From the Book “Taking God by His Word” written by Kevin DeYoung
This morning, we are going to look into the longest poem ever written in the Bible. This poem happens also to be the longest chapter in the longest book, found in the longest half of the Scriptures, which is Psalm 119.
Psalm 119 is very lengthy because it is actually an acrostic. Each stanza is composed of 8 verses which all starts with the same letter from the Hebrew alphabet, although we cannot see its acrostic form in the English translation. It is composed of 22 stanzas all in all or 176 verses.
But what is this poem all about? The longest poem in the Bible is not a poem about love, or nationalism or God (although it is related to God). The longest poem in the Bible is about the Bible itself. It is the expression of the psalmist’s delight, desire and dependence on God’s revealed word.
I know many of us have tried writing poems before. A few may be good at it, but if we will be honest, most of us will cringe upon reading a poem that we have written in the past, especially when we were just teen agers back then with a very idealistic and romanticized view of world. Some of us may have written a poem because it is a requirement in school, or maybe, we wrote it for our elementary or high school crush, or sweetheart.
Maybe the reason why we feel awkward when reading our old poems is because the relationship it is praising has failed or is no longer existing. The person who is the object of our poem, that is full of passion and strong words, is already gone in our lives, that is why when we read our poem for them, we can no longer relate.
It’s is the same with reading Psalm 119. Its either you will be able to relate to it, as if every word captures what your heart has been trying to say about the word of God but can’t, or you will feel awkward about it, unable to relate anymore, because the sweet and vibrant relationship that you had with God’s word has already waxed cold, or to some, maybe non-existent anymore.
The goal of our sermon series based on Kevin DeYoung’s book “Taking God by His Word” is for us to be able to read Psalm 119 and tell ourselves that this is exactly how we feel, believe and want to say about the Scriptures. I want us to agree and relate about what the psalmist is saying about the word of God.
Proposition: In order to have a proper attitude towards God’s word, like the author of Psalms 119, we should be able to know what to believe about God’s word, what to feel about it and what to do about it.
Organizational Statement: In our sermon for today, we are going to discuss three sermon points.
- What we need to Believe about the Word of God
- What we need to Feel About the Word of God
- What we need to do About the Word of God
1. What we need to Believe about the Word of God
a. God’s word says what is true
We can trust what the Bible says because God’s word is truth. In today’s digital world, we are bombarded with manipulated data, fake news, photoshopped pictures, and all other kinds of false information. Even history itself can now be revised by people who are in power and who have lots of money. That is why we need to always be careful about the things we read or watch online.
Right now, we cannot fully trust anyone to give us the truth. Everyone has his or her own biases and personal interests that affects how they tell their own versions of the truth about everything. We cannot absolutely trust our friends, families, teachers and even the media to tell us pure truth, all the more businessmen, politicians and lawyers.
But when it comes to receiving truth, we can trust God’s word. We can trust the word of God the way the psalmist did because His word is fixed and unalterable. In verse 89 we can read “Forever, O Lord, your word, is firmly fixed in the heavens.” God’s word is firmly fixed. It cannot be changed or revised by just anyone according to his own whims and interests. Many people in history have tried to destroy the Bible or alter its content to corrupt its message, but none of them prevailed because God’s word is fixed in the heavens. Jesus said in Matthew 24:35, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away”.
Verse 96 of Psalm 119 says, “I have seen a limit to all perfection, but your commandment is exceedingly broad.” There is no limit to the perfection of God’s word. There is nothing in it that is corrupt or causes its readers to have corrupted minds. Although there are cults who use the Bible as a basis for their commission of violence and immorality, it is not because the Bible itself is corrupt. But rather, it is because wicked men with reprobate minds twist the Scriptures to justify and even support their wicked and immoral practices. But the word of God is perfect, devoid of any lies, falsehood or corruption.
Verse 160 says, “The sum of your word is truth, and every one of your righteous rules endures forever.” God’s word never grows old. It never wears out. It is ceaseless. It does not become irrelevant no matter how advanced our technologies and societies become. In retrospect, if we will visit the history of great civilizations which rose and fell, we will see that very often, when these kingdoms or states abandon the word of God, that’s when these systems start to crumble. No matter how rich or advance they are, when they abandon or go against the word of God, they eventually self-destruct, and so are people individually. Without God’s word to guide us in our lives, we will all head straight to the path of destruction, both in this life and in the life to come.
b. God’s word demands what is right
We also need to believe that God’s word demands what is right. The psalmist acknowledged God’s right to issue commands and humbly accepts that these commands are right. In verse 75, it says, “I know, O Lord, that your rules are righteous, …” In verse 86, “All your commandments are sure; they persecute me with falsehood; help me!” and in verse 126, “Therefore, I consider all your precepts to be right”. Search the whole Scripture and you will not find anything about God commanding people to do the wrong things. In fact, when Jesus summarized the whole law, it only boiled down to these two: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and you shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 22:37-40).
