Five Keys to Spiritual Growth: Scripture | Psalm 119:9-16
Andy Lindgren | January 5, 2020
Good morning! It is my privilege to share the word with you this morning. Pastor Brian will be back in the saddle next week, and he will bring us the last three messages in the series we’ve been on, “Five Keys to Spiritual Growth.” I’m thankful for Phil’s message last week on prayer. Today we’re going to be looking at another key to spiritual growth, which is Scripture. Let’s go to the Lord together again in prayer.
Heavenly Father, we come before you, Lord, asking for your help. Your word tells us that without you we can do nothing, Lord, and that includes rightly understanding your word and applying it to our lives. We ask that the same Holy Spirit that inspired these Scriptures would illuminate our hearts now, Lord, as we look at your word. “May the words of my mouth” in the coming moments “and the meditations” of all of our hearts “be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer.” In the name of Jesus we ask this, Amen.
There was once a student beginning his studies at Harvard, and he sat down with the professor who was the head of the natural history department. He informed the professor that the area he wanted to specialize in was entomology, which is the study of insects.
The professor said, “Very well; let’s get started.” To the student’s surprise, he pulled out of a specimen jar a fish and laid it before the student. The professor said, “I want you to look at this fish, and without using any instruments (no magnifying glass, no microscope, so scalpel or anything) I want you to tell me every single thing that you notice about this fish.”
The professor got up and left the room. So the student sat there. He spent about ten minutes, and within ten minutes he had come up with every observation he could think of. He looked at it carefully, he wrote it all down. He went to go find the professor and was told that the professor had actually left the building and they didn’t know when he would return.
He’s like, “Okay.” He goes back in the room, and having received no further instruction he decides to look at the fish a little longer to see if he can come up with anything. So he flopped it over, looked at its back, he stuck his finger down its throat to feel how sharp the teeth were; he even began to count the scales, but he gave that up pretty quickly and realized that was a futile effort.
Finally, out of boredom and desperation, he began to draw the fish. He noticed that as he began to draw it he actually did begin to notice a few details that he hadn’t seen earlier, so he added those to his list.
Finally the professor walked back in the room, and the professor said, “Ah! I see you are drawing using a pencil. A pencil is one of the best eyes. So tell me about the fish.”
The student dutifully reported every observation he had. The professor looked at him and he said, “I can see you haven’t looked at this fish very carefully. We’re going to have to pick this up tomorrow.”
For three days that professor would not allow that student to do anything except study that fish and report his observations. They kept having this back-and-forth; the student would notice a few more things, he would return to the professor, the professor would say, “Yes, that’s good, but you’re still missing some of the most obvious features.” So this back and forth kept going on.
But the student said that over the course of those three days, as the professor was telling them, “Look! Look! Look! Look at your fish! Look! Look at it! Look at your fish!” As he was telling him this, his frustration eventually began to give way to fascination as he actually did see more and more that he had completely overlooked the first time.
Finally, at the end of three days, the professor brought out a second species of fish, so he got to compare it with that one; then another species, and then another species. Finally, months later, the professor said, “Okay, we’re done studying fish. Now you can go on to study entomology, you can begin your study of insects.”
That student said that that lesson that he learned initially, with looking at the fish, was the most important lesson he ever learned at the college. He said the reason was this: it was the lesson of observing things as they really are, of noticing facts that are right in front of you and connecting them together and seeing how they relate with one another.
This morning we’re going to be looking at a passage of Scripture that challenges us to do that with the most valuable thing that God has set before our eyes, which is his special revelation of his Scriptures, the Bible. So let’s look at the text together. We’re going to be in Psalm 119:9-16.
“How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word. With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments! I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you. Blessed are you, O Lord; teach me your statutes. With my lips I declare all the rules of your mouth. In the way of your testimonies I delight as much as in all riches. I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways. I will delight in your statues; I will not forget your word.”
