Nothing Shall Offend Them: A Message for Unhappy, Irritated, and Bent-Out-of-Shape Christians
February 3, 2002
For our final message in this short series from Psalm 119, I want to look at a verse I first learned in Mrs. Sandberg’s British Literature class 30 years ago. As she began class one day, she read a verse of Scripture that had been particularly meaningful to her. Then she quoted Psalm 119:165 from the King James Version, “Great peace have they which love thy law: and nothing shall offend them.” I am sure I had never heard that verse before. Mrs. Sandberg asked us if any of us were having a bad day. We all have days where things just don’t seem to go right, where even nice people get on our nerves, and where we find ourselves getting easily irritated by things that would normally not bother us. She suggested that when we have a day like that, it might be because we haven’t spent time in the Word of God. If we find ourselves easily offended by other people, then we ought to take Psalm 119:165 to heart.
I’ve never forgotten her words and over the years, I have returned to this verse on many occasions. Here is how it reads in some modern versions:
Â§ New International Version: “Great peace have they who love your law, and nothing can make them stumble.”
Â§ New Century Version: “Those who love your teachings will have true peace, and nothing will defeat them.”
Â§ Eugene Peterson, The Message: “For those who love what you reveal, everything fits—no stumbling around in the dark for them.”
Â§ New English Bible: “Those who love your law are completely secure; they are not upended.”
I like the various ways the promise is expressed. To those who love God’s law, nothing will cause them to stumble, nothing will defeat them, everything fits, they will not stumble around in the dark, they are completely secure, and therefore they are not upended. It is a promise of a personal security in a topsy-turvy, dangerous, uncertain, and sometimes very hostile world. Nothing we do can change the character of the world. It is what it is. But there is something we can do to keep the world from permanently changing us. There is a source of security in God’s Word that gives us great peace and keeps us upright when everything else is turning upside down.
Since this is Super Bowl week, a great deal of media attention has been showered on Kurt Warner, the Most Valuable Player of the National Football League and starting quarterback of the Saint Louis Rams. Those of you who know football will recognize Kurt Warner as a fine quarterback. He is also a fervent and bold Christian. All week long in New Orleans he has been very forthright about his faith in Jesus Christ. When asked about his favorite Scripture verse, he quoted Matthew 6:33, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (ESV). Then he added this word of testimony. “It really has shown me how that has come to pass that once I gave my life to Jesus and directed everything I do to Him, everything has come into place. All it’s done is strengthen my faith. All the promises in the Bible have come to pass in my life.” I found the last sentence striking. I wonder how many of us would say that all the promises of the Bible have come true for us? Regardless of how the game comes out, I am glad that there is a Christian in such a prominent position who is willing to talk openly about his faith.
Where does such confidence come from? I think it comes from knowing God’s Word and building your life upon it. Psalm 119:165 tells us what happens when we do that. It contains a promise, a condition, and a result. Let’s look briefly at each part.
I. The Promise: Great Peace
“Great peace have they who love your law.” Peace is a wonderful concept and “great peace” is even better. Peace is man’s highest hope and his fondest dream. And most days it seems so hard to achieve. This week there was another terrorist bombing in Jerusalem and more bombing in retaliation in the Gaza Strip. And just when we seem to be getting rid of the bad guys in Afghanistan, the so-called good guys have decided to start shooting at one another. When Christ was born, the angel proclaimed, “Peace on earth, goodwill to men,” but after 2,000 years it still seems in short supply.
The Hebrew word for peace is shalom. If you visit Israel, people on the street will greet you with “Shalom!” “Peace to you, my friend.” It is a mistake to think of shalom as simply being the absence of conflict. It is a much richer idea than that. Biblical shalom involves things like prosperity, happiness, contentment, and most of all, blessing from the Lord. It is a very positive, very rich, very wholesome concept. As J. Oswald Sanders said, “Peace is not the absence of trouble, but the presence of God.”
