If you have ever taken on the challenge to read the entire Bible in a year (a challenge I encourage you to take every year), you may recall being thrilled when your reading guide said your only reading for the day was Psalm 119. However when you turned to this Psalm you discovered that it was the longest chapter in the Bible with a whopping 176 verses!
It was tempting to skip over this majestic text in the Bible but the contents are so rich that I felt it was imperative that you be exposed to this grand Psalm. However, exposing you to the Psalm is all we will be able to do. This is a rich Psalm. Charles Spurgeon had 348 pages to his exposition of this Psalm. One Puritan, Thomas Manton wrote three volumes (each with 500-600 pages) on just this text! We are going to just skim the surface this morning.
Psalm 119 is dedicated to declaring the virtues of the Word of God. The Psalm is written as an acrostic which follows the Hebrew alphabet. There are 22 stanzas, one for each letter of the alphabet. Each verse of each stanza begins with the appropriate letter. In other words, if this was written in English, every one of the first eight verses would start with “A”. Every one of the second eight verses would start with “B”. and so forth. It is a wonderfully artistic Psalm but its real value is found in the content of the Psalm.
What is God’s Word?
Our text tells us about the value of God’s Word. It is appropriate to ask: How do we define “God’s Word”? Can’t anyone claim to be speaking from God?
The author of this Psalm refers to the Old Testament (as it was at that time). The people recognized that the prophets spoke as they were instructed by God. Their words were verified by the power and the accuracy of those words. By the time of Jesus the books of the Old Testament were clearly recognized as God’s Word. An actual list of the inspired (or God-breathed texts) came some time later(170 AD). The New Testament quoted most of the Old Testament books as authoritative. There are no authoritative quotes of the books that are in the Apocrypha.
Jesus referred to and quoted the Old Testament as the Word of God. He talked about the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings (the three parts of the Old Testament). He said not even the smallest item in God’s Word will go unfulfilled. He spoke with the authority of God and said the Holy Spirit would lead the disciples to remember and record God’s truth. We look to Jesus as our Lord and Savior because of the historical facts that show us that He is The Lord of life. His opinion on the Word of God is therefore of greatest importance.
New Testament books were considered God’s Word based on three primary factors: 1) Authorship. The book had to be written by an apostle or a close associate of an apostle (many books have apostles names but were written long after the Apostle had died …like the so-called “Gospel of Thomas”.) 2) Wide acceptance by the early church as authoritative. In other words, all the churches recognized the “God-breathed” quality of the letters of Paul, the Gospels, and the letters, of Peter, James and John. (Peter called Paul’s letters Scripture (2 Peter 3:16)) 3) Internal consistency with the rest of the Bible. Since God is consistent, if the work was truly His Word it would be consistent.
Though the final 66 books were not formally recognized until 397 AD there was a consensus on which books made up the Bible long before this time. All the books that some claim are “lost gospels” or “dismissed works” were not rejected for political reasons (as claimed by the DaVinci Code), they were rejected almost immediately by the church as lacking inspiration. They may be valuable or interesting books, but not inspired (the Word of God).
Since the Bible the Word of God it carries ultimate authority for our lives and it is absolutely reliable (inerrant) because God does not lie. The Bible is trustworthy.
The Value of God’s Word
The Psalmist lists why the Bible is so valuable for us. The Bible,
- Shows us what is right and wrong. God as our designer shows us the true design of life through His Word. His instructions for life are clear. (100-102)
- Instructs us and leads us to truth. It opens our eyes (18,105, 130). We think we know the truth but sin has placed, if you will, a thick cataract on our eyes. We need the Bible to restore our ability to see.
- Points the way to wisdom (24, 99-100) The Bible leads us through the dangerous minefield of worldly foolishness, gimmicks, and the ever changing definition of what is true and dependable.
- Revives or Restores us (v. 25). The word of God will bring spiritual life back to our bones; and will lead us back into a true relationship with God.
- Leads us to Happiness, peace, and joy. It does this by introducing us to The Lord who is the sole source of happiness peace and joy. (93)
- Reveals God’s character and Promises. The Bible reveals God not as some impersonal “force” in the great beyond but as the God who wants to be personally involved in our lives. (68,90)
- Gives us Strength and protects us (39, 52, 81-87, 114). When we don’t know where to turn, the Bible gives us the promises and the warnings we desperately need. It reminds us that our strength is in The Lord.
