January 16, 2011 | Brian Bill
“Q&A’s” are common at conferences and they make up an entire genre of jokes. Here are a few that come to mind.
What do you call a song sung in an automobile? A cartoon.
What to you call a deer with no eyes? No eye deer.
How do you make a hot dog stand? Steal its chair.
What country makes you shiver? Chile.
What do you get when you cross a stream and a brook? Wet feet.
What did the mother broom say to the baby broom? It’s time to go to sweep.
I wanted to start with some Q&A because that’s actually how the Scripture passage we’ll be studying today begins. Only this question is extremely important and the answer is no joke. Look at Psalm 119:9. Here’s the Q: “How can a young man keep his way pure?” And here’s the A: “By living according to your word.”
A Psalm that Praises Scripture
Would you please turn to Psalm 119, the longest chapter in the Bible? Before we focus on a few of the verses, there are some things we should know about this Psalm.
1. The psalm is an acrostic.
This is not readily apparent in English but the writer used the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet as his guide. Here’s how he did it. He composed 22 eight-verse stanzas, with each verse in a particular stanza beginning with the same Hebrew letter. For example, verses 1-8 all begin with the letter aleph, verses 9-16 with the letter beth, etc. Since my wife’s name is Beth I decided that we’ll study this second stanza this morning.
2. Almost every verse contains a direct reference to the Bible.
To mix it up a bit, the writer uses at least nine Scriptural synonyms to describe God’s Word: law, testimonies, judgments, precepts, statutes, commandments, ordinances, promises and word.
3. God will use this psalm to renew your love for the Word.
If you feel a bit blah or bored by the Bible, this psalm is the perfect solution for it really is an inspired devotional meant to increase our appetites for the Word of God. Did you know that preacher Thomas Manton preached 190 sermons on these 176 verses!
Charles Spurgeon tells an amusing story about a man named George Wishart, the first Episcopal bishop of Edinburgh, who during the 1600s was sentenced to death by hanging. He came to the day of his execution hoping for a pardon that had not yet arrived. It was a custom in those days to allow a condemned man to call for the singing of a psalm before he was put to death. Bishop Wishart, stalling for time, called for the singing of Psalm 119. As the story goes, before they hit verse 100, the pardon arrived and Wishart was spared. Thus does God use his Word to deliver his servants! It’s my prayer that we will all experience some deliverance today.
A Workshop on the Word
Instead of a ‘normal’ sermon this morning, whatever that is, my aim today is to make the preaching as practical as possible. We all know the Bible is important. But I want to make sure we move from importance to experience to our very existence. Here then are some steps to take in order to saturate ourselves with Scripture.
1. Read the Word.
We have to start here even though it sounds so simple. Jesus assumes that believers will know the Bible and be reading it regularly. Matthew 21:16: “Have you never read, ‘From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise’?”
Here are some practical practices to help you read the Word on a regular basis.
- Develop the habit of “hang time” with God. You must plan this in order for it to happen. It might be in the morning or at night or in the middle of the day.
- Use a Bible Reading Plan. We still have some available or you can download one from our website.
- Start small. The more you read, the more you’ll want to read. I met with someone this week who told me that she started reading Matthew and couldn’t stop!
The simple act of reading will do a lot to combat the biblical illiteracy that seems rampant today. I heard about a new minister who was asked to teach a boys’ class in the absence of the regular teacher. He decided to see what they knew, so he asked them who knocked down the walls of Jericho. All the boys denied having done it, and the preacher was appalled by their ignorance. He decided to bring it up at the church business meeting: “Not one of them knows who knocked down the walls of Jericho,” he lamented. The members were silent until finally one seasoned veteran of disputes spoke up. “Preacher, this appears to be bothering you a lot. But I’ve known all those boys since they were born and they’re good boys. If they said they don’t know who did it, I believe them. Let’s just take some money out of the repair and maintenance fund, fix the walls, and let it go at that.”
2. Feed from the Word.
First, we must read the Bible. Second, we must feed from the Bible. Let’s dig in and see what kind of meal the Messiah has for us this morning. Let’s stand and read Psalm 119:9-16 before we feed: “How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word. I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands. I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. Praise be to you, O Lord; teach me your decrees. With my lips I recount all the laws that come from your mouth. I rejoice in following your statutes as one rejoices in great riches. I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways. I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word.”
I’d like us to follow a simple three-step approach to Bible Study as we feast on this passage – observation, interpretation and application. Let’s do it together so that it gets into our heads and ultimately becomes a holy habit for us.
Observation: What do I see?
Here are some observations that jumped out at me.
