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Great Peace Have Those Who Love Your Law

Series: Pslam 119 Not By Bread Alone

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on Dec 1, 2013

Psalm 119:161-168

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If you have your Bibles, turn with me to Psalm 119 again to verse 161 as we come to the second to the last section of this psalm.  God willing, on the evening of the 15th, we will complete our journey through Psalm 119.  Now if you have Bibles that have headings for each of these sections you have seen an English rendering of the name of the letter of the Hebrew alphabet, perhaps, over each of these sections and for this one you have one that looks like “Sin” or “Shin” - probably better “seen” or “sheen.”  That’s the Hebrew letter for “S.”  And depending on whether it has a marking over it or not it’s pronounced one way or another.  The letter itself sort of looks like the “W” on the side of the helmet that the University of Wisconsin wears, men.  I’m trying to find something that would relate to the men of the congregation - that’s probably close!  If you know what that “W” looks like that’s what this letter looks like.  And so during each of these sections, you’ll remember, each of the eight verses begin with whatever the letter is that is the theme of that particular section.  In this one, the psalmist alternates between the “sin” and the “shin” and it actually gives you an outline to the passage.  The psalmist in this passage is going to tell us about his heart in verses 161 to 163, he’s going to tell us about his life in verses 164 to 166, and then he’s going to tell you about his motives in verses 167 and 168.  I want you to be on the lookout for those things and we’ll use that outline as the outline for our sermon and our study of the passage together tonight.  But before we read God’s Word let’s pray and ask him again to bless us as we hear it.

Heavenly Father, we bow before You at the end of Your day thankful for the fellowship that we have had with one another already under Your Word, but coming again into Your presence, hungering and thirsting for You and wanting to receive blessing from Your Word.  So speak, Lord, Your servants listen.  Make Your Word to dwell in us richly and make our hearts and our lives and our motives to match the teaching of Your Word.  We ask all these things through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

This is God’s Word.  Hear it in Psalm 119 beginning in verse 161:

“Princes persecute me without cause, but my heart stands in awe of your words.  I rejoice at your word like one who finds great spoil.  I hate and abhor falsehood, but I love your law.  Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous rules.  Great peace have those who love your law; nothing can make them stumble.  I hope for your salvation, O LORD, and I do your commandments.  My soul keeps your testimonies; I love them exceedingly.  I keep your precepts and testimonies, for all my ways are before you.”

Amen, and thus ends this reading of God’s holy, inspired, and inerrant Word.  May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.

The Psalms: An Anatomy of the Soul and a Treasury of the Believing Life

As we have studied the Psalms together, on and off over seventeen years - I don’t know whether you remember, but when I first came we started in the first book of the Psalms, working through, beginning with Psalm 1 and continuing on from there.  And when we complete this last section, two weeks hence, God willing, we will have completed the whole of the Psalter in our time together.  And I don’t know how many times I have quoted the statement of John Calvin’s about the Psalms that “In the Psalms we have the anatomy of all parts of the soul.”  That is, when you look at the Psalms, you see the heart of the psalmist revealed and you see all of the aspects of the believing heart and that tells you much about what a Christian’s heart looks at.  We can’t look into one another’s heart.  We can see the effect of the heart in the way that people speak, and what they live, and the priorities that we make, but the Psalms reveal to us something of the believing heart.  They, of course, also are an index of Christian experience because the psalmists experience all of the highs and the lows of life.  Over and over in this particular psalm, Psalm 119, we’ve found the psalmist in trouble again and again.  And in fact tonight, he’s persecuted and lied about once again in this section of the psalm.  

But the Psalms are not only an anatomy of all parts of the soul, the Psalms are the sum, the compendium, of the believing life.  That’s also a statement that many, many of the great old Puritan and Reformed writers have said in various ways over the various years.  It’s a compendium of the believing life.  You can look at the psalmist and you can learn much about what the life of faith ought to look like, is meant to be like.  And the psalmist in this passage tonight is going to reveal some of the anatomy of his own heart and he is going to reveal to us something about how to live the Christian life.  And I’d like for us to look at three things in particular tonight.  I want us to look at what the psalmist says about his heart in verses 161 to 163.  Then, I want you to see what he says about his life in verses 164 to 166.  And then I want you to see what he teaches about his motives; what’s his motivation for obeying God’s Word?  He reveals that in verses 167 and 168.  He tells us at least three things about his heart in verses 161 to 163, he tells us five things about his life in verses 164 to 166, and he tells us two things about his motives in verses 167 and 168.  

