Saturday, April 30, 2016
The Anatomy of Temptation - Understanding and Overcoming Temptation - An Exposition of James 1:13-18
(I gave this message on April 24, 2016 at Miramar Evangelical Free Church in Miramar Florida)
When I was five years old I had my tonsils removed. One reason the surgeon was successful in removing my tonsils was that his medical training included a course in human anatomy. He studied the human body, the various parts that make up the human body, the function of those parts and their location. Therefore, he was successful in removing my tonsils rather than my kidneys.
James is giving us an anatomy lesson in verses 13-18 of chapter one. It is the anatomy of temptation, particularly the process that takes us from temptation to sin. Please know from the outset that temptation itself is not sin. But James gives us the anatomy of temptation so that we can understand what takes place when we allow temptation to lead us into sin.
Note the greater context of this passage. James spoke about trials in the first part of the chapter. We looked at this last when I was here six weeks ago. James says we should expect trails. James tells us that trials are of great value to the believer. If we respond to trials in the right way they lead us to spiritual maturity.
What is the connection between trials and temptation? Remember six weeks ago I suggested that every time we face a trial we come to a fork in the road. We have two choices. We can either seek the Lord or we can turn away from the Lord. Here is the connection. With every trial there comes an opportunity to either prove God's faithfulness or yield to temptation as we go our own way.
What are your circumstances this morning? Are you facing a trial? Then you are probably facing temptation. Perhaps your trial is a temptation, a besetting sin or other area where you are struggling. James identifies the process we go through when we allow temptation to lead us into sin. In other words, when we yield or give in to temptation. It's a four-step process, verses 13-15. I want to look closely at that process with you this morning. Then we will look at three ways to overcome temptation, in verses 16-18. Notice first of all, the four-step process from temptation to sin.
Right up front, James sets the record straight with this disclaimer. "When tempted, no one should say, 'God is tempting me.' For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone." In other words, James says, "Don't play the blame game with God!" God is not the source of temptation. He may allow the temptation but He is not the source of the temptation. James tells us that temptation begins with our own evil desires. That is step one in the anatomy of temptation verse 14, step one, evil desire (lust), "but each one is tempted when by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed." Temptation begins within us, what is within the human heart. In other words, in step one James identifies the role our evil desires play in this process. The word translated "desire" or "lust" (NASB, KJV) is a morally neutral word. The context determines its use, therefore the New International Version translates it "evil desire."
Now, we all have desires. We cannot live without certain basis desires. I assume most of you, if not all of you, have had something to drink in the last 24 hours. Probably all of you have had something to eat in the last 24 hours. Presumably all of you have slept in the last 24 hours. You get the idea. Our desires serve a purpose. Our thirst leads us to drink. Our hunger leads us to eat. When we feel tired we take a nap or go to bed.
But if these desires master us, instead of serving us, then thirst can lead to drunkenness, hunger to gluttony, being tired to laziness. James says that the process from temptation to sin begins with our own evil desires. Jesus described the human heart this way, "...For from within, out of men's hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance, and folly. These evils come from inside and make a man unclean." (Mark 7:21) This is the universal condition of every human heart. The Bible is clear that we are born with an evil heart. So here's the first principle: Principle number one, temptation is possible because of the evil desires within us.
James is saying, there would be no temptation if our desires did not provide a point of contact for the temptation thus creating the opportunity for a response. In other words, if I don't have a desire for something, I can't be tempted by it!
When I was a young boy living in Japan, one day my mother served us oyster stew for lunch. My first sip of broth was my last. My Mom said, "Sit there till you eat it." I sat at the lunch table for hours that day but never ate another bite. I have never had a desire for oysters since. You cannot tempt me with oysters! If you don't have a desire for something you cannot be tempted by it! Temptation begins with the evil desires within us.
