The Word: Safeguard of Purity
The Word: Safeguard of Purity
by William Klock
This morning we’re going to look at the second stanza of the 119th Psalm, verses 9 to 16. For those of you who weren’t here last week, I explained that for the next twenty-two weeks, Lord willing, I’ll be preaching through Psalm 119, which is the Psalm specified for most of Trinitytide. You can follow along in your Bibles or in the Prayer Book, where this stanza is found on page 421. As I said last Sunday, this is an acrostic poem. That means that in each stanza, each verse begins with the same letter and that the psalm works its way through all twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet. In this second stanza, each line begins with the Hebrew letter beth. Now unlike our letters, Hebrew letters (and this is true in most ancient languages) are actually words. As languages came to be written down, letters were named with the common words that began with them. Beth means “house” and I found it interesting this week as I was working through this passage that the key concept in these verses is purity. House and purity, or, how one keeps his house pure. As I’ve been reading the meditations and commentaries that the Church Fathers made on this psalm, I’ve found that in almost every stanza they find a connection like this between the letter and the stanza’s key idea. It’s always amazing to me how the Holy Spirit packs Scripture with meaning and sometimes in places that we never think to look.
Now, as Christians purity is one of our first concerns. Think of your experiences with new Christians. When we first make Christ our Lord, we usually go through a period of great excitement. A lot of people find that the Holy Spirit opens their eyes and convicts them of sins they’ve tolerated in their lives and that initial love and passion for Christ often make it easy to set those sins aside. And yet as time goes by, we become accustomed to that first love and passion and it becomes the norm. We settle down a little bit and our struggle with sin becomes more difficult. Because we’ve been awakened to love for God by the Spirit, we’re conscious of our sin and God’s holiness and we long to be more holy, but pursuing holiness becomes a struggle. At first we might have felt spiritually invincible, but then reality sets in as we see ourselves continuing to fall into sin, over and over. Like Paul we’re confused by our own actions. We hate the sin in our lives and we want to be holy, but instead we see ourselves living out the sin we want so much to put behind us, not the holiness we aspire to (Romans 7:16-20). We understand what we saw the Psalmist saying in verses 1-8, that blessing is found in being blameless, and we want that blessedness so badly, and yet our feet (and our hands, and eyes, and ears, and everything else) keep leading us to sin. What’s the answer? How can we be pure? Look at verse 9:
How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word.
Don’t let the Psalmist’s use of “young man” keep you from applying this question to yourself. Hebrew wisdom literature is almost always addressed to this hypothetical “young man”. Those of us who are men have been there and know, that as young men we probably needed this godly advice more than anyone else, but it applies to everyone. So how can you keep your way pure? That’s the question every true Christian is going to ask, because purity—holiness—is the great pursuit of every true Christian. Let me say, if you have no desire for holiness, you need to backup and ask whether or not you’ve trusted in the saving power of Christ’s death and whether or not you’ve made him your Lord, because once you’re a Christian, the Holy Spirit take up residence in you and turns your heart and mind toward God and godliness. If you are concerned about pleasing God, that’s evidence that you have the Spirit and are a Christian. If you don’t have that evidence of the Spirit, you may not have the Spirit and, therefore, may not have ever trusted in Christ. But the Christian has to ask: How do I keep my way pure? The Psalmist says that you guard your way according to God’s word. The word used for “guard” is used in other places for describing how a shepherd guards and watches over his sheep. In other places it’s used to describe the way soldiers guard their captives or prisoners. In either case, we’re talking about consciously, actively, and alertly protecting our “way”—our life and our character. There are all sorts of things out there competing to give us advice and inform our “ways”. The world, the flesh, and the devil are working at us on a thousand different fronts every day, telling us to respond to this or that situation in their way. Each of us needs to ask: Which source of guidance is going to keep my way pure? God’s word or the competing counsel that arises from my fleshly and sinful nature, from the sinful world around me, or even sometimes from the devil and his minions as they spin their web of lies?
One of my favourite examples, especially since the Psalmist is addressing this to young men, is King Rehoboam. Rehoboam was Solomon’s son, and when Solomon died he became the new king. When he showed up at his coronation he was confronted by a bunch of men who were tired of slaving for Solomon. Remember that he’d conscripted the men of Israel to build the temple and to build his palace and some of them were tired of all the hard work the king was demanding from them. They wanted Rehoboam to promise to take it easier on them. So Rehoboam first went to his father’s old and seasoned advisers, men who were steeped in the word, just as David and Solomon had been, and he asked them what to do. In their wisdom, they told him that if he was kind and if he responded gently to the people, they would be loyal to him as their king. They sound like men who had been reading Solomon’s Spirit-inspired proverbs. But Rehoboam didn’t like this advice, so he went to his friends—young men as it says—and asked what they thought. They told him that if he wanted to get anywhere as king he needed to tell these troublemakers who the boss was. So Rehoboam went back to the protestors and showed them his little finger and said, “You think my dad was hard on you? You haven’t seen anything yet! I’m king now and my little finger is bigger than my father’s ‘loins’. I’m a real man. Compared to me, my father was a wimp. Now get back to work!” Of course the protestors didn’t like that and they revolted. The end result was that ten of the twelve tribes revolted, split from the kingdom and formed their own kingdom and the rest of Israel’s history was one of almost constant war between the two—all because one young man decided to do his own thing instead of following the Scripture-laden advice of those very wise men.