There are three main observations I’d like us to walk away with this morning.
I. Value the Word
II. Use the Word
III. Delight in the Word
I. Value the Word
Psalm 119 is the longest psalm that we have. It’s actually an acrostic poem. Each of the 22 stanzas begins with each successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet. So there are 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet, unlike the English alphabet, and each of the stanzas begins with one of those letters. It’s this amazing psalm. If you ever sit down and read through the whole thing, it’s basically a love letter to God’s word, it’s a love letter to Scripture.
The author of Psalm 119 places a lot of value on the text of Scripture, an exceeding amount of value on it. The first question is, why? Why is that? Why value a text so much?
The first reason is because it’s God’s word. Look at the synonyms that run throughout this section of Psalm 119. It’s God’s word, commandments, statutes, rules, testimonies, precepts, and ways. These are not just wise sayings, these are not just conclusions by some philosophers or sages, but this is the very revelation, this is the very word, the communication of the Creator of the universe. 2 Timothy 3:16 says that Scripture has been actually “breathed out” by God himself.
One of the first things we notice about God when we start in the beginning, in Genesis, is that he is a speaking God. It’s his nature to communicate himself to others. He doesn’t keep facts about himself and about the universe and about us to himself, but he speaks, he communicates, he wants us to know things that are true.
Human beings are created in his image. One of the marks of that image is we are capable of speech, we are capable of clear thought and rational thinking and communicating ourselves to others.
The glory of the Scripture is that this is his word, this is his revelation, written down for us; therefore we know it’s accurate. It’s valuable because of whose word it is.
Look at Isaiah 66:2. “All these things my hand has made, so all these things came to be, declares the Lord. This is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.” This person values God’s word so much that they approach it with trepidation and trembling and awe and respect, because this is the word of God himself, the uncreated one, the eternal one, the holy one, the one who not only created the universe out of nothing but sustains it, sustains all life.
John Calvin once wrote in his majestic Institutes on the Christian Religion, “Scripture, gathering up the otherwise confused knowledge of God in our minds, having dispersed our dullness, clearly shows us the true God. This therefore is a special gift, where God, to instruct the church, opens his own most hallowed lips.”
Another illustration that Calvin was fond of was the illustration of Scripture as spectacles, or glasses, as we would say today. We have these thoughts about God, we have these notions, and if you read throughout philosophy there have been some very high notions of God and some very high thoughts about who this creator or who this God or gods may be. But Calvin said what Scripture is like is like putting on a pair of glasses, and all of a sudden everything comes into sharp focus. We have reliable truth about who God is, who we are, what this world is, why we are here.
I still remember when I was in elementary school and I got my first glasses prescription, put on glasses for the first time. I was amazed at how clear and sharp everything was! I had just thought the blurriness was normal. But God’s word functions like that in our lives.
In Psalm 19 we have set forth for us both the notions of God’s general revelation and special revelation. God’s general revelation is from creation, from what he has made, from this universe as we see it, God reveals some facts about himself: that there is a creator, that all of this didn’t come from nothing, that there is a ruler of this world.
But the difference between God’s general revelation and special revelation is that in his special revelation he gives us specific facts about who he is. For example, Christ dying on the cross, the meaning of that, all the implications of what that is, we can’t get that from looking at sunsets and stars. No matter how much our hearts are moved with emotion and awe when we see the stars spread out in the night sky, or we see a sunrise, or we see the complexity of animal life in this world, we can’t gather from that that this one man, crucified under Pontius Pilate, that this one execution is the most important event in history and that our relation to that event, our relation to this man’s death is the most important thing for finding our purpose and joy in life now and for our wellbeing in eternity. We can’t get that from looking at this creation; we can’t get that from general revelation. Therefore he’s given us special revelation.
So, we value the word because it is God’s word, we value it because of whose it is, but we also value it because of what it does. It sanctifies us. It guards the way of purity. Look at verse 9. “How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word.”