The second step in the process from temptation to sin is deception, verse 14b, "but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed." There is always something in a temptation that will appeal to some desire within us. Verse 14 says he is tempted when "he is carried away and enticed" (NASB) "drawn away and enticed" (KJV) "dragged away and enticed" (NIV) by his own lust or evil desire. ESV "Each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire."
James uses two metaphors here, one from the world of hunting and one from the world of fishing. Let's look at the first word, "dragged away," drawn away" or "carried away." It comes from the world of hunting. It's also translated "to lure forth." It's like baiting a trap. A hunter uses bait to entice the animal to the trap.
Those who trap African ring tailed monkeys to put in zoos, say they are one of the difficult animas to catch alive. The Zulu tribes people, however, have little difficulty. Knowing of the monkey's love for the seeds of a certain melon that grows on vines they simply cut a small hole in the side of one of those melons. The ring tailed monkeys come and inserts their paws into the melon through the hole grabbing a handful of the prized seeds. The problem is, when the monkey clenches his fist holding on to the seeds, he cannot remove his hand from the melon and is easily caught alive. You see, the monkey is trapped by his desire for the seeds.
James says that is exactly what is involved in this process from temptation to sin. The temptation appeals to something that we desire, and when we go for it, our desires become a trap. We are trapped by our own evil desire and give in to the temptation.
Then James uses a second metaphor, "but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed." The word "enticed" is literally "to bait a hook." It is from the world of fishing. Our kids learned to fish in Lake Welleby behind our house. Success at fishing depends in part on knowing what bait to use. Sarah learned to start with catching the small minnows along the shore with a net. The tiny minnows were then placed on a very small hook to catch the shiners. Then the shiners were put on a larger hook and they went after the bass. "Temptation comes from the lure of our own evil desires." (NLT)
Notice that bait always does two things. First of all, it always appeals to our desires. Fish don't bite on a bare hook. It's the worm on the hook that attracts the fish. Bait always appeals to something we desire. Secondly, bait always hides the truth. In other words it always deceives. An animal would never approach a trap if it knew the true purpose of the bait. If it knew its life was in jeopardy. The bait hides the consequences of yielding to the temptation. Principle number two, there is deception in every temptation. Therefore our evil desires drag and entice us to go after the bait hidden in the temptation.
In 2 Samuel chapter 11 we read that David was on the roof of his palace from where he saw a beautiful woman taking a bath. He evidently desired what he saw. What he saw appealed to an evil desire within his heart. And being the king he sent for her and committed adultery with her. What he saw with his eyes appealed to the illicit sexual desires within his own heart and he fell into sin. Remember, if you do not desire something you cannot be tempted by it.
In the process that brings us from temptation to sin, the first step is desire. The second is deception. The third is disobedience verse 15, "then after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin." Evil desire left unchecked will lead to disobedience. James changes the metaphors to that of the birth process. Everything being equal, nine months after conception, a mother gives birth to a child. This third step, involves the will. It's when we make a decision. We decide to take the bait. We decide to give in to the enticement. We choose to disobey.
Principle number three, when we yield to temptation, we take the bait. Remember temptation appeals to our desires but it hides the truth. In the process of temptation to sin, this is the step when we choose to take the bait, and that decision results in sin. Therefore, this is the pivotal step in the process. This step involves an act of the will. A choice is made. Remember in this process of temptation to sin we always have a choice.
This is the step in that process where we have the opportunity to say no! In this anatomy of temptation, the first step involves the emotions, our desire; the second step involves the intellect, we’re deceived; the third step involves the will, we take the bait, we choose to disobey. This is followed by the final and fourth step, "and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death" verse 15. This is the theme of the Bible from beginning to end, from Genesis to Revelation. Sin results in death. When sin is "finished" (KJV), "accomplished" (NASB), or "full grown" (NIV), it gives birth to death.
James continues the metaphor of the birth process. Once a baby is born, if you feed it, care for it, it will grow up. Inevitably when sin grows up it produces something. It produces death. When you yield to temptation, inevitably something takes place. Principle number four, yielding to temptation always has a consequence.
