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How I Love Your Word, O Lord (2)

Series: Psalms Book 5

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on Nov 13, 2011

Psalm 119

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If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Psalm 119. If you weren't here last Lord's Day evening we read all one hundred and seventy-six verses of Psalm 119. I was told by those who were clocking it that it took about twenty-four minutes to read the psalm out loud and then we just very briefly meditated on the overall content of that psalm. I also told the congregation then that I would be preparing a twenty-two week, and now it's twenty-three week, devotional guide to the psalm — not week, twenty-three day devotional guide to the psalm. The psalm is broken down according to letters of the Hebrew alphabet. We have twenty-six; Hebrew has twenty-two. So there is a section of eight verses for each of the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet. If we were looking at this psalm in a Hebrew printed text tonight we would see that each of the lines of each of the stanzas of the psalm begins with a particular letter of the Hebrew alphabet. That's how the psalm is organized.

And so in this devotional guide, and I've limited it to just one page so you can read it in a matter of just a few minutes, I’ll have the text for you of the eight-verse section of the psalm, the Hebrew letter that starts each of the words in the sentences of the section at the top of the page, and then just some devotional material for you to help reflect on that particular passage. You can read it in a matter of moments. It will be available in a PDF file on the website. I’ll sometime tonight or tomorrow send out a Tweet and a Facebook message to let you know where you can link to it, but if you come to the church website you can find it. You can download it if you want it on one of your electronic devices or you can read it online or you can link to it and use it. You can start when you want because I'm not going to date it, I'm just going to put “Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4” so you can do it in twenty-three weeks if you want to, you can do it in eighty-six weeks if you want to, you can do it in twenty-three days if you want to, you can do it at whatever pace you want to do but it will at least allow you to go through and digest it at a little bit deeper level, the rich content of this great psalm.

Well this psalm is a psalm about the Word. It is a reflection in the Word about the Word. And what I want to do tonight as we look at the grand themes of this psalm is I want to ask and answer two questions: Why should we value the Word of God and how should we value the Word of God? It seems to me that Psalm 119 is very much about those two issues. Why we value the Word of God and how we value the Word of God. So keep your Bibles open. After we pray, we will go to a number of verses illustrating both of those two points — why we value the Word of God and how we value the Word of God. Let's pray before we begin to do this together.

Heavenly Father, we thank You for Your Word and as we study this psalm tonight, which is a word of praise and thanksgiving to You for and about Your Word, we pray that we would be given the heart to say sincerely with the psalmist how we love Your Word, Your Law, Your instruction, Your testimony, Your precepts, Your judgments, O Lord. We ask this in Jesus' name, amen.

THE VALUE OF GOD’S WORD

Why should we value the Word of God? Because the only way that we can know God is by His Word. God is Spirit and those who worship Him must worship Him in Spirit and in truth and one of the things that means is we cannot worship Him unless He reveals Himself to us. How do you get to know a spirit? The answer is, however that spirit decides to let you get to know him because you can't get to know a spirit the way you can, say, get to know someone I your homeroom class or someone who is a fellow member of your congregation or a member of your fraternity or a neighbor or a business. You would get to know them by walking up to them and starting to talk to them, but a spirit you cannot just get to know unless that spirit decides to let you get to know him. And God has revealed Himself to us by His Word. It is the only way that we can know Him, know about Him, or know how He wants us to live. And He has, in His good pleasure, not only spoken to us revealing Himself to us through prophets and through apostles and especially through His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, who is, interestingly, the Word made flesh. He has also written down that word in the words of the Scriptures so that we may know Him, so that we may know about Him, and so that we may know how to live, so that we may know His promises, and so that we may know His instructions. And so, the Word should be valued because it is the way that we know God, know about God, know the way of salvation, know the way of life.

And the psalm celebrates that with a number of striking images that indicate to us how valuable that Word is. And I'd like to walk through those things with you just very briefly. First of all, if you’d take your Bibles in hand and turn with me to verse 9, Psalm 119 verse 9. I’ll just say the verses from now on because you know we're in Psalm 119! So in verse 9, we are told that “a young man keeps his way pure by guarding it according to Your Word.” So the psalm is valuable because it gives purity.

The psalm also compares the Word of God to water. It is like something that a person in the wilderness receives that keeps them alive. It's called a treasure. Turn with me to verse 14. “In the way of Your testimonies I delight as much as in all riches,” or treasures. And this is repeated again, if you’ll look with me at verse 72. “The law of Your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces.” And again to verse 127. “Therefore I love Your commandments above gold, above fine gold.” And again in verse 162. “I rejoice at Your Word like one who finds great spoil.” So the Word of God is like water to someone who is in the wilderness thirsting to death and it's like a treasure to someone who has stumbled upon gold or riches of great value. It is something that is highly valued.

