Today we continue our new series, called “the wisdom of the Psalms”. The 150 psalms in the Bible are inspired poetry. Poetry physically put down on paper by King David and other authors, but ultimately given by God.
The Psalms are a set of God-given prayers we can use in every situation, in every different season of life. The psalms include prayers we can pray in times of joy, in times of sadness, in times of despair, and in times of hope. In times of plenty, and times of need. The Psalms are prayers given by God for us to use when our own words fail us, when our personal vocabulary runs dry, when we ourselves are not quite sure what to say. They are God-given poetry that Christians can read quietly on our own, or sing together in church.
Speaking personally, I have spent quite a long time reading the Psalms over the Summer - and reading about them too - and I have found them spiritually enriching and emotionally sustaining. As we look at some of them over the next few weeks, I hope you will enjoy them too.
We begin today with Psalm 119. The Psalm that appears in the very centre of the Bible if you open it up. It also happens to be the longest Psalm – with 176 verses, and would take nearly half an hour just to read out loud. You might call it the super-Psalm!
But since we all want to get home in time for our Sunday lunch(!) I want us to focus this morning on just the first sixteen verses of this super psalm. A psalm that celebrates the goodness and wisdom of God’s word.
But let me pray before we get stuck in: Heavenly Father, your words are a joy and delight, a nourishment to the soul. Help us to feast on Psalm 119 this morning. In Jesus’s name, Amen.
- Obeying God’s Word brings blessing!
One lesson I try to teach my children is that the rules Helen and I give them are given for their good, not because we are being mean. We tell them to stop and look both ways before crossing the road so they don’t get run over. We limit the number of sweets they can eat - so their teeth don’t rot. And we stop them watching too much TV so they don’t get square eyes and wide waistlines!
A similar principle applies to us and God. Because the first lesson we learn from today’s psalm is that obeying God’s Word brings blessing. We see this in verse 1 and 2, don’t we, where it says: “Blessed are those whose ways are blameless, who walk according to the law of the Lord. Blessed are those who keep his statutes.”
Do you notice that God’s Word (the Bible, Scripture) is described in two different ways in those two verses? In verse 1 God’s word is called the “law of the Lord”, but then in verse 2 its called his “statutes”?
In fact, if we had time to read through all of Psalm 119, we would see that it uses about half a dozen different expressions to describe God’s Word. As well as his laws and his statutes, it is also called his ‘teachings’, his ‘commands’ and ‘decrees’, as well as his ‘precepts’ and ‘promises’.
The author of this psalm doesn’t just use these different words to keep things fresh and stop the psalm becoming boring. He uses them to express the enormous variety and diversity we find whenever we pick up our Bible. Scripture contains prophecy and poetry, promises and predictions, love songs as well as letters, history as well as theology.
In fact one of my guiding principles here at St.Michael’s has been to make sure we are exposed to the full breadth of God’s Word. So over my time here I’ve tried to make sure we’ve studied the Old Testament as well as the New, and followed sermon series from right across God’s written word, not solely from the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John (important as they are!).
So God’s word is gloriously rich and diverse - but why does it bring blessing? The short and simple answer is that the Bible gives us God’s wisdom. Wisdom from our Creator on how to live rightly in his creation. Wisdom on how to walk in a way that both pleases God, blesses other people, and brings us a personal contentment that no other way of life can possibly offer.
You see, God’s written word is like a map and compass in a confusing world. A SATNAV that guides us from the cradle to the grave - and then on to glory. Its like an encyclopaedia that gives us everything we need to know on everything that matters most. As the apostle Paul puts it: “the Holy Scriptures”, make us “wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” and equip us “for every good work”.
Verse 3 today is really helpful. It describes obeying the Bible as “walking in God’s ways”. Obeying God’s word isn’t a tick box exercise, but a way of life. Its dynamic not static. Its a lifelong walk not a single step. Its a daily decision not a momentary choice.
So every morning we need to ask ourselves: Will I seek to live according to God’s word today – a way that gives blessing. Or will I live another way – a way that will fail to truly satisfy, a way that this psalm says will lead to “sin” and “shame”. When its put that way, I hope the right choice is obvious!
- Know God’s Word, know God!
So obeying God’s Word brings blessing. But better still, God’s Word also helps us get to know God better.
Whenever we read a best-selling autobiography by a celebrity, a sportsman, or any other famous figure, we get to know that person better. When we read the latest autobiography by John McEnroe, David Walliams, Hillary Clinton or anyone else, we get an insight into their character - into their hopes, their fears, their loves and their hates. A person’s words reveal their personality in a far deeper way than just a photograph does. They show us someone’s mind, their soul - not just their face.
Look again to verse 7 today: “I will praise you with an upright heart, as I learn your righteous laws.” The psalmist understands that as he learns God’s laws, he will learn more about God himself. To be precise, he will learn more about God’s goodness - and want to praise him for it. God’s words are like a pathway that leads us up to God himself - they paint a vivid portrait of what he is really like.