I. The Psalmist’s Heart

Let’s look together then at verses 161 to 163.  Here, as the psalmist reveals his heart, he teaches us much about the Christian heart and he teaches us three things in particular.  He teaches us what the Christian heart is in awe of, he tells us what the Christian heart delights in, and he tells us what the Christian heart loves.  Look at verse 161.  Here’s the problem - “Princes persecute me without cause.”  And then again if you look down at verse 163, “I hate and abhor falsehood” you see the context of trouble in which he is writing again.  But it’s the positive statements I want you to focus on.  Look at the end of verse 161.  “Princes persecute me without cause, but my heart stands in awe of your words.”  What are you in awe of?  What leaves you breathless and speechless, stunned in wonder?  That is actually a very important question for the heart.  That’s one reason why what we find beautiful and thrilling and excellent and wondrous is a really important issue for our lives.  That’s why we want to make sure and “think on that which is excellent,” the apostle Paul will tell us.  What are you in awe of?  Well the psalmist tells you one thing that he’s in awe of - “My heart stands in awe of your words.”  Now over and over again we’ve seen in this psalm different words used for God’s Word.  Here is the word, “words,” but he’ll also use “law,” he’ll use “commandments,” he’ll use “testimonies” and “precepts.”  He’s been using various terms to describe God’s Word. And I want us to remember again that he’s talking about the totality of God’s Word in at least three aspects.  

What the Psalmist is in Awe Of

First of all he’s telling us that he loves what God’s Word reveals about God Himself.  Remember how we’ve emphasized that from the very first verse of this psalm the psalmist never abstracts the Word of God from God Himself.  It’s always, “Your Word, O Lord.”  It’s not just “the Word;” it’s “Your Word.”  So the Lord and His Word go together.  He loves what God’s Word reveals about the Lord.   Second, of course, because God’s Word reveals the Lord, God’s Word reveals His grace and mercy.  It’s not just commandments, it’s not just the moral law or the ceremonial law that is revealed in God’s Word, it’s God’s plan of salvation, it’s God’s plan of grace and mercy that is revealed in God’s Word.  And when the psalmist revels in the Word of God it’s not just the commands, it’s the totality of that Word - what God reveals about Himself, what God reveals about His grace.  What we Christians would call the Gospel.  And of course, third, the psalmist constantly emphasizes that he loves what God’s Word reveals about the rule of right living, the right way to live life.  And over and over he contrasts the fact that he loves the way that God says life ought to be lived in contrast to the way that the evil, the way that the wicked want to live life.  They want to do it their own way and the life that they live is not beautiful, it is not attractive, and it is not good.  But the way that God calls us to live life is good, it’s encouraging, it’s attractive, it’s stable, it’s secure.  And so the psalmist is in awe of God’s Word.  He tells you something about his heart and in that he tells us something about the Christian’s heart.  The Christian’s heart it in awe of the Word of God.

What the Psalmist Delights In

Second, look at verse 162.  He tells us what he delights in.  “I rejoice at your word like” - how would you finish that sentence?  “I rejoice at the study of God’s Word…” - do your own metaphor.  He tells you his answer.  “I rejoice at your word like one who finds great spoil.  Your Word is like a hidden treasure, a secret treasure that I’ve found, O Lord.  I love Your Word like pirates love treasure.” That’s what the psalmist is saying about his love for the Word of the Lord.  There is a lust for it.  There is a greed for it.  There are not many times in life where it’s right to lust or be greedy, but it’s okay to lust and be greedy for God’s Word, to delight in it, to treasure it, to want to store it up, to want to study it, to want to revel in it.  “I rejoice in Your Word like one who finds great spoil.”  He is revealing what he delights in here.  And again, what you delight in tells a lot about you.  What you delight in is a really important question.  And the psalmist says, “I’ll tell you what I delight in.  I delight in God’s Word.”