The Word is also called a counselor or a companion. Turn back with me to verse 24. “Your testimonies are my delight; they are my counselors.” Many of us have had the experience of being in situations in life where we needed wise counsel from someone, and we have had one or two or maybe even more if we're blessed, very wise people that we could turn to who could give us guidance and counsel in making different difficult decisions. I was telling a group of folks just a couple of weeks ago that when the pulpit committee of First Presbyterian Church called me, I had two older men who knew me and who were counselors to me and I said to them, “I'm not sure I trust myself with this decision so you’re going to make it for me. Am I going to go to First Presbyterian Church or not?” And those two men counseled me in the process of making the decision of responding to the pulpit committee's call to me of First Presbyterian Church. Well, Psalm 119 says the Word of God is our counselor, our companion. It guides us; it's something that's valuable.

Then again, if you turn with me to verse 54, here, the Word of God is compared to a song. “Your statues have been my songs in the house of my sojourning.” Some of you know how in hard places in life sometimes a song can lift your spirits and can give you encouragement when you are downcast or you need endurance or you need energy or you need hope. And here, the psalmist says the Word of God is like a song.

And then again, turn forward with me to verse 103. Here we're told the Word of God is like honey. “How sweet are Your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth.” And so that delightful taste of honey — you can substitute your own favorite sweet — the Word of God is like honey to me.

Then, turn forward with me to verse 105. The Word of God is called a light. “It's a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” And then turn forward again to verse 130. “The unfolding of Your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple.” Have you ever been in a dark place and you couldn't see what you were trying to see without the aid of a light? My thermostat is now unreadable to me without the help of glasses and light, lots of it! And so I love to flip the switches on and put my glasses on and draw close so that I can see the thermostat at the house. The Word of God is like a light. It enables us to see when we could not see and so the psalmist celebrates it.

Furthermore, the Word of God is like an inheritance. Turn to verse 111. “Your testimonies are my heritage forever, for they are the joy of my heart.” All of these things are valuable things to which the Word of God is compared. These things are valuable. Is water valuable to a person who is starving in the desert? Yes it is. Is a treasure valuable to us? Yes it is. Is a counselor valuable to us? Yes it is. Is a song valuable to us? Honey? Light? An inheritance? All of these things are pictures, they are glimmers of the value of the Word of God. And they are ways that the psalmist indicates to us why we should value the Word of God. The Word of God is the way that He has revealed Himself to us. And is that revelation of Himself to us valuable? Yes it is. It's like water; it's like a treasure; it's like a companion; it's like a song; it's like honey; it's like light; it's like an inheritance. All of these pictures in the psalm are designed to remind us how valuable the Word of God is to us.

Of course the other way that the psalmist makes clear how valuable the Word is to us is by using different names for that Word and those different names are designed to remind us of different ways in which that Word is valuable. So for instance, if you look across the psalm you will see it called “a word” or “an instruction.” So God's Word to us, God's revelation of Himself to us, His speaking to us, is called the Word or God's instruction to us, and thereby His instruction is seen to be valuable. Sometimes it's called His Law or His saying or His statues or His way or His commandments or His path or His testimonies or His precepts or His judgments. And all of these words are designed to convey how precious, how helpful, how useful, how valuable God's Word is to us. So why should we value the Word of God? Because of what it is. And we see in this psalm what the Word of God is in a least a couple of ways. We see what it's called and what it's compared to. So when you study this psalm, pay close attention to what the Word of God is called and meditate on that and then pay close attention to what it's compared to and meditate about that and you will gain riches, perhaps that you haven't before, from your study of this psalm.

It's interesting, I was reading C.H. Spurgeon and Spurgeon wrote a lot of pages about Psalm 119. If you own a copy of his exposition of the Psalms, it's called The Treasury of David, he spends a lot of time on Psalm 119. And one of the things he says is when you just read through this psalm at first glance you can think it's repetitive and superficial, but that the closer you look at it and the more time you meditate on it, you realize that the psalmist is not just sort of repeating himself at a superficial level, but he is actually meditating on what the Word of God is at a profound level. And then, he encourages believers to meditate on the Word of God and he gives several examples of that. For instance, did you know that William Wilberforce, when he was going through a tremendous time of political difficulty during his fostering of the movement to abolish the slave trade, that he deliberately meditated on Psalm 119? Over and over in history, godly Christians have gone to Psalm 119 and some of them have even attempted to meditate and to memorize large portions or even the whole of Psalm 119.

