The Lord's Day Evening
March 10, 2013
Not By Bread Alone
“The Lord is My Portion”
The Reverend Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Psalm 119. We just sang it in that metrical version from the RPCNA Psalter and we're going to read it now as we return again to this long psalm that teaches us much about the Christian life. And as you've already heard in Wiley's introduction tonight and in the introduction to Doyle's prayer, at the very outset of this psalm there is an assertion and the assertion is that the Lord is our portion. Now you know that that is not unique to Psalm 119 verse 57. You can go as far back in the Old Testament as the book of Deuteronomy and find that phrase that “the Lord is my portion” and it is repeated over and over again. “The Lord is the portion of Jacob. The Lord will be our portion.” Psalm 16 repeats this idea and we meet it over and over again in the Bible and it is a key idea in the Scriptures and we're going to see it unfolded in the passage tonight.
Before we read, let's pray and ask for God's help and blessing.
Heavenly Father, this is Your Word, and as You teach us tonight what it means that You are our portion, we ask, O God, that You would make this to be a reality in the experience and aspiration of our hearts. All manner of things compete within us because of our sin and wanderings. They vie for supremacy with You and we don't want to treasure anyone or anything above You, Lord. And the psalmist has much to teach us about that tonight. And so we pray that by Your Spirit You would open our ears to hear it and open our hearts to perceive it and do business with our souls and show us our idols and make us to love You more, more than these. We ask all these things in Jesus' name, amen.
This is the Word of God. Hear it, beginning in Psalm 119 verse 57:
“The LORD is my portion; I promise to keep your words. I entreat your favor with all my heart; be gracious to me according to your promise. When I think on my ways, I turn my feet to your testimonies; I hasten and do not delay to keep your commandments. Though the cords of the wicked ensnare me, I do not forget your law. At midnight I rise to praise you, because of your righteous rules. I am a companion of all who fear you, of those who keep your precepts. The earth, O LORD, is full of your steadfast love; teach me your statues!”
Amen, and thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.
What is your portion? What is your inheritance? What is your reward? What is the great desire of your heart? I often, in pre-marital counseling sessions, ask young couples what the great desire is that they have for their marriage. And the answers are varied, and there's not just one right answer to that question, and they’re quite interesting. And sometimes they’re quite revealing what a young couple aspires to, what they want most in their marriage. Well we all want something. We all desire something. We all have aspirations. Our heart is set on certain things. And this psalm is about what a believer's heart is set on. And there's much in it but I want to draw your attention to six things in particular.
THE BELIEVER’S TREASURE IS THE LORD HIMSELF
And it begins with this assertion, “The LORD is my portion.” And the first thing that we learn, then, is simply this. The believer's portion, the believer's inheritance, the believer's reward, the believer's desire, the believer's treasure is the Lord Himself. And I want you to understand that statement in two ways. That is first of all a statement of reality about every believer, but it is second a statement of desire and of aspiration. Let me tell you what I mean by that. First of all, that statement that the believer's portion, the believer's inheritance, the believer's reward is the Lord Himself is a statement of reality. The greatest gift that God gives you – if you are a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, if you've understood your sin and you've looked to Christ in faith for forgiveness and acceptance, if you have been pardoned, if you have been renewed by the work of the Holy Spirit regenerating you in the new birth, if you are a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, then the highest gift that God has given you is not forgiveness. I want you to hear that. When you hear that at first it causes you to step back. The highest gift that God has given you as a believer is not forgiveness. The highest gift that God gives you as a believer is Himself. He forgives you so that He can give you Himself. Justification is a glorious doctrine in which we learn that God, by grace, grants us forgiveness and pardon and acceptance not based on what we have done but based on the work of Christ alone and received by us only through faith — faith alone. But that is not the greatest gift God gives. The greatest gift God gives is Himself. The forgiveness is so that we can commune with Him, so that we can enjoy the greatest gift that He gives, which is union and communion with Him, fellowship with Him.