It keeps us from wandering, verse 10. “With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments.”
It keeps us from sin, verse 11. “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.”
In John 17:17, in Jesus’s majestic high priestly prayer, he prays, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” His word, his Scripture, his special revelation has the power within it to make us holy, to bring about purity in our lives.
Or look at what the apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 10:6 and then verses 11-12. He’s talking about the Old Testament Scriptures here, the account of the wilderness wanderings. “Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore let anyone who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.” He has given Scripture to keep us from sinning, that when we read Scripture it actually has the ability to keep us from committing sin we would have otherwise committed.
2 Timothy 3:16-17, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable—” so it’s not only inspired by God, but it’s profitable, it’s worth something, it does something. Well, what’s it profitable for? “...for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” It’s profitable for these things. It has these effects in our lives.
Listen to what the author of Hebrews says in chapter 4:12. “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit,” of joints and marrow, “and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” God’s word can do things that no other words can. It can pierce, it can get into souls, it can convict in a way that no other words can. It accomplishes things in our lives that nothing else is able to do.
Scripture tells us that sin brings forth death. Remember in the first murder, in Genesis 4, with Cain and Abel, God said, “Sin is crouching at your door, and its desire is to master you, but you must rule over it.” That’s what sin does it; it seeks to bring death in our relationships, ultimately eternal death, spiritual death, separation from God. “The wages of sin is death,” but God has given us his word as a means to keep us from that death.
There are times when temptation can be so fierce in the life of a believer that your emotions are carried away with it, your affections are buying into it, your mind is rationalizing it, and you’re about to full-force enter into something that’s sin and will bring dishonor to God and destruction into your life. But it’s at those times where God can use a Scripture and bring it to your mind to stop you from that. You’re about to go over the precipice, but then you remember, “It is written…” God’s word has the ability to do that.
II. Use the Word
So, this psalm tells us not only to value the word, but to use the word. In C.S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters, this fictional account of these two demons having this correspondence on how to ruin this guy’s life, there’s a section where one of the demons laments the fact that God made human beings in his image, just talking about how rotten human beings are and what a terrible idea that was. He says he made them “amphibians; could you believe it?” One foot in time, one foot in eternity. They share all these abilities and traits with animals—they have bodies, they eat, they have to sleep; they’re these physical creatures. But he put eternity in their hearts, he made them in his image, he gave them rational thinking and an ability to communicate. “How dare he do such a disgusting, terrible thing?”
The truth Lewis was getting at there is that we are embodied spirits, that God created us this very unique mixture, where we’re physical creatures, we share a lot in common with the animal life, but on the other hand we have eternity in our hearts, we are created in his image. As embodied spirits, as fitting to our creaturely status, as those made in God’s image, God has given us means of grace, channels of his grace, appropriate to our creaturely status.
Now, temptation comes to us as embodied spirits through creaturely things as well, but God doesn’t supercede all of that and say, “I’m just going to automatically zap people into holiness.” He works with us where we’re at. He gives us means of grace, and Scripture is one of those means of grace. Scripture is the mode of his special revelation.
Now, just imagine for a second that God didn’t give us his special revelation through this medium, through the Scriptures. Let’s pretend that he waited much later in history, until recording technology was invented, and let’s say he did it through music. Let’s say he inspired at least 40 different singer/songwriters and bands to create these 66 LPs, and by listening to these albums we know what’s true about God, who he is, who we are; that was his mode of special revelation.
Do you know what that would mean? It would mean we would need to study some music theory. It would mean we would need to understand how to gather for music what we’re supposed to get from this unique art form, from this unique form of communication, and put together everything.
Or let’s say he did it through film, he inspired 40 different directors to create 66 films, and by watching these 66 films, by interpreting them correctly, we know what is true about God, what is true about ourselves, what our duty is to God, how to come to know him in a saving relationship. That would mean we better learn film theory, we better understand blocking and the use of color in film, the use of editing and how that influences things, the use of score in films and whatnot.
