“Now the purpose of the commandment is love from a pure heart, from a good conscience, and from sincere faith.” 1 Timothy 1:5

This verse seems to be one of the best distillations of all that God teaches about the spiritually healthy heart. The heart is the seat of the emotions, will, and intellect of every man. It is a source of great mystery. Spiritually speaking, God teaches that our heart is fallen, “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it? I, the LORD, search the heart, I test the mind, even to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his doings (Jeremiah 17:9–10).” The heart is who you are, in your “heart of hearts” (the innermost personal recognition of reality, deepest feeling).

When you cut down a tree and observe the growth rings you can see various structures within the wood. In some trees it is easy to discern the difference between the sapwood, where all the growing is going on, and the heartwood, where the oldest tissue of the tree resides. The tree does well until something gets to the heartwood and begins to hollow out the heart of the tree. The tree’s structure fails when the heartwood is not kept intact. No wonder Solomon advises, “Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life (Proverbs 4:23).”

Since it is vital to protect the heart, it makes sense to find out what exactly is a heart, and how do we assure ourselves our own heart is pure? I find it is an interesting exercise to consider all the words that come from a particular root word in order to understand the central idea of the root word. We use such terms as heart-felt, heart-rending, heart-sick, and heart’s-ease to describe various emotional responses to things we hear and feel deep within. We may say someone “has his heart in the right place” in order to say a person was well-intentioned. We have “heart-to-heart” talks when we are able to speak candidly, intimately, and frankly so that we understand each other. We may take someone’s critical observations “to heart” in such a conversation and give serious consideration to another point of view. This may lead to “heart-searching” allowing even troubling thoughts to have a voice within. As the truth becomes evident in your heart of hearts you can restructure your behavior “with all your heart” in complete sincerity, devotion, and will, then pursue a different course with “heart and soul” (determination and enthusiasm)!

Not to mention heartless (lacking in spirit, courage, enthusiasm, kindness; unfeeling and pitiless) heartily (friendly, sincere, zest, enthusiasm, vigor), hearten (cheer up, encourage, strengthen), or hearty (characterized by warmth and friendliness, sincere and not constrained, satisfying and abundant, comrade and a fellow—like fellow sailors from days of old). With all this richness of meaning it does not do to approach getting to know your heart half-heartedly! There is no halfway measure found in Psalm 84:2: “My soul longs, yes, even faints for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.”

Though the definition of the heart is the seat of the emotions, will, and intellect of man, such a definition fails to capture the depth of emotion, the strength of will, and the intense thinking that goes on when someone is serious about the issues of the heart. Now a firmer understanding of Romans 10:9–10 is within your grasp, “That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.”

Just as the heartwood must remain intact for a tree to stand the storm, so every believer must make it his resolve to enthusiastically grow strong in the Lord and heartily obey Him. Three times David states his resolve to follow God with all he has in Psalm 119:10, 69, and 145. “With my whole heart I have sought You; oh, let me not wander from Your commandments,” “I will keep Your precepts with my whole heart,” and “I cry out with my whole heart; hear me, O LORD! I will keep Your statutes!”

Our text from 1 Timothy 1 begins to take the role of the heart in a believer and make it practical. You see the commandment to love fulfilled from the heart, conscience, and faith. Taken in reverse order, you see the practical chronological order of how obedience takes root in a newborn saint. From the energizing of genuine faith (Hebrews 10:22), the regulating of a cleansed conscience activates (Hebrews 9:22, 10:14), and the total freedom of action form a pure heart to pursue the commandment to love God (2 Timothy 2:22, 1 Peter 1:22). Then when purity of heart fails along the believer’s pilgrimage on earth, freedom in service suffers; the regulator kicks in and the good conscience begins to turn plagued and threatening, draining the energy of obedience, and the saint must return to investigate the integrity of his faith and sincerity of his love—returning to his first love (Revelation 2:4).

God’s will for His children has never changed: “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind…. You shall love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37ff).” All believers would do well to tend to the integrity of their heartwood and enthusiastically, whole-heartedly serve God. Trust and obey.