The Lord's Day Evening
May 5, 2013
Not by Bread Alone
“Your Word Is a Lamp to My Feet”
The Reverend Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Psalm 119 again and we’ll be looking at verses 105 to 112. The psalmist is meditation on the Word of God, not simply on different aspects of the Word of God but different uses of the Word of God in the Christian life. And tonight in particular, he is concerned to think about how the Word of God gives direction in every area, in every aspect, in every circumstance, in every condition of life. This is one of the reasons, as we read through Psalm 119 a year or so ago as we were working through the Psalter and as I looked more closely and studied the passage that I realized a series on Psalm 119 would not be, as I initially feared, unduly repetitive because the psalmist is continually not only looking at different aspects of the Word, different qualities of the Word, different parts of the nature of the Word of God, he's looking at different ways in which the Word addresses in what we might say, the Christian life, the life of the believer. And so we're going to give attention to what he says about the Word in all of life tonight. Let's pray before we read God's Word.
Our heavenly Father, Your Word is truth. We ask that You would sanctify us by Your truth and that You would save us by Your trust. The apostle Paul told Timothy that from the Scriptures we learn the way of salvation which is through faith in Christ. And this is true. And our Savior taught us that if we would know the way to live we need to look to God's Word because it is truth and we are sanctified by that Truth. So we pray that You would do these things even as we study Your Word tonight. Open our eyes to behold wonderful things in Your Word. We ask in Jesus' name, Amen.
This is the Word of God. Hear it from Psalm 119 beginning in verse 105:
“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. I have sworn an oath and confirmed it, to keep your righteous rules. I am severely afflicted; give me life, O LORD, according to your word! Accept my freewill offerings of praise, O LORD, and teach me your rules. I hold my life in my hand continually, but I do not forget your law. The wicked have laid a snare for me, but I do not stray from your precepts. Your testimonies are my heritage forever, for they are the joy of my heart. I incline my heart to perform your statues forever, to the end.”
Amen, and thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.
The psalmist, in this portion of Psalm 119, gives us eight evidences of his sincere purpose to live out the Word of God. He has told us over and over that he loves the Word of God. He's told us over and over that He believes the Word of God. He has asked God to help him understand the Word of God. He has asked God to teach him the Word of God. He has ascribed glorious qualities to the Word of God, but in this passage, he is expressing his purpose to live out that word, not to just say that he loves the Word of God but to show that he loves the Word of God, not simply to say, “I believe,” but to respond to that profession of belief in the Word of God by living out, by obeying the Word of God. And so this section of the psalm shows the psalmist's sincere purpose to live out the Word, to practice the truth in all of life. And I'd like you to look at the eight evidences of that that he puts before you tonight.
THE RULE OF LIFE
And the first one is this. Look at verse 105. “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” This is a declaration by the psalmist, a declaration that God's Word is his rule of life and he walks by it in all his ways. You see, our love for the Word of God is best shown by the way we live it, by the way that we pay heed to it, by the way that we live it out, by the way we walk by it. In Jesus’ day, there were plenty of religious leaders around who had a very high view of the Bible, of Scripture. And Jesus, on several occasions draws attention to that. And yet He criticizes them for saying that they had a high view of God's Word and yet getting their way around it. And so over and over you hear Jesus saying things like, “Be hearers, not only, but doers.” Do not only say that, “I hear the Word of God! I believe the Word of God! I honor the Word of God! I want to hear the Word of God read in the synagogue! I want to hear the rabbi expound on the meaning of God's Word! I accept God's Word as the only truth in this world!” Don't do those things, Jesus said, and then don't heed it, don't obey it, don't live it, don't practice it. Be hearers and doers of the Word.
He criticizes the leaders of His day for not understanding the essence of the Word of God. Do you remember He will say, “You search the Scriptures because you think you’ll find in them eternal life, but they speak of Me.” They've missed really important things in the Word of God and He criticizes them for often trying to find loopholes in the Word so they don't actually have to obey it. Much of His teaching in the Sermon on the Mount is an indication of how people who said that they believe the Bible in His day and who were the main teachers in Israel had found ways to get around the Ten Commandments. And so the psalmist is reminding us here that the way that we show love for God's Word is by living it, by paying heed to it, by walking by it, by living it out.
