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The Sum of Your Word is Truth

Series: Pslam 119 Not By Bread Alone

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on Nov 17, 2013

Psalm 119:153-160

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If you have your Bibles, I would invite you to turn with me to Psalm 119, verses 153 to 160.  And you note, in the very opening words of this portion of Psalm 119 that the psalmist again is dealing with his own affliction and is crying out to God.  How often we encounter this theme in the psalms.  And so we should not be discouraged when we encounter affliction in our trials in this life.  The psalmist himself knows this affliction.  And I would say that this whole section is about how the Word of God helps us in affliction.  And I want you to see a number of things as we read this passage together tonight.  I want you to see how God cares about our affliction, I want you to see God as the source of life in the midst of our affliction, I want you to see how the truthfulness of God’s Word helps us in affliction, I want us to see how God’s salvation is given to those who love His Word, and finally I want us to see the fundamental hope for those who are afflicted found in this passage.  Before we read God’s Word let’s pray and ask for His help and blessing.

Heavenly Father thank You for Your Word.  I don’t know all the ways my friends gathered here tonight are dealing with affliction; You do.  You know how long they’ve dealt with affliction, You know the exact nature of that affliction, You know how that affliction has affected their attitudes, their outlooks, their experience.  You know how deep their discouragement is; You know how faint their hope may be.  You knew this from before the foundation of the world because You know the end from the beginning.  You are the sovereign Creator and the providential Ruler of this world but You have also told us that not a hair can fall from our heads apart from Your will.  And so we know in Your providence that You minister to us in affliction but sometimes our affliction is so deep that we almost forget our own names, much less remember the teachings of Your Word.  So tonight, O God, as we study Your Word together, we ask that You would press the truth of Your Word deep into our own hearts so that in the midst of affliction we will not forget the truth that You have spoken.  We ask this in Jesus’ name.  Amen.

This is the Word of God.  Hear it beginning in Psalm 119 verse 153:

“Look on my affliction and deliver me, for I do not forget your law.  Plead my cause and redeem me; give me life according to your promise!  Salvation is far from the wicked, for they do not seek your statutes.  Great is your mercy, O LORD; give me life according to your rules.  Many are my persecutors and my adversaries, but I do not swerve from your testimonies.  I look at the faithless with disgust, because they do not keep your commands.  Consider how I love your precepts!  Give me life according to your steadfast love.  The sum of your word is truth, and every one of your righteous rules endures forever.”

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

GOD CARES ABOUT YOUR AFFLICTION

Affliction is hard to bear, even if you know that it’s coming.  And God is so kind in His Word, repeatedly, to tell us how we can bear it in faith.  And this passage teaches us at least five things that the Word of God says to us to help us in affliction and I want to direct your attention to those five things tonight.  The first one is simply this.  This passage teaches us that God cares about your affliction.  God cares about your affliction.  Have you ever been tempted to utter, in a sense of community, the words of the old spiritual, “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen”?  Do you ever feel that way?  There’s really no one who understands what it is that you’re going through; there’s nobody who is sympathetic.  There is nobody that can understand you from the inside out.  And it makes the afflictions harder because you feel isolated in it.  There’s no one who can actually properly get into your shoes and walk a mile with you because nobody knows your heart.  You see how the psalmist begins this prayer?  “Look on my afflictions.”  That’s a bold prayer.  “God, look at what I’m going through.  Take notice of what I’m going through.  Study the distress that I’m in.  Pay attention to me in this trial.”  

Do you know what the psalmist is teaching you even in that little prayer, “Look upon my affliction”?  He’s teaching you that you worship a God who cares about your trials and you worship a God who can understand your afflictions even when no one else on this planet can because your God has been in your shoes and He knows a thing or two about affliction, and not just because in His providence He has been ruling this world for the good of His people through sunshine and shadow from the very beginning, but because His own Son has been down in the affliction.  And when His children cry out to Him, “Look on my affliction,” the Father remembers a time when His Son cried out to Him to look on Him in His affliction and He hears your cry for aid and attention with the voice of His own Son in His ears.  Do not think, my friends, that He does not care about your afflictions.  The psalmist is not ashamed to look into the face of God and ask Him to look upon his affliction, to take notice of his affliction, to study his distress, and to hear him.  And he knows that his God will and does.  And my friends, that is a very, very important thing to learn from the Word of God about how to deal with your affliction. And that is to know that God cares about your afflictions.  That is the first thing to know.