How often do we get into trouble because we do our own thing instead of living according to Scripture? The Psalmist asks: “How do I keep my way pure?” You keep it pure by guarding it according to God’s word. Charles Spurgeon wrote, “You must take heed to your daily life, as well as study your Bible, and you must study your Bible that you may take heed to your daily life.” Look at verse 10:
With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments!
We need a guide. Take note: No one ever stumbles into holiness. No one’s ever lived a holy life by accident. If we desire to be holy, it means committing to pursue it with all our heart and soul and mind. And yet even still, the greatest desire isn’t enough. We need instructions and guidance. We need God’s word. It’s our map and our field guide as we go on the way. When I was a boy scout I remember one particular campout that was designed to teach us how to use a map and compass. They dropped us off and we had to hike six or seven miles to the campsite using our map. As we hiked along our patrol leader noticed a creek at the bottom of a ravine. We were pretty sure that creek passed not far from the campsite and he thought that it would be easier to climb down to the creek and follow it instead of following the map and using the compass. We found out later that had we followed the creek we would have been lost, because it wasn’t the right creek. We were spared getting lost, because halfway down the side of the ravine we stirred up a bees’ nest and were swarmed by bees that drove us back up to the ridge we were supposed to be on, although a lot worse for the wear. Following the creek looked like a good way to go at the time. Following the map would have taken a lot more work, or so we thought. And yet it was the way the map showed us that was the way to get us to our destination. As we walk the Christian life there are all sorts of things like that creek to distract us. They look good. They look easier. But whenever we stray from the way of God’s word, we’re always going to get into trouble.
The Psalmist knew this. He’d taken his spiritual lumps and probably learned the hard way more than once. Think of David, who because of his dalliance with Bathsheba and because he had her husband murdered, had to suffer through the death of his beloved child. And so the Psalmist says in verses 11 and 12:
I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you. Blessed are you, O LORD; teach me your statutes!
Here’s one of the most important steps for living obediently and in holiness: store up God’s word in your heart. Why? That you might not sin against him. I said last week, if you struggle with sin, the most important thing you can do is to meditate on and memorise Scripture passages that deal with the particular sin you’re struggling with. Once the word is stored up, it comes to mind when you’re tempted and turns every occasion of temptation into an occasion for obedience. Store it away. Having you Bible handy isn’t enough. Store in your heart. It really means, store it in your mind. The ancient Jews didn’t understand modern anatomy. What we know to be the emotional and rational functions of the brain they attributed to the heart. What the Psalmist is saying is to memorise it. Carrying your Bible around is great, but if you forget it or someone takes it away or if you need it’s prompting on short notice or don’t know where to find what you neeed, it’s not always very useful. The most useful place for God’s word is in your head. It’s always ready and no one can take it away. Think of those Christians persecuted in countries where their faith is illegal and the only Scripture they know is what they’ve memorized. No one can take that away and they treasure it, because they know that it’s their one faithful guide in life and their only reliable way to know God. If David is the author of this psalm, consider that he could learn God’s ways from a whole host of priests that ministered in his God’s in the tabernacle, from Nathan the high priest and prophet, and consider that David himself was a prophet. David no doubt did learn from Nathan and from those priests—we have at least one example—and as a prophet David received the divine oracles of God, and yet his all-consuming passion was not for teaching from those other sources, it was the Scriptures themselves. I think we so often go looking for God in other places, whether it’s seeking the advice of others or waiting for some form of private revelation, because those things are easier than learning God’s word for ourselves. God makes himself known in a variety of ways and we’re encouraged to avail ourselves of them, but never does Scripture ever tell us to guard our way according to the advice of Christian fiends, or private revelations, or dreams or visions or any of those other things. There are no shortcuts on the road to holiness. Learn the word. Study it. Memorise it. Meditate on it.
As the Psalmist says, God himself is blessed. Have you ever noticed how happy people like to share their happiness with everybody around them? God shares his blessedness the same way. God is blessed in being holy and the way for us to find blessing is to walk in obedience to him—to be holy ourselves—and as we walk closely with God he shares his blessed state with us. And so the Psalmist prays: “Teach me your statues that I might be holy and blessed too!” This is his prayer at several points throughout Psalm 119. In fact, it’s the knowledge of God’s statutes that brings praise to his lips. In verse 171 he proclaims, “My lips will pour forth praise, for you teach me your statutes.” That should give us pause for a serious spiritual reality check. Do we give God praise as he shows us his commands and as he teaches us how to be obedient? Does the recitation of the Ten Commandments here on the first Sunday of each month move you to praise as it reminds you of what God expects from a holy people? Does the Spirit’s conviction of sin as you read study and meditate on Scripture move you to praise God? It did for the Psalmist, because he knew and was convinced that holiness was the way to blessing and that blessing was found in close fellowship with God—something we can’t have if we bring sin into his presence.