David Dickson, who I've quoted on several occasions as I've worked through this psalm with you, says this. “Love to the Word and estimation of it,” by which he means esteeming the Word – love for the Word and esteem for the Word – “which is the duty set forth in the former section,” so he's saying immediately prior to this in the eight verses before you get to verse 105 the psalmist is telling you how much he loves the Word, how much he esteems the Word. He says this. “Love to the Word, esteem for the Word, are best evidenced by making practical use of it in a man's conversation.” And conversation was a Puritan way for talking about the whole way that you live your life. Not just, “I was having a conversation with Bob the other day.” Conversation is the way that you live your whole life. So he says, “Love to the Word and esteem for it are best evidenced by making a practical use of it in a man's conversation. Whosoever loves it, so as to obey it, shall find a sweet, lively, and comfortable life in it to carry him through all the dark passages of this sinful life, so that he shall have cause to say, ‘Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.’” So this very first statement is a declaration that the psalmist aspires for God's Word to be his rule in every aspect of life. He wants to live out God's Word in all of life.
And it's very interesting to me. Paul says something very like this in the beginning of the practical section of the book of Romans. Do you remember where I'm talking about? Turn with me to Romans chapter 12. After expounding all of that glorious theology in chapters 1 through 11, Paul commences the ethical portion of Romans with these words: “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” And so Paul says, “Don't live in conformity with this world. Live in conformity to God's Word.” But he puts it in such an interesting way. Look at what he says again. “So that by testing you may discern what is the will of God.” Isn't that an interesting phrase? He's saying, so that by living out the Word of God you will become a discerner of the will of God. This is a practical embrace of the authority of God's Word in your life. You’re living in a way so that you’re not conformed to the world, you’re conformed to the Word, but it's in living out the Word of God that you learn the will of God.
Have you ever had the experience of preparing a lesson and as you are teaching the lesson and as the words are coming out of your mouth, even as they are coming out of your mouth you suddenly realize the meaning of that truth in a way that you didn't before those words were coming out of your mouth? And then have you ever had the experience of obeying God's Word and having obeyed God's Word, maybe in a hard situation, you have come to a deeper understanding of God's Word even in the obedience of it? Well this is the kind of practical living out of God's Word that Paul is talking about in Romans 12 and that the psalmist is talking about in Psalm 119 verse 105. Our love for the Word of God is best shown by living it out. So he begins with a declaration that God's Word is his rule for every aspect of life.
CONFORMED TO THE WORD
Here's the second thing. Look at verse 106. Here, the psalmist announces his deliberate purpose to conform his life to God's Word. His conformity of His life to God's Word. You've already heard the aspiration of that in the first stanza of this section of the psalm. “Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” I want Your Word to guide me on the way. I want Your Word to show me the way through this dark world. Now, he deliberately purposes to conform his life to God's Word. “I have sworn an oath and confirmed it, to keep your righteous rules.” So the psalmist's obedience of God's Word is not by accident. He's very deliberate in his aspiration for the Word of God to rule his life, to the point that he's ready to make oaths and vows to keep God's Word. “I have sworn an oath and confirmed it.”
Now because of the way that some Christians have misunderstood what Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount, some Christians are afraid of vows and oaths. You remember Jesus said, “Let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes’ and your ‘No’ be ‘No’ and anything beyond that is from the evil one.” And many well-meaning, Bible-believing Christians have thought, “Oh Jesus is teaching that we should not take vows anymore.” Well if that is the case, what do you do in Luke 22 verses 14 to 19 where Jesus takes a vow, twice? And what do you do with the passages in the book of Acts where Paul takes vows? It's a misunderstanding of Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount to say that Jesus is saying that vows are wrong and Christians shouldn't use them anymore.
And what the psalmist is saying here actually explains what we are doing when we take, for instance, baptismal and membership vows, when we take ordination vows, when we take marriage vows. What we're doing in those vows is we are announcing a special resolve to God to keep His Word. Now those vows would be wrong if we were vowing to do something that was not in accord with God's Word. Those vows would be wrong if we were vowing to do something that we have no capacity to do. But when we are announcing a special resolve, dependent upon the grace of God and the help of His Holy Spirit to do something that God calls us to do in the Word, it actually helps us to be faithful to the Word of God. So for instance, when every member of this church joins, one of the things that we vow before God and to one another is this. “I now resolve and promise, in humble reliance upon the grace of the Holy Spirit, that I will live as becomes a follower of our Lord Jesus Christ.” And every time members are introduced to our church those vows are repeated and it gives us an opportunity to remember what we committed to when we first joined the church. And that is a good thing to be reminded of because resolve is a thing that is vulnerable to dissipating, especially over time. You can start out intending to do something, and years and years later, and struggle after struggle later, your resolve weakens. And the vow, especially when it's repeated again in your ears, helps strengthen that resolve again. And seeing other people take the vow and keep the vow strengthens your resolve.
