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Loving God through His Word

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Loving God requires obedience to God’s Word.

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INTRODUCTION:

Interest:

One thing that the last few weeks has taught us is that people have a very hard time following instructions. I've been amazed at how many people are going nearly stir crazy because they've been told to stay at home. I've also been shocked at how many people I've seen consciously disobeying the stay-at-home instructions because either they did not think the instructions were important or for some reason figured they were important for everyone except them. It seems as if people have looked for many excuses to go shopping, are to go for a drive, or simply to go somewhere to play outside for a little while. Yet many of these activities seem to be efforts 2 work around the stay at home mandate.

Men, of course, have always had a great reputation for not following instructions. Give us something to assemble, and most of the time we will treat the instruction booklet as just more packing material. We take it out and set it aside so that we can get busy with assembling the pieces that were laying under it in the box. I must confess, I have done this a few times myself. I will prop the box up in front of me so I can see the picture of what the finished product is to look like and try to figure it out from there.

Yet, even with this tendency, there are times when none of us take this casual approach to instructions. I know I have found this to be true at times. There are times when I will follow the instruction manual with the utmost diligence…reading each step two or three times before I do it. The times when I take this approach are when the assembly is either really complicated or getting it right is really important. If there are lots of internal pieces that I can’t see from the picture, the complexity will drive me to using the manual. But even if it is not too complex, if the downside of getting it wrong would be dangerous or expensive…you better believe I use the manual.

Involvement:

Unfortunately, all too often I think we approach our Christian lives in a similar fashion. We have an instruction manual, but we put it down without using it and attempt to figure out how to please God on our own. We fail to see the complexity as well as the danger in getting it wrong.

Context:

Tonight, since We are unable to have our spiritual family night, I decided that I would turn to Psalm 119 for our sermon. Next week, Lord willing, we will go back to our study in Genesis that we left off at the end of last year.

We all know Psalm 119 as the longest psalm. At 176 verses, it is also the longest chapter in the bible. But do we know much about the psalm beyond that? It is a wonderful psalm, carefully designed displaying great literary skill. Ever since I taught a 12-week series in Sunday school over this Psalm back in 2007, it has been one of my favorite psalms.

By now, you probably have your bibles open to the Psalm. You may notice that in most of our English bibles, interjected every 8 verses is a Hebrew letter with the way it's pronounced written out in English. This is an attempt to help us recognize that this psalm is an acrostic poem based on the letters of the Hebrew alphabet kind of like, “a is for apple, b is for ball…” Each stanza of this poem consists of eight verses with each verse within the stanza starting with the same letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The 22 stanzas go through the Hebrew alphabet in order—from a to z so-to-speak (or aleph to taw in Hebrew). Every verse in the first stanza starts with the Hebrew letter aleph—the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Every verse in the second stanza starts with beth—the second letter. And so on. That is why many of our English bibles have the Hebrew letters over each stanza—not that they really mean much in our English translations where the acrostic is completely lost.

One thing that is unique about this poem, probably because of its acrostic nature, is that there is no real development of a theme. It is important to understand this so that we will appreciate the poem as the author intended rather than trying to force some structure or theme into it that isn’t there.

Illustration

I learned my lesson about the problem of forcing a story where there isn’t one the first time my wife and I saw the Broadway musical, Cats. I didn’t know anything about the musical and when the intermission arrived Grace, my wife, asked me what I thought. I remember telling her, “I’m so confused. I have no idea what is going on!” She started laughing and told me that nothing is “going on.” Each song is simply a poem about cats without any storyline connecting them. I know I enjoyed the second half of the musical a whole lot more as soon as I stopped trying to figure out the story that wasn’t there.

Psalm 119 is like that; it doesn’t have a story…there is no straight progression of thought. Each stanza tends to focus on an aspect of God’s revelation, but there are only loose topical connections between the stanzas. All the stanzas are about our proper response to God’s Word, though. The scriptures are the psalmist’s hope and his guide for life. His focus is on God as God is revealed in them. As he meditates on the multitude of the revealed aspects of God, he gives voice to his various emotional responses.

Preview:

I mentioned that I had taught through this entire psalm in a Sunday school class. Don't worry, though, I am not going to try to condense it all into one sermon. Instead, all we are going to cover tonight is the first stanza. In many ways these verses set the stage for the entire psalm. These first 8 verses introduce the big idea of the expected relationship between a love for God and the actions that love will produce in a believer’s life. The following stanzas continue to explore this relationship from various perspectives, but the overriding idea that keeps coming up is the same: Loving God requires obedience to God’s Word. This is the expected relationship between a love for God and our lives. In these verses we will see this relationship developed along two lines…our path to obedience and our commitment to obedience.