You know it’s so interesting to me that the loss of the belief in God’s good providence over your life even in affliction is one of the roots of spiritual depression and very often apostasy.  That is, when people cease to believe that God is in control and God is in control with their best interests in mind, it is very easy under a weighty affliction to just give up.  And so the psalmist is speaking of something very important here - that God cares about our affliction.

GOD IS THE ONE WHO GIVES LIFE TO THOSE IN AFFLICTION

Second, if you’ll look at verses 154, 156, and 159 you will meet a repeated phrase - “give me life.”  Now that phrase lets you know how desperate the affliction that the psalmist is in.  The psalmist feels that his life is threatened.  These afflicters, these tormenters, these persecutors want to take his life and so he turns to God and in desperation prays not once, not twice, but three times, “Lord, they want to take my life.  Lord, give me life!”  In other words, the psalmist is telling you, “In your affliction, if you are going to have life, God must be the one to give it to you.  In your affliction if you’re going to have life, God must be the one to give it to you.”  Sometimes in our afflictions we devise our own strategies for survival and our mathematics do not include God in our calculations.  We have our own methods.  We have our own plans about how we’re going to survive that affliction.  And when we do, we have factored out the most important factor.  And the psalmist is just reminding us again here that if you’re going to get relief in affliction it’s going to come from God.  It’s not going to come from you, it’s not going to come from your plan, and most likely it’s not going to come from your circumstances.  Oh yes, God, in His kindness, very often changes our circumstances, but if our relief only comes from the change of circumstance the relief of our affliction will not last long because sooner or later circumstances are going to change and they’re not going to change favorably.  And so the psalmist is reminding us that if we’re going to have life in our afflictions God Himself must give it.

And look at how he emphasizes this.  Go back to verse 153.  “Look on my affliction,” and first he says, “deliver me.”  Then verse 154, “plead my cause and redeem me.”  And then 154, 159, 156, and 159 - “give me life.”  The psalmist begs God to deliver him, to save him, to give him life.  He is desperate and he knows that God is the only answer.  That is another very important lesson to learn in affliction.  God is the only answer.  What do we often think in our affliction?  The answer that we need is the end of our affliction; that’s the answer that we need.  And the psalmist says, “Wrong answer.  The answer is God.”  The affliction may end; it may not.  The affliction may get worse or it may get better.  But whatever happens does not matter because God is the source of life, whether He hears our cry through the ending of the affliction or the increasing of the affliction, He is the answer.

And notice that he specifies the basis of God’s giving his life - “according to your promise; according to your rule” - another word for God’s Word - “according to your promise; according to your word; according to your steadfast love.”  God’s promise; God’s Word; God’s love.  “Give me life, Lord.”  It comes from His promise, from His Word, from His love - none of which are dependent upon our circumstances.  The source of the answer is not from our circumstances, it’s from God’s promise, God’s Word, God’s love - things that are far beyond, high above our circumstances.

ALL OF GOD’S WORD IS TRUE

Third, look at verse 160 at the very end of this section.  The third thing that we learn from God’s Word about dealing with our afflictions is this - all of God’s Word is true.  You can bank on it.  All of God’s Word is true.  Look at verse 160.  “The sum of your word is truth; every one of your righteous rules endures forever.”  The psalmist is telling you at the end of this psalm that he is ready to bet his life on the truthfulness of God’s Word.  “I’m surrounded by tormenters and persecutors that want to take my life.  I am betting my life on the truthfulness of God’s Word and I believe that it can be trusted comprehensively.”  

Now the psalmist has been saying this all along.  Look at how he does it.  Look all the way back to verse 153.  “I do not forget your law.” He begins by saying, “I’m not going to forget it, Lord.  I’m not going to forget Your Word!”  Verse 154 - “Give me life according to your promise.”  There’s another part or aspect of God’s Word - God’s promises.  Verse 156 - “Give me life according to your rules.”  Remember throughout this psalm the psalmist piles up different words to us to talk about God’s Word.  This is one of them.  Verse 157 - “I do not swerve from your testimonies.”  Verse 159 - “I love your precepts.”  Over and over, the psalmist is saying, “Lord, the place of my trust is in Your Word,” and he sums it all up by saying in verse 160, “The sum of your word is truth and every one of your righteous rules endures forever.”  In other words, God’s Word is comprehensively, extensively, completely true.  It can be trusted.  And so when God says, “I will never leave your or forsake you,” it can be trusted.  When He says, “I cause all things to work together for good for those who love Me and are called according to My purpose,” it can be trusted.  God’s Word is true and the psalmist is ready to stake his life on its comprehensive truthfulness.