When you yield to temptation you might not die, but when you yield to temptation there will always be a consequence and often, it will affect others as well as yourself. Sin always gives birth to judgment. Romans 6:23, "for the wages of sin is death."
Back to David and Bathsheba. David sees a beautiful woman taking a bath. First came the desire, an illicit sexual desire for another man's wife, then the deception. David felt the satisfaction he would gain in that act of adultery was more valuable than anything else at that moment. After all, David had the power, he was the king; and the opportunity, her husband was away at war. The risk was minimal, so he thought. David was deceived. So step three, in an act of disobedience, he grabbed the bait. He then faced the consequences. If you read the twelfth chapter, of 2 Samuel, and the chapters that follow, chapters 13, 14 and 15, it's a horrible series of events that takes place. Bathsheba conceives and gives birth to a son, but he dies in infancy. Later, one of David's daughters Tamar is raped by her half brother Amnon. Then two years later, Solomon, the full brother of Tamar, in revenge, kills his half brother Amnon who had raped his sister.
Then you read of the horrible rebellion of Absalom against David, where he tries to take the throne from his own father, and it ends in another tragedy, as Absalom looses his own life. Did David pay a price for his sin? You bet he did! Were others around him affected by his sin. You bet they were.
Is there a consequence for our sin? You bet there is. When you're tempted to open up the internet, and go to that site you have no business being on; when you're tempted to watch that film or television program that appeals to the wrong kind of desires within you; when you're tempted to begin or continue that relationship with someone that you know is not consistent with God's will; when in your business you feel there is something to be gained from a little deception, being a little misleading in what you are saying about a product or service. James is saying, our evil desires will lure us away, drag us away and deceive us. The bait of temptation will always offer us something we desire, but it will also deceive us into overlooking the inevitable consequence of our sin. Giving in to temptation might not kill you but for every temptation you give into you will pay a consequence.
This is the anatomy of temptation, the process that leads from temptation to sin, desire, deception, disobedience and death.
Secondly, James gives us three ways to overcome temptation in verses 15-18. James gives us three ways to resist temptation. First of all, look ahead to God's judgment verse 15, "Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death." We have already looked at this truth. When faced with a temptation, we must get our eyes,
off of the "bait" and look ahead to the consequences of taking the bait. This should act as a deterrent to giving in to temptation.
Remember that the very nature of temptation is that it deceives. The bait covers the truth, and the bait hides the consequences. Galatians 6:7-8. Notice the warning against deception that prefaces Paul's words. "Do not be deceived, God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; The one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life."
James gives us three ways to overcome temptation. First look ahead to God's judgment. Secondly, acknowledge God's goodness, verses16 and 17. Again, notice the warning against deception, "Don't be deceived, my dear brothers. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows."
James emphasizes the true character and purpose of God. He says four things about God. First, God gives good gifts. But, not only does He give good gifts, the way he gives gifts is good. Literally it is, "every giving good." You can give a gift, but diminish the gift by how you give it. When you are invited to a birthday party, what is the unwritten expectation with the invitation? You feel obligated to bring a gift. Perhaps you want to go to the party, but don't really want to spring for the gift. In contrast, James says not only does God give good gifts, but the way he gives them is good.
Thirdly, James says God gives gifts continuously, over and over and over again. And lastly, God never changes. Why is this so important? When we go through trials; when we face difficult challenges; when we face temptation; Satan wants us to doubt the goodness of God! Here's the danger. If we doubt God' goodness we are vulnerable to temptation.
Back to David, chapter twelve. David did not remember the goodness of God when he gave in to the temptation and committed adultery with Bathsheba. After the affair, David had a visit from the prophet Nathan. The prophet told David the story of a poor man who had been mistreated by a rich man. The rich man had many sheep and cattle. The poor man had only one ewe lamb. It grew up with him and his children. The poor man shared his food with the lamb. The ewe lamb drank from his cup and slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him said Nathan.