But he did not do it that way. In God’s perfect wisdom, which cannot be improved upon, he thought fitting to give us a book. He gave us his revelation in words and in sentences and in paragraphs, in all these different genres of literature that we have in Scripture. That means we need to honor the mode of his revelation, the medium that he chose, by paying attention to the words.
First, how do we use the word? We read it! Verse 15, “I will fix my eyes on your ways.” This seems kind of obvious, but it really can be a challenge for us in our lives simply to set aside time to read the word, to have his words in front of us, to expose ourselves to this medium of revelation that he’s given us. We need God’s word in our lives, as much of it as we can get.
Did you know it only takes about ten to fifteen minutes a day to read through the entire Bible in a year? That’s it! Ten to fifteen minutes! Most of us spend at least ten times that on social media a day, an hour-and-a-half, I bet. So it’s not a matter of not having the time, it’s a matter of making the time and making it a priority.
There are many different ways to do this, to get the word into our lives. I’d encourage you to Google a blog post that Pastor Brian wrote a few years ago. I think it was called “15 Ways to Feast on the Word.” If you just Google “Brian Hedges feast on the word” it should be the first result that comes up. That’s a great way to get some ideas.
But I think the ideal thing really is for a believer to strive to aim to read through the entire Bible in a year on a regular basis. My favorite way of going through that is a devotional by New Testament scholar Don Carson called For the Love of God. He gives you four to five chapters a day to read, with a very short reading to accompany it, but the readings are just so valuable, just connecting dots, especially if you’re new to reading through the Bible, just pointing out things. So that’s one option, but there are many others.
If reading is really difficult for you and you just have a really hard time concentrating and you struggle with that, you can listen to the word. There are apps that read you the Bible for free; they don’t cost anything. So there’s really no excuse for us not to do that. However, if you do listen to the word, I would encourage you to try to not do it while you’re doing something else. Try to actually set time to listen to it with no other distractions, honoring it as the revelation that it is.
For some of you, to make this easier, it may be getting a different type of Bible. For my daily readings I use something called the ESV Reader’s Bible, and instead of having two columns of text on the page it’s one column, it’s paragraph, and they actually remove the verse number as well. What makes that so nice is it’s kind of like reading a novel, and there’s just not a lot of distractions on the page. So that may be something else that you’d like to try sometime.
So, we read it, but second of all, we also memorize it. Verse 11, “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” Other translations have, “I have treasured your word in my heart.”
You know, this is kind of like the idea of investing. They tell you early on, when you start working, “You need to start putting money away for retirement, because eventually you’re going to need it,” so a little bit at a time you store it away, store it away, store it away, so that it’s there in the moments when you need it.
We’re to do the same thing with God’s Scripture, with his word. We’re to memorize it, we’re to store it in our hearts, we’re to put it away, because there are going to be times when we’re going to need it, like temptation, for instance, which we spoke about earlier. It’s going to be useful for later.
Now, there are a few ways you can go about memorizing. There’s the very direct method, where you pick a Scripture and you just try to memorize it, you keep going back again and again and again until you know it. There are also more immersive ways to memorize.
John MacArthur has an interesting recommendation for familiarizing yourself with Scripture. He says to pick a section of Scripture, either a short epistle in the New Testament or a section of a book, and read the same thing every day for a month straight. So, every day for a month you’re reading the book of Jude, or every day for a month you’re reading the book of Philippians. By the end of that month, you’re going to have passages of that book memorized. They’re just going to be in your head from continually exposing yourself to it. That’s another idea.
So, we read the word, we memorize the word; we also speak the word. Look at verse 13. “With my lips I declare all the rules of your mouth.” Now, speaking the word helps us, because you learn things better when you’re saying it, when you’re speaking it, but it also helps others, because remember, God’s word is powerful. It’s the most powerful means he uses, and he does things with his word. If you’re speaking the word and other people are hearing it, God will not only use that to edify you and to build you up and to help you, but he will use it in the lives of others.