- Is Eternal and Unchanging (152). Unlike contemporary “truth” (which seems to change with public opinion which is like building our lives on sand), the Bible is truth that is solid, reliable, unchanging, and a foundation on which we can build our lives without fear of it giving way.
- My personal favorite description is in verse 29. God’s Word “keeps us from lying to ourselves.” As we read God’s Word, the Bible tells us the truth about life, eternity, and the rebellious nature of our own heart. The Bible will diagnose our problems with a clarity that is sharper than any surgeon’s knife.
As we read the Bible we clearly see our own sin, bitterness, arrogance, stubbornness, unforgiveness, injustice, hard-heartedness, and idolatry. When we truly read and listen to God’s Word we find it impossible to conclude that everything in our lives is the fault of someone else. We must take accountability for our own lives. We are to blame! We are the ones who need to change! The Bible will tell us what our friends are afraid or unable to tell us. Fortunately, it does not stop at telling us the bad news . . . it also tells us the good news of God’s love and His plan to rescue us from ourselves.
One of the conclusions we draw from Psalm 119 is that the Bible is more than “just another religious book”. It is not an academic textbook for learning about religion or even life. The Bible is a dynamic book. It is living. It speaks words that have power. It is a love letter from the Almighty. It is a resource for understanding. It is a compendium of God’s promises. The Bible is unique, special, wonderful, and cherished. But it is not the book itself that makes it powerful (as if the authors themselves produced its dynamic character), it is the fact that this book reveals and brings us close to God. In other words we are not being told to revere the book as a book. We should be led by this book to revere the Lord God Almighty.
The Use of God’s Word
In addition to describing the nature of this book, Psalm 119 also tells us how to use this Word from God.
Search for God in this Book (2). We are to search for God with all our hearts in His Word. In other words, we should read it not primarily to learn facts and master information. We should read this book hungry to know and embrace the God of Creation.
Measure our lives by this book (6). How do we know if we are walking in the way that we should go? The common way to answer the question is to do one of three things: 1) monitor your feelings. Do you feel like you are doing well? 2) Look at your success factor. In this case you will measure the effectiveness of your living by what you have achieved. 3) You measure your life by public opinion. How do other people rank your life? How do they view your life?
I hope you see the weakness of all these approaches: our feelings are fickle and sometimes our feelings are wrong. We may feel no one loves us when they do. We may feel that our actions “aren’t hurting anyone” but they are. We may feel we are “walking with God” when we aren’t.
When we measure ourselves by success we will find frustration because first, no one defines success the same way. Second, there will always be someone who we view as being more successful than we are and that will leave us feeling inadequate or deficient.
Third, when we measure ourselves by what others say, we are vulnerable to the changing winds of public opinion. You can be a “success” in one area of your life and a “failure” in other areas of your life. For example, you can be seen as a very successful businessman and yet be a failure as a mate and parent.
The only standard of measurement that is reliable is the Word of God. This is because God views us from the perspective of eternity. He measures us in terms of our relationship with Him. So, as we read the Bible we need to take things personally. We need to ask
- Are the sinful traits I see in these words reflected in my life?
- Am I doing what God’s Word tells me I should (or should not) be doing?
- Are my attitudes consistent with the attitude that God desires?
- Am I trusting in my own ability or am I truly trusting the Lord?
- Am I exalting myself or am I exalting Him?
Memorize It (11). The Psalmist tells us that those who hide God’s Word in their heart will “not sin against Him”. The reason Jesus was able to resist the temptation of the Devil (Matthew 4) was because he had committed the Word of God to memory. When we memorize Scripture we put God’s Word in a place that is accessible for us. When we memorize Scripture it forces us to pay attention, listen, and meditate on a passage. This helps God’s Word get inside of us.
In our Awana program our children are memorizing all kinds of Bible verses. They may not always remember the verse exactly from one week to the next but . . . if they have hid it in their heart it will be there when they need it.
There are Bible memory programs (Navigators has many different programs including a Bible memory app). The key is repetition. Many of us think we are bad at memorizing things. However, we can memorize part numbers, phone numbers, regulations, sports statistics, TV schedules and much more. The key to memorization is placing priority on the information we are trying to learn. If we believe it is important we can memorize it!
