Week of December 11, 2016
The Point: God’s Word teaches us all we need to live well.
God’s Word Cleanses the Heart: Psalm 119:9-16.
 How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word.  With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments!  I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.  Blessed are you, O LORD; teach me your statutes!  With my lips I declare all the rules of your mouth.  In the way of your testimonies I delight as much as in all riches.  I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways.  I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word. [ESV]
“Main Idea: The psalmist extols the many perfections of God’s Word, testifying to its all-sufficient power to work wonders in his life.
[9-11] The purifying power of God’s Word is the theme of this second stanza. The psalmist asks a most important question: How can a young man keep his way pure? He answers that personal holiness is realized by living or obeying God’s word. This outward obedience must arise from one’s inward heart that seeks the Lord, The Scripture alone has sanctifying power to keep a person from straying into sin. The psalmist confesses that he had hidden God’s word in his heart, that is, buried it within his soul like a valuable treasure. Through the Scripture’s power he is assured that he might not sin against God.
[12-13] Having acknowledged Scripture’s purifying power, he asked that God teach him His divine decrees so that he might obey it. As the true author of Scripture, God Himself must be the primary instructor of the psalmist’s heart. Divine illumination is absolutely necessary to understand God’s Word, both in its precise meaning and practical application. Both learning and living the Scripture would come as he would recount it over and over in his mind.
[14-16] The psalmist will enthusiastically rejoice in obeying God’s Word, as one finding great riches. He will meditate on Scripture (i.e., constantly recalling it in his mind), consider it often, and delight in it with great pleasure. With all his heart, he rejoices in God’s Word not with drudgery but delight.” [Lawson, p. 242].
“In order to live a holy life we must give ourselves to God’s Word, learning it and living by it. When should we start? The world has its answer. It says, Have your fling when you are young and settle down to being religious when you get old, if then. God’s answer is quite different. God says, If you are going to live for me, you must begin at the earliest possible moment, without delay, preferably when you are very young . If you do not live for me when you are young, you will probably not live for me when you are older either, and the end of your life will be ruinous. It does not require a great deal of wisdom to see why this is such good advice and so necessary. It is because the decisions of youth form habits that guide us from that point on and are hard to break. If we form good habits when we are young – reading the Bible, spending time in prayer, enjoying the company of God’s people, going to church, rejecting sin, and practicing to be honest and do good – these habits will go with us through life and make good choices later in life easier. If on the contrary we make bad choices, later we will find good choices harder to make and the bad habits nearly impossible to break. This point is so important that the Bible gives us numerous examples of young men who decided for God early and were blessed for it. Daniel and his three young friends are one example. When they were taken from their home in Jerusalem and brought to Babylon to serve the court of King Nebuchadnezzar, they were given the best of the food of Babylon, as favored civil servants. But we read early in the first chapter, Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food, or with the wine that he drank [1:8]. This was the first of many tests that came into Daniel’s life during his lengthy career in Babylon, but it established a pattern that enabled him to stand against the traps laid by his enemies later. To us, whether he would eat the king’s food or drink his wine seems a small matter, hardly something to be fussed over. We have nothing to do with kosher rules and very little to do with diet. Yet it is the small things that form habits, and it is our habits that determine the course and outcome of our lives. This section of Psalm 119 is telling us that the best possible way to live for God and establish and maintain a pure life is by starting young. In his last will and testament the Protestant Reformer Theodore Beza thanked God for the mercy of having been called to the knowledge of the truth when he was a youth of sixteen and thus, during a course of more than seventy years’ walk with God, of having escaped the pollution of the world through lust.
