What does it mean to "circumsise your heart"?
And now, O Israel, what does the LORD your God ask of you but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the LORD's commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good?
To the LORD your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it. Yet the LORD set his affection on your forefathers and loved them, and he chose you, their descendants, above all the nations, as it is today. Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer. For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing. And you are to love those who are aliens, for you yourselves were aliens in Egypt. Fear the LORD your God and serve him. Hold fast to him and take your oaths in his name. He is your praise; he is your God, who performed for you those great and awesome wonders you saw with your own eyes. Your forefathers who went down into Egypt were seventy in all, and now the LORD your God has made you as numerous as the stars in the sky.
Jews were circumcised. In fact, one could not be a Jew and be uncircumcised. So even when a new adult Gentile converted to the faith of Israel, they were circumcised. It was part of the covenant Abraham had made with God. They would cut off the loose foreskin at the end of the penis. This was done in a ritual usually performed at a ceremony called brit milah when the boy is 8-days old. The ritual established a covenant between God and the individual. It was part of their identity as God’s covenant people.
But in this passage the writer instructs God’s people not just to circumcise their penis, but to circumcise your hearts. I think this means a couple things. First of all it says to me that being God’s children, being part of God’s covenant is about more than the way we look. It means that it isn’t good enough to just change one part of your body, you must also change your hearts… the inside. If we are to love those who are the least, the last, the little, and the lost, then we must change our hearts toward them. We can’t be stiff-necked, as it says in Deuteronomy. We can’t be cold, distant, or hard-hearted toward those who need our love and care. We must change our hearts.
Another point about what it means to circumcise our hearts, I think comes from what happens at circumcision. When my son Wesley was born I asked the doctor if I could watch his circumcision. Unfortunately that couldn’t happen because of hospital rules but the doctor explained in detail the procedure. Generally speaking, what happens is that during a circumcision the doctor cuts off the loose foreskin and pulls the skin back and then puts everything back together in a new shape.
This I believe is what must happen to our hearts. If we are to have circumcised hearts, we must allow the Spirit to cut off the loose areas of hearts. In a boy’s circumcision the foreskin, the part that is cut off, is discarded. Upon coming to God, there are parts of heart that must be cut off and discarded. We have to get rid of our hate, violent-tendency, lust, greed, pride, malice, discontent, prejudice and so much more. We have to take all of that and throw it away.
But also like male circumcision our circumcised hearts must take on a new shape upon discarding the old. If our hearts were shaped to love our stuff, then we must allow the Spirit to reshape our hearts to love God and others. If our hearts were shaped to regard people who are different as inferior, then we have to allow the Spirit to mold our hearts to recognize our own inferiority so that we can learn to love everyone. If our hearts were shaped to serve ourselves, we must allow the Spirit to reshape our hearts to serve others.
Our hearts are to be shaped so that we will serve those who cannot repay us. Jesus places a child before the disciples to prove his point. In the Old Testament we are told that we are to have a heart like God’s heart. What is God’s heart like you ask? Look again to the words of Deuteronomy. God’s heart is for the widow, the fatherless, the alien. God’s heart goes out to those who need. God serves those who cannot repay Him.
God is faithful to those who are faithful to Him and to each other. And God is the ultimate example of how we are to be.