“How Sweet Are Your Words”: Learning to Love the Word of God
January 13, 2002
This year at Calvary we are attempting to read through the entire Bible together. For those who are on the “Bible Bus,” today we are reading Genesis 25-26 and Matthew 13. That means we are reading about Isaac and Ishmael and the beginning of the story of Jacob and Esau. Plus we are reading the wonderful Parables of the Kingdom from the lips of our Lord. All week long I’ve been receiving e-mail messages from folks who have joined us in our journey through God’s Word. Plus I’m getting a healthy share of questions about the various chapters we are reading together. Two people mentioned how they are impressed by an expectant mother who is confined to bed rest until her baby is delivered. Because she has extra time, she’s already into February’s passages in her Bible reading. But it doesn’t matter whether you read ahead or not. The important thing is to get closely acquainted with the Bible in 2002. That will be a blessing to you and to the whole church.
Last week I issued a challenge for some brave souls to memorize Psalm 119 this year. That’s a big task because it’s the longest chapter in the Bible. During the week I heard from two people who told me they planned to do it. Both are women, which didn’t surprise me because most of us men just can’t face a challenge like that. “I just can’t do it,” we say. Well, you won’t know whether you can or not until you put down the remote control and pick up your Bible. Then I heard from another woman and later I learned about a group of three men who are meeting each week to memorize Psalm 119. This morning one woman gave me a card and had me check her out on the first three verses.
The most touching message came from one of our teenagers. Here is part of her e-mail to me:
Hello Pastor Ray, I just wanted to let you know that your challenge for people to memorize all of Psalm 119 really spoke to my heart and I have been doing so since last week. When you said that memorizing this would bring people closer to the Lord, I had no idea how much truth was in that statement. Since memorizing is not one of my strong points I have had to rely on the Lord from the start of taking on this challenge. I can honestly say that I have never been so close to the Lord, or have had Him on my mind more than I have this past week. I’m sure many others have thanked you for giving that challenge by now, but from the bottom of my heart, thank you! The Lord is amazing, and it is amazing how far I am in my memorizing journey. I’m three times as far as I am supposed to be at this point. Now that is a miracle! You have kindled my steady flame of passion for the Lord, to a blaze! God Bless!
That young lady has discovered a wonderful secret for spiritual growth. If she stays on course, God is going to do great things in her life this year.
Better Than Silver or Gold
In this message we are looking at the 13th stanza of Psalm 119. I mentioned last week that this is an acrostic psalm, which means that each of the 22 stanzas begins with a different letter of the Hebrew alphabet. In this stanza, each verse in Hebrew begins with the letter mem. These eight verses are filled with joy and with love for God’s law. The psalmist gives us his theme in verse 97 (ESV): “Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day.” This is a familiar theme in Psalm 119. Consider some other things the psalmist says about God’s Word:
It is his delight, v. 16.
He finds wonderful things in it, v. 18.
It is like music to him, v. 54.
It is better than silver or gold, v. 72.
It is like finding great treasure, v. 162.
Does that sound a little strange to you? I confess that on one level, it sounds a bit strange to me. Most of us don’t think of the Word of God in these poetic terms. We are not accustomed to thinking that the Bible is more valuable to us than silver or gold. So the idea of “loving” God’s Word may seem a bit odd. But if this sounds strange to us, that says something about us; it says nothing at all about the psalmist. We are the ones who are a bit out of joint.
Do you love God’s Word? How would you answer that question. In his Treasury of David, Charles Spurgeon lists eight marks of true love for God’s Word. Before we plunge into the text, perhaps it would be good for all of us ponder these eight marks to see how we measure up.
1) Reverence for the authority of God’s Word.
2) Admiration for its holiness.
3) Jealousy for its honor.
4) Respect for all that it says.
5) Diligence in the study of it.
6) Eager desire to obey it.
7) Readiness to praise it.
8) Great desire to share it with others.
“Oh, how I love your law!” said the psalmist. Then he gives us four reasons why he loves God’s law and why we should love it too.
I. Superior Wisdom
“Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is ever with me. I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the aged, for I keep your precepts” (Psalm 119:98-100 ESV).