Transition from introduction to body:

Loving God’s Word requires obedience to God’s Word. With this main idea, let’s look at the first 4 verses and see…

BODY:

I. Our path to obedience, 119:1–4

Let’s read the first four verses…<read Psa 119:1–4>.

These verses set the scene of the entire psalm that follows. Throughout the psalm the psalmist uses a range of terms to describe God’s revelation. He calls it God’s law, statutes, precepts, commandments, decrees, promises, and so on. He uses a total of eight or nine synonyms during the various stanzas. In these first four verses we encounter four of these terms which focuses our attention on God’s revelation of Himself right from the beginning.

While these terms are used rather synonymously, there is some differentiation between them as well. Think for a moment about the term “law” that we see in verse 1. This is the Hebrew term, “torah.” It is a broad term pointing to all the instruction which God has given to His people. The OT Jews used this term to refer to the first five books of the Bible because these books contained the Law of Moses.

Now compare this to the term in the next verse, “testimonies” or “statutes” depending on your version. This is a term that refers to specific covenant stipulations—the specific items that, as a believer, we are responsible to do. It refers to specific obligations of things we are to do, not just believe.

Illustration

This is a somewhat like the difference between a church constitution vs. church covenant. We have both here at FBCSH. Our constitution would be equivalent to the law. It contains all the things we believe and the structure we will operate under as a church body. But within the constitution is a section we call the Covenant (It is listed as Constitution Article IX in our constitution) . This section contains specific actions we have agreed to take as church members. For example, our third paragraph says, “We will protect the unity of Christ’s church by acting in love toward one another, by refusing to gossip, and by following the leaders that God has given to oversee the ministry.” I guess you could claim that you are keeping the law of our church if you diligently affirm what the constitution says in our Statement of Faith (Article III) regarding “The Doctrine of God”—“We believe that the Godhead eternally exists in three distinct persons.” But you would not be acting faithfully to the testimonies or statutes of our church if after we end the live-stream tonight, you picked up the phone and called someone else and started complaining that you think the church should have never attempted to live-stream, “It’s just plain silly and leaves out everyone who doesn’t have the technology to join it.”

OK. Do you get the idea? There is overlap between these terms, but there is also differences. The psalmist is saying that a person is blessed if he not only walks consistent with the Law, he is blessed if he actually keeps the detailed obligations contained within. Blessed are those church members who…walk in the constitution of FBCSH…who observe its covenant.”

As the psalmist goes on in these first four verses using other terms such as “His ways” in verse 3 and “precepts” in verse 4, he continues to highlight this connection. He is setting up the big idea: Loving God’s Word requires obedience to God’s Word. There is an intimate connection between loving God and loving the revealed truth of God. But there is also an intimate connection between loving the revealed truth of God and submitting to its demands. We can think of it as a triangle with three points…all three of these things are one and the same: loving God, loving God's word, end committing to its demands. You can grab this triangle from any of the points, but all three points go together…love of God…love of God’s Word…obedient submission to God’s Word.

Application

Loving God requires obedience to God’s Word. Now I suspect that in general, this is something that we would all affirm. We would all probably agree that we should love God, that we should love God’s word, and even that we should submit to God’s word. Especially since this poem starts out saying that the person who does this is blessed. We all want to be blessed by God, don’t we? But I’m afraid that far too often we affirm this general idea without really thinking through the specific implications. The goal of the psalmist is to get us to think carefully on the specific implications. It is not just God’s word in general that we must love, we are to love the details in it. The path to God’s blessings begins with a commitment to the details of His revealed truth. God is not a God who simply wants us to have a warm fuzzy feeling of love directed in some vague notion toward Him. He is a God who cares about details. He has given detailed revelation of Himself in His Word. He has given specific instruction as to how we are to express our love for Him, expecting that our love will demonstrate itself in our obedience to those instructions.

