Knowing and Loving God Through His Word (Part 1)
A sermon on Psalm 119 by Coty Pinckney, Desiring God Community Church, Charlotte, NC, 1/2/2005
Why don’t you love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength?
What keeps us from loving God?
Consider these three answers - three barriers to loving God:
How can we overcome these barriers and truly love God?
At the heart of all these barriers is ignorance of God – a practical ignorance if not an intellectual ignorance. If we let these barriers interfere with our love for God, we are ignorant of God’s ways, of God’s delights, of what is most important.
How do we combat this ignorance? How do we tear down these barriers to loving God?
God’s Word is the key. God’s Word is the revelation of Who He is. God’s Word is the revelation of the only way to know Him, the only way to be acceptable to Him. God’s Word shows us the way to true life, giving us the right perspective on all the rest of life.
So the key way, the only way to deal with those impediments to loving God is knowledge of His Word.
Note this carefully: Knowledge is necessary for love.
This is very different from the way many people think. In many churches, people will say, “Let’s not emphasize teaching. Let’s not emphasize doctrine. Let’s just give everyone enough teaching so that they are saved, but then forget the rest. Doctrine divides. Let’s just all love God, and love our fellow man.”
But what the Bible tells us is that we must know His Word if we are to love Him, and through His Word we are enabled to love our fellow man. Correct doctrine, rightly taught and rightly prompting love, is key for the Christian life.
Consider what we read during the service in Philippians 1:7-11. Paul says he holds the Philippians in his heart. He yearns for them with the affection of Christ Jesus. So what does he pray for them? He prays that their love may become like His love: that is, coupled with or abounding with knowledge:
[I pray] that your love still more and more might abound in knowledge and all discernment, so that you might test and approve the things that really matter, in order that you might be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, being filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes thru Jesus Christ to the glory and praise of God. Philippians 1:9-11 (own translation)
Do you see what he is saying? He starts by acknowledging their love for God. He then prays that that love might be coupled with more and more knowledge, so that they can know the difference between what is important and what is not. Then they will take on character of Jesus Christ – thus fulfilling their purpose of glorifying Him, and loving him that much more. So for Paul, love and knowledge are intimately related.
We’ve got to think in these categories! Love and knowledge are not antithetical. To say ‘I love God” and
is to be stating a falsehood. You do NOT love God if you are not trying to know Him better. Truly to love God is to have the desire to know Him. And we know Him first and foremost through His Word.
This takes us back to the first sermon in this series. That sermon examines the extent of God’s command to love Him with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind, and all our strength. We discussed what it means to love God with each of those four components of our being. The fourfold description of love is helpful when considering the extent of the command. It’s helpful when examining ourselves to see how far short of the command we fall. God leaves nothing out!
But these are not four independent ways of loving God! We CANNOT love God with all our heart unless we are also loving God with our mind. And vice versa.
Rather, loving God with all our mind is the way to love God with all our heart. So as we love God, we desire to know Him better. We thus will prayerfully fill our mind with His Word, and ask that God would open up His Word to us all the more. We therefore will know Him better, and love Him more – prompting us to seek Him through His Word all the more.
This is the type of virtuous circle, or positive feedback loop, that we discussed last week. We said there that loving God prompts us to pray, and prayer leads us to love God more. Our main text was John 15:7:
If you abide in me and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you.
So our primary request is that the first part of the verse be true for us: We pray that we might abide in Him, and that His Words might abide in us. We pointed out that Jesus chooses to say, “If My words abide in you” and not simply “If I abide in you.” He is thereby making the point that being in Jesus is not a “state of consciousness” that we somehow attain. Knowledge of Jesus does not come in some mystical way, but from His revelation of Himself. Jesus became incarnate, and those who saw Him, wrote of Him, and the prophets who lived prior to Him were carried along by the Holy Spirit to write of Him. God superintended all that, so that we might come to know Him through the way He ordained.
So our love for God, our love for each other, must be based on the truths presented in God’s Word. Our love for each other is not based on some general idea of human worth. Nor is it based on feelings of human oneness. Our love for God is not based on whatever conception of God and Jesus I come up with in my head. Our love for God – if it is a love that fulfills the Great Commandment – must be a love that is based on the revelation of God in His Word.
Therefore, a genuine love for God must prompt us to know more of His Word. If it does not, it is not a true love for God.
This leads us to today’s text. Psalm 119 is the most in-depth discussion of God’s Word in the Bible. It is structured as 22 stanzas of eight verses each. All eight verses in each stanza begin with the same letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Almost every one of the 176 verses refers to God’s Word in some way. The psalmist uses several different words to refer to God’s Word: word, way, judgments, law, testimonies, precepts, statutes.
There is no way we can cover this psalm in the two Sundays I’m planning to devote to it. Indeed, in Charles Spurgeon’s Treasury of David, a commentary on the Psalms, he devotes 350 pages – more than 250,000 words – to the study of this one psalm.
