Sermon February 16, 2020

Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC) Sermon # 1432

February 16, 2020 Psalm 119.33-40

Dr. Ed Pettus

(This is an extended outline, not a verbatim transcript.)

 

“Give Me Life!”

 

33Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes; and I will keep it to the end.
34Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart.
35Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it.
36Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain!
37Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways.
38Confirm to your servant your promise, that you may be feared.
39Turn away the reproach that I dread, for your rules are good.
40Behold, I long for your precepts; in your righteousness give me life!

 

 

  • Noting the Verbs!

 

Those of you who have been with me in any Bible Study or Sunday School class will know that when I study and prepare, and now cannot help but read this way, I note all the active verbs of a passage. There are lots of other things to which I pay close attention, but I normally start with the verbs. Let’s note them briefly here (in italics):

 

Teach – the way of Word

I will keep to the end

Give me understanding

I may keep and observe with whole heart

Lead – in the path of Word

I delight – Ps 1!

Incline ear – to testimonies, not selfish gain

Turn my eyes - looking (worthless things)

Give me life – in Your ways

Confirm – promise...may be feared - revered

Turn away – reproach (for good Word)

Long for - Word

Give me life

 

Let me back up for a minute and share some background. When I first became a Christian I was fascinated with the study of Scripture. My roommate at the time had also accepted Christ but his zeal for study was not quite at the same level. He was not all that excited when I woke him up at 2:00am with something to show him in the Bible that kept me wide awake into the morning hours.

There was a brief time through seminary when that fire was quenched a bit, but that was a short-lived drought. It may be the greatest passion that I have experienced in the Christian life. The study of Scripture is inseparable from my Christian walk and I have come to believe Scripture is inseparable from all our lives, even the lives of non-believers. It is important for non-believers because in the Word of God is the best possible life on this earth for all people. In the Bible is the very fabric of our nation and society that gives all Americans freedoms and structure through law that allows us to live peaceably with one another. And when the enemies of God have chipped away that foundation enough, this nation will fall as have others before it.

I understand that the passion for study is at different places for different people and my prayer is that we all can share in a passion for Scripture. Today I want to see if we can build our desire, increase the zeal, and create within our hearts a passion for the Word. Not that I want any of you to call me at 2:00am to tell me how excited you are to discover God among the stories of the Bible, but I do hope and pray for each of us a hunger for the word.

Psalm 119 is a Psalm about the word of God. Every verse says something about God’s commandments, or statues, or precepts, or Word. All 176 verses focus our attention on the word of God. We have briefly noted the verbs in this passage and I want to explore some of the main aspects included in these eight verses.

 

 

  • Keeping the Law

 

After noting verbs, another consideration for study is repetition. You may have noticed in the verbs that there are two uses of the word “keep”. Verse 33 – “I will keep it to the end”, and verse 34 “that I may keep you law”.

To keep the law is to observe it, which is added to this double use in verse 34, and to observe means to obey the law. We keep it by doing what it says. Verse 33 begins with being taught the Word so that we will keep it. We all have things that we have been taught that have never left our memory. It may have been an old adage that grandma used to say. It may be something a particular teacher taught us. I had an English teacher who taught me and encouraged me by noting that I had some basic skills in English, and she did that partly because she did not expect a “dumb” football player to have any skills in English! I have never forgotten her teaching. You can probably think of things that you express as, “I don’t know why, but I’ve never forgotten that.”

What is fascinating about God’s Word is that, as we are taught the Words of God and begin to keep them, we also find that they keep us. The Word becomes our companion along our path of life. They become our teacher, guide, and even a way of life. This way of life is becoming increasingly different from the ways of our society. While we once knew a society that at least deeply respected the Christian faith, now we are slowly becoming the exceptions to the rules or the exceptions to the ways of life that are opposed to God’s way of life.

 

A second way I think of keeping the Scripture is by cherishing it, loving it, and appreciating its tremendous value. This is the Word that helps to see things as God sees them. I have always wanted to be able to see or feel how professional athletes experience their particular skills, to know how it feels to consistently hit a golf ball like a professional. And I think of God’s Word that way, that we are able to see what God sees, to walk as Jesus walked, to be perfect as God is perfect. In this is great value to help us stand firm in the teachings of God’s Word. It is almost impossible to get the things that keep us out of our system. Whatever keeps us going, what keeps us alive and aware and alert cannot be stripped from the soul and that is exactly what God’s Word does in us, keeps us going in spite of the ways of the world, in spite of the bad news that comes to us every day. The Good News keeps us as we seek to keep it.