So where does the path to obedience start? It starts with a commitment to diligent study God’s revelation of Himself. And this is a long path. You have barely taken the first step down the path if the Sunday morning service consists of the bulk of your study. You have taken a couple of more steps if you add in Sunday School, Sunday night, and Wednesday night. But you still are not very far down the path of obedience. If diligent study of God’s revelation is the starting point, then you need to get your toes wet with personal study of your own. You only really understand something when you discover it for yourself. I find it exciting when someone comes up to me after a service to share something they learned on their own during the past week through personal bible study. I love to receive emails or text messages about truths you have found in Scripture. Now sometimes this happens be something that I actually covered a couple months before in a service…but I am not going to point that out…because I know that when you heard me say the truth, it floated right on through the space between the ears…and I don’t mean that in an insulting fashion; we retain very little of what we hear. I’m not offended by this situation…this is normal. But that is why I am excited when, because of personal study during the week, you have wrestled with the same truth, and the Holy Spirit has lovingly aided you in understanding it. Now it will become a part of who you are.

Illustration

As we diligently study God’s truth, the Holy Spirit weaves those truths into the very fiber of our being. This is why I am convinced that I have the best and the most painful job of anyone in the church…I get to spend the week diligently studying God’s word, but I also spend the week with the Holy Spirit weaving God’s revealed truth into me…and oftentimes it is a painful process as He has to cut something out to make room for the new thing He is about to weave in.

Do you care about the details of God’s word or only the big picture stuff? God is a God of details and He is going to hold us accountable for the details. I will grant that there are many things we encounter in life that are a matter of wisdom, but there are also a lot of things for which God has already given specific instructions. Are you carefully studying and learning those instructions or have you set them to the side?

Transition:

Our path to obedience, we have seen, must begin with studying God’s revelation of Himself. Loving God requires obedience to God’s Word.

We have considered our path, but we cannot stop with only studying God’s revelation of Himself; in the next 4 verses of this first stanza we see that we must also have…

II. Our commitment to obedience, 119:5–8

Let’s go ahead and read these verses…<read Psa 119:5-8>.

The clear desire of the psalmist is that his life will be dedicated to obeying the directives which God has given His people. It is not enough for Him to be the expert on what God has said…he wants to do what God has said. In Deut 5:29 God expresses His desire for His people; God said, “Oh that they (referring to His people, Israel) had such a heart in them, that they would fear Me and keep all My commandments always, that it may be well with them and with their sons forever!” In our verses, we have the psalmist echoing this desire. He wants to be pleasing to God.

He uses the term “statutes” in verse 5. This term speaks of the binding force and permanence that Scripture has. He uses the term “commandments” in verse 6. This term emphasizes the authority of both what is said and the One who says it. God’s orders have authority because God has the absolute right to give orders.

The psalmist recognizes that if he remains firmly fixed in his obedience to the commands God has given, he will not find himself shamed. Now shame can take two forms…it can be shame before God or shame before others. But the psalmist doesn’t specify…he simply says he will not be shamed.

Application

Loving God requires obedience to God’s Word. I think it is easy to understand the idea that if we obey God’s commandments we won’t be shamed before Him, but doesn’t it often feel like obeying God brings shame before others? We live in a world that ridicules our beliefs. As the world rejects God, it rejects those who follow Him. Yet the psalmist is saying that obedience to God does not bring shame. We should be able to stand before the ridicule of the world…look them in the eye so-to-speak…and be proud that we are obeying God. How does your life measure up when you compare your life to Scripture? Do you have shame? If you do, you need to cry out with the psalmist here, “Oh that my ways may be established to keep Your statutes” and then make the necessary changes so that you can reevaluate your life and not have shame?

But frankly I’m more concerned with those of you who might examine your lives against Scripture and then regularly do not experience shame. Granted, that could be because you have firmly fixed your actions on obedience to God. It is possible that as you look at your life you find that you are following God’s commandments and therefore have no shame. But I’m afraid that too often our lack of shame comes from another reason. I am afraid that too often we don’t have shame because we don’t value Scripture highly enough…which ultimately means we don’t value God enough. We are more concerned with avoiding the ridicule of the world than the displeasure of God…so when we examine our lives and see things that we know are contrary to God’s instructions we simply wipe away the shame that should come by reminding ourselves that these things are fun…that our friends say these things are ok…that the world has come to accept these things as normal. This rationalization is the only explanation I can come up with that can possibly allow us to compartmentalize our lives so much that we can hear a sermon on Sunday without shame, affirming the truths of Scripture; but then go live our lives the rest of the week without any real distinction between ourselves and our unsaved friends. We enjoy the same entertainment as the unsaved. We have the same hobbies. We participate in the same conversations. We work for the same financial goals. We even panic over the same temporal concerns. Except for our brief time in church, our life is indistinguishable from our unsaved friends…and yet we don’t experience shame. If this describes you, then the problem is that you do not value God and His revelation enough.