Now, how does he learn God’s statues? Look at verses 13-15. First, the student becomes the teacher:
With my lips I declare all the rules of your mouth.
Here’s another reality check. Is God’s word so precious to you that you can’t contain it within yourself? Do your praises of it spill out because you just can’t keep a lid on it? How many other things do you learn or read about that you just have to share with your friends, all the while keeping God’s glorious word to yourself? And as we do what should come naturally, God teaches us even more deeply. Those of you who have been teachers understand this. One of the best ways to learn something is to teach it—to tell others—because you first have to learn it and comprehend it well enough that you can communicate it to others, but in addition to that, you reinforce what you’ve learned as you teach it. Even when we’re not teaching or telling others, vocalising the Scriptures is one of the best ways to reinforce them in our minds and to start the process of memorisation. Consider how much easier it is to memorise a Scripture passage when you repeat it out loud than when you try to memorise it by silently repeating it in your head.
Verse 14 gives us Step Two:
In the way of your testimonies I delight as much as in all riches.
Make God’s word your great delight and your first priority. Delight in the word the way worldly people delight in their money and their possessions. When I was little I like Donald Duck comics. How many of you remember Scrooge McDuck from those comics? He was the tycoon who spent all day in his money vault. If he wasn’t counting his gold he was swimming in it. It was his passion and his delight. Consider that David was rich beyond our imaginings. He was one of the great kings of the ancient world. He had gold and silver. He had land. He could have anything he wanted and yet he took greater delight in the word of God than he took in all the things of the world. Jesus asked, “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:36). Without the knowledge of God, we can have everything else, but still lose our lives eternally. Is God’s Word more important than the world for you?
Look at verse 15:
I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways.
This is what naturally follows as we delight in God’s word. Meditation is something we don’t hear about much in the modern Church. Today, when we hear the word “meditation” we’re probably more likely to think of things like yoga and eastern religion. And that’s sad that this eastern idea of meditation has almost completely displaced the Christian practice of Scripture meditation. Today when we approach Scripture in any depth our tendency is to turn it into an academic exercise. We pull out the commentaries and the dictionaries and start analysing each verse. That’s not bad. We need to approach Scripture that way, but we also need to approach it at other times prayerfully and ready for the Spirit to open our eyes to what he has to say, but to do that we have to slow down. You can’t rush through the Bible while you meditate on it. This isn’t the “Bible in 90 Days” or even the One Year Bible. It’s a lifetime exercise that involves reading Scripture slowly as you pray the words back to God, memorise them, ponder them and mull over them and let God speak to you through them. That prayerful conversation with Scripture coupled with the more “academic” study of it is what drives home the message of God’s word and causes it to be stored away in our hearts, with the end result that it serves to fix our eyes more directly and more consistently on God. Meditation is hard work, but it’s also joyful work as we draw nearer and nearer to God. Consider what God told Joshua:
This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. (Joshua 1:8)
Living in God’s word brings knowledge of God and knowledge of God results in obedience. It also strengthens and grows our delight in him. Look at the final verse in this stanza:
I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word.
Now, delight is a good translations, but it doesn’t fully carry the meaning of the Hebrew word into English because the form of the Hebrew word isn’t the normal form of “delight”. It’s an intensive. It’s “delight” with a bunch of exclamation marks after it. It’s a happy and glorious excitation in the statues of God. The King James reads, “I will delight myself in thy statutes.” The Psalmist didn’t have any need for worldly sources of entertainment. He had no reason to get bored because there wasn’t anything to do. Regardless of where he was or what was going on around him, he carried his own source of joy and delight with him wherever he went and whatever he was doing, because he had God’s word stored up in his heart.
Brothers and sisters, where are we at with God? You may have trusted in Jesus as Saviour and Lord, but our Lord then calls us to grow. He calls us to walk alongside him. Friends, that’s how we enter the presence of God. Jesus takes us there himself. But we can only follow him in obedience to the extent that we know him and know his ways through his Spirit-inspired word. Do you feel far from God? Do you just go through the motions on Sunday morning? Do you want to follow him, but don’t seem to be able to figure out which way is the right way to go? The Psalmist’s delight in the word and his praise for God’s commandments are, I think, something that challenges every Christian to grow. But he also reminds us that regardless of where we’re at—whether you’re a young Christian with a long way to go, a middle-aged Christian who might have let his walk stagnate, or a great elder of the faith still pressing on to that upward call—wherever you’re at, God’s word is the source of your growth. It’s the meat and drink of every growing soul. God told Joshua not to let it depart from his mouth; he told him to meditate on it day and night. Again, why? That he might be careful to do all that is written in it. Every Christian desires purity, holiness, and close fellowship with God. The way to find it is to know God’s word and walk in the way it lays out before us.
Please pray with me: Heavenly Father, we thank you for revealing yourself to us in your word, that we might have a way to know you. Forgive us for all the times we ignore it and walk according to the world, the flesh, and the devil. Give us passion for your word that we might delight in it as the Psalmist did that it might guard our way and keep us close to you. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.