You know, one of the great stories of Christianity is the story of Thomas Cranmer going to the stake because he refused to deny the doctrine of the Protestant Reformation. But if you know the whole story, before he finally refused to deny the doctrine of the Reformation, before he finally refused to recant the profession of the doctrines of grace, he recanted them. He signed a statement saying, “I deny what I have been teaching. I accept the teachings of the Catholic Church.” And then he watched two colleagues of his be burned at the stake because they had refused to sign the same document that had been given to him. And you know what it did? It was what God's Spirit used to strengthen his resolve and he recanted his recanting. He said to his captors, “I'd like you to bring that statement that I signed back to me because I'd like to tear it up.” And they said, “You understand what that means. That means you’ll be burned at the stake.” “Yes, I do.” So watching friends of his in resolve be willing to die for the truth strengthened his own resolve. And you remember how he died? As they lit the flames, he stuck his right hand in the flames first and he said, “You betrayed me. You burn first.” So the resolve of vows and seeing others resolve in vows can be a great encouragement to the Christian life.
That's one reason we have ordination vows. I've often gone back to my ordination vows and meditated upon them. One of the vows that is very, very precious is the vow that we will “adorn the profession of the Gospel in our lives and set a worthy example before the church of God.” The vow that we will be “subject to our brethren in the Lord.” And I think for ministers, the vow that, “we have in so far as we are able to know our own hearts, sought the Gospel ministry out of a love for God and a desire to serve His people.” Those vows are good things to go back to.
And then think of wedding vows. Our forbearers were no fools when they conceived of the vows that we still use these days in weddings. I remember when I was a young seminary professor at RTS, just married to Anne, they held a Valentine's Day banquet for the seminarians. And it was one of those embarrassing events because I'd only been married to Anne for a month and they did one of those “Newly Wed Game” things. Oh boy did I mess up! I don't know how long I slept on the couch after that one! I mean, I missed every question that could be missed in that “Newly Wed Game.” When they announced it I just said, “Oh, I'm hamburger!” But that night, Jane Hogan, the wife of Bill Hogan, our professor of preaching, was giving just a little word of encouragement and exhortation to us at that Valentine's Day banquet. And she said, “Girls, I want to tell you this.” She wanted to address herself especially to the seminary wives. She said, “Girls, I want to tell you this. I have been married to Bill Hogan” – I can't remember how many years she said she’d been married to Bill at that point – “and I want you to know that the idea of divorcing him has never ever crossed my mind. Now murdering him, several occasions!” And you know it was one of those penetrating moments when you heard her say, “I've never ever thought of divorcing him,” and you thought, “Awe!” And then you heard how she finished the sentence and everybody reacted just like you did.
But the vows that we take at weddings, our forbearers were no fools when they conceived those vows. When a man is asked to say this, “I do promise and covenant before God and these witnesses to be your loving and faithful husband, in sickness and in health, in plenty and in want, in joy and in sorrow, as long as we both shall live,” and when a woman vows to “promise and covenant before God and these witnesses to be your loving and faithful wife in sickness and in health, in plenty and in want, in joy and in sorrow, as long as we both shall live.” I don't know how many friends of mine who have given me this testimony – “If my wife and I were not Christians, we would not be married today.” And the testimonies vary. Sometimes it's because they have very, very different temperaments and personalities and inclinations that have brought about some significant conflict in their relationship. But the fundamental commitment to remain loyal to one another, to remain with one another, has carried them through. Our forbearers were very wise when they designed those vows. And the psalmist is just here saying he is going to be deliberate in his purpose to conform to the will of God.
DETERMINED TO LOOK TO GOD’S WORD
There's a third thing that he says in this passage. Look at verse 107. “I am severely afflicted; give me life, O LORD, according to your word!” So he's begun with a declaration that the Word of God is going to be his rule for all of life and then he announces a deliberate purpose to conform his life to the Word of God. Now he says that he is determined only to look to God's Word for life when he is under affliction. “I am severely afflicted; and I’ll get myself out of this in any way I can” – No. “I am severely afflicted; give me life, O LORD, according to your word!” Now he's not denying the use of means. You know, if he has a broken arm he's going to go to a doctor. If he's suffering from depression, he's going to go see Tom Elkin. He's not denying the use of means but what he is saying is this. “I'm not looking for my rescue anywhere but from You, Lord. I'm not going to devise a self-rescue plan that's not based on Your Word. I'm looking to You, God. My trust is not in chariots or horses. My trust is not in something outside of Your Word; my trust is in Your Word. I know that this is my Father's world. I know that You care for me. I know that Your Word is true. I'm looking to Your Word, O LORD, for relief in my severe affliction.” So he declares his determination to look only to God's Word for life when he is under affliction.