One of my favorite stories about this was the conversion of R.C. Sproul. R.C. Sproul was a great theologian who passed away a couple years ago now, but he grew up an unbeliever. He was in college, and the captain of the football team called him over and had a conversation with him. He was witnessing to him, telling him about the importance of the Bible, and he quoted this verse to him, Ecclesiastes 11:3: “Whether a tree falls to the south or to the north, in the place where it falls, there will it lie.”
Not exactly one of the top 100 verses most people would use in witnessing, but R.C. said that verse struck right to his heart, because he knew in his life he was a rotten tree, and that if he stayed that way for eternity he was going to be separated from God. The Spirit used that obscure passage of Scripture to redeem him, to save him, to give him life, to make him born again. So speak the word.
Also, meditate on the word, another way we use it. Verse 15, “I will meditate on your precepts.” We think deeply, we chew it over.
I work at a printing company, and I do a fair share of emailing and paperwork, but I also do some work out in the factory setting as well (it’s a smaller company). One of the machines I run, you have to use both hands when you’re running it, so your mind just kind of wanders while you’re using it, you know. You start thinking of other things.
I was doing it a few weeks ago, and I was thinking about a scene in a movie. I had seen the movie maybe three or four times before (I just recently rewatched it), and I was just going over this scene in my mind. Just by remembering that scene in my mind, I noticed something really interesting in the scene that tied back to something earlier in the film that I had never noticed before.
What was I doing? I was meditating on that film. It wasn’t in front of me, I wasn’t looking at it, but by meditating on it I realized something there that I hadn’t seen before. That’s what God wants us to do with his word. It’s in us; we don’t just read it, check off the box, run away, and go on with our lives; but we’re thinking about it throughout the day. That’s one of the reasons why memorization is so important, because when you’re memorizing it it’s in your mind when you’re not looking at it, and you’re thinking, “Okay, what was the next half of that verse? I forgot it.” By continually returning to it in your mind, you end up meditating on it.
The first psalm in the psalter emphasizes the importance of meditating, that we’re to do it day and night. In meditating we plant our continual thoughts by the stream of God’s word, and like a tree we flourish.
Another way to meditate on the word is to write it down. Remember the story with the fish? It really is true; a pencil is one of the best set of eyes that you can have. There have been times I’ve been stuck in sermon preparation and I’m having trouble figuring out the flow of the text and where to go; but when I write out the passage, all of a sudden I see something I didn’t see, even though I’d been rereading it and rereading it over and over. I was writing, and I wrote a word that all of a sudden connected with something else. So a way to work this in, what I would recommend, when you read Scripture, make it your goal to write down at least one verse out of everything you’ve read that morning, preferably more if you can.
Later on, when you go to your prayer time, which we learned the value of last week in Phil’s message, you can work that into your prayer time. Pull up what you wrote down, that Scripture you wrote down, and work it into your prayer. That will help you meditate on it as well.
Of course, praying Scripture, in addition to that; it’s a good idea in your prayer time to have the Psalms open in front of you. The Psalms are prayers. They give us a model and a way to speak to God, to communicate with him. It’s only when we sink the roots of our hearts deep into Scripture that we grow like a tree.
We want things so quickly, don’t we? We live with apps and with Amazon delivering stuff to our house in two days or less. We just want stuff quick! But God’s word doesn’t work that way. It’s not designed to work that way. He didn’t want it to work that way. We’re to expose ourselves to it day after day after day after day, and like a tree, over time we will eventually grow. A tree doesn’t fully grow overnight. It grows steady as it’s by the streams of water, as it’s sitting there planted, letting that stream flow over it continually and continually.