Read the Word Our Loud (13). There is value in the public reading of Scripture.
When churches remove the public reading of Scripture so they can replace it with “something else” they are taking a step in the wrong direction. When the Word is read out loud we are engaging another sense in our involvement with the Word. In fact, if your personal devotional life is getting a little stale . . . read your daily text out loud. It will force you to focus a little more fully on what is being said. If you read with inflection as if you were reading it to your children, it will be even more helpful.
Study/Reflect on God’s Word (15, 97, 77, 117). This involves stopping to think about a verse or passage of Scripture. You may need to do some research on the meaning of words or thinking through the context or principles in a passage. Study and Reflection involves moving slowly and carefully through God’s Word. When we stop on a text in Worship or in Sunday School we are taking time to study and reflect. How many times have you come of this place and said, “Wow, I had never seen this text in this way before?” When we stop and reflect, when we dig a little, we find treasures that impact us deeply.
Cling to These Things in time of Trial and Hostility (23) In times of conflict or hostility we regain our perspective by reading God’s Word. We will discover that conflict is to be expected when we live by God’s standards. We will discover that often the hostility is not really directed against us but is a symptom of a person’s rebellion against God. God’s promises of deliverance can give us strength when we have none of our own.
Put them into practice (30, 32). Once again we are reminded that God gives us His Word not to fill us with information, He gives us His Word to guide us in our living. It is always good to finish your time in the Word by saying “So What am I to do with this information?” When we put God’s Word into practice we find that God’s Word is wise and powerful. And the more we become convinced of this the more we will put it into practice.
Hunger for God’s Word more than the things of this life (37). Have you ever found it difficult to sleep because are replaying a ballgame in your head? Ever find it hard to concentrate because you are thinking about your To Do list at work? Compared to God’s truth, these are worthless things! One of our greatest excuses for neglecting the reading of God’s Word is that we don’t have time. Translated we are saying: There are things that we think are more important than God’s Word! We hunger more for worthless things than for the things that are eternal. This needs to change!
Love God’s Word (47). You may remember the first time you met your spouse or special someone. You may have noticed them and even been attracted to them but you probably didn’t “love” them. That took time. You needed to get to know them and spend time with them before you began to think that there was something special about this person.
I think it is the same way with God’s Word. We grow in our love for God’s Word as we do many of these other things. We begin to see the power, wisdom, comfort, and guidance in the Word and we become more and more drawn to it. When we discover from experience that God’s Word brings us near to the heart of the Lord then we will fall in love with His Word.
Rise up early (147) and/or stay up late (148) to embrace God’s Word. The Psalmist says he begins and ends his day with God’s Word. You may need to get up a little earlier or head to bed a little earlier but these times at the start and ending of a day are great times to gain perspective and reflect on the day before us and the day past.
Sing God’s Word (172). This is one of the values of Christian music. Lyrics that are based on God’s Word or on reflecting on God’s Word have a power much greater than meditating on the self-indulgent lyrics in some popular (or even religious) songs. Most of the great hymns are anchored to the Word of God. One of the best ways to memorize a passage of Scripture is to put it to music. You might be surprised at how many verses of the Bible and how many Biblical truths you already know because of a particular song you sing in church or heard on the radio.
This morning we have made a very quick dash through Psalm 119. However, from this whirlwind overview I hope you have seen what the Psalmist wanted us to see: God’s Word is a treasure. It is not meant to sit on our shelves, it is meant to be read, reflected upon, and put into practice.
If you don’t read, study, discuss and memorize the Bible you are ignoring the greatest source of guidance and stability at our disposal. God wants to help us find our way through life. He wants us to know Him and He wants us to know victory over the sin that dogs our lives. So, He gave us His Word.
Here are some principles for mining the riches of God’s Word.
- Set a specific time to read. Don’t leave it to your feelings.
- Read systematically rather than using the shotgun approach. Read through an entire book of the Bible so you can see the bigger picture. If you are new to the Bible, start reading in the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John). Get to know Jesus first.
- Don’t give up. Keep at it. If you miss a day don’t get discouraged, get back to reading. Don’t worry too much about Bible reading schedules.
- Always read with a desire to apply the truth you learn.
- Read hungry. Read hungry to meet God. If you seek Him you will find Him. And once you find Him, you will grow to love the Lord and His Word just like the author of Psalm 119.