Verses 10 and 11 make the same point even more strongly. They say “I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands. I have hidden your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” Do you see the what’s going on? The psalmist’s heart’s desire is to know God, so he therefore ‘hides’ God’s Word in his heart. The psalmist understands that the key to knowing God better is to know God’s Word better, and to obey it more completely.
The obvious implication of all this is that we all need to get to know our Bible’s better - we need to spend more time reading it, reciting it and reflecting on it. More time taking it on board, to heart.
And that’s exactly what the author of Psalm 119 recommends in verses 13 and 15 today. In verse 13 he says: “With my lips I recount all the laws that come from your mouth.” And then in verse 15 he says: “ I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways”.
Like an actor in rehearsing his lines, the psalmist says he rehearses and recounts the words he has read in the Bible. Like a cow chewing the cud, the psalmist recommends turning God’s Word over in our minds. We are to meditate on it, think on it, and considers its implications for our daily life.
As you may know from the news, the Governement is currently trying to get the EU Withdrawal Bill through Parliament. This massive piece of legislation is designed to take thousands of EU laws and put them onto our British statute books before Brexit takes place. Thousands of rules and regulations need to be moved from Brussels to Britain. Psalm 119 is urging us to do something similar ourselves. Its urging us to move God’s words from the pages of our Bibles and transpose them into our hearts and minds. And we do this transfer, it says, by prayerfully reading them and reflecting on them.
One good habit many Christians have is to read a short passage of Scripture first thing in the morning. They then have a few verses in their mind that they can think on and ‘feed’ on for the rest of the day.
We’ll all be hearing a lot about the Protestant Reformation over the next couple of months, as we approach the 500th anniversary of when it all began. One of the great legacies of the Reformation was getting the Bible into ordinary people’s hands. Reformers like Martin Luther and William Tyndale were passionate that people should have the opportunity to read God’s word for themselves, and the invention of the printing press helped to make that possible.
Today we can still read the Bible on paper, but also on our tablet computer or via an app on our mobile phone. We can even download an audio recording of the Bible from the internet – David Suchet has just done a great one. There are Bible reading notes, reading plans and commentaries galore. Many are in our church library, or available from myself or Pat Burr. Do dig into them!
Compared to previous generations, and many people around the world today, the Bible is well within our grasp here in Gidea Park. We have no excuse not to open it, read it, reflect on it and apply it to our lives. Let’s echo the words of the psalmist in verse 16 today: Lord “I delight in your decrees, I will not neglect your word.”
- Jesus: The perfect young man
Before I finish this morning I want us to take a moment to look a verse 9. Look again at what it says: “How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word.”
In many ways it’s a summary of all we’ve seen so far, isn’t it? It’s yet another verse that encourages us to obey God’s word - another verse that says we avoid sin when we let our actions be guided by the Bible. But what’s interesting is that it includes a reference to a young man.
Its possible that the reason a young man is mentioned in this verse is that it was written by a young man. Its entirely plausible that the author of Psalm 119 was young and male.
But as we read this psalm as Christians today, our thoughts should also be drawn to another young man. A young man born a few hundred years after this psalm was first written. A young man who would have sung this very psalm in his home synagogue. A Jewish young man who may well have memorised these very verses as he grew up.
That young man, of course, was Christ. Because as we look at the life of Jesus in the Gospels we see a man who lived his whole life in total obedience to the Word of God. A man whose birth, life, death and resurrection were all literally in ‘accordance’ with the Scriptures. You see, as we read the Gospels we see that Jesus knew his Bible back to front:
- When he was tempted, he quoted Scripture against Satan.
- When he explained his mission and ministry, it was rich with Scriptural metaphors and allusions.
- When he predicted his death and resurrection, Old Testament prophecy was often on his lips.
- And as he hung on the cross, his final words were to quote the first verse of Psalm 22.
Jesus was, and remains, the only person whose way was entirely pure. The only Bible-believer who has been tempted in every way but never succumbed to sin. The only Son who has ever wholehearted obeyed his Father’s words! So Jesus presents for us the perfect example. The perfect example of someone who truly delighted in God’s Word and never, ever neglected it.
But thankfully Jesus is more than simply an example – he is a Saviour as well. We all need more than just moral example, we need forgiveness for those times when we haven’t lived according to God’s word. For those times when we have sinned and put ourselves to shame.
And the wonderful truth of the Christian Gospel is that Christ’s purity can become ours. His blameless life can be credited to our account. His perfect, spotless sacrifice for sin on the Cross can make anyone right with God. All that is required is for us to put our faith in him. And when we do, God’s forgiveness flows, and his Spirit is poured into our hearts. A Spirit who will help us walk according to the law of the Lord. A Spirit who will help us walk in God’s ways. A Spirit who will help us delight in God’s decrees.
So when you read the words of Psalm 119, don’t despair. Don’t write it off as an unattainable ideal.
- Instead, look to Jesus as the perfect embodiment of a blameless life.
- Trust in Christ’s purity for your forgiveness before God.
- And ask for the help of God’s Spirit to walk according to his Word.
So let’s pray: Lord Jesus, thank you that you lived your life according to your Father’s word. We trust in you alone for forgiveness for our failures, and we seek the power of your Spirit to walk your way in the future. In your name we pray, Amen