Do you know what it means to be "vigilant"? In the simplest sense it means we are so watchful over something that danger cannot ever "creep up" on us. Most times, we don't find "danger" just coming up on us in the spur of the moment, as when a car comes speeding down on us from the wrong side of the road, in course with the front end of our car. Most of the time, we find "danger" creeps in - little by little, until we are almost consumed by the danger without really having noticed its approach.
Keep vigilant watch over your heart; that’s where life starts. Don’t talk out of both sides of your mouth; avoid careless banter, white lies, and gossip. Keep your eyes straight ahead; ignore all sideshow distractions. Watch your step, and the road will stretch out smooth before you. Look neither right nor left; leave evil in the dust. (Proverbs 4:23-27 MSG)
Think of carbon monoxide poisoning. Most people who use natural gas in their homes know pilot lights can "go out", causing the escape of small amounts of the dangerous gas. The result if a colorless, odorless, and tasteless substance building up in our homes until we may be so overcome by the fumes as to pass out - without notice, we are in danger and often overcome! The concept of things "creeping up" and maybe even the idea of "creeping in" carries equal importance when we consider the things we might find about ready to overtake us - as unrecognized dangers in our lives!
Solomon tells us to remain vigilant - keeping a vigilant watch over our hearts. The heart being the seat of our emotions, he is reminding us of the importance of keeping our emotions - having some "checks and balances" as it applies to our emotions. Too heavy on the fear side and we will realize our actions stop. Too light on the doubt side and we might just plunge ahead into things which could bring us great pain and damage in our lives. Even the "negative" emotions have significant importance in our lives. Without fear or doubt, we'd never "question" the position some situation might put us in, or the damages which may come as a result of plunging full-speed ahead.
Looking again at our passage, you will see Solomon outlines some "places" in our lives where vigilance is necessary - where we can be overcome by the dangers ahead if we are not totally careful in our moving forward! First, he tells us to learn to be truthful. Talking out of both sides of your mouth is really an idiom meaning we say different things to different people about the same subject. It is like we say one thing to person "A" and another to "B". Why? We might be playing sides. We could be unwilling to tell someone how we really feel about the idea - so we say what we think the other will want to hear. Either way, it is a dangerous place to be. When we talk from both sides of our mouth, one side will eventually bring trouble into our lives!
Second, he tells us to avoid careless banter. Playful remarks and teasing may all be kind of fun at times, but a lifestyle of this type of talk can leave us with emotionally bankrupt relationships! We just won't form the solid relationships where the heart is free to be opened and shared. We will find ourselves having a little fun, but not really having the depth of relationship which gets us through the tough times - such as when we need the counsel of a wise friend to help us sort through tough emotional weight. It is good to have fun, but not at the expense of another, or as a continual means of communicating.
Next, there is the warning to not engage in the "white lies" society so freely tells each other. As I explored this one in the dictionary of idioms, it came as no surprise to me to find the following definition: An often trivial, diplomatic, or well-intentioned untruth. Many will debate the position of the value of white lies. Look at the definition - it may SEEM trivial, but enough "white lies" and it may become quite hard to "back-peddle" when they begin to crumble in around you! No lie is trivial. No amount of "political correctness" is going to avoid all levels of discomfort in life! We can try to "skirt" the issues with the "white lies", but eventually the issue will come to a head!
To this, Solomon adds for us to avoid gossip. If you see the progression here, you will recognize he tells us to be vigilant for the little things which, left unchecked, will amount to bigger dangers down the road. The first four things he tells us have to do with the words which come from our mouth!!! Ouch! Why all the emphasis on our words? Simply because there is absolutely NO truth to the old adage "sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me"! Words matter - - - plain and simple! Gossip is meddling in the business of others. Somehow we think we have it all figured out and are free to talk about the issues of another - but we often don't have all the facts, understanding of the heart of the other, and we lack the perspective of seeing the bigger picture.
Now, Solomon turns us to our actions. Dangers come into our lives when we get distracted, don't they? We take our eyes off the road for just a moment to read the text message, not seeing the "drift" of our vehicle into the next lane. We take a misstep, stumbling and twisting our ankle, just because we were gawking at something "over there". Distractions are anything at all which "divide" our attention. Solomon is now focusing on the mind. To the warning to keep our emotions in check and our words under control, he adds for us to focus our minds! Be attentive. Be on alert. Don't allow drift!
Last, but definitely not least, he adds some advice on who we keep company with. He tells us to leave evil in the dust. It is almost the same thing we are told in the New Testament when we see repeated warnings to flee the evil desires of youth (2 Timothy 2:22), flee idolatry (I Corinthians 10:14), flee sexual immorality (1 Corinthians 6:18), and the like. There is a purposeful "leaving" of the stuff which easily entangles us! We don't stick around to see how things come out - we book buns in the other direction!
Just some thoughts from Solomon today. Hope they give us some food for thought about the dangers which we need to remain vigilant to avoid!