And think of the phrase that emphasizes that throughout the Bible. “I will be Your God and you will be My people.” The ultimate goal of justification is so that we can enjoy God being our God and being His people. And so this statement, “The Lord is my portion,” in the first place, is a statement of fact. It is true of every believer. He is our portion. He has given Himself to you and He emphasizes that in the Old Testament in a variety of ways but one of the most precious ways is in letting us take His name into ours. Think of what He called Jacob, the deceiver. He called him, Israel. And do you see what's at the end of that little name? Israel. Isn't that beautiful? If Jacob the deceiver gets the name of God put in his name, what does that emphasize? That Jacob's God, his God, he can say, “You are my God. You belong to me. You’re my portion. You are my reward. You are my blessing.” And you see this so often in the Old Testament where God gives His name to His people to emphasize that He has given Himself to His people as their greatest blessing, their greatest fruition. And He forgives them so that we can experience that blessing of union and communion with Him.
And so believers just soak this in for just a minute. It is a statement of fact that if you are trusting in Christ, if you are resting in His grace, it is a statement of fact that God Himself is your inheritance. You know, I think if you walked up to somebody and you said, “What is it that you’re wanting out of life?” and they said to you, “God,” you might think they were arrogant or crazy. But you understand that in the Gospel God gives Himself to you and He says, “I will be your God and you can call me, ‘My God,’ because I belong to you. I've given Myself to you. I am your portion. I am your reward.” That's a statement of reality, believer. That is a glorious, glorious thing to contemplate.
But of course in this psalm it's also a statement of aspiration because the psalmist, just like we know, the psalmist knows that very often in our hearts, even though the Lord has given Himself to us, we want something else. We think that there is greater satisfaction somewhere else. That's the challenge of the Garden, isn't it? When the serpent says to the woman, “What the Lord said is not true. In the day that you eat of that fruit you will not die. In fact, the reason that God has forbidden that fruit to you is because He knows that if you eat that fruit your eyes will be opened and you will be like Him.” In other words, the serpent is saying to the woman, “You will find blessing outside of God that He has withheld from you if you will disobey Him.” And that sin plays itself over and over again every time that we sin. In other words, we think that by disobeying what God says in His Word that we can find a greater satisfaction than God in Himself. It is a root sin and it plays itself out over and over in every sin. And the psalmist here, when he says, “The Lord is my portion,” is expressing a spiritual aspiration. He doesn't want something else to occupy his heart as the ultimate object of his affection. He wants God to be the ultimate object of his affection. He wants God to be his ultimate desire. He wants God to be his ultimate reward, his portion, his inheritance. And so this is a statement of desire and aspiration. He is saying, “The Lord is all I want.” That's what it means when he says, “The Lord is my portion.” “The Lord is all I want. The Lord is well worth living for. The Lord is my aspiration.”
And we sang about that in the very first hymn. Do you want to take your hymnals in hand again and turn back to number 509, “Jesus, Lover of My Soul”? And look at the third stanza and the first line, number 509. “Thou, O Christ, art all I want; more than all in thee I find.” Now that is Psalm 119 verse 57 stated in New Testament Christological form. “Thou, O Christ, art all I want; more than all in thee I find.” It reminds me of William Guthrie's great saying of Christ. He says this — “Less would not satisfy; more could not be desired.” And he's speaking of Christ. And so the psalmist is expressing an aspiration of the soul. “God, I want to treasure You as my portion above everything else in life.” You know, most of the battle of the spiritual life is fought right there because all of us have hopes and dreams that haven't come about and all of us have things in our lives that we wish we didn't have. And all of us are tempted to think that, “You know, if my hopes and dreams that haven't come about in my life would just come about, then I would have the fullness of satisfaction that I've always wanted.” Or, “If I didn't have these things in my life that are in my life, then I would have the satisfaction that I've always wanted.” And the psalmist is saying here, “Lord, help me not buy those lies because the satisfaction that I have always wanted is not withheld from me in any condition of life because You are my portion. All the satisfaction that I could ever want or need is found in You. You are my portion.” So the first thing we see in this psalm is that the believer's portion, the believer's inheritance, the believer's reward is the Lord Himself. And that's a statement of reality, a blessing that God has given us, and it's a statement of desire and aspiration.