The Bible has much to say about peace:
Â§ “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you” (Isaiah 26:3 ESV).
Â§ “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27 ESV).
Â§ “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1 ESV).
Â§ “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7 ESV).
Thy Will Be Done
If we want this sort of “great shalom” from God, we must learn the meaning of submission. As long as we demand our own way, we will never have peace in our hearts. It is right at this point that many of us miss the mark. We begin the day by making our plans, setting our agenda, writing our to-do list. Then we present it to the Lord and say, “If you don’t mind, I’d like you to sign off on this. And if you could do it quickly, that would be fine because I’ve got a busy day ahead of me.” We say we want God’s will, but in truth what we really want is God’s rubber-stamp on our plans. No wonder we are miserable … and frustrated … and anxious … and easily alarmed … and demanding … and hyper-controlling … and hard to live with.
Do you know how to make God laugh? Tell him your plans.
C. S. Lewis remarked that there are only two prayers in the universe: “My will be done” and “Thy will be done.” Everything we pray fits into one of those two categories. I know from long experience that it’s not easy to sincerely pray “Thy will be done.” Like most people, I would prefer that my will be done. There is something in all of us that wants to be in control, wants to run the show, wants to set the agenda, wants to be in charge. How humbling it is to consider the example of Jesus who stretched out on the ground in the Garden of Gethsemane, dripping bloody sweat in deepest agony as he contemplated the horrors of the cross. “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39 ESV). It costs something to pray like that. If you think it’s easy, it is only because you have never surrendered your will in holy submission to your Heavenly Father.
It occurs to me that the only truly happy people I have ever known are those who have prayed, “Thy will be done.” They have the “great peace” of Psalm 119:165. They have discovered that the way to peace is to yield everything to the Lord. Until you do that, there will be continual inner unrest.
Blessed is the sorrow, and blessed is the pain, and blessed is the disappointment, and blessed is the failure, and blessed are the saddest moments of life, if that sorrow and pain and disappointment and failure and sadness causes us to say, “Oh Lord, not my will but yours be done.” And accursed is the success, and accursed is the prosperity, and accursed is all our fame and fortune and networking and status-grabbing and moneymaking and empire-building, accursed be all of it, if our success and fame and fortune and career-expansion and all the rest does not lead us again and again to the place of full surrender where we gladly say, “Oh Lord, you have been better to me than I deserve. Not my will, but thy will be done.”
How can we know if we have this “great peace” that our text promises? Here are three marks to look for:
1) A clear conscience. There will be no peace as long as we harbor known sin and wrong attitudes.
2) A contented heart. This means a heart at rest in the midst of the hustle and bustle of life. It is the opposite of a heart consumed with anxious care and the worries of the world.
3) A happy confidence in God. By this I mean a confidence that looks back and sees the hand of God in all the varied and changing circumstances of life. This sort of confidence sees God at work in good times and hard moments, leading you through some very dark valleys. This confidence looks at the present and says, “I am here by God’s appointment, therefore it is good for me to be here even though I might prefer to be elsewhere.” And it looks to the future with anticipation, knowing that God will lead you step by step so that you end up exactly where he wants you to be.
What a wonderful thing is this great peace, this “great shalom” of God. It is a promise within the reach of every child of God.
II. The Condition: Those Who Love Your Law
There is a very specific condition attached to the promise of great peace. This “great shalom” is given only to those who love God’s law. Last Monday morning, while we were still on vacation on the island of Grenada, I woke up thinking about this verse and especially thinking about the phrase, “those who love your law.” I felt then, and feel now, that it is a difficult concept. How do you love a book of laws? The very idea of loving the law seems to be a sort of oxymoron, two words that don’t normally go together. For instance, suppose I go to a Driver’s License Bureau and pick up the Illinois “Rules of the Road.” It’s basically a set of laws governing how we should drive. So as I read it, I begin to say to myself, “I love this book. I love the rules about no passing on a hill. I love the law that covers parallel parking. And I really love the regulations for getting your license renewed.” And suppose I love the booklet so much that I take it with me wherever I go. Most people would think that a little strange. And they would be right.
