Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC) Sermon # 1407
August 11, 2019 Acts 16.6-15
Dr. Ed Pettus
(This is an extended outline, not a verbatim transcript.)
“With All My Heart”
6 And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. 7 And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. 8 So, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas. 9 And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10 And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them. 11 So, setting sail from Troas, we made a direct voyage to Samothrace, and the following day to Neapolis, 12 and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city some days. 13 And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to the riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer, and we sat down and spoke to the women who had come together. 14 One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. 15 And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us.
Things of the Heart
We have a multitude of sayings about the heart. We say things like, “she has a big heart”. “He has a heart of gold.” “It breaks my heart to see that.” When we were kids we might have said, “cross my heart and hope to die”, when making a promise. Your heart might be in the right place or you might want to get to the heart of the matter or your heart might skip a beat. All of these, and there are many more, mean more than what is said literally. They express feelings or impressions or characteristics. We use the term heart to describe things about life and emotion and especially in our culture, love.
As I was writing these thoughts down I thought about a Psalm that I sometimes use when I’m at a gathering with believers and non-believers (or perhaps nominal believers) and they ask me to pray. It is Psalm 104.14-15
You cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth and wine to gladden the heart of man, oil to make his face shine and bread to strengthen man's heart.
I shorten it a bit with just the lines of thanks for bread to strengthen our hearts and wine to gladden the heart. I know it’s a bit of a gamble as some might take it as a license to drink too much, but perhaps the Lord will suggest to them it’s a reason to read the Bible! If nothing else, for our purposes this morning, it is another passage about the heart. In this case it is literally about the physical heart, at least through the sake of bread to bring strength. On another level it might express something of our emotional or spiritual life in making us glad with wine. That invisible organization “they” says that a glass of wine is good for the physical body once in a while...they say…
Today I want to talk about things of the heart. It is a huge topic throughout the Scriptures. It is certainly a huge concern in our lives and culture and society, physically and spiritually and emotionally. I’m not huge on statistics, but I did some checking around on the number of times the heart is mentioned in the Bible. I also compared that to other terms like mind and soul. We often gather those terms together, heart, mind, and soul. There are 862 references to the heart in Bible, OT – 687, NT – 175. You might think there are quite a few about the mind as well. There are 139 references to the mind OT – 64, NT – 75. Well, certainly the soul must be a larger topic in Scripture – 271 references to the soul OT – 228, NT – 43. 862 references to the heart, 139 to the mind, 271 to the soul. I don’t know what to make of those numbers except to say the heart greatly exceeds mind and soul.
A Listening Heart
Today we will look at a few passages, some in detail, others briefly. Let’s travel back to our first reading today, 1 Kings 3.3-9. Solomon was already very discerning even before he asked God for understanding. Notice what Solomon does first after asked what he would want from God.
6 And Solomon said, “You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant David my father, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you. And you have kept for him this great and steadfast love and have given him a son to sit on his throne this day. 7 And now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of David my father, although I am but a little child. I do not know how to go out or come in. 8 And your servant is in the midst of your people whom you have chosen, a great people, too many to be numbered or counted for multitude.
The first thing he does is recognize what God has already done. First, God has shown great and steadfast love. It is a deep love, one that too many people dismiss from the Old Testament. This is the love of John 3.16, the love that is of God from the beginning to the end. God has shown David, Solomon’s father His steadfast love and God kept this love going throughout David’s life and even into Solomon’s life. We also recognize that this is from the heart of God. It’s where we talk about love all the time, from the heart. Second, God has chosen a people. Verse 8 notes that Solomon is in the midst of God’s great chosen people. It is God who chooses and God who loves. I would suggest it is all out of God’s deep love from the heart.
