Have you ever watched a film or read a book—perhaps a horror, a crime thriller, or even an action title involving some elaborate criminal scheme—and thought, who comes up with this stuff? Have you ever read or heard of some act of real-life wickedness and wondered, what kind of a mind imagined that?
None of this should surprise us, for the Bible tells us that the fallen human mind is capable of all sorts of grandiose wicked thoughts and imaginings. Before the flood, God lamented that “the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5). After the flood, God looked at Noah and his family and concluded that, essentially, little had changed: “The intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth” (Genesis 8:21). The human heart is basically wicked.
Scripture makes it clear that this is the nature of the human heart. God’s hatred of such wicked intentions is equally clear, for one of the seven things that the Lord specifically hates is “a heart that devises wicked plans” (Proverbs 6:18).
The basic meaning of these words is straightforward. The “heart” in the Bible is the core of the human person. It is from the heart that “the issues of life” flow (Proverbs 4:23, NKJV). “A heart that devises wicked plans” therefore speaks of a person who deliberately plans to act wickedly, who spends his time devising wickedness to perform. Solomon spoke of some who would even lose sleep if they had not had opportunity to perform wickedness (Proverbs 4:14–16). Wickedness is their food and drink (v. 17).
If this all sounds foreign to our own experience, let’s remember that we are very adept at excusing our sin. In this instance, we might be tempted to think that this sin only pertains to those who scheme elaborate or public acts of evil. In truth, we are all tempted in this way.
Solomon wrote, “Whoever plans to do evil will be called a schemer” (Proverbs 24:8), and if we are honest we will admit that we plan evil far more often that we would like to admit.
There are times when Christians just blatantly plan in disobedience to God. One area in which this is all too common is in romantic relationships. God clearly forbids believers from being unequally yoked to unbelievers, but sometimes a young Christian might simply ignore this command (and, often, godly counsel from others) and forge ahead with relationship and marriage plans, thereby literally devising wicked plans.
But it’s not only about blatant actions. Do you ever plan to say things that the Bible clearly forbids—to lie to your parents, to speak disrespectfully to or of your spouse, to gossip about the latest juicy titbit you just heard? The Bible is clear: “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up” (Ephesians 4:29). If you allow any corrupting speech to flow from your mouth, you have violated Ephesians 4:29, and if you have thought about it ahead of time, you are guilty of a heart that devises wicked plans. It doesn’t matter that you’re having a bad day, or are not feeling well, or woke up on the wrong side of the bed.
When we think of “a heart that devises wicked plans,” we might be tempted to think of deliberately planning to harm others—and that is certainly a major application of this truth. But an equally valid application would be failing to give due consideration to whether or not your actions will harm others. Paul tells us quite plainly, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility of mind to count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3–4). Being considerate of others in your actions—looking to their interests—is a Christlike attitude. Since we are commanded to be considerate of others, failure to do so is in some ways the same as deliberately planning to disregard others.
We are guilty of this sin when we condone wickedness, even if we do not partake in it. Paul condemns this attitude in Romans 1:32: “Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.” And what are the “things” that warrant death here? The list begins with idolatry and homosexuality, but also includes “all manner of unrighteousness”—covetousness, malice, envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice, gossip, slander, disobedience to parents, etc.
Teenagers, do you laugh when you see your friends disrespecting their parents? Social media users, do you approve of wickedness by liking/favouriting or sharing things that bring dishonour to Christ? Do you listen eagerly when someone wants to share the latest gossip about a fellow church member? Are you blasé about malicious talk and slander? If so, you are guilty of approving what God hates, and thereby of allowing your heart to devise wicked plans.
We are guilty of this sin when we give no thought to God in our plans. The Bible explicitly tells us: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths” (Proverbs 3:5–6). If you fail to acknowledge God in your planning, you are effectively planning to do what is wicked. James condemned those who boasted about future plans without giving a thought to God. “You ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that’” (James 4:13–17). He does not mean that we should thoughtlessly tack the words “God willing” to the end of every sentence, but that we should make plans with an attitude of acknowledgement of God’s rule. To not do so is to devise wicked plans.
These are some of the ways in which we can be guilty of displaying a heart that devises wicked plans. But how do we counter it? Let’s consider a few practicalities.
First, give deliberate thought to God’s will in your planning. As James says, “You ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.’” If you deliberately give thought to God’s will in your planning, you will not plan to do evil. What would God have you to do in any given circumstance? How can you best glorify God as you plan?
Second, seek counsel as you plan from those you trust as men and women of God. “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice” (Proverbs 15:22). Do you seek counsel before making decisions? This is particularly important when making big decisions (entering marriage, adopting a child, etc.), but seeking godly counsel is never unwise, regardless of how big or small the decision. “With those who take advice is wisdom” (Proverbs 13:10).
Third, deliberately set your mind on honourable, rather than dishonourable, things. As Paul put it, “Whatever is honourable … think about these things” (Philippians 4:8). If your mind is set on things that bring dishonour to the Lord, your actions will follow suit. In any given situation, deliberately think about how you can bring the most honour to God. For example, do you sense strain between you and your parents, children, siblings or spouse? Are you perhaps at odds with another church member—as Euodia and Syntyche were (Philippians 4:2ff)? Instead of thinking about how you can prove to be right and get your way, think about how you can honour the Lord—which may mean not getting your way! Are you tempted to visit a website you should not visit? Deliberately set your mind on God’s truth. Perhaps step away from the screen (or put down the device) and open your Bible and start reading. Do what you must to set your mind on God’s truth.
Finally, cultivate the mind, and imitate the life, of Jesus Christ, who planned to serve God in the things that he did. Jesus always did what was pleasing to his Father. And how did he know what was pleasing to the Father? Primarily by spending time in fellowship with the Father and by exposing himself to the truth of God. Jesus’ prayer life and his knowledge of Scripture impressed all who met him. And it was because of those things that he was able to honour God rather than allowing his heart to devise wicked plans.