Anne was telling me before the service that Glen Knecht, her former pastor, also gave an exhortation to his congregation to really meditate on Psalm 119 but he had a northern accent and he was speaking to a southern congregation and he said that they really needed to get to know “Some 19” and everyone was wondering, “Okay, I don't know a nineteen year old, so how would I get to know someone nineteen?” And so he had to had this explained to him. Someone actually came up to him after the service and said, “How can I get to know someone nineteen? I don't know anybody nineteen.” He was actually trying to give the exhortation that Spurgeon gives, that all of us ought to get to know this psalm. We ought to meditate on this psalm because the psalm itself is indicating the richness of meditating on God's Word.

But the psalm not only tells us why we should value the Word of God, it gives us specific ways as to how we can value the Word of God and I want to mention very quickly five ways that it tells us how we can value the Word of God. First of all, we can value the Word of God by studying it. We can value the Word of God by studying it. Look with me at verse 2. “Blessed are those who keep His testimonies, who seek Him with their whole heart.” And in fact, if you look at the whole of verses 2 to 10, over and over the theme of studying the Word of God comes about. For instance, he speaks in verse 6 of “having my eyes fixed on Your commandment,” of “guarding the way” verse 9 “according to Your word.” Of “seeking God with his whole heart, not wandering from the commandments.” Verse 11, of “storing up the word of God in my heart.” All of these examples of studying diligently the Word of God. We study the Word of God because God has revealed Himself to us in His Word. We seek Him through His Word, we do this wholeheartedly, we look into His Word, we learn its judgments — that's how we show that we value God's Word. We study it.

Secondly, we follow it. We obey that Word. In verses 1 and 3, look, “Blessed are those whose ways is blameless who walk in the law of the Lord.” Verse 3, “Those who do no wrong but who walk in His ways.” It's not just about learning the Word; it's about living the Word. It's about practicing what we learn or practicing what we preach. We obey the commandments. That's one of the ways that we show that we value the Word of God. Over and over it is emphasized that the Word of God is not simply something to be known, it is something to be lived. And so actually, the Bible will emphasize that we learn the Bible by living it and as we live the Bible we learn it. There is an experiential aspect to knowing the Word of God and so one way that we show that we value the Word of God is to follow it or to obey it.

Third, we store up the Word of God. We store up the Word of God; we hide it in our hearts. Look again at verse 11. “I have stored up Your Word in my heart that I might not sin against You.” And this of course especially deals with the matter of meditating on the Word of God and memorizing the Word of God, treasuring it so that it begins to control the way that we think and the way that we live.

Fourth, we show that we value the Word of God by declaring it. Look at verse 13. “With my lips I declare all the rules of Your mouth.” That is, we declare the Word of God; we don't just keep it to ourselves, we share its message. We declare it to others. We speak it out loud. The study of the Word of God so burns in our hearts that we have to speak about it and that's another way that we show how we value the Word of God.

And we rejoice over it. Look at verses 14 to 16. “In the way of Your testimonies, I delight as much as in all riches. I will meditate on Your precepts, fix my eyes on Your ways. I will delight in Your statues; I will not forget Your word.” So it is not simply a matter of study, it's a matter of delight. We rejoice over it. We find delighting in it to be inescapable. And in all of these ways we show that we value the Word of God. These are the ways that we show how we value the Word of God.

WHAT THE WORD OF GOD DOES

Well what does the Word of God do when we know that it's valuable and when we do these things that show how to value it, what does the Word of God do? And again, there are five things that I want to mention very briefly. First of all, the Word of God brings blessedness. Blessedness is connected with our knowing and valuing and keeping the Word of God. Look at verses 1 and 2. “Blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord.” Now of course blessedness means happiness, and so the psalmist is saying something very important. He's saying if you really want to know true, deep happiness in this life, the Word of God gives that. Now that's very important because the tempter will say to you, in your ear and to your heart, that if you want to be blessed, do what you want to do, that the way to be happy is for you to do what you want to do. The Word of God says that the way to be happy is not to do what you want to do, it's to do what God wants you to do and especially to conform your desires so that what you want to do is what God wants you to do. That's where real blessedness is. And so the psalmist emphasizes that the Word of God brings blessedness. Now Satan will want to convince you that the opposite is true, that the only way that you can really have happiness is to do it your way, to follow your own instincts and urges. But the psalmist is making it very clear that real happiness in this life does not come from those who just decide they’re going to do it their own way. It comes from those who say, “I want to desire to do what God would have me to do and be.”