When a traveler came to visit the rich man, the rich man took the poor man's ewe lamb killed it, cooked it and served it to his guest. When David heard the story he was incensed, because of the injustice, exclaiming that the rich man deserved to die. 2 Samuel 12:7-9, "Then Nathan said to David, 'You are the man! This is what the Lord, the God of Israel says: 'I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul. I gave you your master's house to you, and your master's wives into your arms. I gave you the house of Israel and Judah. And if all this had been to little, I would have given you even more. Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in his eyes? "
David had forgotten the goodness of God! He was deceived by the temptation of his own evil desires and grabbed the bait, with no regard for the goodness of God past, present and or future! There is a sense in which when we face a temptation and give in to our evil desires we are repudiating the goodness of God!
Jesus clearly identified what sin has to offer. Speaking of our enemy, He said, John 10:10, "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy;" That is what sin has to offer us! Contrast that with what Jesus offers, "I have come that they may have life and have it have it to the full." New American Standard Bible, "might have it more abundantly", New Living Translation, "my purpose is to give life in all its fullness." That is what Jesus Christ offers, abundant life! Jesus is unmasking the deceitfulness of sin in that passage. What Christ offers is true lasting joy, true living, true fulfillment and true satisfaction. When we yield to the temptation seeking satisfaction by gratifying our evil desires, by seeking fulfillment in sin, we are saying in that moment, Jesus Christ does not satisfy! We are saying there is something better than what He offers. There is a sense in which we are rejecting the goodness of God. Pastor Warren Wiersbe, "God's gifts are always better than Satan's bargains. Satan never gives any gifts, because you end up paying for them dearly."
James gives us three ways to resist temptation. Look ahead to God's Judgment. There will be a consequence for our disobedience. Acknowledge God's goodness and thirdly, depend on God's Resources, verse 18, "He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of first-fruits of all he created."
There are three things Jesus does for us. First of all, Jesus understands our weakness, Hebrews 4:15-16. "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet he was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” Jesus understands! Every time we are tempted He understands. He is familiar with our weakness. He understands the tendency of our heart. We need to remember this when we are facing the temptation of sin. He is there for us, not in our sin, but to deliver us from our sin.
Secondly, Jesus gives us the power and the promises to overcome temptation. Peter put it this way, 2 Peter 1:3-4, "His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in his divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desire."
Here is what James is saying. When we face temptation, our sufficiency is not in ourselves but in Jesus Christ. This is the consistent message of the Bible. Galatians 2:20, "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me." Galatians 5:16, "So I say, walk in the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of your sinful nature." Philippians 2:12-13, "Continue to work our your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you," New Living Translation, "giving you the desire to obey him and the power to do what pleases him." That is what James is saying in verse 18, "he chose to give us birth through the word of truth." He is speaking of the new birth experience. This is the fountainhead of overcoming temptation. It illustrates, it conveys the clear teaching, that we face temptation not in our own strength, but as Peter says, we participate in the divine nature.
God's Holy Spirit resides in the heart of every believer, and as we yield to that Spirit, as we are filled with the Holy Spirit, we have a power against sin that the un-believer knows nothing of. What a blessing. Jesus died on the cross and shed his blood - to cover our sin, not just to save us from the penalty of sin but from the power of sin. This is the clear and explicit teaching of the New Testament, that Christ is sufficient for us in the face of temptation!
The promise we are all familiar with. 1 Corinthians 10:13, "No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it." Jesus is our way out! The reason we can escape is not because we are strong but because He is strong on our behalf, when we put our trust in Him. May I suggest to you, that most of us are living below God's provision for us as we face temptation.
If you are here this morning and are not a believer; that is, you have never been born again, your life transformed by the work of the Holy Spirit, this is what Christ offers you. Call out to Him in repentance and by faith receive His forgiveness. He will transform your life!
