Theme: The Need for Understanding
This stanza of Psalm 119 tells us that studying God’s Word will bring delight in his decrees.
Scripture: Psalm 119:33-40
One of the things a superior student should care about once he or she is admitted to a good school is achieving a well-rounded education. There is not much concern about that in many schools today because the quality of education has declined. Much of today’s education is essentially only learning a trade so a person can earn a decent living. But years ago in many places and still today in some places there is concern that a student develop in a well-rounded way—in many areas of knowledge, for one thing. Such schools require a prescribed number of courses covering the humanities, social sciences and physical sciences. There should be a concern for the arts, opportunities to participate in music groups, perhaps also in drama. Good schools do not forget physical education either. They offer athletic programs of various kinds.
It is useful to think in terms of a balanced education to understand what is going on next in Psalm 119. A well-rounded education is education for the whole person, and this is what the psalmist wants for himself. What is the best way to achieve a well-rounded education in God’s school? Verses 34-37 teach that it is by keeping God’s Word before one’s mind, feet, heart and eyes—four important parts of the body.
1. The mind: “Give me understanding” (v. 34). The wisdom the writer seeks is practical, walking according to God’s law as well as merely knowing it. But it is necessary to know it. In fact, it is necessary to have an intellectual understanding of God’s ways before the application, simply because we cannot apply what we are ignorant of. That is why the Apostle Paul began the application section of Romans with words about the renewal of the mind (Rom. 12:1, 2). Likewise, the psalmist also begins with the mind, asking God to help him understand the Bible.
Does your mind matter? Years ago, John R. W. Stott, Rector Emeritus of All Soul’s Church in London, wrote a short little book insisting that it does. It is titled, significantly enough, Your Mind Matters, and it deals with six areas of Christian living, arguing that each is impossible without a proper and energetic use of our minds: Christian worship, Christian faith, Christian holiness, Christian guidance, Christian evangelism, and Christian ministry.1
We will look at the first three areas now and pick up with our discussion with the remaining three in tomorrow’s study.
Our minds matter in worship, because worship is honoring God for who he is, and in order to do that we must understand something about his wonderful attributes. We must praise him for being sovereign, holy, merciful, wise, omniscient, and so on. Without a mental understanding of God’s attributes worship becomes only an emotional binge in which we indulge our feelings.
Our minds matter for faith, because faith is believing and acting upon the word or promises of God, and in order to believe God’s promises we must understand what they are. Apart from a right use of the mind, faith becomes only a feeling or, worse yet, wishful thinking.
Our minds matter for growth in holiness, which is what we are chiefly concerned about in this psalm, because growth in holiness (sanctification) is not a matter of emotions or simply following out a formula for living the two most popular approaches to sanctification today. Rather, it is knowing what God has done in us when he joined us to Christ, and then acting upon it because there is really no other way for us to act. As I said in my studies of Romans 6, it is knowing that we cannot go back to being what we were and therefore that there is no direction for us to go but forward.2
1John R. W. Stott, Your Mind Matters: The Place of the Mind in the Christian Life (Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 1972).
2See James Montgomery Boice, Romans, vol. 2, The Reign of Grace: Romans 5-8 (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1992), pp. 649-656.
Why is it necessary to have an intellectual understanding of Christianity?
What is faith apart from the right use of the mind?
What part do our minds play in our sanctification?
Prayer: Ask God for the ability to use your mind in the areas of worship, faith, and holiness.
Application: Memorize Romans 12:1, 2.