What the Psalmist Loves

Third, he tells you another thing about his heart.  You’ll see it in verse 163.  “I hate and abhor falsehood, but I love your law.”  The psalmist is telling us here what he loves.  He loves God’s Word.  There may be young people here tonight who struggle with falsehood.  You may struggle with telling your friends things that you think that you need to tell them so that they will like you.  You may make up things about yourself that you haven’t done that you think will impress them.  You may be a good kid and you may make up stories about bad things that you’ve done in order to get some of your friends to think better of you.  I know that’s all messed up, isn’t it, but there may be some here tonight, young people, who have done that.  You may have a hard time telling your parents the truth about things that you know are going to disappoint them or maybe even get you into trouble.  It may be about school.  You may have a hard time leveling with your parents that you didn’t study for that test and you didn’t do well on that grade.  And when they see the report card come in at the end of the semester they’re not going to be happy.  And you’ve come up with some sort of a plan to try and obscure that, to keep that from them.  You find it hard to level with them.  You may sometimes tell things that are not true when you don’t even need to.  How do you fight that?  How do you get that out of your heart and how do you get that out of your life?  It’s hard.  If you’ve ever gotten into the habit or the pattern of not telling the truth it is very, very hard to break that pattern.  

A Love for God’s Word as a Tool in the Fight against Sin 

How do you break it?  The psalmist actually gives you one of the great Biblical keys in this verse.  Do not miss it.  Look at what he says. “I hate and abhor falsehood.”  Okay, he has gotten to the point where he hates falsehood.  Now he’s been the victim of falsehood and boy that will do it to you.  When you have been on the receiving end of someone who’s told things that are untrue about you, that will cure you of falsehood real quick, but that’s really not even what I’m getting at.  Look at the end.  “I hate and abhor falsehood, but I love your law.”  He is so into the Word of God that he has gotten to the point where he loves the Word more than the sin that he could have been loving - falsehood, lying.  That is, this sin of falsehood is defeated with a superior love.  You get into the Word, you study the Word, you begin to love the Word, and the Word exalts in truthfulness, in truth-telling.  “Who is the man who dwells in the hill of the Lord? He who swears to his own hurt and does not change.”  The one who tells the truth, not falsehood.

Suddenly that begins to get in your bloodstream and you begin to admire it and then you begin to aspire for it by the work of the Holy Spirit in you, by His grace.  And then more and more you begin to hate the old way that you were behaving and speaking.  You even hate the motions in your heart that are tempted to tell something untrue even when you never get around to telling something that’s untrue.  You recognize those motions in your heart that are almost about to say something that’s untrue and you hate those things.  Why?  Because you love the Word and the Word’s gotten into your heart.  How do you fight against the habit of falsehood?  Through a superior love - the love of what the Lord teaches in His Word.  The psalmist is telling you something about his heart.  He is in awe of God’s Word, he delights in God’s Word, and he loves God’s Word.  And that love for God’s Word, that delight in God’s Word, that awe of God’s Word, guess what?  Actually helps him in obedience!  It actually helps him fight the fight of faith.  Studying your Bible will help you fight sin.  I know that’s simple but it’s so easy to forget.  Loving the Word of God, studying the Word of God, coming to delight and admire what God teaches in His Word is one of the things that the Holy Spirit will use to help you fight sin in your life.  So the psalmist shows us his heart and he shows us what the Christian heart should be like.

II. The Psalmist’s Life

Then he tells us something about his life.  Look at verses 164 to 166.  We could number these things different ways but five things jumped out at me.  

A Life of Praise

In verse 164 he says, “Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous rules.”  Now don’t get all legalistic about this and set seven particular points in the day where you’re going to praise God for His Word.  The point is, you know how symbolic that Hebrew number seven is - it’s a complete number, it’s a perfect number.  This means, “Lord, I praise You all the time.  I praise You all the time.”  The psalmist is telling you that his life is a life of praise.  He is praising God all the time, not just when he gathers with the people of God to worship, but praise is always coming from his mouth.  Do you find yourself muttering praise to God under your breath?  If not, I encourage you to do so, that we would be praising God all the time.  The psalmist is saying, “Let me tell you about my life.  I praise God all the time.”  That’s a picture of the Christian life - a life of perpetual praise.

A Life of Peace

Second, look at verse 165.  “Great peace have those who love your law.”  Now this is not the absence of problems.  He is not saying, “I met Jesus and everything has been perfect ever since.”  He’s not saying, “I embraced the Gospel and my life has been a bowl full of cherries,” because this section started with princes persecuting him, very powerful people wanting to do bad things to him.  So the peace that he is talking about is that great peace which passes understanding which even the bereaved can have, which even the lonely can have, which even the betrayed and broken can have.  Those who trust in the Lord may have a peace that passes understanding even when their understanding cannot supply them from their circumstances with a reason to have peace because God in His grace supplies them with that peace.  He’s telling you something about his life.  “I have learned the secret of great peace - I rest in God’s providence and I have great peace.”  He’s telling you about his life and it’s a picture of the Christian life.