III. Delight in the Word
This brings us to the last main point, which is delighting in the word. Now, you can have something in your life that you value and that you use but that you don’t delight in. With Scripture, it’s detrimental if that’s what we do with it. You know, there may be a tool in your toolbox you value, it helps you out, and you use it when it’s needed; but you don’t delight in it, you don’t treasure it. But if we do that with God’s word, we’re in big trouble.
The author of this psalm delighted in Scripture. Look at verse 14. “In the way of your testimonies I delight as much as in all riches.” That’s a lot of delight! “I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word.”
So, how do we delight in Scripture? The answer to that is ultimately found in Christ himself. In verse 10 of this psalm, “With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments.” There’s this parallel here between the person of God himself and the commandments, his word that he’s spoken, his word that he’s communicated to us.
God’s word brings delight when we find God himself in his word, because it’s only in finding God himself that we have the true joy and delight that our hearts are so desperately searching for. We find it in his word, but it has to be him that we find. The written word is a means to get us to the incarnate Word, Jesus, because it’s only through Christ that we come to God.
In John 1:1 John writes that this word that God has spoken, through whom he created the universe, actually became flesh. He went to the cross and died and rose again so that whoever would united themselves to him by faith would be reunited to God himself.
Now, the danger is that we can know the written word without knowing the incarnate Word. This is a real danger. Look at John 5:39-40. This is Jesus speaking to the Pharisees. He says, “You search the Scriptures—” a good thing, right? They’re valuable and they’re useful. “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life. And it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” All of their knowledge of Scripture, all of their studying of it, all of their memorizing, all of their meditation on it, did them no good because they were not coming to Christ.
Look at the way Paul puts it in 2 Timothy 3:15. He’s writing to Timothy, his understudy, here, and he says, “From childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings” (he’s talking about the Old Testament Scriptures there), “which are able to make you wise for salvation…” But he doesn’t end the sentence there. “...through faith in Christ Jesus.”
Paul knew from experience that knowledge of the Old Testament Scriptures did not equate with eternal life. He zealously studied the Scriptures and memorized them as he was murdering Christians. It wasn’t until he had that encounter with the risen Christ on the road to Damascus that all of a sudden all of that Scripture reading and memorization all of a sudden came to be good for something and useful. It’s through faith in Christ that the Scripture finds its ultimate purpose in our lives.
Or Jesus’s conversation with Nicodemus in John 3. Nicodemus, this Bible scholar of the time. He’s saying, “Nicodemus, you’re not going to see the kingdom of God unless you’re born again.”
The danger is that we can have the word without having Christ. We can’t have Christ without the word. There has to be some gospel content, there has to be some truth about Christ from the Scriptures, that we believe in order to be saved. But it’s the means God uses to work through to get us to himself through Christ.
It’s only when we know the God who wrote the Scriptures that we can delight in the Scriptures as much as in all riches, because of his worth and value. Verse 12, “Blessed are you, O Lord.” The psalmist was able to see God in his glory and call him blessed because he was seeing God himself in the Scriptures.
Remember, Jesus after his resurrection met the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. Remember, he connected the dots for them. He went through the Scriptures, showing how they were pointing to himself, pointing to him. They said as a result of that encounter, of studying the Scriptures with this focus on Christ and belief in him, their hearts were burning. That’s how God designed the Scriptures to work in our lives.
The first takeaway from that is, do we know Christ? Have we placed our faith in him? If we haven’t, all of our memorization of Scripture, all the things we learned in AWANA as a child, all the things we’ve heard as an adult—if we are not actively placing our faith in Christ, all that knowledge will ultimately condemn us because of all the knowledge that we’re sinning against by not placing our faith in God’s Son, whom he put forward as a propitiation.
Now, for the Christian there’s a different application for this, which is, are we keeping Christ central in our reading of Scripture? You know, as believers, I think there are two extreme dangers we can fall to in our relation to the Scriptures in our daily life. One is to underemphasize them. We try to get more spiritual than Jesus, which is never a good idea. By that I mean that we just don’t use the word much in our daily lives. As we’re going to see in a little bit, that’s not how Jesus used the word.