THOSE WHO TREASURE THE LORD TREASURE HIS WORD
But the second thing that I want you to see is this. If you are a person who treasures the Lord above everything else, if you are a person for whom there is an aspiration that the Lord is your inheritance, then this will be true of you. Look at the rest of verse 57. “The LORD is my portion; I promise to keep your words.” Those who treasure the Lord treasure His Word. Those who treasure the Lord treasure His Word. And the psalmist just comes right out and says it. “You are my portion, Lord. I promise to keep Your Word. Because You’re my portion, I treasure Your Word and I promise to keep it. I want to keep it.” Those who treasure the Lord treasure His Word. When we meet Christians or professed Christians who say that they treasure the Lord but they do not treasure His Word, we always know something is wrong. And the something that's wrong is not with God and it's not with His Word; it's with their heart. If you say that you love the Lord and you don't treasure His Word there's something wrong and it's not with God and it's not with His Word; it's with your heart, because those who know the Lord and those who treasure the Lord and those for whom they can say with the psalmist, “The Lord is my portion,” they treasure His Word. So Jesus can say, “Man does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Or He can say, “It is My food to do the will of Him who sent Me.” He loves to do His Father's Word because the Lord is His portion. He loves to do the Word.
BELIEVERS LIVE BY GOD’S GRACE AND PROMISE
There's a third thing that we see in this passage and we see it in verse 58. “I entreat your favor with all my heart; be gracious to me according to your promise.” And what we learn in that little verse is simply this. The believer lives by God's favor, by God's grace, and by God's promise. You know, over and over in this psalm, the psalmist thanks God for His Law and you see it even in the passage before us. Do you see how many times he praises the Law of God in this passage and all the things that he calls it? Verse 57, “your word,” verse 58, “your promise,” verse 59, “your testimonies,” verse 60, “your commandments,” verse 61, “your law,” verse 62, “your righteous rules,” verse 63, “your precepts,” verse 64, “your statues.” You might think, you might think that the psalmist underestimates the blessings of God's grace and His favor and His promises but He does not. He says it explicitly here in verse 58, “I entreat your favor with all my heart; be gracious to me according to your promise.” He's saying, “The way I live, Lord, not by pulling myself up by the boot straps, not by being good enough to merit Your love, the way that I live is by Your favor, by Your grace, and by Your promise.”
And look at the way that he prays. What does he entreat God for? What is it that he longs to have from God? Favor. “That's what I long for, Lord. Not Cadillacs, not wealth, but favor. I want your favor.” And literally it says, “I want Your face. I want Your face looking at me, God. I want to live in Your presence. I want to be in communion with You. I want Your face. I want Your favor.” And how does he seek this? “With all my heart. The thing that my heart wants more than anything else, Lord, is your favor. That's what I want.” And how did he plead this? Look at the end of the verse. “According to Your promise.” He pleads the promise of God. “Lord, I'm Your child. You've promised me Your favor. I'm seeking it with all my heart. You have said that, ‘If with all your heart you seek Me, you will surely find Me.’ Lord, I'm pleading that promise. Let me find You. I want Your face. I want Your favor. I want it with all my heart and I'm just praying Your promises back to You.” This believer, as much as he loves the Law, knows that believers live by God's favor, by God's grace, and by God's promise. That's the third thing that we see in this psalm.
BELIEVERS SEEK TO HAVE THEIR BEHAVIOR CONFORMED TO THE WORD
The fourth thing is this. Look at verses 59 and 60. Here we see that the believer considers his life, the believer considers his conduct, and then he runs to God's Word. And he takes account of himself, he looks at his life, he looks at his behavior, he looks at his conduct, and then he goes right to the Word of God. Look at what he says. “When I think on my ways, I turn my feet to your testimonies. I hasten and do not delay to keep your commandments.” We were having a special prayer service before this service tonight and in that prayer service Billy Joseph prayed a prayer and in that prayer he said, “Lord, you know so often in our thoughts we're thinking about our desires, what matters most to us, and we don't listen to Your Word.” And he was praying that we wouldn't do that in that prayer service. It's right here, isn't it? “I consider my thoughts, I consider my conduct, and then I don't stay with what I want, what my desires are. I run to God's Word. I take stock of myself and then I go right to the Word of God.”
Think of it, my friends, the prodigal in the far country considers his life and he runs back to the father. Zacchaeus, up in that tree, trying to see Jesus, hears Jesus say, “Get down here quick, Zacchaeus.” And he scrambles down that tree and he heads quickly to the house to sup with Jesus and then he makes right his wrongs, quickly. Or think of the disciples. Jesus comes to them and He calls them to leave their nets, leave their trades, leave their vocations and follow Him. And over and over the gospels tell us what? “And straightway” or “and immediately they got up and followed Him.” Or think of the Philippian jailor, that earthquake in the middle of the night, and I think, by the way, that's why that Scripture is there from Acts chapter 16 verse 25 that Doyle Moorehead referred to because I think it's pointing back to verse 62 — “at midnight I will rise and praise you.” Well remember, in the middle of the night, Paul and Silas were singing psalms and hymns and the earthquake comes and the Philippian jailor thinks all of the prisoners have escaped and he's about to kill himself and they said, “No, no, no, don't kill yourself. We’re still here.” And straightway he wants to know the way of salvation and he's washing their wounds.
