The Lord's Day Evening
April 28, 2013
Not by Bread Alone
“How I Love Your Law”
The Reverend Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
If you have your Bibles, turn with me to Psalm 119. We’re going to look at verse 97 through 104 tonight as we continue in our series, Not by Bread Alone. This section of Psalm 119 contains one of the most famous lines in the psalm, “How I love your law.” It's a theme that you find in a number of places in the Psalms, not the least familiar being in the very first psalm. The very first psalm celebrates this same truth. “I delight in your law,” we are reminded of at the very outset of the Psalms. And in this particular psalm, the psalmist is going to, or this section of Psalm 119, the psalmist is going to commend the Scriptures to you and me by highlighting things that it does in his life. So we've said all along that the Psalms in general and this psalm in particular is designed to teach us the Christian life. And here we see a commendation of Scripture to us as essential for the living of the Christian life.
Let's pray before we read God's Word and give it our attention.
Heavenly Father, we thank You for Your Word, that we can be together in Your house with Your people under Your Word. We ask that by the same Spirit who inspired Your Word that You would illumine our hearts and minds, that we would understand it, that we would believe it, that we would embrace it, that we would obey it. And we ask these things in Jesus' name, amen.
This is the Word of God. Hear it in Psalm 119 beginning in verse 97:
“Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day. Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is ever with me. I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the aged, for I keep your precepts. I hold back my feet from every evil way, in order to keep your word. I do not turn aside from your rules, for you have taught me. How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! Through your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way.”
Amen, and thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.
Believers love God's Word for many reasons. We love God's Word because it reveals God to us. It's God speaking to our hearts about who He is and what He has done. It's God's own word to us. That's emphasized, by the way, throughout Psalm 119 because every time the law or the Word is mentioned it is called, “God's law” or “God's word.” Notice in the passage tonight it's not, “How I love the law;” it's “How I love Your law.” The psalmist understands that the Word of God is God speaking. And so believers love the Bible because God is speaking to us in it. We love the Bible because the Bible shows us the way of salvation. It shows us that we do not save ourselves, that we do not earn or merit our redemption, but that that has been done by God Himself in His grace through Jesus Christ. And we love the law, we love the Word, because it shows us how to live. And that is one of the great themes of this passage tonight. Believers love God's Word because they understand that it makes them wise for life and for sanctification. And it's that theme that I want to think with you for a few moments tonight. Believers love the Bible because it makes them wise for life and for sanctification.
It's very clear that the psalmist wants to drive that point home in this passage and he is going to commend God's Word, he's going to commend the Scriptures to you because of eight things that he sees the Scripture doing in his own life. And he's only using his own life as a representation of what God does in the lives of all believers through His Word. So let's look very briefly tonight at these eight things.
TEN REASONS WHY THE PSALMIST COMMENDS THE SCRIPTURE
SCRIPTURE HAS GAINED HIS AFFECTION
The psalmist commends the Scripture to you and me, first, look at verse 97, because Scripture has gained his affection. As he looks at the Word, he sees who it reveals. It reveals its author and the author is God. He looks at the Word and he sees that it reveals its matter, its substance, and that substance, that matter, is the truth of God. And he looks at the Word and he sees its usefulness, its profitability, its practicality, and he declares, “Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day.” That declaration is part of healthy Christian experience. He sees the Word of God and it makes his heart sing and he declares, “I love your word, O God! I love the law! The law is sweet to me. My affections are moved by it and set on it.” That is healthy Christian experience.
Young people, on a few occasions in my life I have had people say things to me like this. “Oh, you’re one of those people that worships God's Word. You worship the Bible.” And remarks of that sort, denigrating the Word of God and denigrating my respect for the Word of God. Let me just say to our young people tonight, when someone says something like that to you, they are speaking falsehood and they are betraying wicked, perhaps completely depraved hearts. That is not the attitude of a believer in God towards God's Word. A believer in God says, “How I love your law, O Lord!” And those that speak against that are undermining what God Himself approves in His own Word. God is approving the attitude of the psalmist as he expresses, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the proper attitude towards the Word of God by the believer. “How I love your word! How I love your law!” That's the attitude of a believer to God's Word. It moves us; it has gained our affection. We know who its author is; its author is God. We understand that the substance of it is the truth of God. It's not the wisdom of men.