 

 

 

  • Finding Delight

 

Another verb that I find interesting right away is “delight”, verse 35. Where else have we seen the word delight? You might remember it from our first Sunday this month in Psalm 1… “but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.” Don’t sit with the scoffers, but delight in the Word. This is another aspect of study that is truly delightful, recognizing how Scripture speaks to Scripture. Finding common themes that span across all of Scripture. Noting how Jesus teaches and revises Old Testament lessons that had been terribly misinterpreted or abused. Seeing delight in various places and learning how to delight in God’s Word through the Word itself. Is not delight something that the world is constantly seeking? We are all seeking to find ways of living that satisfied the soul and, for Christians, is pleasing to God. Not everyone realizes this, certainly, but they act out in ways that demonstrate their lack of satisfaction in life. All of society is looking for that elusive way of life that brings satisfaction. Society has searched in riches, in power, in entertainment, and in all the searching has not found its way. The way to life and great delight is in the Word of God. This is what we are trying to tell the world and on some rough days to remind ourselves.

 

 

  • Turn My Eyes

 

Psalm 119.37 has become a defining Psalm for me in recent years, or at least a hopeful prayer. Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways.

Our eyes turn very quickly to the worthless vain things of this world. We have become a video driven people, media controlled, and enslaved by many vanities of life. We have been seduced by the ideology that what we see is of greatest value, what is produced, and what is known by our senses. It is the action of sport, the entertainment of 007, or the thrill of funniest home videos that gains our greatest attention. Not bad in and of themselves, but can overcome our focus on what matters. The Word of God teaches the opposite of our world and society. So the prayer becomes a plea to turn our eyes away from what has so long drawn us in. I cannot tell you how often I have pulled myself off the sofa and away from the TV because I have come to realize that I spent too much time looking at worthless things. I really think that the devil is doing some of his best work through worthless things in order to distract us from what is of great value – give me life in your ways, O God. That is not to say that everything on TV or internet is worthless. God is doing some wonderful things through our technology, but we must be discerning in our watching and in our use of time. Where do we turn our eyes?

We actually turn our eyes to things invisible, we cannot see them! To God, to Spirit, to grace, love, mercy. The world wants us to ignore such things for the sake of visible things, things produced, palatable, held in hand, known through our senses. But this is not the way of God for we are told in 2 Corinthians 5.7 that we walk by faith and not by sight. We live by the Spirit and not the flesh. We delight in the Word of God and the things of God above all other things.

 

 

  • Give Me Life!

 

There is another repetitive use in this stanza, verse 37 and 40 – give me life! What might the Psalmist be desiring in this prayer for life? Is it physical life, spiritual life, wholeness of life? We don’t really know for certain, but we can certainly see within these verses that that life is grounded in God’s Word. This is life that is physically blessed, spiritually gifted, and wholly given over to God. When I think of life in the Bible, many thoughts come to mind. Jesus as the Way, and the Truth, and the Life (John 14.6). I think of Christ as our life (Col 3.4). The life I now live I live by faith in Christ (Gal 2.20). This is the life I believe the Psalm has in mind, one that is fully dependent on God and one that is fully embraced by God, wrapped up in love and grace and mercy.

 

In just a few verses we have learned a valuable lesson for life: that by keeping and delighting in the Word, God gives us life. But we already knew that. We already trusted that. All that we have done today is see it again, plainly, powerfully revealed in eight verses. And what’s more, we have not even begun to explore the other verbs with depth or the other themes that may emerge from these verses.

There is life in these Words. Remember the cry of the gold rush,“There’s gold in them thar hills!” There’s gold in these here Words. More valuable than gold, sweeter than the honeycomb. Living Words that teach, give, lead, and incline us to the way of God. The Psalmist knows this and prays that God will give life through the Words given. This is much of the message of the entire Psalm 119. There are twenty-two stanzas in the Psalm, each with eight verses. That offers a way to divide the Psalm to delightful selections for study and mediation. Take one per week for twenty-two weeks and you will have a vast repertoire of Bible knowledge and will have gained life in God’s ways.

 

Open [our] eyes, that [we] may behold wondrous things out of your law (Psalm 119.18).

 
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