GOD’S SALVATION IS NEAR TO THOSE WHO LOVE HIS WORD

Fourth, look at verses 155 and 159.  What an interesting contrast.  Here we learn that in affliction God’s salvation is near to those who love His Word.  In affliction, God’s salvation is near to those who love His Word.  Look at this interesting contrast in verses 155 and 159.  “Salvation is far from the wicked.”  What are they like?  “They do not seek your statutes.”  In the whole psalm he’s been saying how he does seek the Lord’s statutes, but the wicked don’t.  Then, verse 159 - “Consider how I love your precepts.” So the wicked don’t see Your statutes and the psalmist loves them! You see the contrast?  It’s a bookend though.  Look at everything that happens in between 155 and 159.  In 155 we’re told that “the wicked do not seek your statutes.”  In verse 157 we’re told “my persecutors and my adversaries,” by implication, “they swerve from your testimonies.”  And then he says, “but I don’t.  I don’t swerve from your testimonies.  In fact, I look,” verse 158, “I look at the faithless with disgust because they do not keep your commands.”  159 - “Consider how I love your precepts.”  

Do you see the contrast being worked up there?  “The wicked, persecutors, adversaries, the faithless, do not seek your statutes, they swerve from your testimonies, and they do not keep your commands.  But I seek your statutes, do not swerve from your testimonies, keep your commands, love your precepts.”  Do you see the principle?  Salvation is far from those who do not love God’s Word and it is near to those who do.  Please hear me, my friends.  Salvation is far from those who do not love God’s Word but it is near to those who do.  God’s Word is true and trustworthy and it is the comfort of His people in affliction.  It is those who mock His Word, who do not believe His Word, who swerve from His Word, who neglect His Word, who do not seek His Word, who do not obey His Word that find themselves salvation-less in affliction.  And the psalmist just puts a bold contrast out there for us between the two results.

OUR FUNDAMENTAL HOPE IS IN GOD’S MERCY, LOVE, AND TRUTH

And finally there’s this.  Look at verses 156, 159, and 160 because in those verses the psalmist tells you where his fundamental hope is.  You know it’s possible to read this psalm, and let me just walk you back - that’s where we’re going - but let me just walk you back through the psalm.  It’s possible to read this psalm and get a slight misimpression as to what the psalmist is saying.  When he says, “Look on my affliction and deliver me for I do not forget your law,” it can sound like, “Well I’m a good person, Lord, help me.  I’m a good person.  I don’t forget Your law.”  Or, “give me life according to your rules,” in verse 166 sounds like, “I keep the rules, Lord.  Give me life.”  You know this could seem like the legalist’s evening prayer, the moralist’s morning meditation.  “I’m a good person, Lord. Answer my prayers.”  But this psalm actually reveals what the fundamental hope of the psalmist is and it’s not in him.  

Look at verses 156, 159, and 160.  “Great is your mercy, Lord.”  159 - “Give me life according to your steadfast love” - Your loving-kindness, Your covenant love.  Verse 160 - “The sum of your word is truth.”  Now in those three phrases, my friends, you have just encountered the tri-fold, fundamental hope of the psalmist.  The psalmist’s fundamental hope is in God’s mercy, God’s love, and God’s truth.  “Lord, I’m afflicted.  I’m surrounded by people who want to do me in.  So let me tell You where my hope is.  My hope is not that I’m a good person, though I do love Your Word.  That doesn’t get me any brownie points, it just gets me the one thing I can hold onto in this life, Your Word, because it’s true.”  Ah, there’s fundamental basis of hope number one - the truth of the Lord’s Word!  “And I can count on your mercy, Lord.  I need Your mercy. And in affliction, I depend on Your mercy.  And I know, Lord, that You can give me life with Your steadfast love, Your covenant love, Your loving-kindness.  So that’s what I’m trusting, Lord, in affliction. I’m trusting in Your mercy, in Your love, and in Your truth.”  In other words, “All my hope is on who You are, Lord.  You are merciful, You are loving, and You are true.  And I’m ready to stake my life on that.  I’m ready to hang all my hope on that.  I’m ready to keep on believing through this affliction because of who You are, O Lord.”  

This psalmist is helping you and me through affliction from God’s Word.  He tells us about a God who cares about our affliction, he tells us about a God who can give us life even in our affliction, he tells us about a God whose Word is true, he tells us about a God who is very near to those who believe that Word, and he tells us about the God who is the source of hope even and especially for the afflicted because He’s merciful, He’s loving, and He’s true.  Let’s pray.

Heavenly Father, we will need this not once but a myriad of times in our Christian experience, so by the grace of the Holy Spirit help us to remember what we need and then bring to mind what we have forgotten when we need it again, in Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Would you stand for God’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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