In these verses one reason is mentioned three times: God’s Word gives us wisdom! Note the phrases he uses: “Wiser” “More insight,” and “More understanding.” But is this the boasting of a man who thinks too highly of himself? Is he some sort of smart aleck who thinks he is better than everyone else? Where does his great confidence come from? Answer: God’s wisdom is superior to human wisdom. If you learn what God says, you will know things the people of the world have never discovered.
A. Superior to the wisdom of my enemies 98
All of us have enemies at one time or another. They try to intimidate us by clever talk, crafty schemes and evil threats. They may attempt to frighten us into thinking that they are smart and we are stupid. They may be boastful “know it alls” who put down anyone who disagrees with them. Do not be misled by their vain boasting. They may have street knowledge and even a certain degree of intellectual ability. They are no doubt shrewd in worldly wisdom and gifted at twisting our words and manipulating the facts to make us look bad. But be not dismayed. They do not have true wisdom. That is reserved for those who know the truth of God.
But how does the Word give me superior wisdom? Verse 98 says, “it is ever with me,” which means that as I internalize the Word of God, it becomes a part of my life. I can never get this wisdom by sitting in my recliner, watching TV all day, drinking Coke and eating popcorn while I watch the Chicago Bears beat the Philadelphia Eagles. (A bit of hopeful prophecy at this point.) If I want true wisdom, sooner or later I’ve got to turn off the TV, put down the remote control, and pick up my Bible. Only then will I discover the wisdom that delivers me from my enemies.
B. Superior to the wisdom of my teachers 99
This is a verse beloved by students at Bible colleges everywhere. But we should not think that the psalmist intends to demean the role of teachers. Far from it. Teaching is a noble profession and teachers deserve our respect and our support. It doesn’t matter if your teachers do not know the Lord. Teachers have knowledge and you need the knowledge they have. So we ought to respect them and learn from them as much as we can.
But there are limits to all human knowledge. And that is true even if you have a B.A., an M.A., a Ph.D. or an M.D. or any other advanced degree. Human wisdom can only take you so far. Let me illustrate. In virtually every public school science class in America, students are taught that evolution is the only true explanation for human origins. In most places, it is taught as a dogma, not as a theory. Evolution in the ultimate sense is more than a scientific theory; it is also an all-encompassing worldview that attempts to account for everything in the universe apart from God. And woe to the Christian teacher who attempts to show the weakness of evolution and the possibility of divine creation. Such a teacher puts his job at risk by challenging the status quo. It is at this point that a knowledge of the Bible is essential. If you know Genesis 1-11, you truly have “more understanding” than your teachers. If you know about the days of creation and how God created Adam from the dust of the earth and how he took the first woman from Adam’s side, and if you know about Noah’s flood, the Tower of Babel and the dispersal of the nations, you have a depth of knowledge and a wealth of understanding that goes far beyond your teachers.
I should add that I am not among those who believe that our children’s faith will necessarily be destroyed by attending a public school. Far from it. But I do believe that if our children are not grounded in the Bible, if they do not know what they believe and why they believe it, and if they do not know how to study the Bible on their own, they are likely to be in big trouble when their faith comes under attack.
Note again the reason why the Word gives us this sort of wisdom: “Your testimonies are my meditation.” God is able to teach you directly from his Word, but it takes time and effort and determination. It doesn’t happen by chance.
C. Superior to the wisdom of the aged 100
You cannot read the Bible without being impressed with the high value placed on the elderly. They are to be loved, revered, respected, cared for and listened to. Your elders have experience and you need the benefit of their experience. There is always much to learn from those who are older than you.
However, old age by itself does not equal wisdom. There is such a thing as an “old fool.” In fact, the world is full of “old fools” who started out as “young fools” and then simply grew old. Wisdom comes from years spent obeying God’s Word. The “understanding” he mentions in this verse means the ability to penetrate with insight into difficult issues. We know how to tackle hard problems because we have learned what God says in the Bible.
Again, note the reason this is possible: “I keep your precepts.” The Bible is not magic. It will not change you by itself. You don’t get wisdom by osmosis. If you want this superior wisdom, you must do what the psalmist did. Look at the key phrases in verses 98-100:
With me—Read it
Keep your precepts—Obey it
Read … Study … Obey. Follow that formula and you too will have superior wisdom.
II. Spiritual Discernment
“I hold back my feet from every evil way, in order to keep your word. I do not turn aside from your rules, for you have taught me” (Psalm 119:101-102 ESV).