So let’s try that illustration another way. Suppose you buy a Betty Crocker cookbook. When I ask you how you like it, you tell me, “I love this cookbook. I love everything about it. I love the way it looks and feels. I love the way the pages are so neat and I love the typeface. I even love the index at the back. But I really love the recipe for Veal Parmesan. I read it six or seven times a day and when I do, it’s hard to keep from crying.” If you talked like that, I would probably conclude that you are in serious need of some professional help.
Now let’s make one small change in that illustration. Let’s suppose that the recipe book is from your grandmother. Each recipe was written in her own hand and each page is worn and stained from the cooking she did many years ago. As you turn each page and read each recipe, you remember your grandmother and how much she meant to you. You love that recipe book because you loved the person who wrote it. It’s more than words on a piece of paper, it’s a reminder of a family relationship, a precious symbol of love that spans the generations.
When I think of the Bible that way, the concept of loving God’s law takes on new meaning. We are not to love the Bible in the sense of loving the ink printed on the paper, and it’s not just the words we love or even the message contained in the words. We love this book because we love the One who wrote this book. His words have meaning for us because we know him personally. Seen in this light, loving God’s law means more than reading the Bible or memorizing certain verses or meditating on your daily Bible reading. It goes beyond mere approval or admiration and it even goes beyond delighting in the Word. To love God’s law means to embrace it wholeheartedly as the rule of your life. Because we love God, we love his Word and we make it the foundation and the center of all that we do.
And that, by the way, is one reason we are reading the Bible all the way through in 2002. As far as I know, there is no verse that commands us to read the entire Bible during a particular calendar year. You gain no favor with God if you do and you are not sinning if you don’t. So why do it? For one thing, we Christians tend to be woefully ignorant of the Old Testament and the only way to remedy that is to read all of it. And I think there is a profound and legitimate sense of accomplishment that comes from reading the Bible from cover to cover (or as one person put it, “from Genesis to Maps”). But beyond that, I have a great dream for everyone who is reading through the Bible this year. I hope that by the time we get to Deuteronomy you will like it, and by the time we get to Isaiah you will love it, and by the time we get to I Corinthians it will be such a part of your life that you can’t live without it, and when we finally get to Revelation, I hope you will say, “I truly love God’s Word and I want to spend the rest of my life getting to know it better.”
Ask God for This Gift
One other point and we will move on. I’m back in Grenada now, early in the week, taking a walk early in the morning, thinking about this concept of loving God’s law. I think it happened as I was strolling along the highway heading out to the True Blue Bay Resort. The revelation came this way. Loving God’s Word is a gift from God. You don’t work it up by human emotion and it doesn’t come automatically just because you read the Bible every day. After all, too many people read the Bible mechanically and are never changed, never touched, never moved. They read the Word but they do not love it. Then I began to ask myself, “Am I lover of God’s Word?” I don’t think I had ever asked myself that question before. Twenty-five years as a pastor and that was a new thought for me. I read the Word, I study it, I write about it, and I teach it and preach it. But do I love God’s Word? That’s when I understood that loving God’s Word is a gift from God, like the gift of faith that brings us to Christ in the first place. Every good and perfect gift comes down from God in heaven (James 1:17). Even the ability and desire to love God’s Word must come from God himself. That was a humbling and liberating insight to me. So for the last few days I have been asking God to make me a man who truly loves his Word. A “lover of the Word.”
Here, then, is a most practical application for all of us. As you think about this verse, and contemplate what it promises and what it requires, ask God to give you a true and deep and lasting love for his Word. Ask for it. Seek it. Tell the Lord that you want to be more than a reader of the Word and more than a student of the Word. Tell him you want to love his Word. Ask him for that love. Pray that it might be implanted in your heart. If we ask in sincerity, that’s a prayer God will be pleased to answer.
