The Father enjoined his child to put the “words,” “commandments” and “teaching” on the tablet of his heart (Proverbs 7:1-3, ESV). Though these three overlaps, they represent the three ways we get to have our hearts/souls inscribed.
Words (It’s about relationship)
The words of God are important because they are the basis of our relationship with him. We would not know him expect in the context of his word. That should define our motivation to get into the word, to encounter God in his ever-unfolding sense; His multi-dimensional sense, and that has an effect on us on a subconscious level.
But we should note that the word of the New Testament is the platform to see the Old Testament. Since the New Testament represents a more elevated revelation of God (Hebrews 1:1-3), it will be wrong to judge/determine the New Testament from the old; we would not see clearly.
In the Word, everything is in the context of knowing God, engaging with his mind, penetrating his person. It is deception to think that you can know God without going through the door of the pages of the bible. Any other door and you are guaranteed to go into a place where you meet another god, contact another spirit (2Corinthians 11:4), i.e. Satan in different forms of his manifestation as angel of light (2Corinthians 11:14).
The psalmist says he hid God’s words in his heart so that he will not sin against him (Psalm 119:11). Note that he did not say he puts commandments of dos and don’ts in his heart. Rather he puts the word; he codes his inside with the very words of God so that he automatically functions in alignment with him.
David prayed: let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your eyes (Psalms 19:14). That can only happen when the words are in our heart, since out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks (Luke 6:45). And Paul said that we should let the words of Christ be in abundance in our heart, and then we will speak and live from that reservoir (Colossians 3:16-17).
Solomon rightly declared that what runs through the mind in thought (Proverbs 23:7), becomes a powerful force in our lives. He said that as we think in our heart so we are. In another place he said that we should guard our hearts with all diligence because out of it flow the issues of life (Proverbs 4:23). Real change is inside-out. If we do not guard our hearts then we would be subject to different negative influences, which will ruin us; thus the importance of having the Word as the primary influence of our heart.
That is why we should choose our friends carefully. Our friends are those we have given the right to write their words on the tablet of our hearts (subconsciously); the same for the church we go to. We give the leadership the right to influence our hearts. You will do well to note their lifestyle to see if they represent the end you want to get to. The writer of the book of Hebrews says that we should follow those who through faith and patience obtained the promise (Hebrews 6:12); in another place it says, we should note those who rule over us, considering their end (Hebrews 13:7-8).
Commandments (It’s about direction)
When God gives a commandment, it should determine our sense of direction, a definition of what we should or should not do. It is the compass. For that to work, we need to be responsive to the commandments, have it as the determinant of our actions.
Our emotion cannot be our guide. Ask Eve (Genesis 3). Certain feelings, wrong ones, jump on us sometimes. We need to pull away from that feeling which can cloud our understanding and retrace our steps in line with the commandments.
David had a situation in which he had the urge (emotional pull) to sleep with a woman who was not his wife (he had many) (2Samuel 11-12). Looking across his palace he saw a woman bathing, and he has the urge. The urge was described by Nathan as an “unexpected visitor,” in need of refreshment. It was an “itch” that needs to be scratched, a sudden notion that needs executed.
When David scratched his itch with the wife of another woman, God contended with him that he despised his word. God was angry with him because he did not allow his word to guide him.
Because God is not breathing down your neck does not mean you should not be breathing down your own neck to keep his commandments. Because you think it does not matter does not mean it does not. Because you feel it does not mean you should do it. Take heed to the commandments for direction, to show you the right way, if you go the way of the commandment of God, you will not go wrong.
Just as God did not expected David to follow his sexual emotion, but his commandment (behavioural dictation) he was expected to put the word in front of his eyes, and pay attention to it on a constant basis as God told Joshua (Joshua 1:8, Deuteronomy 17:18-19).
In the same way, God expects the children of Israel to not yield to their fear, but follow his commandment about moving to the Promised Land. They were meant to follow the will of God even if they thought it was difficult. When they followed their fear (fear of giants in the land), they met with the judgement of God. David was likewise judged for following his sexual emotion to the wrong direction/action.
Teaching (It’s about understanding)
While the word leads to a connection with God at a subconscious level, and the commandment level of our will, the teaching enhances our connection to him at the level of our intellect. The word works on the heart (subconscious mind); commandment works on the will, and the teaching works on the conscious mind, because we are intellectual beings.
When we become born again, it is not by God dealing with us in high level teaching. It is through our encounter with the Word (of the gospel) that we are born again. Peter said that we are born again of the incorruptible word of God (1Peter 1:23), not some intellectual excursion (related to the teaching) or a new behavioural check list (related to the commandments).
Afterwards being born again, we should follow the commandment, instruction that has to do with the life we should be living as Christians. When Jesus was leaving his final words (Matthew 28:18-20), he told the disciples are to preach the gospel (the word), and they are to instruct those who believe to observe his “commands.” Not before but after they believe.
Now, this is related to what the writer of the book of Hebrews mentioned as the elementary principles of Christ; which regards repenting from death works etc (Hebrews 5:11-6:3). Now the writer had a problem with his audience in their ability to understand higher truths after many years as Christians. He said that when they should be teachers, they still needed basic stuffs, the ABCs. They could not understand things in greater depth. For that purpose Paul prayed that we should have the spirit of understanding (Ephesians 1:15-19).