The second blessing of loving the law of God is spiritual discernment. The psalmist declares that the Bible keeps him off the wrong road and keeps him on the right road. Every day we are faced a thousand times over with the choice of going one direction or the other. One road is the path of obedience that leads to joy, peace, fulfillment, and a deeper knowledge of God. The other road is the path of temptation, sin, compromise, bitterness, anger, violence, lust, pride, greed, gluttony and sloth. And each day we choose again and again which road we will follow.
If we know and love God’s Word, the truth itself will pull us in the right direction. We will know which way to go and the Word will help us choose the right path. Consider the famous words of Psalm 119:9 (ESV), “How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word.” One function of God’s Word is keeping us on the path of moral purity. It puts a “guard” around the mind to keep us on the right track.
Notice the two parts of this spiritual discernment. First, there is self-restraint: “I hold back my feet.” It is an intentional act, meaning, “I could do that but I won’t.” Or as I have taught you before, Christians should say, “Others may, I cannot.” We have a higher calling in life. We are called to keep God’s Word as the foundation for all that we do.
Second, there is personal submission: “I do not turn aside.” As I was studying this text, it occurred to me that this is one of the reasons why we all need rules. Husbands need rules, wives need rules, parents need rules, and so do children. We all have various rules that govern us either at school or on the job. You can hardly go anywhere without various rules governing your conduct. At the Christian college I attended, there were so many rules that they had to publish them in a small book. Some of those rules seemed rather trivial at the time, and some of the students made a career of rebelling against them. But now I see things differently. One reason for rules is to help us develop personal convictions so that when the rules are not in force, we will still choose to do the right thing. Christian men need some rules about what they will read and watch. Those rules will help them late at night when they are in a hotel room alone or surfing the Internet after everyone else has gone to bed.
A famous evangelist says that when he was young, his parents gave him a Bible with these words inscribed inside the front cover: “Sin will keep you from this book or this book will keep you from sin.” How true this is. In every situation of life, the Word of God will show you what to do. It is the only reliable source of absolute moral truth. Follow what it says and your life will be pure and clean. Robert Murray McCheyne was famous for praying this simple prayer: “Lord, make me as holy as a pardoned sinner can ever be.” That’s a wonderful prayer that is answered day by day as we learn to love God’s Word.
Verse 102 answers a crucial question: How does God speak to us today? Many people look for dreams, visions and other unusual manifestations. Note what the psalmist says about his experience with the Bible. As he read it, he discovered that “you yourself have taught me.” He heard the voice of God in the pages of the Bible! What a tremendous truth this is. We are personally taught by God as we read his Word. Would you like God to speak to you? He does! He will! When we come to the Bible reverently, humbly, with open hearts, God speaks directly to us.
III. Lasting Joy
“How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (Psalm 119:103 ESV).
In those days honey was the universal sweetener. Back then people used honey the way we use sugar and artificial sweeteners. The writer is telling us that he has a “sweet tooth” for God’s Word. To most of us, that is an unusual and perhaps even a strange thought. To us sweetness speaks of chocolate cake and Krispy Kreme donuts. We don’t normally think of sweetness when we read the Bible. After all, this is a big book filled with history and doctrine and prophecy and lots of words that are hard to pronounce. Plus the Bible is printed in a big book that is often quite bulky. It’s hard to associate the thought of sweetness with the Bible as a whole.
What does he mean? I think the key is in the phrase “your words.” Note the plural. In my last message I laid stress on the fact that he used the singular “word” and not the plural “words” when he spoke of the “word” of God as forever settled in heaven (Psalm 119:89). In that verse the singular was most fitting. However, in this verse he does not say, “How sweet is your word to my taste.” That would have been true and proper, but he didn’t say it that way. Instead, he used the plural “your words.” That’s a key insight. As we ponder the words of the Bible one by one, phrase by phrase, verse by verse, they become sweet to us.
Think of a piece of hard candy. How do you eat it? You put it in your mouth and let it dissolve slowly. As it dissolves, the sweetness fills your mouth. If you try to put 20 pieces of candy in your mouth, they won’t fit and you’ll end up spitting them out. The sweetness you seek comes slowly, one piece at a time. Martin Luther said the way to study the Bible is to pick a verse and then shake it like you shake a fruit tree. If you keep shaking a verse, sooner or later the fruit will fall in your lap. Luther also said if the fruit doesn’t fall, go to another verse. Eventually you will find a verse where the fruit falls in abundance. There you can stop and feast on God’s Word.