Thirdly, Jesus forgives and restores. 1 John 1:9, "If we confess out sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." That is God's promise to you and I. Never let the failures of your past, hang over you, and in and of themselves become a trial or temptation. When we repent of our sin no matter what we have done, yes, even adultery and murder, the blood of Christ is sufficient to cover our sin, and our sin is no longer held against us.
Many believe that Psalm 51 was written by David as he recovered from his sin with Bathsheba. Listen to David's cry. "Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love, according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my inequity and cleanse me from my sin." (verse 2).
Several years ago, a pastor up state fell into sin. For a year and a half he had been in an adulterous relationship with his administrative assistant. When confronted by those in spiritual authority over him he refused to repent. In fact he left his wife and family, and moved in with his lover. Unlike this pastor, David valued his relationship with God more than his sin. When confronted with his sin, he knew the grace of God awaited him and he humbled himself before God and sought His forgiveness.
That's one reason I believe God called him a man after His own heart. But there was another reason. Psalm 51 also records these words, "Create a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast heart within me." Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit to sustain me." Did David recognize what he had lost through his sin with Bathsheba? You bet he did! Many years before, after being anointed king, but before he became king, David lived as a hunted man in the wilderness running for his life as King Saul and his army pursued him. It is believed that during those years he wrote Psalm 63. Listen to these words birthed in the midst of those life threatening difficult and trying circumstances. They reveal David's heart for his God.
"O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water. I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and glory. Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you. I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands. My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise you. On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night. Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings. My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me" (Psalm 63:1-8)
In his sin David had lost something he valued more than any pleasure or satisfaction sin could offer him, his fellowship with God. He longed for that fellowship to be restored. There was only one road that could lead him to what he had lost, repentance and forgiveness. David evidently knew in some measure what the Apostle Paul wrote about hundreds of years later, 2 Corinthians 7:10, "Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret."
Friends, when Jesus forgives, He restores what can only be restored through repentance, knowing His presence, something David had learned was of far greater value than anything sin had to offer. Jesus' word to us this morning, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." Literally I will rest you. In other words, Jesus himself is the rest. He continues, "Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." (Matthew 11:28,29 NIV)
© James P McGarvey All Rights Reserved
Tuesday, April 26, 2016
(I gave this message at Pines Baptist Church, Pembroke Pines Florida on April 3, 2016. You may listen to this message online HERE.)
A little over a year ago I brought a message entitled, "The Most Valuable Book in the World." We noted three things in that message. The origin of the Bible; it is God breathed or inspired by God. The nature of the Bible; it is inerrant or without error and it is dynamic or powerful. The purpose of the Bible; t tells us what to believe and how to live. It equips us for a life of ministry.
Today I want to take us into the life of David, by way of Psalm 119. This psalm gives us a look into the life of David specifically his relationship to God's Word.
The transparency of David with regard to his relationship to the word of God will be instructive and challenging as well as a source of encouragement to each of us. And as we do so, I want to remind your of the words of James, as found in 1:22-25 New Living Translation,
"...don't just listen to God's word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. For if you listen to the word and don't obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like. But if you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don't forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it."
Joseph Alexander has wrote this about Psalm 119 "There is no psalm...which has more the appearance of having been exclusively designed for practical and personal improvement...than the one before us, which is wholly occupied with praises of God's word or written revelation as the only source of spiritual strength and comfort, and with prayers for grace to make a profitable use of it."
This message is not an exhaustive treatment of this psalm or of this subject. But I want to note three things this morning from this psalm of David; his attitude toward God's Word; his response to God's Word and the effect of God's Word in his life.
David uses eight synonyms for God's Word in this psalm. C. John Collins identifies and defines these terms. Law - that is "instruction," testimonies - "what God solemnly testifies - to be his will," precepts - "what God has appointed to be done," statutes - "what the divine lawgiver has laid down," commandments - "what God has commanded," rules (ordinances/judgments) -"what the divine judge has ruled to be right," and two words translated word or promise - "what God has spoken." Only one verse out of all 176 verses of the this psalm does not have some reference to the Word of God.