What Should We Do? [9-11]. Psalm 119:9-11 also tells us what we should do to live for God: Hide God’s Word in our hearts. Hiding His Word in our hearts means not just to read it but also to study it and even memorize it. In fact, memorizing is precisely what is called for, since it is only when the Word of God is readily available in our minds that we are able to recall it in moments of need and profit by it. This point is closely tied to starting young, for it is far easier to memorize and retain material when a person is young than when he or she is older. Here is one of the sad failures of the contemporary church. If children and other young people can memorize easily, memorization should be stressed by churches for those in the early years. Instead of doing this, many churches, along with the general culture, have been “dumbing down” Christian education so that today children are barely taught anything in these vital early years. Instead of solid biblical theology, Bible memorization, and historic hymns, they are offered trivial stories, pointless games, and banal songs. Years ago we determined to resist this trend at Tenth Presbyterian Church. Shortly after I began my pastorate in the late 1960s, a number of interested people put together a Sunday school curriculum in which the emphasis is on the great truths of the Bible, taught in three-year cycles. The first year teaches them as a sequence of important doctrines. The second year approaches the same truths in terms of a person’s relationships to God and other people. The third year looks at these same teachings from the standpoint of history, asking, What is God doing in history? And, How do I fit in? The curriculum repeats this cycle every three years, so there is a constant reinforcement of these truths among the young people. With this curriculum we outlined a thorough Bible memorization program in which parts of verses are learned by the youngest students, the whole of these verses and short passages by older children, and eventually several long chapters by those who are coming to the end of their Sunday school years. We also have the children memorize a simplified catechism and we teach them some of the tried and true hymns of the church instead of choruses. Does it work? It is impossible to produce the regenerating work of the Spirit of God in their hearts by any amount of good teaching, of course. Regeneration and growth are the work of God, not the work of people, but if what we are seeking is going to happen in any way, it is going to be by such teaching, since it is only through the saving revelation of God in Scripture that God Himself may be found. We should notice that in Psalm 119:9-11 the poet links pursuit of God’s Word to the pursuit of God Himself. With my whole heart I seek you . Therefore, I live according to your word .
Why Should We Do It? . Now we ask why we should engage in such study. We have already seen one answer: to know God. But what the poet is particularly interested in here is for us to live holy lives, that we might not sin against God . We live in a corrupt and sinful world, and there is nothing in the world that in itself will help us live a pure life. What can preserve us from ruin? What can empower us to say no to temptation? What can enable us to live a holy life in the midst of our most wicked surroundings? Only the Word of God, the Bible, which we must study and hide away in our hearts. Jesus told His disciples, Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you [John 15:3]. He also prayed to the Father on their behalf, saying, Sanctify them in the truth, your word is truth [John 17:17]. Remember that the Bible is God’s cleansing agent for sin and that without it we will never live a holy life.
How Can We Do It? . There is a fourth important teaching in this stanza: We cannot understand God’s Word by ourselves, and therefore we need God Himself for our teacher. Verse 12 notes this need by coupling a line of praise with a line of petition. Blessed are you, O Lord; teach me your statues! The Protestant Reformers talked about this truth by stressing the necessary link between God’s Word and God’s Spirit. These men – Martin Luther, John Calvin, and others – had a strong trust in the Bible. They recognized that although God has revealed Himself in a general way in creation so that people are without excuse if they fail to seek Him out and thank Him for life and its blessings, and although He has also revealed Himself preeminently in Jesus Christ, the only place we have saving revelation and the only way we can get to know God is through God’s self-revelation in His written Word. At the same time they were also aware of our need of the Holy Spirit to teach us if we are to understand and rightly apply the Bible. Although we have the Bible to study we must also have the Holy Spirit to teach us what is taught in it. They said that without the Spirit the Bible is a dead book. Therefore, the person without the Spirit cannot understand it [1 Cor. 12:12-14]. On the other hand, without the Word as an objective guide from God, claims to a special leading by the Holy Spirit lead to error, excess, or foolishness. When we study the Bible we must also pray, asking God to be our teacher. It is God Himself we are seeking, after all, and His thoughts are not our thoughts, neither are His ways our ways [Isa. 55:8]. Besides, we have sinful and deceitful hearts that will keep us from hearing and obeying God unless God Himself breaks through to teach us.