III. The Result: Nothing Shall Offend Them
The end of the verse tells us of a wonderful result that comes from the “great peace” God gives to those who love his law. The King James says, “Nothing shall offend them.” That in itself seems like a fantastic promise, an incredible result, almost too good to be true. You can check the word “nothing” in Hebrew and you’ll discover that it means … “nothing.” No offense taken. Nothing will irritate us, nothing will destroy our calm composure, nothing will “get under our skin.” Nothing will make us “hot and bothered.” Nothing will cause us to be “bent out of shape” or edgy or angry or frustrated. That’s quite a promise if you think about it. When I read those words, I almost unconsciously want to downgrade them like this: “Not very many things will offend them” or “Most things won’t bother them but a few things will really tick them off.” That, of course, is my flesh not wanting to take God’s Word at face value. And it reveals the tendency we all have to make excuses for our wrong attitudes.
The newer versions translate this last phrase using words related to stumbling. “Nothing can make them stumble.” “No stumbling around in the dark for them.” “They are not upended.” The word picture means that we will have a strong foundation in times of trouble. But note something very important. This verse does not say, “There won’t be stumbling blocks.” That would be a false promise. Recently a good friend said, “We’re all just dodging bullets.” Life is filled with problems and difficulties. Sooner or later we all have to deal with sickness, failure, disappointment, sadness, tragedy, betrayal, and unexpected tragedy. And death comes knocking on every door eventually. “Man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward” (Job 5:7 ESV). So when you read this verse, make sure you understand that there will still be stumbling blocks along the way. We all will have our full measure of problems to deal with before this life is over. But the promise is this. To those who love God’s law, you will not stumble when you come to them. Perhaps you will step over them or perhaps you will walk around them. Or God will give you the grace to walk through them, but in any case, you will not stumble, you will not fall, you will not be destroyed by the changing circumstances of life.
Let us consider what this means in practical terms:
Â§ If we are attacked or falsely accused, we will not stumble.
Â§ If we are ridiculed for our faith, we will not stumble.
Â§ If we struggle with temptation, we will not stumble.
Â§ If we are bothered by the failures of others we trusted, we will not stumble.
Â§ If we face hard times and bad circumstances, we will not stumble.
Â§ If we are bothered by the arguments of skeptics, we will not stumble.
Â§ If we are consumed with fear or worry, we will not stumble.
Â§ If we are deeply troubled by tragedies in the world, we will not stumble.
Â§ If we feel unequal to the task set before us, we will not stumble.
Â§ If we fear being left alone, we will not stumble.
Â§ If we lose a loved one in sudden death, we will not stumble.
The Message on the Answering Machine
I have had an opportunity this week to learn what the last example means. Marlene and I returned from our vacation on Tuesday night, rested and relaxed, and glad to be home again. When I checked our answering machine, there was a message from one of my relatives in Mississippi. Had I heard about my cousin? No, I hadn’t heard a thing. So I called my brother Alan and then my brother Andy and learned the sad news that one of my cousins had taken his own life last Monday morning. I could hardly believe it when I heard it. My cousin was a successful physician who had a very successful practice. Although I hadn’t seen him in recent years, I had a special place for him in my heart because almost 14 years ago, when I was still living in Texas and thinking about moving to Chicago, I saw him at my brother’s wedding, told him about my possible move, and he encouraged me to do it. That’s probably the only in-depth conversation I ever had with him, but I treasure the memory. He had cancer some years ago and had apparently beaten it, but in recent times feared that it might be returning (even though the doctors said there was no sign of it). He had other health concerns and struggled mightily with depression in the last few months. All of this I learned after the fact.