DELIGHTING IN WORSHIP AND GOD’S WORD
And then look at what he does in verse 108. “Accept my freewill offerings of praise, O LORD, and teach me your rules.” Now this is quite interesting. Here, he announces his delight in worship. Listen to his phrase. “Accept my freewill offerings of praise.” These offerings are offerings that are not part of the schedule of required offerings. These are offerings that you offer because you want to offer them. And the psalmist is announcing his delight in the worship of God. That's huge. John Newton once said something like this. “Many people approach their religion the way they do a cold bath. They might think it's good for them but they’re not looking forward to it and they’re sure glad when it's over!” But he said that's not the way the true believer approaches Christianity. It's something that you delight in. And that's what the psalmist is saying. Nobody's having to force him to go to church. He wants him to be there! Nobody's having to force him to sacrifice. He wants to offer sacrifices to the living God! And so he declares his delight in worship.
But I didn't read the rest of the sentence, did I? “Accept my freewill offerings of praise, O LORD, and teach me your rules.” In other words, listen to this – his delight in worship leads to the answer to this petition. “Accept my freewill offerings of praise, O LORD” and what's his petition? “And teach me your rules.” So how do I get from that that delight in worship leads to the answer to his petition? Well his petition is that God would teach him His Word. Where is he? He's in worship; he's delighting in worship. He's offering sacrifices. Guess what? If he's there, he's getting taught God's Word! If he's in worship he's hearing the Word of God read. If he's in worship he's hearing the Word of God explained. If he's in worship he's hearing the Word of God prayed. If he's in worship he's hearing the Word of God sung. And get this. When he's offering those sacrifices, what does the author of Hebrews say in Hebrews chapter 10? Every time he offers those sacrifices he's being taught that since he's having to offer them again that those sacrifices don't forgive sins; they point to a sacrifice that will, the one that's going to be provided by God. So he's not only being taught the Word; he's being taught the Gospel!
And my friends, if you delight in worship, you will be taught the Gospel in every aspect of it. Do you realize that every time a faithful minister stands up and just reads a call to worship or says or quotes a Scriptural call to worship from the Bible you’re hearing the Gospel? Because of Adam and Eve's sin, they heard the words, “Go! Go from My presence! Go out of the Garden! You no longer may be in My special, nearer communion!” But when the preacher stands up and says, “Oh come, let us worship and bow down. Let us kneel before the Lord our Maker” he's already announced the Gospel. You haven't even gotten into the service and he's announced the Gospel. Why? Because it's only by the grace of what Jesus has done on the cross that you can be invited back into the nearer communion of God. The minute you hear that Word, “Come,” you've just heard the Gospel. You can't come to church and hear a call to worship without the first word announcing the Gospel to you! You’re learning the Word of God; you’re learning the way of salvation. And then you hear the Word of God sung, prayed, and read, and preached. And you know what the petition is? “Lord, teach me Your Word! I really love to worship.” Prayer answered! If you’re in the worship of God, you’re wanting to be in the worship of God, you are going to be taught the Word. So he delights in worship and boom! His petition is answered. That's the fourth thing I want you to see.
REFUSING TO FORGET GOD’S WORD
Here's the fifth thing. Look at verse 109. “I hold my life in my hand continually, but I do not forget your law.” What's he saying here? He's saying, “I know, I know that obeying Your law, Lord, may cost me. And so I hold my life in my hand. I refuse to forget Your law, but I'm going to hold onto my life loosely.” The psalmist is saying his decision is to heed God's Word, come what may, even the loss of his life. “I hold my life in my hand continually, but I do not forget your law.” That will become more and more timely for us as the world becomes more and more hostile to God's truth. Will we hold our lives in our hands and refuse to forget God's Word or will we hold God's Word in our hands loosely and refuse to let go of our lives? Jesus says, “He who loses his life, for My sake, gains it.”
DANGER-DEFYING LOYALTY TO GOD’S WORD
Connected with this, look at verse 110. “The wicked have laid a snare for me, but I do not stray from your precepts.” The psalmist here is announcing a danger-defying loyalty to God's Word. You see the predicament. The wicked have laid a trap for him. If he hangs on to God's Word, their plan is for him to forfeit his life. If he hangs on to his life, their plan is for him to forfeit God's Word. They put him in a Catch-22 where he's faced with a conundrum. “I've either got to be faithful to God and lose my life or hang onto my life and be unfaithful to God.” And the psalmist says, “I will not stray from your precepts when the wicked set a trap for me.” Listen to what David Dickson says again. “It is usual with persecutors to make acts and statutes or to broach some danger, one or another, which shall either force the godly to go off the right way of obedience to God's Word or to fall in the snare. The godly must hold on the royal way of God's command.”