Four Helpful Exercises [13-16]. The psalmist seems to be writing primarily to the young in this stanza, so it is not surprising to find him ending with four points of very simple, practical advice, expressed in terms of his own experience. We might call them four exercises designed to help us master Scripture.
- With my lips I declare all the rules of your mouth . One of the best ways to learn anything is to verbalize it or teach it to others. I have a far easier time learning some truth and I retain it longer if I work it into a sermon or make it part of one of our Bible study seminars. Martin Luther observed that some people speak God’s truth but do not have it in their hearts, while others have it in their hearts but are afraid to proclaim it vigorously for fear of losing friends and making enemies and persecutors. He said, “It is not enough to believe with the heart unto righteousness, unless confession unto salvation is also made with the mouth [Rom. 10:10].”
- In the way of your testimonies I delight . It is a natural tendency of a healthy mind to remember the pleasant and forget the unpleasant. A person who does the opposite is psychologically unstable. It follows that one good way to learn and retain God’s Word is to rejoice in it, which is what the psalmist says he has been doing. Rejoicing in God’s Word can be done in a lot of ways, privately in our personal devotions and publicly in witnessing situations. One very excellent way is by joyful worship in regular church services.
- I will meditate on your precepts . Meditation is recalling what we have committed to memory and then turning it over and over in our minds to see the fullest implications and applications of the truth. The Virgin Mary meditated after the birth of her son, the Lord Jesus Christ, for we are told in Luke 2:19, Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.
- I will delight in your statutes . Delight in this last verse is not the same word as in verse 14. The former is an exuberant, festive joyfulness; the second a settled pleasure. But the two are parts of the same emotion, so what is new in the last line is the determination not to neglect Bible study. It is easy to do, but we must determine not to allow other pressing matters to crowd out the study of God’s Word. The future tense (I will) in the last line shows how the author passes from declaring what he has done or is in the habit of doing to what he will do. What he says he will do is not forget (or neglect) the Bible. He is determined to study it. Are you?” [Boice, pp. 976-981].
“Message and Application. This stanza has to do with keeping our lives pure by avoiding sin, which is done by knowing the word of God so well that it is always on our minds to correct and to guide us through life. But this is no fixed duty; for the believer the word is like a treasure, more delightful and useful than riches. The Lord is the teacher, His word and His way the lesson, and righteousness the result. The summary statement would be: Because the word of God is the means by which the faithful maintain purity in life, they desire to learn more from God and enjoy meditating in His word. The point of this stanza is reflected in the prayer of Jesus for us: Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth [John 17:17]. The apostle Paul also reminds us that the righteous are those who hear and do the word of God [Rom. 2:13], for the law of God made us aware of sin [Rom. 3:20]. As we learn more and more from the word of God and put it into practice, we will become aware of sins that need to be overcome, and righteous practices that need to be incorporated. Through this process we will be able to maintain a righteous way of life.” [Ross, p. 480].
Questions for Discussion:
- The psalmist asks a question and then answers it in verse 9. What does it mean to guard our life according to God’s word? How do we accomplish this goal? List the eight things that the psalmist says he will do in verses 10-16. What two things does the psalmist ask God to do [10,12]? Why is a life of purity a joint effort between God and the believer?
- List the ten references to God’s word in this stanza. Note the various synonyms for God’s word used by the psalmist. Why is God’s word essential for a life of purity? Commit yourself to a life focused on God’s word.
- Do you delight in God’s word? If not, what changes must you make in your life so that you find great joy in the study and application of God’s word to your life?
Psalms, vol. 3, James Boice, Baker.
An Exposition of Psalm 119, Charles Bridges, ebook.
Psalms 76-150, Steven Lawson, Holman Reference.
A Commentary on the Psalms, vol. 3, Allen Ross, Kregel.