All a person’s ways seem pure to them, but motives are weighed by the Lord.
Proverbs 16:2 NIV
כָּֽל־דַּרְכֵי־אִ֭ישׁ זַ֣ךְ בְּעֵינָ֑יו וְתֹכֵ֖ן רוּח֣וֹת יְהוָֽה׃
A study from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism asked thousands of people what news was most important to them. International news beat out celebrity and “fun” news by a margin of two-to-one. Economic and political news finished even higher. But what happens when readers were asked not what’s important, but what they actually read?
Derek Thompson with The Atlantic claims most Americans lie about what they actually read. He explains: [On June 17, 2014], the most important story in the world, according to every major American newspaper this morning, is the violent splintering of Iraq.
So what did we actually read on June 17, 2014? The top stories across the big media outlets focused on the World Cup, a YouTube game, gluten and postpartum depression, the Miss America Pageant, and the Video Music Awards. Thompson concludes, “Ask audiences what they want, and they’ll tell you vegetables. Watch them quietly, and they’ll mostly eat candy.”
If we are truthful about ourselves, we discover we are rather dishonest. Consequently, we wouldn’t par too well if we were asked to submit to a spiritual fitness test based on a thorough self-examination of our inner truthfulness. We tend to overestimate our goodness and underestimate how much we need to repent and grow.
In Proverbs 16:2 Solomon beckons us to sign up for an investigation of our inner lives lest we be scammed by a dishonest heart.
We all default to a very positive view of ourselves
Though we all have failures in our repertoire, we usually keep quiet about them. Not a Princeton professor, who recently shared his resume of failures on Twitter for the world to see. It includes sections titled “Degree programs I did not get into,” “Research funding I did not get” and “Paper rejections from academic journals.”
Why did he do it? “Most of what I try fails, but these failures are often invisible, while the successes are visible. I have noticed this sometimes gives others the impression that most things work out for me,” stated the Princeton professor. Our world is filled with continual revelations of political figures, pastors and other leaders who have succumbed to personal failure. As long as we compare ourselves to these fallen individuals, we look good to ourselves. But how good are we?
Our major concern should be with inner purity. Solomon writes, “All the ways of a person appear to be pure in his own eyes.” The word Solomon uses for “pure” (זָך) is a term that describes the quality of the oil used along with the sacrifices in the Temple or the anointing oil. Thus, “zak” (זָך) speaks of purity or being clear. The best! Solomon says that this is often how people see themselves.
As long as we don’t focus on our failures we are quite pleased with our lives. How easy it is to explain away our behavior so we can maintain a false view of the spiritual condition of our hearts. But God sees through our self-deception.
Our biggest deception is basing inner purity on our own standards. Solomon inserts the phrase “in his own eyes” (בְּעֵינָ֑יו). The person easily deceived about his inner goodness is self-scammed because he is using his own standard for assessing his inner morality.
To ourselves, we fail to see any blemishes or spots in our moral conscience. Yet Solomon warns that when we view ourselves as pure or clear in our own eyes, be careful.
Maybe we can fool others into believing we are truly a good person by evaluating ourselves according to our own moral standards. Yet we answer to a greater authority who sees past our self-scamming. Once we bring God into the picture everything changes.
Still we are persuaded by our own reasoning and attempts at justification to believe we’re not “that bad.” For example, we pat ourselves on the back because we never told off that store clerk who would not refund our money. Yet our heart was seething with hostility and wanted to curse the person out. Because we did not go through with our inner desires, we draw the conclusion that we are innocent in our own eyes.
But are we really? Are we being honest with ourselves if we only judge our moral character by our outward actions? Is there another standard we are ignoring?
We all end up without excuse for our inner lives before God
The 2016 presidential election has brought forth several unforgettable comments by the candidates on both sides of the aisle. Unfortunately, outspoken Republican candidate Donald Trump has provided the press a feeding frenzy with his hot off the press comments.
In July 2015 at an event sponsored by the Family Leadership Summit in Ames, Iowa, at a Q & A moderated by Frank Luntz, Mr. Trump was questioned whether he has ever asked God for forgiveness.
