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Soften Your Heart and Harden Your Feet

Proverbs 17:9

Soften your heart towards others

If you have a heart softened by God, you will inevitably demonstrate love towards others. Our aim should be to live a life that ‘promotes love’ (v.9a).

1. Love the poor

Your attitude to the poor reflects your attitude to God: ‘Whoever mocks the poor shows contempt for their Maker’ (v.5a). As God’s people we are called to friendship with and service of the poor.

2. Love your family

God’s ideal is for you to enjoy close and loving relationships between parents, grandparents and children: ‘Children’s children are a crown to the aged, and parents are the pride of their children’ (v.6).

3. Love your friends

Love between close friends is extremely valuable. Guard your friendships. Do not quickly take offence or bear a grudge: ‘Overlook an offense and bond a friendship; fasten on to a slight and – good-bye, friend!’ (v.9, MSG).

4. Love your critics

Jesus told us, ‘Love your enemies’ (Matthew 5:44). A soft heart is willing to take criticism, whether it comes from a friend or even from an ‘enemy’. ‘A rebuke impresses a discerning person more than a hundred lashes a fool’ (Proverbs 17:10).

Do your utmost to avoid arguments: ‘Starting a quarrel is like breaching a dam; so drop the matter before a dispute breaks out’ (v.14).

Lord, help me to love like this. Help me to guard my relationships in my family, with my friends, and with my critics. Help me to love the poor and make a real difference in their lives.

Romans 2:25–29

Soften your heart towards God

It does not matter what is happening on the outside if we do not have a ‘soft heart’. Here, Paul looks at the importance of the heart. He explains that it was intended that the Jews, God’s chosen people, should walk in a relationship with God. So they were given the law. They knew God’s will (2:17–18). They were meant to be ‘a guide for the blind, a light for those who are in the dark, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of infants’ (vv.19–20).

Physical circumcision was the outward and visible sign intended to reflect the inward and invisible attitude of the heart. Paul argues that sadly they (like us all) have failed to keep God’s law (vv.21–27).

Paul then focuses on what really matters: ‘You become a Jew by who you are. It’s the mark of God on your heart, not of a knife on your skin that makes a Jew. And recognition comes from God, not legalistic critics’ (v.29, MSG).

What matters to God is the heart. Every person who has the Holy Spirit living in their heart receives the same inheritance as the Jews did in the Old Testament. This includes every true Christian.

Does this mean that there is no value to what the Jews had been given? No. He points out that there are great advantages to being Jewish. For example, ‘they have been entrusted with the very words of God’ (3:2). What an amazing privilege! However, you now not only have the words of God in the Scriptures they had, you also have the words of Jesus and the whole of the rest of the New Testament. You have an even greater advantage.

Later on in Romans, he will expound this at greater length (Romans 9–11). Meanwhile, he digresses to deal with an argument his opponents have levelled against him (3:3–8). He stresses again God’s faithfulness. Even when we are faithless, God remains faithful to us. It would be absurd to take advantage of this by doing evil. Rather God’s faithfulness encourages us to be faithful to him.

Lord, fill my heart today with your Spirit, with love and compassion for every person I meet. Thank you that you have entrusted us with the very words of God. Help me to be faithful to you today.

Amos 2:6b–7a

Harden your feet to help the poor and needy

A soft heart must lead to hard feet, with God’s people prepared to act on behalf of the poor and vulnerable, to fight against injustice and stand up for the oppressed.

This was a time (760–750 BC) of great prosperity for Israel and Judah. But material prosperity is not always a sign of God’s blessing. At this time, it had resulted in complacency, corruption, immorality and terrible injustice.

Amos was a prophet. But he was not a priest or an ordained minister. He stayed in his workplace – a sheep breeder, who was unimpressed by prosperity, power and position. He was a defender of the downtrodden poor and an accuser of the privileged rich who were using God’s name to legitimise injustice and oppression.

Like the apostle Paul, Amos proclaims God’s judgment against both non-religious and religious.

He starts with the non-religious who ‘sin apart from the law’. Israel’s neighbours had committed terrible sins. They are condemned for their excessive cruelty and horrible torture (1:3), for slavery and slave trading (v.6), for ‘stifling all compassion’ (v.11), for ripping open pregnant women (v.13) and for desecrating the dead (2:1). Amos speaks of God’s wrath at such terrible sins (1:3,6,9,11,13).

Amos and Paul (Romans 1:18–20) both argue for a ‘natural law’. Even if they did not have the written law of God, there is a ‘natural law’ – ‘written on their hearts’ (2:15). They know that certain things are wrong. This was effectively the basis upon which the Nazi leaders were condemned at the Nuremberg trials after the Second World War.

Amos, like Paul (2:12), goes on to say that God’s people who have the written law will be judged by an even stricter standard. Amos turns from judgment of the Gentiles to judgment of Judah and Israel because ‘they rejected God’s revelation, refused to keep my commands’ (Amos 2:4, MSG).

Although God had acted on their behalf – ‘I was always on your side’ (v.9, MSG) – they failed to keep his laws. In particular, the issue that matters to God is their attitude to the poor and needy. Their hearts had become hard. ‘People for them are only things – ways of making money. They’d sell a poor man for a pair of shoes. They’d sell their own grandmother! They grind the penniless into the dirt, shove the luckless into the ditch’ (vv.6c–7b, MSG). They are also guilty of slavery and sexual sin (v.7c).

While all this is going on, ‘stuff they’ve extorted from the poor is piled up at the shrine of their god, while they sit around drinking wine they’ve conned from their victims’ (v.8, MSG).

The sins of God’s people are not as horrific as those of the non-religious. Yet the judgment against them is as severe (vv.13,16) because God has blessed them so richly (vv.10–11). We are not to congratulate ourselves that our sins are less than others. Our sins may be less obvious, but they may be as great in God’s sight. Thank God for the forgiveness and grace that we receive through Jesus.

Lord, give us soft hearts of compassion and love for the issues of extreme poverty and injustice in our world – and hard feet and courage to go out and do something about it.

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