- There’s one question asked in the passage; the rest of the verses provide the answer
- The question concerns a young man and his pursuit of purity
- There are six positive action statements that the psalmist makes – he doesn’t just sit back and hope purity comes to him by osmosis
- I seek
- I have hidden
- I recount
- I rejoice
- I meditate
- I delight
- There is one strong statement that reveals what the psalmist will not do
- I will not neglect your word
- There are only two requests made
- Do not let me stray from your commands (we will stray on our own)
- Teach me your decrees (we need to be taught)
- The phrase “I delight” comes after a determination is made to seek, hide, recount, rejoice and meditate
Interpretation: What does it say?
After making these observations I wrote down this sentence: “In order to live according to God’s Word, we must first love God’s Word.” Look at verse 9 again. Purity comes when we live according to God’s Word. This word “living” means to “keep guard” and was used of a protective hedge of thorns.
I don’t often make book recommendations in a sermon but I will today. Pick up the book “Hedges” by Jerry Jenkins. Here’s a synopsis: “With the divorce rate steadily climbing and infidelity creeping into even the happiest marriages…with temptation and opportunity coming at you from all directions-how can you keep your marriage from becoming a statistic? Plant preventative hedges around your marriage. These hedges are practical ways to avoid compromising situations and giving temptation a foothold in your life.”
In our sex-saturated society, we must set up some healthy hedges so that we don’t become another statistic. Here are some that have become important to me.
- Make a covenant with your eyes to be pure. Job 31:1: “I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a girl.”
- Get an accountability partner. I have one.
- Put a web blocker on your computer.
- Watch what you watch. Parents, keep an eye on where your children’s eyes and ears are. It’s almost impossible to keep up with all that’s out there in movies, music, TV shows and video games. That’s why we use www.pluggedinonline.com. Funny story. The other day one of our daughters called to see if she could watch a movie. I checked it out on this Focus on the Family site and then told her to look for another one. One of our older daughters made this comment after I KO’d the movie: “You better get used to it.”
- Check your teenager’s texts once a week.
- Be vigilant about practicing modesty in how you and your children dress.
- Teach your child to resist. Psalm 119:37: “Turn my eyes away from worthless things.” Proverbs 1:10: “My son, if sinners entice you, do not give in to them.”
- When that doesn’t work, teach them to run. Like Joseph, sometimes the only way out is to run like crazy. 2 Timothy 2:22: “Flee the evil desires of youth…”
the number one way to pursue purity is to be in the Word of God on a daily basis
While these hedges are healthy and helpful, the number one way to pursue purity is to be in the Word of God on a daily basis. The positive statements of declaration, coupled with the negative determination to not neglect God’s Word, along with the two profound prayer requests hold the key to purity. We can’t just sit still and do nothing. Let’s take a look at each element.
1. What I will do.
- I will…Seek God with all my heart (10). No half-hearted or slacker spirituality allowed. 2 Chronicles 15:15: “All Judah rejoiced about the oath because they had sworn it wholeheartedly. They sought God eagerly, and he was found by them. So the Lord gave them rest on every side.”
- I will…Memorize God’s Word. Check out what happens as a result of hiding God’s Word in our hearts in verse 11: “That I might not sin against you.” John Wesley explains it this way: “I have laid it up in my mind like a choice treasure, to be ready upon all occasions to counsel, quicken or caution me.”
- I will…Recount all that God says (13). This word means to “enumerate” and “go over repeatedly,” kind of like we do when our favorite sports team wins. We must learn the message, live the message and then give the message. This reminds me of the preaching that parents are to do throughout the day to their children as found in Deuteronomy 6:7: “Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”
- I will…Rejoice in following God’s Word (14). There’s joy that comes from obedience, isn’t there?
- I will…Meditate on God’s Word and His ways (15). In eastern meditation, the goal is to empty the mind but biblical meditation involves filling the mind with the Word of God. This word was used of a cow chewing its cud. Likewise, we should chew on God’s Word in order to get the sweetness and nutrition out. The word meditate was also used of chattering like birds, of mulling it over; or literally, “muttering about it to ourselves.” God’s Word is meant to be chewed upon.
- I will…Delight in God’s decrees (16). If we’re honest sometimes we don’t delight in God’s Word. And honestly, if we wait until we delight in it before we dig in, we might wait a long time. Get this. Dig in first and then you will delight.
2. What I won’t do.
After positive exhortations, there is one negative exclamation.
- I will not…neglect God’s Word (16). This word means to “mislay” or be “oblivious” to. We’re to read and feed but we won’t do any of this until we admit that we need the Word. Check out the last phrase in verse 16: “I will not neglect your word.” Talk about resolution and determination. He knows that his tendency is to take it for granted, to let it collect dust and so he declares that he will not neglect it.