But the psalmist—one who does love God’s revelation enough to study it and to obey it—responds to his lack of shame with praise to God. In verse 7 we see that his confidence in his obedience leads him to thank God. He can praise God with an upright heart—a heart set on God and God’s ways. He can affirm that God’s laws are righteous because he knows that God is righteous. He can affirm that God’s judgments—all the decisions that the All-wise Judge makes about our common human situations—are righteous. He can praise God that He has set the standard of fairness. And he can praise God that he has obeyed that standard because he has given focused attention to learning the details of God’s word.

Application

God has told us how we are to relate to Him and to one another. He has told us how we are to worship Him. He has told us how we are to deal with conflicts. He has told us how we are to make decisions on activities and actions. Do you rejoice over this fact? To you rejoice when you learn God’s view of things? Do you even praise God when you find Him correcting you and pointing out where your life is not consistent with His instructions? Remember His judgments are righteous.

What does all this understanding lead to? The psalmist rounds out this first stanza with a commitment and a plea. He understands that he must commit himself to obedience. He expresses that commitment in the first line of verse 8, “I shall keep Your statutes.”

How many times have we made similar commitments to ourselves and to God, “God, I know what You want of me and I will do it!” We make that commitment only to find ourselves failing to obey once again a short time later. We have a sinned…and we know it. We confess our sin to God and commit to turning from it. Then, a little time passes again and an new opportunity to sin comes along…and before we know it, there we go, repeating the very sin we so recently committed to turning away from.

The psalmist understands this pattern. So, with the final line in this first stanza he pleads for God to take some action. For the first time in the psalm we have a verb with God as the subject. The psalmist cries out to God, “Do not forsake me utterly!” The psalmist recognizes that without God’s presence and aid, he will be unable to keep God’s statutes. He will fail to keep God’s commands. He will not have a love for God strong enough to produce obedience to God’s word.

If God were to abandon us (which the Bible assures us He will never do) the consequences would be devastating. But even short of that, if God is not helping us, we will fail to do the very things that we want to do. We will find ourselves echoing the Apostle Paul when he says in Romans 7:19 “For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want.” We need God’s aid to accomplish any of His commands. As Paul tells us in Phil 2:12–13, we must “work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”

It really is overwhelming when we stop to think about all the things that God wants us to do. If we were to just start listing all His commands and then begin to try to do them we would discover two things pretty quickly: (1) we couldn’t do it, and (2) we would start to take pride in the limited success we had…just like the Pharisees in Jesus’ day. Even though we would be failing to keep all of God’s commands, we would be impressed with ourselves over the ones we managed to keep. We would begin to think that God must surely accept our efforts as good enough since we did all that we could.

We need to recognize that partial obedience is not enough…God demands complete obedience. When we finally understand this, we will become overwhelmed. That is why we need the great truth in this last line! We do not have to take on an impossible task. God does not ask us to do it alone. He is there helping us. He gives us the ability to obey Him. Which also reminds us that we cannot take any pride in our obedience, because it was accomplished completely with God’s aid. All we can do is plead for Him to “not forsake us utterly,” knowing that when we plead such, He will be there to respond.

Application

Let me ask you tonight; how are you doing? Are you committed to strict obedience of all that God has commanded? Are you calling out to God to assist you in obeying Him? Do you really believe that He can help you obey all His commands? Do you believe that none of them are too hard or beyond your reach if God has commanded them? We must have a commitment to obedience.

Transition from body to conclusion:.

If we are going to obey God it takes a commitment to obedience balanced with a recognition that it is God’s help which powers that commitment. Loving God requires our commitment to obedience.

CONCLUSION

In this first stanza of Psalm 119 we see an intimate connection between a love for God, a love for God’s word and an obedience to God’s commands. We cannot have any one of these without the other two. Loving God requires obedience to God’s Word.

This begins with the path to obedience—a detailed study of God’s word. If we have a love for God’s word, then we are going to want to know it intimately. We will make studying it a priority in our lives. We will find the time for it because it is important to us. Do you love God? Are you studying His word?

Secondly, we must have a commitment to obedience. We must take what we discover through our study of God’s word and live it out in our lives. We must obey what God has told us to do…all the time depending on His assistance to accomplish it. Do you love God? Are you obeying Him?

God has given us our instruction manual. Are we going to use it to assemble our Christian life or are we going to lay it down and try to figure it out as we go? Let’s be men and women who listen to God’s instructions!

<reread Psa 119:1–8>

Loving God requires obedience to God’s Word.

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