You might have heard the story of a little boy who found a large dusty black book high up on a shelf. His curiosity led him to ask his Mom about the book. Embarrassed she explained, "That's God' book." The boy thought for moment then replied, "Well, Mom, if that's God's book, why don't we give it back to Him? Nobody around here uses it anyway."
In contrast, note with me David's attitude towards God's Word. Delight, verse 16, "I will delight in your statutes I will not forget your word." (ESV). David delighted in God's Word. Adam Clarke catches the idea of delight, writing, "I will skip about and jump for joy." It's been defined as, "something that gives great pleasure." (Webster's 9th Collegiate)
To delight means to take great pleasure in something or someone. Just over a week ago, Beth and I drove to Lakeland where our son and daughter-in-law live. We all then drove up to Chattanooga to spend two and a half days with our two daughters their husband and fiancé and our grandson. After returning home last Sunday this is part of what I texted them on GroupMe, "I will always treasure the days we had together this past week. It was such a joy to be with each of you. I miss my family so much...I love you all." I delighted in every moment that I spent with them.
Again David, verse 111, "Your testimonies are my heritage forever, for they are the joy of my heart." (ESV) Verse 162, "I rejoice at your word like one who finds great spoil." (ESV) David rejoiced because of the value he attached to God's Word. Even in times of trouble David found delight in God's commands. Verse 143, "Trouble and anguish have found me out, but your commandments are my delight." (ESV) The New Living Translation reads, "As pressure and stress bear down on me, I find joy in your commands."
How does your attitude towards God's word compare to David's testimony? When you look into the mirror of God's word here, what do you see? We can find delight in many things. Is God's Word one of them?
Thomas Manton, "Worldly men that are intent upon carnal interests forget the Word, because it isn't their delight." How precious is God's Word to you? Do you delight in it?
The parents of the poet Elizabeth Barrett disapproved of her marriage to the poet Robert Browning. In fact they disowned her. Elizabeth longed for reconciliation with her parents, and almost every week she wrote them a letter telling them she loved them. Ten years later, she found the box containing all of those letters. Not one of them had been opened. Had her parents opened even one letter perhaps there would have been an opportunity for reconciliation. God's word is His love letter to you and I. Are you neglecting to read it?
If you are not a believer this morning, to neglect the message of the Bible is like doing what Elizabeth Barrett's parents did. The Bible is a love letter from God to you, where He
communicates all that He has already done through the death and resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ to offer you forgiveness of your sins and the gift eternal life, if you will repent of your sin and put your trust in Jesus Christ alone as your Savior.
Secondly, David delighted in God's word because he loved God's word. Verse 47, "...I find delight in your commandments, which I love." (ESV) The New Living Translation reads, "How I delight in your commands! How I love them!"
We are told of David's love for God's word eleven times in this Psalm. A few other examples: Verse 159, "Consider how I love your precepts! Give me life according to your steadfast love." (ESV) Verse 167, "My soul keeps your testimonies, I love them exceedingly." (ESV)
Thirdly, David valued God's word. If you love something or someone you will value them! Think of how you value your wife or husband, your children, your parents, your brother or sister and so forth.
David writes, verse 127, "Therefore I love your commandments above gold, above fine gold." (ESV) Verse 72, "The law of your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces." (ESV)
In David's experience, gold and silver, the symbols of wealth, could not begin to compare with the value he placed on God's Word. Jesus put it this way, Matthew 6:21 "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (ESV) Well, it stands to reason then that David fourthly, desired God's Word. Verse 20, "My soul is consumed with longing for your rules [or statutes] at all times." (ESV)
The word for "longing" means "to crush in pieces" (Keil &Delitzsch) So the NASB, "my soul is crushed with longing." In verse 131 David writes, "I open my mouth and pant, because I long for your commandments," (ESV) a very strong metaphor, expressing the intensity of his desire for God's Word.