If we do that, we say, “Well, the word is kind of like this manual. It told me the information I needed to know to get to God, to get to Christ. Now that I’m united to him as a Christian, I just have prayer with him and worship all the time. I’m just one-on-one with him. Yes, I return to the word to learn some good lessons and to look up things I’m not sure about, but my day-to-day striving spiritually is just one-on-one with Jesus, and that’s all I need.”
If we do that, we’re going to be in big trouble, we’re going to be malnourished spiritually, we’re not going to stand well in storms; and we’re actually going to fall into the danger of worshipping an idol that we create in our minds, because we’re putting together these ideas of who Jesus is that don’t concur with what’s in Scripture.
That’s one extreme; we can try to be more spiritual than Jesus, say, “I don’t need the word. It’s really not that important. I’ll return to it when I need it, but I’m already united to Christ and the word doesn’t really need to be in my life that much.”
Now, the other extreme is that we can actually make an idol out of studying the Scriptures. We can make an idol out of theology. There are some of us (and I’m speaking mainly to myself here), we like to study. It’s a very enjoyable thing to study and to learn things and to come up with insights and see things you didn’t see before. But there’s a spiritual danger that we can do that in our Christian lives, and a little bit at a time we can substitute that for a thriving love for Christ and for other people. We can actually substitute learning and studying the Scriptures and miss that their entire purpose is to bring us to God, to increase our love for Christ, to increase our obedience to him, to make our prayer life flourish more and more.
You know, it’s like wood in a fire. You can’t have a fire without the fuel of the wood. But the problem is sometimes we can trick ourselves into thinking we have a fire blazing just by piling up a bunch of wood with a lot of study and a lot of reading and a lot of reading theology, just because it’s enjoyable in itself to learn. But we have to have that fire of actual communion with Christ, of the Holy Spirit indwelling our hearts, by seeking him in his word, by seeking him in our study.
Elsewhere in Psalm 119, the psalmist actually prays, “Lord, open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law!” Jonathan Edwards points out there, “Why is the psalmist praying that? Doesn’t he have eyes already?” He obviously does; he’s writing, he knows the Scripture, he’s reading. What is he asking for here? What’s he asking to see that he’s not seeing already?
The conclusion Edwards comes up with is he’s asking to see the spiritual glory behind what he’s reading. He’s asking to see the glory of God, the glory of Christ, in these things he’s studying, in these things he’s reading.
Jesus is our way into a correct delight in the Scriptures, but he’s also our example of how to delight in the Scriptures. God wants us to love the written word as much as the incarnate Word did.
Here I’m just going to touch on a few brief examples from the life of Christ where we see that. Remember when Jesus, after his baptism, was led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted for 40 days and 40 nights? Satan came to him and they had this “war of the words.” Satan came twisting God’s word, just like he did with the first Adam, but unlike the first Adam, Jesus responds forcefully with the correct Scripture and the correct interpretation of that Scripture to the situation. He used the word when he was in temptation.
Now, think about this for a minute. This is the incarnate Son of God himself, all the universe is upheld by the word of his power, and when the prince of darkness comes to him he quotes Bible verses against him! That tells us something about the importance of Scripture and how powerful it is and what it can do in our lives. Like Christ, when we come to the hour of temptation, we need to have Scriptures available, Scriptures ready. When we’re going through a prolonged season of temptation, we need to look up passages of Scripture that deal with that topic and read them and read them and memorize them, so that we’ll have them ready to apply to the situation.
Or we look at the way Jesus debated with the Pharisees and Sadducees and scribes. So often in their theological debates Jesus would seize on one phrase of Scripture—sometimes even one word—that’s how highly he delighted in God’s word and how highly he valued it, that every single word in the Scriptures God spoke, God inspired. Because that word is there, Pharisee and Sadducee, “you’re wrong.” His word is there! He saw it and he delighted in it.
