Theme: Four Exercises
In this week’s lessons from Psalm 119, we learn from the Word of God how to live a pure life.
Scripture: Psalm 119:9-16
What are some practical steps we might take to get the Bible into our minds and hearts and begin to make progress in the Christian life? The psalmist seems to be writing primarily to the young in this stanza, so it is not surprising to find him ending with four points of very practical advice, expressed in terms of his own experience. We might call them four exercises designed to help us master Scripture.
1. “With my lips I recount all the laws that come from your mouth” (v. 13). One of the best ways to learn anything is to verbalize it or teach it to others. I find this myself. I have a far easier time learning some truth and I retain it longer if I work it into a sermon or make it part of one of our Bible Study seminars.
Not long ago I attended a meeting of the Board of Directors of Bible Study Fellowship and learned about an African woman who attends one of the large classes in Nairobi. Each week, after attending the Nairobi class, she goes back to her village and teaches what she has learned in the city to about forty women who gather to hear her there. Who do you think learns most from the Nairobi class? And who will retain it longer? If we are alive for God, our lives will be like the muscle of the heart which is constantly expanding to take in a fresh supply of blood, which is the life, and then contracting to push it on and give it out.
And speaking of the heart, Martin Luther observed that some people speak God’s truth but do not have it in their hearts, while others have it in their hearts but are afraid to proclaim it vigorously for fear of losing friends and making enemies and persecutors. He said, “It is not enough to believe with the heart unto righteousness, unless confession unto salvation is also made with the mouth (Rom. 10:10).”1
2. “I rejoice in following your statues” (v. 14). It is a natural tendency of a healthy mind to remember things that are pleasant and forget things that are unpleasant. A person who does the opposite is mentally or psychologically unstable. It follows from this that one good way to learn and retain God’s Word is to rejoice in it, which is what the psalmist says he has been doing. That can be done in a lot of ways, privately in our personal devotions and publicly in witnessing situations. Let me suggest that one very excellent way is by joyful worship in regular church services. I am seldom more joyful than when I am singing the great hymns of the faith in church with other Christians.
3. “I meditate on your precepts” (v. 15). The third thing the writer of this psalm commends to us is meditation. That is, recalling what we have committed to memory and then turning it over and over in our minds to see the fullest implications and applications of the truth. Mary did this after the birth of her son, the Lord Jesus Christ, for we are told in Luke 2:19, “But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.”
4. “I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word” (v. 16). The psalmist’s final point of practical advice is to determine never to neglect God’s word. “Delight” in this last verse is not the same word as in verse 14 (“rejoice”). The former is an exuberant festive joyfulness, the second a settled pleasure. But the two are parts of the same emotion, so what is new in the last line is the determination not to neglect Bible study. It is easy to do, but we must determine not to allow other pressing matters to crowd out the study of God’s Word.
Have you noticed the future tense (“I will”) in that last line? In some of the translations the future tense of verbs occurs before this. But however translated, at some point—at this point, according to the New International Version—the author passes from declaring what he has done or is in the habit of doing to what he will do. And what he says he will do is “not neglect” the Bible. That is, he is determined to study it. Are you?
1Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, vol. 11, First Lectures on the Psalms, II: Psalms 76-126, ed. Hilton C. Oswald (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1976), p. 420.
How can teaching the Word of God help you to learn it?
What does it mean to meditate on the Word of God?
How can we rejoice in following God’s statutes?
Why does the psalmist switch from using the past or present tense to the future tense?
Application: Make it a point to tell someone else what you learned from this study. Try to do this regularly.
Review: What are four practical exercises to help us master Scripture? Purpose to do them regularly.
For Further Study: To help you delve deeper into a study of God’s Word, the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals is offering James Boice’s three-volume paperback series on the Psalms for 25% off the regular price.