So we’ll limit our task to something more manageable than expositing the entire psalm. This week we’ll ask two questions:
Then next week we’ll ask: How does the Word help us to combat the three barriers to loving God we identified above: bad things in this world, good things in the world, and the busy-ness of this world?
I pray that the end result of these two sermons will be to increase our devotion to God’s Word here at the beginning of 2005, leading to deeper love for God – and thus the fulfillment of the great commandment among us.
First, just note that he does!
Psalm 119:97 Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day.
This is a very strange statement. I’ve never heard anyone say, “Oh how I love the 55 mph speed limit!” You might appreciate the speed limit – personally I am glad that our interstates are not like the German autobahn. You might be glad to have restrictions on other drivers, even if you chafe at those limits when late for work. But would you ever say you love the speed limit? Such a statement doesn’t make sense.
Or consider this verse:
Psalm 119:103 How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!
Have you ever heard someone say, “The words of the internal revenue statute are sweet to my taste!”
We don’t love regulations that govern our behavior. We can appreciate them, we can be glad that such regulations are in place, but we don’t love them, we don’t find them sweet to our taste.
So we must conclude: In Psalm 119, “Law” and its synonyms do NOT mean “regulations that govern our behavior.” Indeed, the biblical sense of Law is quite different.
What alternative definition might we use for Law? One possibility: “Law” is “the set of requirements that we must fulfill to establish a relationship with God.” Indeed, a lot of people might define biblical law this way.
My son Thomas is a soccer referee. Every year he must be recertified, spending an afternoon in class and then taking a test. In order to achieve recertification, he must answer 75% of the questions correctly. Would it make sense for Thomas to say, “Oh, how I love the minimum requirements for recertification! That 75% requirement is sweet to my taste!”
So this change in definition doesn’t help us. We still can’t make sense of verses 97, 103, and the many similar verses in this psalm.
So if “Law” is not “regulations governing our behavior” or “minimum requirements for establishing a relationship with God”, what is it?
Let’s go back to the overarching theme of this sermon series: The Great Commandment. In Matthew’s account, Jesus says the greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. He then says:
Matthew 22:40 On these two commandments depend [or “hang”] all the Law and the Prophets.
In other words, every other law is about how to love God or how to love our neighbor.
Biblical Law is NOT “minimum requirements for establishing a relationship with God.”
Biblical Law is NOT “regulations governing human behavior.”
Rather, 1 John 4:16 tells us “God is love” and then continues:
whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. 17 By this is love perfected with us.
This verse tells us that in loving like God we take on the character of God. . So when we love God, when we love our neighbor – when we fulfill the Great Commandments – we are taking on the character of God. Therefore, if the Great Commandments sum up all the Law and the Prophets, the Law is fundamentally a revelation of the character of God.
Do you see then how verses 97 and 103 make sense? The psalmist loves the Law because through the Law he sees what God is like! The law, testimonies, judgments, precepts, etc all display different facets of God’s character.
This makes absolutely clear why the title of this sermon holds: “Knowing and Loving God Through His Word.” When we know God’s Word, we learn of His character. And as we understand His character more deeply, we love Him more.
This is a really simply thought – and yet many Bible students, pastors, and theologians miss it completely. The entire Law of God is a revelation of His character. So we can love the Law – indeed, we MUST love the Law if we love God.
We could look at any of a number of verses here, but let’s focus on verses 33-37:
33 Teach me, O LORD, the way of your statutes; and I will keep it to the end.
The psalmist’s first request is for God to teach him. So should we. We will not understand Scripture, we will not understand God’s character, apart from the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts. As Paul writes:
1 Corinthians 1:18 the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing.
And it will be folly to us unless He enlightens the eyes of our heart.
So verse 33 gives a general request to God: “Teach me, Lord, then I will keep your Law.” The next four verses flesh out the details of this request.
34 Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart.
Here he asks for his mind. He asks that he would know God with his mind, and thus take on the character of God. Obedience flows from a mind that knows God’s Word.
Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it.
Here he is asking for practical obedience, for God’s leading him down the right path, and keeping him off the wrong path. He asks God to hold his hand, to guide him in the right way. He delights in God’s character, and so wants to become practically like God.
Three weeks ago, we identified practical obedience as loving God with all our strength. So that is the psalmist’s request in this verse.
36 Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain!
In verse 36 he asks for his heart to be moved, for his heart to be focused on God and His character. He asks that his heart not be captivated by the things of this world, but by God Himself. In effect, he is asking that he might love God with all his heart.
Finally, verse 37:
37 Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways.
What is he asking here? Not for his heart. Not for his mind. Not for his strength, or practical obedience. Rather, here he is asking that his will, his soul, his inner self, would want what is truly most valuable – life in God! - and not pine after the baubles of this world that look so lovely but in the end are worthless.