But think, by way of contrast, how Felix treated Paul. You remember Felix in Acts chapter 24, the governor that Paul got taken to? And twice, at least twice, Felix has Paul come in and present the Gospel to him and Felix keeps putting him off. Do you remember the second time, Paul starts preaching about the coming judgment and about righteousness and about self-control and it scares Felix to death and he sends Paul away and he says, “I’ll hear you another time about this.” And you know what? Felix never heard him again. There's the difference between the heart of the believer and the heart of an unbeliever. The believer takes stock of his thoughts, of his life, of his way, of his conduct, runs to God's Word, and the unbeliever puts God off — maybe tomorrow, maybe the next day. But what did we hear today in Hebrews chapter 3 verses 7 to 19? “Today, today if you hear His voice, do not harden your heart.” Don't put God off. Hasten to His Word. That's the fourth thing that we learn. The believer considers his life and conduct and he runs to God's Word.
A fifth thing is this. Look at verse 61. “Though the cords of the wicked ensnare me, I do not forget your law.” Now it wouldn't be a psalm or even a portion of the psalm if the psalmist weren't in trouble, would it? Now you see we've gotten almost all the way through this section, no sign of trouble, no hide nor hair of trouble, and there it is waiting for you in the first half of 61! “Though the cords of the wicked ensnare me, I do not forget your law.” In other words, the psalmist is reminding us that opposition to the godly and opposition to the Gospel is the normal state of things in a fallen world. We, my friends, have lived through an extraordinary period of peace and blessing in our country and our culture, and it looks to me like it is beginning to come to an end. And that could leave you, believer, unsettled. “Oh no! Something's wrong!” Well of course, from the standpoint of the rich blessings of God on us and the wonderful legacy that's been bequeathed to us by our forbearers, something is wrong, but understand from Psalm 119 verse 61, this is actually the normal state of affairs. Normally, in this sin-sick, fallen, rebellious world, there's opposition to the Gospel, there's opposition to the godly, there's opposition to believers in God, there's opposition to Christians. Don't be surprised by that. Hold fast.
You notice what he says? “I will not forsake your word. Even though they’re telling me I've got to forsake your word, I'm not going to forsake your word, even though they’re opposing me.” Remember that friends. Remember Psalm 119 verse 61. That's going to be a theme verse for us for the next twenty-five years here in America. “Even if they oppose me, I'm not going to forget the Word.” And look, there are well-meaning people right now telling us that we need to forget the Word. “You know, the world's just opposed to us there and we’ll never be able to share the Gospel with them if we keep holding onto what the Word says about that so we just need to push that aside. That will offend them if we say that. That will offend them if we believe that.” No, I will not forsake the Word.
One last thing. Look at verse 64. “The earth, O LORD, is full of your steadfast love; teach me your statues!” The last thing that I want to draw your attention to is simply this. The psalmist tells us here that the world is full of testimonies to God's lovingkindness. Our God's lovingkindness is displayed around us in manifold ways. Do you remember what Jesus said to His disciples when they were all worried? “Even a sparrow doesn't fall from a tree apart from the will of your heavenly Father.” Have you ever gone out into your yard and one of the little birds has fallen out of the nest and maybe your cat got him? Well Jesus said even something as significant as that doesn't happen apart from the will of your heavenly Father. The display of His lovingkindness and care and providence is everywhere around you. And if that display is even in the world around you, how much more do we see that lovingkindess in the Word and in the Gospel and how we ought to trust Him because He's so good, He's so kind, He's so generous, He's so caring. The world is full of the testimony to God's lovingkindness and believers want to live like that's true. Let's pray.
Heavenly Father, we thank You for Your Word and we pray that You would help us to live according to these Gospel truths for our comfort, for Your glory, in Jesus’ name, amen.
Would you stand for God's blessing? Take your bulletins out because we're going to sing the first stanza of “Abide With Me” after the benediction.
Peace be to the brethren and love with faith, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ until the daybreak and the shadows flee away. Amen.