I wonder how many of us would really care if we lost our Bibles or they were all suddenly confiscated. Check out Amos 8:11-12: “The days are coming, declares the Sovereign LORD, when I will send a famine through the land-not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the LORD. Men will stagger from sea to sea and wander from north to east, searching for the word of the LORD, but they will not find it.”
3. What I need from God.
Let’s pray these same requests for ourselves and for our family members.
- Keep me from straying. This request is in verse 10. As the hymn we sang earlier says, “Prone to wander Lord, I feel it. Prone to leave the God I love…” It’s not only possible; it’s highly probable that we will head south spiritually if the Lord does not keep us on track.
- Teach me from the Scriptures. We see this in verse 12 where adoration leads to asking: “Praise be to you, O Lord; teach me your decrees.” It’s been thrilling to talk with a bunch of people here who are really diving into the Word. I plan to have one of these individuals share her journey in an upcoming sermon but I don’t think I can wait with what she wrote on Friday: “It has helped me to dig into the word, and I am memorizing scripture, and choosing to believe what it is saying to me! I think I just wasn’t believing how much God does love me, and that I do matter to Him! I am choosing to believe that He is my Hope, My peace, My Refuge, My strength! My overcomer! He is giving me confidence. Faith comes by hearing, hearing by the word of God! I am renewing my mind, washing it with the word, and it feels good! I have given Him my whole heart! Truth is igniting my faith!”
Application: What can I seize?
We read the Word and we feed from the Word but we won’t do either until we know that we need the Word
We read the Word and we feed from the Word but we won’t do either until we know that we need the Word. We also need to heed the Word. Let’s not be like those Jesus referred to in Mark 12:24: “Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God?” What do I see? What does it say? What can I seize?
When applying Scripture it’s helpful to keep the acrostic S.P.E.C.S. in mind by asking these five questions:
Is there a Sin to confess?
Is there a Promise to claim?
Is there an Example to follow?
Is there a Command to obey?
Is there a Stumbling block to avoid?
Listen to these words of Jesus in John 8:37: “I know you are Abraham’s descendants. Yet you are ready to kill me, because you have no room for my word.” Do you have room for the Word? Are you reading, feeding, needing, and heeding?
Here are two dangerous statements that I sometimes hear people make:
- “I know what the Bible says, but…” James 1:22: “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.”
- “I know it’s wrong but God will forgive me so I’ll just do it anyway.” Romans 6:1-2: “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?”
1. Find a Bible that is easy-to-understand.
Some of you may struggle with reading Scriptures simply because you don’t have a Bible that is very readable.
2. Guard against “familiarity fatigue.”
Read the Bible again as if for the first time. Use a different version if you need to. In his Treasury of David, Charles Spurgeon lists eight marks of true love for God’s Word. Do these resonate with you?
- Reverence for the authority of God’s Word.
- Admiration for its holiness.
- Jealousy for its honor.
- Respect for all that it says.
- Diligence in the study of it.
- Eager desire to obey it.
- Readiness to praise it.
- Great desire to share it with others.
3. Bring your Bible to church.
4. Memorize the Word of God.
If you are serious about seeking purity in your life, one of the best ways to have victory is through memorizing Scripture. Psalm 119:9 and 11 would be great to memorize: “How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word…I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” By the way, since we consider memorization so important, all of our new members work on memorizing five verses of Scripture.
5. Meditate on the Word of God.
Billy Graham granted his first interview in several years right before Christmas. The renowned evangelist said that if he had the opportunity to live his life over again: “I would study more. I would pray more, travel less, take less speaking engagements…I’d spend more time in meditation and prayer.” Here’s an idea. Slowly read a stanza of Psalm 119 every day and saturate yourself with this psalm.
6. Is there a sin that is keeping you from Scripture?
It has been said that “Sin will keep you from this book and this book will keep you from sin.” Someone else has said, “All the water of the ocean cannot sink even the smallest ship unless it gets inside.” The key to keeping the world out of your boat is by keeping yourself in the Word. Turn these two verses into personal prayers:
- Psalm 19:13: “Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me.”
- Psalm 119:133: “Direct my footsteps according to your word; let no sin rule over me.”
7. Don’t delay to obey.
Don’t put off whatever the Lord is prompting you to do. Psalm 119:60: “I will hasten and not delay to obey your commands.” I’ve heard it said that delayed obedience is really disobedience.
And so friends, let’s read, let’s feed, let’s need and let’s heed the Bible! And when you approach Scripture, ask these questions: What do you see? What does it say? And, how can you seize it and apply it?