You remember when we were studying through Thessalonians that Paul will pause to congratulate the Thessalonians in 1 Thessalonians chapter 2 verse 13 that when he preached the Bible to them they accepted it not as the words of men but for what it really is — the words of God. And that's how the believer approaches the Bible. And the believer understands that the Bible is useful, it's practical, or in Paul's language in 2 Timothy chapter 3, “it's profitable.” “All Scripture is given by inspiration and is profitable for reproof and correction and training in righteousness that the man of God might be equipped for every good work.” No wonder believers say, “How I love your law, O Lord!” So the first reason the psalmist commends the Scripture to us is because it's gained his affection.
SCRIPTURE MAKES HIM WISE
But the second thing is this. Notice what he says in verse 98. “Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is ever with me.” The psalmist commends the Scripture to us in verse 98 because the Scripture makes him wise. Now this theme will continue to run through the rest of the psalm in different language. It will be reiterated in verse 99, it will be reiterated in verse 100, it will be reiterated again in verse 104. The Scriptures makes him wise. It gives wisdom. It gives understanding. Where have you heard something like that before? Well one place is in 2 Timothy chapter 3. Would you turn with me there? It's right before that passage about all Scripture being given by inspiration. Paul is writing to Timothy and he says to him in 2 Timothy chapter 3 verse 14, “As for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings” — listen to this — “which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” There's Paul, reminding Timothy that the Scriptures are able to make him wise for salvation, which is by faith, in Christ Jesus.
Isn't it interesting that in the first instance Paul is talking about the Old Testament cannon? The Christian church always had a canon of Scripture. When Jesus came into the world, the believers of that time already had their Old Testaments and here's the apostle Paul saying that “those Old Testament books, which you were taught, Timothy, by your grandmother and by your mother, they are able to make you wise unto salvation.” Well in Psalm 119, the emphasis is that God's Word is able to make you wise unto sanctification, wise unto growing in godliness, wise unto growing into maturity, wise unto growing in holiness. And so the psalmist here commends the Scripture to us because it is able to make us wise. We may not be wise, but the Scripture can give us wisdom.
SCRIPTURE GIVES HIM UNDERSTANDING NO TEACHER CAN
Third, look at verse 99. The psalmist commends Scripture to us because Scripture gives him understanding that no teacher can. Verse 99 — “I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your testimonies are my meditation.” Now teachers are wonderful. We have a lot of them in the room tonight. Many of you have devoted your lives to teaching and I want to give you a word of encouragement because sometimes you think it just doesn't get through. I'm so thankful for my teachers and though I'm sure that I drove them crazy — I'm thinking of Mrs. Finley right now. And how that dear woman survived me in fourth and fifth grade I do not know, but I'm so thankful for Mrs. Finley and I actually liked her even though I drove her crazy. So teachers, be encouraged! I can look back on my life now and thank God for so many of my teachers. We need teachers. Teachers know things that we don't know. Teachers know how we can learn things better than we know how to learn things. They know how to explain things to us. And I can look back to elementary school and I can look back to high school and I can look to university and seminary and post-graduate school and I can remember so many teachers that poured themselves into my life and they blessed me. And the psalmist isn't mocking teachers here. He's illustrating, precisely because of the respect that teachers would have been held in his own culture and the way that they ought to be held and esteemed in our own culture, and he's arguing, “If teachers can teach you something, how much more can God teach you something in His Word?”
I remember when I was at the University of Edinburgh, my supervisor was held in something of awe by the other students and even by many of the other faculty members even though he was the only Bible-believing evangelical on the largest divinity faculty in Britain. He was the only one who had a high view of Scripture and really believed in the Apostle's Creed. We had professors there who didn't even believe in God. One of the Old Testament professors who taught Hebrew was an atheist! And he would tell you! Now this is at a seminary, training people for the ministry in the Church of Scotland, and he did not believe in God! And so you can imagine the comfort and a little bit of pride my supervisor, who was a Bible-believing evangelical man, was held in awe by other students. And they would often say of him, “Professor Wright has read everything, twice!” And he pretty close to had. And so it was wonderful to have a teacher like that who knew so much and who could guide you in your learning and in your studies.
But the psalmist is saying here that Scripture can give him understanding that no teacher can. Why? Because in the Scripture, God Himself is teaching us. He's teaching us the way of salvation. He's teaching us the way to live. He's teaching us the way of growing. He's teaching us how to resist temptation. God gives us understanding in His Word that no teacher can. “I have more understanding than all my teachers” the psalmist says. Why? Because he's meditated on the Word of God.