Secondly, if it protection. It's not only connected to blessedness, but it brings protection. Look at verses 9 and 11. “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.” It is interesting, isn't it, that the psalmist specifically mentions in this passage the protecting power of the Word of God for young men. It's very interesting that he mentions the protecting power of the Word of God for young men because young men are liable to fall into patterns of life that are unclean. And he specifically gives as the remedy — meditation, study, embrace of the Word of God because it does what? It protects you. So the Word of God not only brings blessing, it brings protection.

Then, turn forward with me to verse 45. The Word of God not only brings blessedness and protection, it brings freedom. Verse 45, “I shall walk in a wide place for I have sought Your precepts.” Now that's an interesting verse, isn't it? I'm going to walk in a wide place because I've sought Your precepts. Now that's not how we normally think. You mean, I'm going to feel like I'm not squeezed in to some narrow, narrow alleyway by the commandments of Your Word, but actually I'm going to feel like I'm in a huge, a massive field in the great plains because I'm seeking Your Word? Satan always tempts us to believe that sin is what brings us freedom. If you want to be free, sin. Do what you want to do whether God says it or not. Then, you’ll find freedom. The psalmist is saying, “Actually it's the other way around. If you want to experience freedom, you have to love God's Word. You have to obey God's Word. You have to study God's Word. That's the only thing that really gives you freedom.” Why? Because in the Bible, freedom is not you getting to do whatever you want to do. In the Bible, freedom is wanting to do what God made you to do and wanting to be what God made you to be, and the only way you can have that kind of freedom, which is the only true freedom there is, is to be in the Word, is to be guided by the Word, is to know the Word, is to love the Word, is to have the Word impact the way that you think and that you live. So the Bible gives freedom.

It gives blessedness, it gives protection, it gives freedom. It also gives direction. Look at verse 105 with me. “Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” We've talked about the aspect of it being light and a lamp but what's that for? To guide our way. We live in a perplexing world. What we ought to do is sometimes dark to us and the Word of God provides direction. It provides guidance.

And in connection with this, it also does a fifth thing. It gives us discernment. Not only does it give us guidance or direction, it gives us discernment. Turn with me to verse 130. “The unfolding of Your words gives life; it imparts understanding to the simple.” You know, one of the things that I value most is people who are possessed of discernment and judgment. I love to be around people with discernment and good judgment because I like to hear their counsel, their wisdom about issues in my life, issues in my vocation, issues in ministry — anything. I have often been struck in the course of my life by people who are not at the head of the class in their grades but who were possessed of significant gifts of discernment, wisdom, insight because their nose was in the Book and they didn't just study the Book, they lived by the Book. And they see things that you can't see unless you being simple has been made wise by the Word of God who makes wise the simple. And I love to be around those kinds of folks and to see their insight. Very often they will cut right through the fog that nobody else can cut through because they see things that are plain as the nose on your face. They view it through a Biblical lens and they’re not distracted by all the other things out there that people are distracted by so that they forget to pay attention to the main things. And they bring discernment, they bring understanding, they bring judgment to the issue.

Well, the psalmist is saying the Bible not only brings blessedness, the Word of God not only brings protection, it not only gives freedom, it not only gives direction, it gives discernment and understanding. You want freedom, you want blessing, you want protection, you want direction, you want discernment? Where do you get it? The Word of God, the Bible, and this psalm meditates deeply on those things — why we should value the Word of God, how we go about showing that we value the Word of God, and what the Word of God does in the life of a believer.

Let's pray.

Our heavenly Father, we thank You for Psalm 119. We thank You that the instruction of Psalm 119 isn't just a list of to-dos. We thank You that Psalm 119 doesn't suggest to us that if we will do ten things or fifteen things or seventeen things we will earn Your favor or be deserving of salvation. In fact, we thank You Lord that Psalm 119 indicates that we're all sinners and that we need Your grace and favor to keep us from stumbling. But we do acknowledge, O God, that Your Word is truth, that You sanctify us by truth, that to walk with You is to walk with You by Your Word and that means not only its instructions and commands but its glorious promises. So to live by the Word means to acknowledge the grace of God in the Gospel, because after all, Jesus tells us that this Book is about Him. But it also teaches us, having been saved by grace, how to live, how to walk with You. Lord, as a congregation, make us to love Your Word more, not just so that we know more things than other people know, but so that we are more like Jesus, who is the Word made flesh and better witnesses to Him and better followers of Him. We ask all these things in Jesus' name, amen.

Would you please stand for God's blessing?

Peace be to the brethren and love with faith in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ until the daybreak and the shadows flee away.

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