Solomon asks for an understanding mind (3.8) as it is rendered in the ESV. Other translations use a variety of terms. The literal translation is closest to listening heart. The word for listening is Shema, which is the same word used in the great Hebrew Shema, “Hear, O Israel…” from Deuteronomy 6.4. Remember that Shema in Hebrew means to hear and obey. Solomon is asking God for the capacity to govern by listening with the heart. The Hebrew is Shema Lev. Shema - to listen, lev - the heart. The Hebrew word is about the heart or the inner man, the mind, or the will. This is the kind of listening that carries the weight of obedience. It is a listening that brings with it understanding to direct the will. Solomon seeks to rule with God’s heart, with God’s wisdom, with obedience, with rightful hearing, with a particular discernment. What he asks carries with it many of those attributes that make for a great king and a great servant. Solomon seeks to be a king who governs with the capacity to hear his people, to know them, to seriously feel their pain and celebrate their joy. He wants to discern God’s will, to listen for God’s voice, to obey God’s will, and have an understanding in order to do his best at his position. Solomon seeks a listening heart. This is a characteristic of great leadership, to listen to the depths of who we are and to respond from the heart of who we are. Just imagine if our public officials sought to govern as Solomon did! What a greater nation we would be if all our representatives sought a listening heart.
1. A listening heart is a much needed and much welcomed gift for all of God’s people. We have much to discern in our time. Issues of the day in the world are disturbing and sometimes complex. There is one place and one God to whom we must turn first, the God of the Bible. We first pray to God for discernment, for the heart and mind that listens to God’s word and in that Word which we trust as the final authority on all things. Biblically, the heart is the controlling voice of authority. That voice needs to be guided by God’s Word.
2. The listening heart is a disposition about life that knows the importance of silence, of hearing, of paying close attention, of being a non-anxious presence, something like renewing the mind (Rom 12.1-2). It is the heart that loves God wholly and completely. It is a listening that is obedient and attuned to God’s Word.
3. The listening heart is about discernment. Discernment has become so vital to the decisions we are called to make in our modern world. It’s always been that way as the world and Satan have always sought to influence believers in the way apart from God and His Word. Take up the Word of God first and foremost. Part of knowing that God has already given us a listening heart is in understanding the Bible. Does the gospel make sense to you? Does most of the Bible make sense to you? Yes, for the most part, certainly the saving gospel makes sense to us or we would not be here right now. It makes sense to you. You know it is truth. And you know it is truth because the Spirit has opened your listening heart to believe just as He opened Lydia’s heart in Acts 16.
Now turn with me to Acts 16. The apostle Paul had a vision. A vision. What is this? I don’t know if I’ve ever had a vision like I imagine this vision. Luke says that the vision came during the night. Was Paul asleep? Was this a dream vision? During the night Paul had a vision. Maybe Paul could not sleep and as he was counting sheep something else caught his eye. A vision. Maybe Paul indeed had insomnia, after all, Luke says the spirit of Jesus had just prevented them from going to Bithynia. If I thought the spirit of Jesus had prevented me from going places I might stay awake at night too. Would you? A vision. Perhaps Paul was hoping and praying for just such a vision. “Well Jesus, if you won’t let me go to Bithynia, then where do you want me to go?” When the doors are closing for one direction or another I begin to wonder which direction to take. I think maybe that’s why men never stop for directions, we are just waiting for Jesus to give us a vision!
Paul’s vision is of a man from Macedonia. “Come over to Macedonia and help us,” the man in the vision says. Now what does Paul do? “Hey guys, I just had a vision that we are called to go to Macedonia.” They stepped out in faith. They believed the vision to be of God and off they went.
They set sail and eventually end up in Neapolis, modern day Kavala. Neapolis was and is a port city, busied with people, settled down at the base of the mountain that overlooks the sea and nearby islands. They travel inland to Philippi, an important city in the region. There they spend a few days, visiting the marketplace, learning about the area, the people, the town’s layout. Sometime during the week they hear about a place of prayer down by the river. “It is not a very long walk,” someone tells them, “those people go down there to pray.” Paul probably asked about a synagogue, but there wasn’t one. Not enough Jews around, couldn’t pay for a Rabbi anyway, so they just meet at the river on the Sabbath. That sounds pretty good though, down by the riverside, praying, fellowship, maybe a story or two told. Luke says it this way, “we went outside the gate to the riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer.” The Greek word implies a custom of prayer.
It is the Sabbath, early in the morning and the travelers set out for the site just outside the city gates. Come to find out there is a place of prayer and there are some women there. Paul leads the way, sits on a large rock…
“Is this the place of prayer we have heard about?”
“Yes, we come here on the Sabbath to pray.”
“To whom do you pray?”
“To the God of our fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”
None of this is in Acts, of course, a lot gets lost in translation! What might Paul have said? Certainly he preached Christ to the women who had gathered. How did Lydia and the women respond? Were they surprised on this Sabbath day to have a preacher among them? “Jesus is Lord.” I’m sure Paul would have said that somewhere along the way.