Although it is admirable to hear Christians say that they will obey God’s commands for the sole reason that they are God’s commands, even though they don’t feel like obeying it, we need to go up a step further by obeying God’s law because we like them, and we like them because we know that they are good and they are right.
One of the reasons why we are having difficulty obeying God’s commands is because inherently, there is a part of us that thinks that some of God’s commands are not right or too harsh, too unreasonable or too inconvenient for us. Sometimes we secretly believe that the world knows better than God, and that the world is more right than God in some aspect. That is why we have allowed liberalism, feminism and other ideologies and worldly philosophies enter our minds.
c. God’s word provides what is good
According to Psalm 119, the word of God is the way to happiness (verse 1-2), the way to avoid shame (verse 6), the way of safety (verse 9), and the way of good counsel (verse 24). God’s word provides us strength (verse 28), and hope (verse 43). It also provides us wisdom (verses 98-100) and shows us the way we should go (verse 105).
The word of God provides us with good things. I’ve never known anyone in my life who have trusted the word of God and regretted it later on. However, the opposite is true. Time and time again, we are plagued with regret because we realized the good things that we deprived ourselves by choosing to obey ourselves or the opinion of the world rather than the word of God.
Although it is also true that obeying the word of God could also cause us to suffer from persecutions and tribulations, the good things that we will benefit, especially eternal life with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, far outweighs these negative consequences.
2. What we need to Feel About the Word of God
As some of us came from churches who practiced emotionalism in worship services, we had this tendency to focus on what to believe or on the correctness of our doctrines. This does not mean, however, that we should disregard the emotional aspect of our faith. It is not enough that we know what to believe about the word of God, but we also must have a proper affection towards it.
a. We need to delight in the Word of God
For the psalmist, the testimonies, commandments, and laws of God are his delights. He can’t help but speak about God’s word in the deepest emotive language. To him, the Scripture is sweet like honey (v.103), the joy of his heart (v. 111) and is positively wonderful (v.129).
First of all, it is impossible for someone to delight in the word of God unless he is given a new nature by the Holy Spirit which causes him to have new affections especially for the things of God. It is impossible for carnal minds to delight in the word of God. Romans 8:7 says, “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.” Although victims of false religion show some indication that they delight in the Scriptures, in truth, they don’t really delight on what God’s word says, but rather, on what they think God’s word says. Unless, the Holy Spirit regenerates a person, he cannot and he will not delight in the word of God.
Now, among those who are already regenerated by the Holy Spirit, there is still a tendency for them to not delight in God’s word. This is when they neglect the reading, studying, listening or meditating of God’s word as an ordinary means of grace. It is when their minds, although redeemed and regenerated by the Holy Spirit, is set on worldly things instead on the pure and perfect word of God. As long as we consume the garbage that the world offers, we will never regain our appetite in the word of God.
The flip side of this is that, when we see the word of God being taken lightly or even disregarded, we feel sad or offended about it. We should not feel comfortable when people, specially, professing Christians, treat the word of God with contempt or utter disregard. I am not saying that we should force everyone around us to have the same enthusiasm about the Bible. Nevertheless, we need to do something about it like praying that the people around us will come to appreciate the beauty and the goodness of the word of God. If we have the capacity to teach and explain God’s word to others, then let us by no means exercise our gifts to help people see and understand that the word of God is worthy to be delighted upon.
b. We need to desire the word of God
The psalmist expressed his longing to obey the word of God in Psalm 119 at least six (6) times and his desire to know and understand it at least fourteen (14) times. Our lives are animated by our own desires. Our longings are the force that pushes us to whatever direction our lives are headed to. Without a desire for something, we will be stuck on where we are.
The same is true about our relationship with the word of God. in order to grow in our knowledge and obedience of the word, we must first desire it in our hearts. All Christians, having the Holy Spirit indwelling them, has a desire to know and obey God’s word although of different degrees. Some of us may have desires that are dormant because we have neglected it too much and we made ourselves too busy with the things of this world. But there is always a way to regain back these desires that we once had for the word of God.
First of all, we need to ask God through prayer to increase our desire to know and obey his words. We should always remember that without God’s help, we will never be able to produce a desire for His word on our own. We should not only pray for a desire to learn and understand God’s word without the desire to obey it, for if that will be the case, our Christianity will just be mere academics. Knowing the right doctrines but not having a desire to apply them in our lives is futile. In fact, it will be more dangerous for us because our disobedience will be aggravated by the fact that we know God’s truth and yet we did nothing about it. On the other hand, we should also not only pray that God help us obey His word but that we learn and understand His word first. For if we will not correctly understand God’s word, we will never know if we are actually obeying it or if we are just following someone’s interpretation of it.