Of course, we see the way Jesus used Scripture during the darkest trial of his life, when he had to go to the cross to bear the wrath for our sins. I just want to show you one example of this, Matthew 26:64. This is Jesus’s trial; this is the last moment he can turn back and keep this from happening. He says in response to a question if he is the Messiah, “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” He’s quoting from Psalm 110:1 and Daniel 7:13.
In Hebrews it tells us that Jesus, “for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame,” but how exactly did he do that? How exactly did that work in his life? How did he see that joy set before him? He did it by quoting Scripture. In that darkest moment, he called upon the Scriptures that were prophesying what his end would be through this trial, and he seized on that joy.
Even in Psalm 22, when he was abandoned by God, the lowest point of his self-humbling, of his humiliation, as theologians would call it. At the lowest point, he even quoted Scripture to express how he was feeling! He quoted from Psalm 22. He loved the word, and we should too, not to earn God’s love, but to experience his love, to unleash his love and his presence into our lives.
Jonathan Edwards said, “What a precious treasure God has committed into our hands, that he has given us the Bible! How little do most persons consider how much they enjoy and that they have the possession of that holy book. What an excellent book this is, and how far exceeding all human writings. He that has a Bible and doesn’t observe what is contained in it is like a man that has a box full of silver and gold and doesn’t know it.
In closing, let’s look ahead to a scene from the book of Revelation, where we see this end effect of using God’s word in our lives. In Revelation 7:9-10, the apostle John writes, “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’”
If we use God’s word correctly in our lives, ultimately that word will be returned to him in words of worship through all eternity. He sent forth his word, both in the Scriptures and in the person of his Son, that we would return words of worship to him, to our eternal joy and his eternal glory.
In closing, there was a man who lived at the end of the Roman Empire in North Africa, one of their provinces at the time. He was a very smart man, loved to study oratory, the art of public speaking, loved reading philosophy; and he began to go on a spiritual pilgrimage early on in his life.
He speaks about the first time he encountered the Scriptures; he thought they weren’t worthy to be compared with the philosophy he was reading. They were simple, he easily dismissed. He put his ten minutes in looking at this fish and thrust it aside. But in retrospect he said that he did that because he came to them out of pride and not in humility.
This man, later on, the Lord was working on his heart, the Holy Spirit was convicting him, and he opened up the book of Romans and he read a Scripture there, and God converted him, God brought him to himself. This man was St. Augustine, who would go on to become one of the greatest theologians the church ever saw, if not the greatest. Augustine spent a lifetime valuing God’s word, using God’s word, and delighting in God’s word. He left us a body of writing that is still mined today for spiritual depth. He also wrote one of my favorite books of all time, the Confessions, which is a heartbreaking, beautiful book of worship to God.
But Augustine, when he was coming to die, he had a request. He was lying in bed (this was a prolonged illness), and he asked that four penitential psalms of David would be written in words large enough that he could read them from his bed and to be pasted on the walls so that he could see those words and read that Scripture as he was dying. He was preparing to meet his Creator. He knew he wasn’t worthy to, he knew his only hope was Christ, and as he lay dying he wanted to pray the very words of Scripture to God as he prepared himself for eternity.
May we live a life that values Scripture the way Augustine did and ultimately the way Christ did. Let’s value the word, let’s use the word, and let’s delight in the word by finding the God who wrote the word in Christ. Let’s pray.
Father, you are glorious, you are high and lifted up, and I pray now for every person in this room. If there’s anyone, Lord, who does not know you, who is not a believer, I pray that they would place their faith in you today, Lord. For the rest of us who are believers, who do know you, I pray that we would just thrive in our spiritual habits, that we would take Scripture seriously, find a way to work it into our lives, Lord, but in a correct manner, where we are delighting in you in our reading of it. All this we ask in the name of Jesus, Amen.