Something happened to Lydia. Did you hear that? Something happened to her. “The Lord opened her heart to pay attention.” The Lord takes the initiative. The Lord opens. The Lord does it. It is not Lydia who opens her heart to hear Paul’s words, but the Lord. I believe it was the Lord who opened her heart to go to the river to pray. The Lord opened her heart to receive baptism. The Lord opened her heart to show hospitality to Paul and his friends.
God is in the business of opening hearts. The Lord opened Paul’s heart as well. Open to see a vision, open to obedience, open to travel, open to proclaim the gospel. It is all God’s doing – not Paul’s, not Lydia’s, but God’s.
This passage has a special place in my heart because when I traveled to Greece in 2002, the day I was chosen to give the devotion was on this spot believed to be where Paul met Lydia. I remember when we were driving down the mountain to Kavala, we could see the port and one of the leaders of our group remarked, “Can’t you just see Paul stepping out of a boat on to the shore?” The next day I was standing down by the same river in Acts 16, just outside the ancient ruins of Philippi. Now this place is marked with a Baptistry dedicated to Lydia. I was the only participant in the program who got to preach on a site where Paul preached. Most of the devotional times were in the hotels. We were all so inspired by the site itself, I really did not have to say anything. It was like the Lord had opened our hearts just by being there.
It is not our work to open our hearts. All that Lydia did was show up for worship and prayer. All we have to do is show up; God will do the rest! That is what God does, opening hearts to hear, experience, see, and embrace the incredible grace and love that God gives us everyday.
God gave Lydia the same gift He gave Solomon, a listening heart. Her heart was opened to pay attention, to listen.
The Heart in Scripture
I mentioned before the number of times the heart is referenced in Scripture. I just want to run through a few of those with some comment.
Let me first point out that I was surprised by how many times the hearts is in Deuteronomy. It’s the fourth most, behind Psalms, Proverbs, and Jeremiah!
Lay it to your heart! What a great way to talk about convincing yourself that there is no God like our God. Lay it to your heart! I think of memorizing it, trusting it completely, and living life knowing this is truth.
Joshua 24.23 He said, “Then put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your heart to the Lord, the God of Israel.”
How do we live among the cultural gods of our nation? Incline our hearts to the Lord! Lean on Him, trust in Him, and
Ezra 7.10 For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the Lord, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel.
Be determined and intentional, in your heart, about studying God’s Word and obeying it. Enough said!
Psalm 51.10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.
This is a part of the prayer of confession in Psalm 51, the desire to have a clean heart. To be forgiven of sin. Sin can infest the heart and only God can clean it out!
Matt 9.4 But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts?
If we looked back at 1 Kings 3 and saw that the ESV speaks of Solomon asking for an understanding mind, yet the literal translation is for a listening heart, I think this question in Matthew 9 helps us see that thoughts and mindset are often linked to the heart. Why do you think evil in your hearts? It may be why the translators used understanding mind in place of listening heart, because we can indeed “think” with our hearts.
It is a similar thought in Matthew 13.15 where people no longer understand with their hearts, For this people's heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.’
Paul gives us a great prayer which also goes along the lines of the knowing heart, listening heart, enlightened heart. Ephesians 1.16-18 says, “I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints.”
I would encourage you to look up the word heart in a concordance or online at a Bible concordance and visit some of the 862 passages that include the heart!
With All My Heart
I want to conclude with some passages about the heart in relationship to love. The first is about God’s love.
John 3.16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
These are expressions of the heart, the deepest love we will ever know.
We are asked to respond to such love with our own hearts. Mark 12.28-30
“Which commandment is the most important of all?” 29 Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
The heart can be as much a mystery as anything else we know. It can lead to great love but also to great evils. It can express beauty or bring pain. God is at work in our hearts to wash away sin, to turn it from stone to flesh, to create in us clean hearts for love and grace and compassion and hope. In the Scripture we see how the heart is associated with listening, with thinking, with obedience, and with love. I think the heart represents all our being, all our devotion, all our love and desire and hope and energy, all we are! Let us give our hearts over to the Lord that He may enlightened us to see all that God has for us and that we may discern God’s Word by listening and obeying and loving. Amen.