After we ask help from God to help us desire to learn and obey His word, we should then try to slowly build up our desire for His word by building habits of reading, studying, listening, memorizing and meditating Scriptures. I mentioned the word habit because it should be a daily and regular practice and not something that we do only when we feel like doing it. As we build up these habits, we will notice that we are also developing the desire to continue in these practices. And then, as we go deeper and deeper in our knowledge of
the word, the more we behold it’s goodness, its beauty and its brilliance, the more we will develop our desire for it.
c. We need to depend on the word of God
The psalmist is constantly aware about his need for the word of God. “I cling to your testimonies, O Lord; let me not be put to shame! (verse 31). He recognizes that the word of God is his source of comfort and strength in times of troubles and affliction. Just like the psalmist, we need to have a sense of dependence on the word of God. However, in today’s digital world, where everything seems to be instantly provided to us, we start to forget to rely on Scriptures because everything seems to be searchable in the internet. For example, when we are stressed at work or worried about our problems, instead of seeking comfort from the pages of Scriptures, we distract ourselves by browsing through Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. We watch Tiktok videos or binge watch Korean dramas and Netflix series to forget the predicaments we are in, but as a result our minds become dull and non- responsive to God’s word but very receptive to the suggestions of the world.
I am not saying that mobile apps and social media platforms are inherently evil, although we can actually see contents there that are really wicked. My point is, when we substitute God’s word with worldly sources of comfort, we are depriving ourselves of greater benefits compared to what the world can offer. The comforts and distractions that the world can offer is only temporary and superficial. But the peace and strength that we can find in reading and meditating God’s promises is real, genuine and abiding.
We should also depend on the Scriptures for guidance and wisdom in all the aspects of our lives. Right now, there is a great tendency for us to do every thing through our own strength and by our own ways and means. Often times, we don’t consult what the Scriptures says when we are making either big or small decisions in life, thinking that we know what’s best for ourselves. But no one knows what’s best for us better than God, and he gave us a manual to follow in life so that we will be protected from the sinful decisions that may ruin our lives.
3. What we need to do About the Word of God
Given all that we have seen about the psalmist’s faith in the word and his passion for it, it is no surprise that Psalm 119 is filled with action verbs illustrating the Spirit-prompted uses for the word such as:
- singing the word (v.172)
- speaking the word (vv.13,46,79)
- studying the word (vv.15,48,97,148)
- storing up the word (vv.11,93,141)
- obeying the word (vv.8,44,57,129,145,146,167,168)
- praising God for the word (vv.7,62,164,171)
- and praying that God would act according to his word (vv.58, 121-123,147,149- 152,153-160)
These actions are not substitute for believing and having affection for God’s word, but it is a great indicator about what we really feel and believe about the word of God. These actions show how men and women of God handle the Scriptures.
In ZCRC, we are very blessed to sing the psalms themselves and other hymns that contains lyrics that are found in the Scriptures. Singing the word of God is a good way for us to familiarize ourselves with the Scriptures and remember them better. We also need to speak about God’s word. This does not only mean that all of us should be teachers and preachers of the word of God. you don’t have to be a pastor or a licensed exhorter to be able to talk about God’s word. We can talk about the Scriptures even in our ordinary conversations with our friends and families. When in our circle of friends, people are putting forward various views on a given topic, let’s try being the one to introduce the Biblical view. In that way, we will become salt and light in this world even in our own simple ways.
We also need study the word and store it in our hearts and minds. We should not only study God’s word during Lord’s Day or when we are invited in a bible study. We ourselves should have our personal plan to systematically study the Scriptures on our own. If we have questions about the Scriptures, we should be proactively finding the answers to them instead of waiting for the topic to be discussed in the Sunday sermon or during a bible study. If the meaning of a certain passage in the Scripture is elusive to us, let us take the initiative to clarify their meaning by consulting reliable commentaries, study bibles, by asking our pastors, future pastors and elders, or by bringing up the question in a bible study to see if anyone in the group can shed light on the passage. Let us take advantage of the vast amount of materials left to us by faithful Christians in history and make use of technology in order to make our study more efficient and beneficial to us.
We should be obeying God’s word because if we will not apply it to our lives, all the studying, singing and speaking about the word that we do will benefit us nothing. We will only reap the full benefit of having the word of God when we obey it. Then, we should praise God for the word not only because of its benefits towards us but also because of its beauty, brilliance and excellence. Most of all, we should praise God for sending us the word incarnate, His only begotten Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Lastly, we should pray that God would act according to His word. Not that there is a possibility that God will act contrary to His word, but this is a privilege given to us by God to participate in His work of providence in the world. God will act according to his word whether we pray about it or not, but He chose to let us participate in it by giving us the privilege to pray about it.
Brothers and sisters and in Christ, reading a long and passionate poem about the word of God such as Psalm 119 can be quite intimidating and frustrating, specially when we realize that we cannot fully relate to passionate words of the psalmist. But we must always remember that it is God who grants as the faith to believe what we need to believe about the Bible, the affection to feel what we ought to feel about it and the strength and ability to do what we ought to do to it. God is faithful. If we will trust him to help us believe, love and obey the Scriptures more, and if we do our part by singing, speaking, studying, storing, obeying, praising and praying the word of God, soon enough we will be able to relate to every word that the psalmist says in Psalm 119.