Donald’s response was telltale of his perspective on Christianity, “I am not sure I have. I just go on and try to do a better job from there. I don’t think so,” he said. He continued: “I think if I do something wrong, I think, I just try and make it right. I don’t bring God into that picture. I don’t.” To give Mr. Trump credit, he does display a sense of repentance when he speaks of “trying to do better. ”
Sadly, Mr. Trump’s perspective on forgiveness lacks an understanding of finding forgiveness of sins under the biblical umbrella of truth.
For someone to not recall a time when they sought God for forgiveness is descriptive of a person who appears to only evaluate themselves according to their own standards or “in their own eyes.” A genuine Christian knows they must bring God into the picture to find pardon.
The remainder of Proverbs 16:2 is helpful for all individuals who have no other standard for inner sincerity than themselves
The Lord must be brought into the picture The Hebrew in the remainder of the verse can be translated, “and the one who weighs our spirits is the LORD”. The placing of “” (יהוה) at the end of the sentence is meant to be climactic. The one we ultimately answer to is none other than God Himself.
When God is part of our self-examination, we are kept from self-deception. If a person stops with the beginning of Proverbs 16:2, he is open to entertaining a false view of self. Yet God is the one who sees what’s in our hearts.
This is why I often write we need someone greater than ourselves to answer to. Otherwise, we live in our own sphere lacking the wisdom of One who knows us better than we know ourselves.
The Lord is in the business of weighing our hearts. The Hebrew term for “weigh” (וְתֹכֵ֖ן) is often used in Proverbs to apply to measuring out items purchased in the marketplace. In our hearts we may believe ourselves to be correct in a certain situation. But the LORD is the one who sees the finger we put on the scales as we try to fool others into thinking our actions are correct.
But do we truly want this kind of inner scrutiny? To escape the danger of delusion, we have no other option than to place our lives in the light of God’s word and possess a desire for the Spirit of God to penetrate our hearts (Psalm 139:23). The result is a greater self-knowledge, free of self induced delusion.
The LORD focuses His evaluation on our spirits (רוּח֣וֹת). I find it fascinating Solomon chose to use a marketplace term to apply to weighing something that is intangible-our spirits (רוּח֣וֹת).
How do you weigh someone’s spirit? In other words, you can’t. The focus on God’s evaluation in this proverb is not solely on the “ways” or the outward actions of a person. Rather, He peers into our motives and intentions. He views “why” we behave a certain way.
Mark this well: We cannot peer into the secrets and motives of a person’s heart. We do not know if a man’s kindness to his female business colleague is purely for the sake of climbing the corporate ladder or he is someone with a sexual agenda.
We can only suspect and make observations. Yet we cannot accuse and assess others with finality on issues that are hidden from our eyes. How can we discern the motives of the hearts of others, when apart from God, we have trouble discerning our own hearts?
God forbid we should enter into God’s sphere and speak with authority about another person’s inner motives. Unless their words betray their intentions and expose their hearts, we need to entrust that other person to the Lord.
In April 2016, Harper’s Magazine published a story about a Jay Miscovich, who discovered in the Florida Keys what he claimed were hundreds of emeralds from a Spanish shipwreck that went down in 1622. Jay’s samples and claims that he’d found masses of emeralds that were still out there were estimated to be worth a half billion dollars.
With the advice of lawyers, and jewel experts, millions of investment dollars were collected from private individuals, wall street managers, and a company specifically set up to protect this enormous find. In the end, the world discovered Jay Miscovich’s entire story was manufactured. He made it all up, including deliberately “seeding” the ocean floor with emeralds he’d bought on the market.
Face it, we live in a world of scammers. They are everywhere. On our cellphones with robo calls. In our emails with attempts to phish our personal information. Yet the greatest scammer is our own human heart.
We scam ourselves by not being truthful. Where there is sin or impurity we sprinkle jewels of excuses and dishonesty to avoid having to face the truth. Lest we fall victim to our own scam regarding ourselves, God Himself is the ultimate fact checker about how we genuinely appear before Him. Only He can accept our confession of sin, a commitment to repent and grant us forgiveness to start living a life of inner honesty.