This last week, in the wake of the Jason Collins announcement, this NBA player who announced that he was homosexual, a very prominent Christian golfer was approached by a television journalist and the microphone went in his face and he was asked, “What's your opinion on Jason Collins’ announcement?” And he gave an evasive, uncertain answer. He immediately felt guilty. That journalist knew what he was doing. The man had a reputation for being a fine, young Christian. He knew that if he could get him on the record criticizing Jason Collins’ announcement that it would stir up a lot of attention, for his report, make him look like an advocate for equality, openness, inclusion, reasonableness, love, and make another Christian look like an idiot. That golfer felt really bad about that interview and he called up a pastor friend of his and he said, “I think I really just messed up on an interview. Could you help me?” He called the journalist back up and he said, “I'd like a redo on that interview.” And he gave a clear, un-equivocating answer. Don't know what will come of that. But what had happened was a snare had been laid for him, and initially he fell into that snare. But when he decided, “I'm sticking with the Word of God, even if it gets me in a trap. I'm sticking with the Word of God even if I fall into their snare,” then he slept well at night. Don't know what will come of it, but we will increasingly face those kinds of challenges in this culture. Will you stand with God's Word or not?
JOY FROM THE PROMISED HERITAGE FOUND IN GOD’S WORD
Seventh, look at verse 111. “Your testimonies are my heritage forever, for they are the joy of my heart.” What's he saying here? He's saying that his deepest joy is in the heritage promised to him in God's Word. David Dickson says, “The Word of God believed is the surest riches of the saints, which when all other things fail, maintains and upholds their right to God and eternal life. The felt benefit of the Word of God furnishes spiritual life, light, comfort, peace, and strength.” The psalmist is saying, “My deepest joy is in what You have promised me, Lord, in Your Word, that is my inheritance.” And William Plumer says this. I love this. “The greatest error of most who profess the true religion” – now doesn't the beginning of that sentence make you want to know what the end of it is? “The greatest error of most who profess the true religion is…” What are you going to fill that blank in with? Here it is! “The greatest error of most who profess the true religion is that they do not make enough of it.” Is that not glorious? They don't feel to the bone that God's testimonies are their heritage forever and that they are the joy of their heart. They do not take their deepest joy in the heritage promised to them in God's Word. They do not habitually feel that God's favor is enough to compensate for all losses, that His Word is a heritage sufficient to all the ends of a happy existence, even if we have nothing else, and that we may be glad in the promises even if providences seem to be against us.
Did you – those of you who were here to hear John Blanchard preach on Wednesday night – did you hear that unbelievable statement that he made? He made it about Jesus and he said this. “At the end of life, at the end of life, we don't want to have everything but Christ; we would rather have nothing but Christ.” What a tragedy it would be at the end of life to have everything but Christ. What a victory it would be to have nothing but Christ. Hallelujah, Christ is all I have.
A DETERMINATION AND ASPIRATION TO FINISH THE RACE
One last thing. Look at verse 112. “I incline my heart to perform your statutes forever, to the end.” This is a determination and an aspiration to go on in the Word, to finish the race. William Plumber says, you know, there are two things that characterize true piety. “True piety,” he says, “is hardy and true piety holds on. True piety is hardy and true piety holds on.” By hardy he means this. True piety is not just sort of an outward, formal expression. It resides in and emanates from a heart that is set on God, that believes God, that trusts God, that loves God, that desires God, that treasures God. It's hardy. And, it hangs on. I hear the words of Paul. “I have fought the good fight. I've finished the race. I've kept the faith.” It has in view persevering to the end. And just studying that this week was an encouragement to me. The psalmist expresses a determination, an aspiration, to finish the race.
In all these ways, he evidences that he really does love the Word of God by aspiring to live it out in all of life. May we do so as well by God's grace. Let's pray.
Heavenly Father, thank You for Your Word. Grant that we would be doers as well as hearers of it. In Jesus' name, amen.
Now would you stand for the benediction? And as you do, if you’d take your bulletin out and look at The Evening Worship Guide, you’ll have the music and the words to Psalm 119 verses 105 to 112 and we’ll sing it in response.
Receive God's blessing. 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.