When I talked with his parents (my uncle and aunt), they were understandably devastated and wondered if they could have done something more to help him. When my aunt asked me if the fact that he didn’t go to church would keep him out of heaven, I told her that going to heaven isn’t a matter of going to church or not going to church. It’s about the grace of God and about the death of Jesus Christ and his blood shed on the cross to pay for our sins. The fact that any of us goes to heaven is a pure miracle of God’s grace. Salvation is of the Lord. And I told my aunt the simple truth: My cousin is in God’s hands now. The words of Genesis 18:25 came to mind, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is right?” God loved my cousin and gave his Son for his sins. And he loved him to the very end, even to those last, terrible, desperate moments when he pulled the trigger and ended his life. As horrible as suicide is, even that cannot separate us from the love of God. So even though I never had a chance to talk about the Lord with my cousin, I rest in the thought that he is in the hands of a God who is both just and merciful. He will do what is right. I can say no more than that.
Later I spoke with my cousin Barbara who attended the memorial service on Wednesday. She spoke of the sadness and the shattering pain that everyone feels. No one saw it coming. Everyone wishes they could have done something to help him. Barbara (who is a strong Christian) told me she believes that God is speaking to our entire family. And she quoted something her husband Charles often says, “God never wastes a hurt.” That is an enormously comforting thought in times of trouble. Nothing is wasted, no tear is forgotten, and even the worst moments are used by our Heavenly Father to draw us closer to him. I believe that with all my heart.
But it has been a hard week for me personally. After the shock wore off, I found myself thinking about what had happened and why and what it meant. Not just my cousin’s death but the sadness and heartache of the world. There is nothing good about suicide. It’s awful through and through. And those who are left behind must deal with so much pain and so many unanswered questions. I felt my soul greatly troubled for several days.
Above the Clouds
So I asked the Lord to show me something, to give me a message of hope. On Thursday I flew to Indianapolis to take part in a Christian booksellers meeting. That morning an enormous snowstorm hit the Chicago area. The next morning that same storm system passed through the Indianapolis area. As I left my hotel to go the airport, the wind was howling through the streets and dark clouds were spitting out traces of snow. Things were cold and bleak and threatening to get worse. When my plane finally took off, we flew directly into those ominous clouds. Soon they completely enveloped the plane so that all we could see out the windows was a sea of dark gray. But soon we passed through the clouds and flew into the brightest sun I think I’ve ever seen. Beneath us the sea of clouds stretched as far as the eye could see. Above us there was only the bright blue sky and the sun shining over it all. The Lord seemed to say, “Ray, pay attention to this.” I realized in a flash what it meant. Above the clouds the sun is always shining. When I am on the ground, the clouds obscure the sun, and for a time the dark clouds may fill the entire horizon. In those moments I know by faith that those clouds, though dark and angry in appearance, will not be there forever. But even while they remain, they only obscure the sun. They cannot remove it.
So it is with our Heavenly Father and the storm clouds of life. There are times for all of us when the storm clouds of sorrow and suffering threaten to overwhelm us. In those moments, we are tempted to despair because of what we see all around us. But then the Lord says, “My child, fear not. Above the clouds of sadness, the sunlight of my love is always shining. Today you do not see it nor do you feel it and you fear the sunlight is gone forever. But wait a little while and the clouds will be gone and the sun will shine again. And know this. Even when you do not see it, the sun is shining above the clouds even when the storms are breaking over your head.”
Having been fortified in my soul with that great truth, I have had God’s “great shalom” in my heart ever since.
One other thing and I am done. When I spoke with my cousin Barbara, she said, “Ray, this is your sermon for Sunday. Tell the people to accept the Lord. That’s their only hope. Be sure you tell them that.” That’s a good word. So on behalf of my cousin Barbara, let me urge you to accept the Lord. We all need him and we need him more than we know. No one knows what tomorrow may bring so you’d be wise to give your heart to Jesus today. Trust in him as your Lord and Savior.
How wonderful and how appropriate are the words of our text. Great peace have they who love God’s law. Nothing shall offend them. Nothing will cause them to stumble. Nothing can defeat them. Because the Word of God is their foundation, they are completely secure. Amen.