Theme: God’s Mercy and Truth
In this week’s lessons, we see that obedience, Bible study, and prayer lead to true freedom.
Scripture: Psalm 119:153-168
Apparently, the problem of profession without practice was present in the early Christian community, as proved by the epistle of James:
Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does (James 1:22-25).
There is nothing so obvious as the truth that “faith” without obedience is worthless, even contemptible. Yet few things are so common. One writer says, “Open sin, and avowed unbelief, no doubt slay their thousands. But profession without practice slays its tens of thousands.”1 He means that those who disobey God will be carried away by life’s torrents.
The psalmist was not making this mistake. He knew that if he was serious about his discipleship, he would have to immerse himself in the Bible and that, if he did immerse himself in the Bible, he would have to obey it. We sometimes think of obedience as something we just have to grit our teeth and do. But the psalmist thought of it as a joyous, natural response to what he learned about God when he studied his Word.
What had he learned? These stanzas give four answers, two of which we look at today.
1. God is merciful (v. 156). Our translation of this verse says, “Your compassion is great.” But the same Hebrew words might equally well be rendered, “Many are your mercies.” Whatever the translation, the fact that God is rich in mercy is the most wonderful thing we can know about him. We have already seen that this is what God revealed to Moses when he placed him in a cleft of mountain rock, covered him with his hand and passed by, saying, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin” (Exod. 34:6, 7). In the Old Testament these are the most frequently cited of all verses (Numbers 14:18; Deuteronomy 5:9, 10; Psalm 86:15; Joel 2:13; Jonah 4:1; Jeremiah 34:18; and Nehemiah 9:17). And with good reason since mercy is what we all desperately need. As New Testament believers, we know that we have this mercy through the Lord Jesus Christ.
2. God’s Word is true (v. 160). This is a great lesson for the psalmist to have learned, or for anyone to learn. So it is not surprising that it figures strongly in these last stanzas. We find it in verse 142 (“your law is true”), verse 151 (“all your commands are true”) and verse 160 (“all your words are true”).
Have you learned that about the Bible? Have you learned how true, how utterly trustworthy God’s Word is, even when everything and everyone about you proves false and is untrustworthy? Charles Haddon Spurgeon, that great Baptist preacher, wrote,
The ungodly are false, but God’s word is true….God’s word has been true from the first moment in which it was spoken, true throughout the whole of history, true to us from the instant in which we believed it, true to us before we were true to it….The Scriptures are as true in Genesis as in Revelation, and the five books of Moses are as inspired as the four Gospels. Neither in the book of revelation nor of providence will there be any need to put a single note of errata. The Lord has nothing to regret or to retract, nothing to amend or to reverse.2
The Bible was as true for your grandmother and grandfather as it is for you. The same Word that speaks truthfully to you spoke truthfully to martyrs standing against the cruel persecutions of imperial Rome.
1John Charles Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels: St. Luke (Cambridge: James Clark & Co., 1976), vol. 1, p. 195.
2Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, vol. 3a, Psalms 111-119 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1968), pp. 425, 426.
How does James say a person will be blessed in what he does?
Explain the result of continual disobedience.
What is the most wonderful thing we can know about God? How do we know this about him? How do we receive this?
How can you make yourself see that God’s Word is true?
Reflection: What is your attitude toward obedience? Do you respond joyfully to it?
Key Point: “Faith” without obedience is worthless, even contemptible.