Theme: The Necessity of Profession and Practice
In this week’s lessons, we see that obedience, Bible study, and prayer lead to true freedom.
Scripture: Psalm 119:153-168
There is a link between the last stanza (vv. 145-152) and these two stanzas (vv. 153-168). The enemies of the psalmist are still present, as they have been throughout the psalm, and he is still praying: “Deliver me” (v. 153), “defend my cause and redeem me” (v. 154), “renew my life” (vv. 154, 156), and “preserve my life” (v. 159). Derek Kidner says that there even seems to be “a mounting urgency” in these repeated pleas for salvation.1 At the same time, there is also a significant change as we move from the former stanza to these two. The last set of verses was almost entirely a prayer. In these stanzas the petitions tend to drop away—stanza twenty-one (the sin/shin stanza) has no explicit prayers at all—and in their place comes a quiet, obedient waiting upon God.
In other words, obedience is the new element. It is introduced in a negative way in verse 158 (“the faithless…do not obey your word”), and it reappears twice positively at the end (in verses 167 and 168):
I obey your statutes, for I love them greatly.I obey your precepts and your statutes,for all my ways are known to you.
This writer knows that obedience is not optional. He knows that it is essential to genuine discipleship and that it is the only basis on which he can have any claim on God for his swift intervention and deliverance.
But how little obedience there often is, even in strong Christian circles! I suppose that is why Jesus spoke about it so directly toward the end of the Sermon on the Mount (Luke’s version). Jesus had been followed by many people who made a verbal profession of discipleship. They called him “Lord,” which meant that they were calling him their master and were putting themselves forward as his servants. But they were also disregarding his teaching. Jesus showed the impossibility of this obvious contradiction by asking pointedly: “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46). He was teaching that he is not our Lord if we do not obey him; and if he is not our Lord, then we do not even belong to him. We are like the man whose house was swept away by a flood (v. 49).
Disobedience, which is profession without practice, has been a problem throughout history. It was true of Israel. On the day before Ezekiel learned of the fall of the city of Jerusalem to the Babylonians the Lord appeared to him to explain why this was happening, and the explanation was in terms of the people’s lack of obedience. God told Ezekiel:
Your countrymen are talking together about you by the walls and at the doors of the houses, saying to each other, “Come and hear the message that has come from the LORD.” My people come to you, as they usually do, and sit before you to listen to your words, but they do not put them into practice. With their mouths they express devotion, but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain. Indeed, to them you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument as well, for they hear your words but do not put them into practice (Ezek. 33:30-32).
Jerusalem was destroyed because the people were wanting only to be entertained by God’s words, not to obey the instructions.
Isaiah said the same thing in words Jesus later referred to when he was teaching his disciples: “The Lord says: ‘These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me’” (Isa. 29:13). Jesus also used this text to reprove teachers of the law who made a profession of adhering to God’s words when actually they were obeying only man-made regulations. He called them “hypocrites” and “blind guides” (Matt. 15:1-14; cf. Mark 7:1-16).
1Derek Kidner, Psalms 73-150: A Commentary on Books III-V of the Psalms (Leicester, England, and Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1975), p. 428.
How is this stanza of Psalm 119 similar to other stanzas? What is different?
Why did Jesus speak frequently about obedience?
Explain the obvious contradiction of people’s behavior in the Luke 6 passage.
Reflection: Reflect on your profession and practice. Are they consistent with each other, or are there times when Jesus would consider you a hypocrite?
Prayer: Ask God to help you grow in obedience in your relationship with him.
For Further Study: To learn more about obedience, download and listen for free to Donald Barnhouse’s message, “Obedience from the Heart.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)