SCRIPTURE GIVES HIM UNDERSTANDING THAT THE AGED CANNOT
Fourth, look at verse 100. He goes on to commend the Scripture to us because Scripture gives him understanding that the aged cannot. “I understand more than the aged, for I keep your precepts.” Now again, the psalmist's culture had a tremendous respect for the elderly, much more appropriately so, much more respect than we do for the aged. We do not esteem the elderly the way we ought to in our culture. We are in a culture that values youth and it does not quickly value the wisdom of experience and age. Not so with the psalmist's culture. The aged were highly respected. But you know, even in our culture, we recognize from time to time the importance of age and experience.
When our friend, Al Mohler, became the president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, the flagship seminary for the Southern Baptist Convention, he was thirty-three years old. And in the first press conference, he was hit with a barrage of hostile questions from the media because everyone knew that he was a conservative and he was taking over from people who were not conservative and he was going to turn that institution inside-out. And so at one point during this interview, a somewhat horrified reporter said to him, “But Dr. Mohler, you’re only thirty-three years old! What do you plan to do about that?” (laughter) Now how do you answer a question like that in a press conference? Well Dr. Mohler simply responded, “I plan to age.” (laughter) Well here we are, twenty years later, and Al is twenty years old, oh, more like fifty years older. Even in that question that was meant to be hostile and actually denigrating to him because he was young — the idea is, “What business do you have as a thirty-three year old running this institution?” Even in that hostile question, there was the understanding that age has wisdom that is very important. The psalmist is not arguing against that, he's just saying this. Scripture is able to give us wisdom that even the aged cannot. Scripture, because God is teaching us in Scripture, is able to give us wisdom that even the aged cannot.
SCRIPTURE HAS TAUGHT HIM THAT THERE IS A KNOWLEDGE THAT ONLY COMES FROM OBEDIENCE
But then there's a fifth commendation that he gives to us and you’ll see that in verse 101. Scripture has taught him that there is a knowledge that you can only find in obedience. Now this is huge. Please get this in your mind. There is a knowledge that only comes by obedience. Look at verse 101. “I hold back my feet from every evil way.” That's the language of action. Walking on the way is a typical picture for living the life of faith. “I hold back my feet from every evil way” is talking about living in such a way that you avoid evil. “I hold back my feet from every evil way, in order to keep your word.” Isn't that interesting? So often we talk about knowing the Word so that our feet keep in the way. But here he says, “I keep my feet from every evil way, in order to keep your word.” In other words, the psalmist is saying there is a knowledge that is found only in obedience. There is a Biblical principle that goes like this - You know what you do. You know what you do. Not just what you think but what you do.
Jesus emphasizes this, doesn't He? Isn't it interesting that in the Great Commission when He tells His disciples to make disciples He says, “Make disciples, teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you.” Not just “teach them what I have commanded you,” but “teach them to obey all that I have commanded you.” Or if you go to the end of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapter 7 verse 24, what's the final illustration in the Sermon on the Mount? It's about those who hear His words and do them. Elsewhere, Jesus talks about us not being just hearers but also doers of the Word. Now is Jesus talking about some sort of a faith plus works equals salvation combination? No, He's simply saying this. You don't know the Word of God unless you do it. You don't know the Word of God unless you do it. There is a knowledge that is found only in obedience and the psalmist is acknowledging that here. Scripture has taught him that there is a knowledge found only in obedience. “I hold back my feet from every evil way, in order to keep your word.”
SCRIPTURE HAS HELPED HIM RESIST TEMPTATION
But then he gives a sixth commendation of Scripture to us and you’ll see that in verse 102. There he tells us that Scripture has helped him resist temptation. “I do not turn aside from your rules, for you have taught me.” There he is telling you that your best companion in the fight against temptation is God's Word. It is the Word that has taught him not to turn aside from God's rule. Scripture has helped him resist temptation. You’re a Christian and you’re fighting against sin, especially darling sins. There is no better companion in that fight than Scripture because strangely, even in the redeemed heart, we find desires that are not conformed to God's image. How do you fight those desires? God knows how and He tells you from all sorts of different directions in His Word. And so the psalmist says, “I can testify that you have taught me and so I do not turn aside from your rules. Scripture has helped me resist temptation.”
