvious and crystal clear in generations past are now muddied and uncertain.

Dislodged from a biblical worldview, cultural decision-making has been reduced to majority (or mob) rule. Individually, the popular Disney children's movie "Frozen" has come to perfectly express the ethic-du-jour: No right, no wrong, no rules for me...I'm free!

[Go ahead. Finish the song. I'll wait for you to come back...]

In a climate such as ours, how can we discern the rightness or wrongness of potential decisions that are before us, or the arguments we're advancing in any relational conflict? Fortunately, human sophistication never outpaces the wisdom of Scripture. To Scripture we must turn.

One verse alone in the book of Proverbs acts as a helpful guide, and provides needed insight.

We Judge Our Ways

The first half of Proverbs 16:2 observes a truth often seen at the counseling table, where two people are engaged in conflict. Most typically, each person arrives with their own well-rehearsed argument in hand. They've made a decision, or they're on the verge of making one, and they're convinced that their way is right.

Sometimes, one or (less-frequently) both parties have taken the time to honestly evaluate the merits of their chosen way against other options, and from the perspective of the other person (perhaps even less frequent).

Too often, though, what we see, in fact, suggests that the chosen way of each individual has largely been decided accoridng to what is important to that person, in their own judgment.

In our own eyes, our agenda is most often the one that will lead to world peace.

Practically speaking, what this tells us is that human pride and self-righteousness coach us into presuming that our conclusions are superior conclusions. We are right, we assume, because we couldn't possibly be wrong! What's even more frightening, is that the tighter our grip on the issue, the more speed with which we're likely to engage our plan, and not let anything or anyone stand in our way.

In conflict, or when we face a debatable, contentious, or controversial decision, let us consider carefully a second verse from the book of Proverbs, which cautions us about our own way, which seems so right:

There is a way that seems right to a person, but its end is the way of death. Proverbs 14:12, CSB

God Weighs Our Motives

While we're prone to conclude the rightness or wrongness of a thing based on what we're able to perceive with our eyes outwardly, the Bible teaches us that God is concerned with the heart.

The heart, in Scripture, is that spiritual seat of man out of which desire, hope, fear, thought, and emotions flow. Still another verse from Proverbs instructs us to guard our hearts, because from it flow the well-springs of life (Proverbs 4:23).

The second half of Proverbs 16:2 provides the contrast to what is asserted in the first, namely, that while man judges that his way is right, God himself weighs the motivations of the heart.

Two other biblical passages come to mind concerning this matter of the heart:

1) "These people approach me with their speeches to honor me with lip-service, yet their hearts are from me." Isaiah 19:13, CSB

2) "The mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart." Matthew 12:34, CSB

What we know from both a biblical anthropology and our actual life experience is that a person can put on a good show outwardly, while harboring sinful desires in the heart inwardly. But, these situations only serve to fool man, not God, who knows and judges the heart (1 Sam. 16:7; Heb. 4:12).

Truly, all of life is lived coram Deo, before the very face of God.

Choosing the Right Way

While not too many of us would argue, in principle, with the two big truths presented in Proverbs 16:2, perhaps far fewer of us have ever applied it practically to conflict and decision making.

Close examination would likely reveal two conditions:

1) Many of us heartily affirm, with our lips, God's knowledge and judgment of our heart-level motives, but,

2) Only reluctuantly confess the reality that we're quick to judge our own ways as righteous.

Awareness of the truth contained in Proverbs 16:2a requires that we take the Spirit-led action of examining our judgment concerning our chosen way with a willingness to allow God, through his Spirit and word to bring us into any necessary correction.

In other words, we must be made willing to consider the possibility that we are, in fact, wrong, and perhaps sinfully so. As believers, we can trust God's judgment concerning our motives, and receieve his corrective instruction as we receieve it in his word.

When we, in humility, read and apply verses like Proverbs 16:2 to our lives and the conflict we face, we can rest assured that God will be glorified, and we will more faithfully choose the way of joy, grace, peace, and reconciliation in Christ alone.

Join the Conversation

As a matter of practical application, consider this exercise the next time you face interpersonal conflict or a difficult decision. On a piece of paper:

1) On the front side, list all the reasons, with detail, concerning why you judge your way to be right.

2) Turn the page over, and begin listing your most privately held motives for desiring the way you've chosen, followed by a detailed examination of relevant biblical passages.

3) Consider what Scripture is revealing about your heart-level motives, and prayerfully ask God to help you act on any changes in decision-making that would bring you into accordance with his will.