So do you see what the psalmist has done here? After an introductory verse asking God to teach him, the next four verses in effect ask God to help him to love Him with all his mind, all his strength, all his heart, and all his soul. He is asking that He might fulfill the Great Commandment. He is asking that He might love God with all his being.
Don’t you need this same prayer?
Don’t others around you need this same prayer?
Pray biblically for yourself and others!
So when we love God’s Word, we end up praying that we would love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.
Look one last time at verse 97:
Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day.
The psalmist meditates on God’s law and prays that it will be fulfilled in him all the day.
Is that possible? How?
Verse 11 tells us:
I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.
We’ll look at this verse again next week when we discuss combating the forces that keep us from loving God. But look at the first part of the verse: “I have stored up your word in my heart.” The New American Standard translates this, “I have treasured your word in my heart.” The NIV translates it “I have hidden your word in my heart.” “Stored up”, “treasured”, “hidden.” Which is right?
The root meaning of the Hebrew word is to conceal or hide. But why did people hide things in biblical times? Remember, there were no banks, no safety deposit boxes. People would hide valuables to keep them safe, to keep them out of the hands of thieves. So the verb that originally meant “to hide” took on the additional meaning of “to treasure, to value highly.”
Both ideas – storing and treasuring - likely hold here, as reflected in the different translations. We are to store away God’s Word in our hearts – otherwise, how are we going to meditate on it “all the day”? But we are also to value God’s Word in our hearts. We are to see it as most precious, as most valuable, for through it we come to know the character of God.
How are we going to do this? By reading and memorizing and meditating on God’s Word.
May we commit to reading God’s Word. To reading all of God’s Word over the course of time.
May we commit to memorizing God’s Word, adding to the storehouse regularly, putting more and more in the treasury of our minds, because we know it is so valuable.
And then don’t just let the jewels sit in the storehouse gathering dust! Turn off the TV, turn off the radio, turn off the mp3 player, and meditate on, think about what the Word reveals of God.
Will you do this? Will you commit to reading, memorizing, and meditating in 2005?
Some might say, “Oh, that would be great! I wish I could do that! But, really, just look at my schedule. I don’t have the time!”
You do have time.
Imagine this: Let’s say that we promised a Lexus LS 430 to every member of Desiring God Community Church who reads the entire Bible and memorizes 50 Fighter Verses during 2005. How many cars would we have to give away? I believe a lot of people would find the time in their busy schedules to do it.
So the question is not, :”Do I have the time?” The question is: Do you consider the Word of God as precious and valuable?
In point of fact: Bible reading and Bible memory are worth far more than a new Lexus:
Psalm 119:72 The law of your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces.
God’s Word will open up God’s character to you. God’s word stored in your heart will be with you in every trial - even in the trial of your death. No one will ever steal it from you. It will not burn up in a fire; it will not be swept away by a tsunami. God’s Word will keep you true to Him.
In verse 147, the psalmist says:
I rise before dawn and cry for help; I hope in your words.
We CAN make the time. Will you do it?
Others might say, “I don’t have the mental capacity to read all the Bible, to memorize Scripture, and to meditate on it.”
Even if you can’t read, you can listen. In our family, we once read through the entire Bible in about 18 months of family devotions. Presently, we’re not reading at that rate, but nevertheless, over about three years, we will once again read all of God’s Word. Help those who may not be able to read to hear God’s Word read.
Do you think you’re too old for reading and memorizing? George Mueller, the 19th century pastor best known for trusting in prayer to bring support for building orphanages, read the entire Bible 100 times before his 70th birthday. He then read it 100 more times before his death at 92 – averaging almost 5 readings a year.
It is true that children can memorize more quickly than adults. A three-year-old can memorize absolutely anything. But even we older folks can improve with practice.
You have the time. You have the capacity. You have the motivation: Know God better! Thus love Him more fully! Commit to reading, memorizing, and meditating on God’s Word in 2005.
Always remember: The point is not, “Get your act together or God will reject you!” Remember last week’s illustration about Crowder’s Mountain. You are on the top already – you don’t need to listen to those folks trying to tell you, “Climb higher!” If you are in Christ, your position is secure. God loves you because of Jesus, not because of your efforts.
But what is logical for one saved by grace? How should we live? From where should we draw our sustenance? Where should we put value?
“How sweet are Your words to my taste!”
May you value God’s Word in 2005, and so become like Christ, by the grace of God.
This sermon was preached at Desiring God Community Church in Charlotte, NC on 1/2/05.
Copyright © 2005, Thomas C. Pinckney. This data file is the sole property of Thomas C. Pinckney. Please feel free to copy it in written form, but only in its entirety for circulation freely without charge. All copies of this data file must contain the above copyright notice.
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