SCRIPTURE HAS BECOME A SPIRITUAL PLEASURE TO HIM
But then there's a seventh thing that he says to commend the Bible to us. Look at it in verse 103. He tells us there that Scripture has become sweet, a spiritual pleasure to him. “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” He is saying that he has found in communion with God in His Word a pleasure that no carnal pleasure that this world can offer can best. That he has found in the Word of God in communion with God pleasures that this world cannot match. We sing about that from time to time in our hymns. One of my favorite lines is in hymn number 700. Would, you turn with me there? In hymn 700, which is an Isaac Watts hymn, look at the fourth stanza. This hymn has all sorts of great lines like in the second stanza, “Let those refuse to sing who never knew our God.” I love that line. But the fourth stanza is what I want you to see. “The hill of Zion yields a thousand sacred sweets before we reach the heavenly fields or walk the golden streets.” In other words, Isaac Watts is saying to you that there are experiences that we have of tasting and seeing that the Lord is good that we do not have to wait for until heaven.
William Plumer says this. “The communion that we have with God in His Word and in His ordinances is not the same communion that we will have with God in heaven.” But then I love this next phrase. He says, “But it is like it.” “The communion that we have with God in His Word and ordinances is not the same as the communion that we will have with God in heaven but it is like it.” And the psalmist is saying that here. He's saying, “I have tasted sweetness. I have had spiritual pleasure in the Word of God that is not matched by any other experience that I have ever had in this life. There is no carnal pleasure, there is no temporal blessing that can match and best the spiritual pleasure that my soul has had in communion with God in His Word. I have tasted and seen that the Lord is good and I declare that your words are sweet to the taste, O God.”
SCRIPTURE HAS MADE HIM WISE UNTO SANCTIFICATION
And then there's one last word that he has to commend the Scriptures to you and you’ll see it in verse 104. He tells us this. Scripture has made him wise unto sanctification. “Through your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way.” How is it that he has not only discerned the difference between the true and false way, but how is it that his heart desires have come to be set on the true way and have come to hate the false way? In other words, how has his heart been so matured and instructed and it desires sanctification and that it hates the false way and that it longs to walk in the right way? “Through your precepts I get understanding.” He's saying Scripture has made him wise unto sanctification. And where have you heard that before? How about the High Priestly prayer in John 17? Remember what Jesus prayed? “Lord, sanctify them in truth, Your truth. Your Word is truth.” So Jesus prays to His heavenly Father for you and me as well as His disciples in the Upper Room in John 17 in the High Priestly prayer that we would be sanctified by God's truth which is found in the Word of God. Scripture has made him wise unto sanctification.
When I was in South Africa this last week with Mark Dever and Kevin DeYoung and C.J. Mahaney and others, one night after the preaching had been done for the day we were sitting up sort of debriefing on the events of the day in the little patio of the bed and breakfast where we stayed just outside of Johannesburg. And in the course of that conversation, we began to reflect on what it was that the Lord had called us to do in life. And Mark Dever made this observation. He said, “You know, I could quit my job today as the minister of the Capitol Hill Baptist Church and God could put somebody in that position who would do a whole lot better job than I'm doing.” But he said, “The thing that would scare me about not preaching at Capitol Hill Baptist Church is what that would do to my sanctification.” In other words, what he was saying is, he wasn't sure that his ministry was particularly effective in the lives of his people but he was certain that his study of God's Word and his preparation for preaching was very, very important for his own sanctification. All of us around the room that night agreed that being in the Word of God, day by day by day by day, as we prepare sermons, Bible studies, was a tremendous help to our own sanctification.
The psalmist is saying that. He's saying, “I know that Your Word makes me wise unto sanctification.” If you’re struggling in living the Christian life right now, I wonder if you’re in a place where you say and mean, “How I love your law, O Lord!” If you’re in a place in the Christian life where you’re struggling, maybe it's time for you to get back in the Word and to stay in the Word until you can say with the psalmist, “Lord, Your Word is sweet to the taste! Lord, Your Word makes me wise! Lord, how I love Your Word!” Let's pray.
Heavenly Father, work those spiritual desires into all of our hearts to love Your Word. We pray this in Jesus' name, amen.
Would you stand and receive the Lord's benediction?
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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