Parents you must teach from your heart to your children’s hearts. If your combination of biblical commands and applied wisdom centers on your personal convenience and preferences your instruction will lack power. It will only serve to provoke your children to anger.
Remember, wisdom is the skill of applying God’s truth to everyday life situations. The father in Proverbs 7 took God’s truth and skillfully applied it to the sexual temptations that he knew his son would face. By contrast, rules learned by rote have no chance of defeating sexual temptation. The instruction that Proverbs 4 & 7 insists upon takes time, skill, preparation, prayer, and a heart for God. You must know the relational climate of your children’s world so that you can speak wisdom into that world. The father in Proverbs 7 knew exactly how sexual temptation would present itself to his son. He tailored his words to match the temptation. You must do no less.
In contrast, legalism laughs at the precise proactive measures of Proverbs 4:24-27. But, the Holy Spirit knows that the mouth, eyes and feet have a direct connection to the heart. Faithful obedience from the heart protects the heart.
Legalism has given obedience a bad name. Legalism is an unthinking approach to the Christian life, as in “give me some rules to follow and I won’t have to think, just do.” It is easy to utter a rule. It takes a relationship of love to nurture obedience. Legalism is a shortcut to obedience. This kind of thinking is condemned through out Scripture. Isaiah 29:13 offers a clear definition and denunciation of legalism:
And so the Lord says,
“These people say they are mine.
They honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
And their worship of me
is nothing but man-made rules learned by rote.
Legalism bypasses the heart in favor of performance. But man-made rules offer no protection for the heart. Rather, legalism savages the heart. As Colossians 2:23 says, these rules “are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.” There is no safety in merely keeping rules.
These directions at the end of Proverbs 4 assume a heart connection. In verse 24 perverse and corrupt talk is seen as a danger to the heart. These words attack and weaken the heart. Verse 25 warns that the eyes must be focused on what is the straight path rather than the one that deviates from truth. Finally, verses 26 and 27 urge that careful thought be given to where your feet travel. The Holy Spirit knows that bad company corrupts good character.
Legalism offers rules to tell you what you shouldn’t see, what you shouldn’t say and where shouldn’t walk. Obedience says look, see, and walk in ways that will protect your heart and your love for God.
24 Keep your mouth free of perversity;
keep corrupt talk far from your lips.
25 Let your eyes look straight ahead;
fix your gaze directly before you.
26 Give careful thought to the paths for your feet
and be steadfast in all your ways.
27 Do not turn to the right or the left;
keep your foot from evil.