Consider the familiar words of Psalm 23:1, “The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want.” Roll that around in your mind for a moment. It is the Lord himself who shepherds me. And he is my shepherd at all times, in every situation, no matter where I am or what I am doing. Even when I stray from him, he never leaves my side. And even though he is the shepherd for others, he is a personal shepherd—”my shepherd,” known by me and I am known to him. Therefore, I do not want, I will not want, I cannot lack for any good thing. I have never been in want, I am not in want now (no matter my circumstances), and I will not be in want tomorrow. Such a shepherd is my Lord to me.
Now that’s very simple, isn’t it? And much more could be added. But even as I wrote those words, I felt the fruit falling all around me. This is how the Word of God becomes sweet to us. Word by word, phrase by phrase, verse by verse. If we will savor it, its sweetness will fill our hearts.
How desperately we need this. We live in a garish, loud, mean, harsh, strident, ugly and abusive age. We need to turn aside from the sounds of the world and fill our minds with something beautiful. Once the Word of God becomes sweet to you, you will become a sweeter person. The old chorus says it very well:
Every day with Jesus is sweeter than the day before,
Every day with Jesus, I love him more and more.
Jesus saves and keeps me, and he’s the one I’m waiting for.
Every day with Jesus is sweeter than the day before.
And that sweetness comes to us as we spend time with our Lord in his Word.
IV. Holy Hatred
IV. Holy Hatred
“Through your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way” (Psalm 119:104 ESV).
This final “blessing” sounds odd to us. I am sure if we were writing this stanza, we would end it with the part about sweetness. That’s a nice place to finish. Much nicer than “Holy Hatred.” But the Christian life is more than sweetness. There is also a hard edge to our faith. Whether we like it or not, we live in an ugly world where evil people do terrible things. And even apparently nice people can sometimes be incredibly cruel. If we are going to grow spiritually, we must learn to hate evil. Take a moment to contrast the end of the stanza with the beginning. Verse 97 says, “Oh, how I love your law” and verse 104 concludes with “therefore I hate every false way.” One essential part of Christian discipleship is learning to hate evil. Before we can fully love God’s Word, we must also hate what God hates. If we love God’s law, we will hate every false way. We will never learn what is true unless we also learn what is false and turn from it. There is a very practical ramification from this truth. If you ignore the Bible, sin will not seem very bad to you. Apart from the Bible, sin will seem “sort of bad” and “not very good” but it will not seem “exceedingly sinful.” The world will seem like your home and sinners more attractive than saints as long as you neglect God’s Word.
There is no contradiction between verses 103 and 104. They belong together. Loving the Word makes us sweeter and stronger at the same time. As God’s Word grows sweeter, every false way will become more repulsive to us.
Let’s wrap things up by considering again the theme of this stanza: “Oh, how I love your law.” Do not make the mistake of reading the word “love” as some sort of emotional, sentimental attraction. The Hebrew word used here is much stronger than that. It means to make a lasting commitment to someone or something. To love God’s Word means to commit yourself to making it the foundation of your life. This sort of love cannot happen by accident. It is a combination of desire plus diligence. You don’t wake up one day loving the Bible. That is a cultivated habit that is developed over time.
Let me make this very personal for everyone who reads these words. Please consider these four questions:
Do I love the Word of God?
Do I love to hear it preached?
Do I love the Word when it rebukes me and convicts me?
Do I love to share it with others?
If you want this sort of love for God’s Word, here are five steps you must take on a regular basis:
Talk about it.
Pray over it.
The particular details do not matter so long as you are doing these five things. Sooner or later, the Bible will become very precious to you and reading it will go from drudgery to duty to daily delight. If you would like to take a step in the right direction, here’s a simple prayer I encourage you to pray right now.
Lord, implant in me a love for your Word. Write your truth upon my heart. Let your Word be my joy, my strength, and my wisdom. And let it be the source of all that I say and do. May I love your Word today more than yesterday and tomorrow more than today. May your Word be precious to me because it comes from you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.