A Life of Preservation

First praise, then peace.  Third, look at what he says at the end of verse 165.  “Great peace have those who love your law; nothing can make them stumble.”  So his life is characterized by praise, by peace, and by preservation.  He doesn’t stumble.  He doesn’t fall.  The Lord preserves him.  His life is un-stumbling.  It’s not that there aren’t rocky roads; it’s not that there aren’t difficult paths where you can lose your footing.  It’s that the Lord prevents him from falling.  The Lord preserves his life.

A Life of Hope

Then, fourth, look at verse 166.  “I hope for your salvation, O Lord.”  His life is characterized by hope.  There are a lot people out there, there are even a lot of people in churches that have lost hope or almost.  And the psalmist is saying, “Let me tell you something about my life.  I haven’t lost hope.  I hope for the salvation of the Lord.  There’s always hope for me.”  And that’s telling you something about the Christian life.  No one can take away our hope because our life is hid with Christ in God.  No one can touch that salvation.  No one can fully extinguish our hope.  There’s nothing this world can take away from us that we will ultimately be bereft of that is the gift of God to us in salvation.  

A Life of Obedience

Fifth, after he says, “I hope for your salvation, O Lord,” verse 166, the very end, “and I do your commandments.”  Praise, peace, preservation, hope, and obedience.  He’s telling you something about his life.  “I am not just a hearer; I’m a doer of God’s Word.  God tells me to believe in His Word.  I don’t just study about that; I believe.  God tells me to obey His commands. I don’t just study His commands; I do them.”  He is like the wise man that Jesus taught about in the Sermon on the Mount who built his house on the rock.  He is a hearer and a doer of God’s Word.  Now none of these things, you see, are things by which he saves himself.  They’re not things by which he gets God to love and forgive him.  They are the result of God’s work of grace in his life.  That’s why he lives a life of praise, a life of peace, a life of preservation, a life of hope, a life of obedience.  They flow from the work of God’s grace in him.  And what a beautiful picture that is of the Christian life.  You know, there may be some other things that you would want to add.  There may be some things that you would want to explain specifically with Christ, to union with Christ and the specific works of the Holy Spirit and the unfolding application of redemption, but that’s a pretty good outline of what the Christian life ought to look like, right there.  

III. The Psalmist’s Motivation

One Motive: Love for God, Love for His Word

Then he tells you about his motivation.  Look at verses 167 and 168.  “My soul keeps your testimonies; I love them exceedingly.”  What motivates him to obedience?  Not a slavish fear but love.  Love of God, love of His Word, love for God, love for His Word motivates him in obedience.  One of the most important things that we do in the Christian life is make sure that we are doing what we are called to do for the right reason with the right motivation.  And the psalmist says, “Lord, one of the reasons I do what You command is because I love You and I love what You command.”  Is that one of your motivations for obedience in the Christian life?  You love the Lord and you love what He commands?  It’s a beautiful description of the way it ought to be for us.

A Second Motive: The Pleasure of God

And then in verse 168 he says, “I keep your precepts and testimonies for all my ways are before you.”  Have you ever been with a young couple when their child is taking her or his first steps?  You won’t see a much prouder being on this earth than those young parents watching that little child take his or her first steps.  There is sheer delight in watching a child take steps that aren’t that good.  And if that child walks that way for the rest of her life or his life, they’d be in the hospital every three days.  Those first steps aren’t that good, but those parents and maybe those grandparents are overjoyed and they’re eyes are fixed on those little children when those first steps are taken.  And the psalmist says, “Lord, I want You to take pleasure in the way I live and I know that when I do what You tell me to do in Your Word, Your eyes are on me like a parent or a grandparent watching a child take his or her first steps.  You delight in seeing me, faultingly, wobblily, obey Your Word.”  In other words, the psalmist is saying, “I’m motivated to live the Christian life because of the pleasure of God in me when I do.  You take pleasure in this, O Lord, and I feel that pleasure.”

Oh, the psalmist tells us much about his heart and his life and his motives and by telling us those things he tells us much about the Christian’s heart and the Christian’s life and the Christian’s motives.  By God’s grace may we learn much and live much out of this great psalm.  Let’s pray.

Heavenly Father, thank You for Your Word and for time in it together tonight.  Bless it to our hearts and to our encouragement and to Your praise.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Would you stand for the Lord’s blessing?  Peace be to the brethren and love with faith from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ until the daybreak and the shadows flee away.  Amen.

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