How do you explain this intense longing for God's Word? Look at the following verse, 132 (ESV) "Turn to me and be gracious to me, as is your way with those who love your name." His desire for God's Word flowed from his desire and love for God, verse 2, "Blessed are those who keep his testimonies, who seek him with their whole heart." (ESV)
David understood the relationship between the desire for God, and the desire for God's word. Verse 10, "With my whole heart I will seek you, let me not wander from your commandments!" (ESV) Verse 57, "The Lord is my portion, or Today's English Version, "You are all I want, Lord!" I promise to keep your words." It is unlikely that you will have a longing for God's word without a heart that longs for God.
Secondly, notice David's response to God's word. He chose God's truth, verses 30-32, "I have chosen the way of faithfulness; I set your rules before me. I cling to your testimonies, O Lord; let me not be put to shame! I will run in the way of your commandments when you enlarge my heart." (ESV)
David's relationship to God's word was not determined by chance but by choice. These verses speak of the deliberate, intentional choices that he made. I choose, I set, I cling, I run or pursue.
May I share a word of testimony. Back in the 1990's at a pastor's training, a pastor said, "Discipline leads to devotion." As I applied that to my devotional life over the years, I found that if I went to God's Word out of discipline it often led to devotion, the desire to be in God's Word.
There is nothing wrong with coming to the Word of God, of opening our Bible out of obedience or personal discipline. Because when we do so we are exposing ourselves to God's thoughts, His heart, His will, His love, His voice, through His Word. We are giving God the Holy Spirit access to our minds through which He can reach into our hearts and speak very personally as only the He can do.
Giving ourselves to the Word of God is a means of grace. Like prayer it leads us into the presence of God. And inevitably as we fellowship with God in His word we grow in intimacy with God through His Word as His grace is poured out in our lives.
David chose God's truth, and secondly, he obeyed God's word. Obedience. Verse 4 "You have commanded your precepts to be kept diligently." (ESV) Verse 8 "I will keep you statutes; do not utterly forsake me!"(ESV) or New Living Translation, "Please don't give up on me!"
He obeyed quickly, verse 60, "I hasten and do not delay to keep your commandments." (ESV) David did not use the pick and choose method as he approached God's word. He knew he was expected to obey God's word, and he decided to obey in advance.
And he was motivated by his love for God's word verse 167, "My soul keeps you testimonies; I love them exceedingly." (ESV) David chose God's word and obeyed God's word, but he acknowledged, thirdly, his dependence on God.
As we noted before, verse 10, "With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments." (ESV) His relationship with God's word was not divorced from his relationship with God. He states this explicitly in verses 33-36, "Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes; and I will keep it to the end. Give me understanding, that I may keep you law and observe it with my whole heart. Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it. Incline my heat to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain!" (ESV) "Teach me," "give me," "lead me" "incline my heart" He cries out to God for all that he needed to be rightly related to God's word, both in understanding it and the desire and ability to obey it.
A continued word of testimony; remember, "Discipline leads to devotion"? Over the years as I applied that truth in my life I noticed something else. The devotion or desire led me to add another "D," dependence. Discipline - Devotion - Dependence; I came to experience more dependence on God's word.
Listen to the Apostle Paul's words in Philippians 2:12-13, "Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling," (ESV)
That's a choice we make, work out your own salvation. But he continues, "for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasures." That's the grace of God operating in our lives as we yield to Him. The balls in your court says the Apostle Paul; "as you have always obeyed...work out your own salvation with fear and trembling..." Then notice what God does. God works in you to do two things. He works in you to "will," that is He gives you the desire and He works in you to "work," that is He gives you the ability or power to do what He has asked you to do.
Friends, living the Christian life from start to finish never depends on our ability but on God's power and provision. Paul's own testimony, Galatians 2:20, "I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God."
David chose God's word; he obeyed God's word; he depended on God; and fourthly,
David meditated on God's word. Seven times in this psalm reference is made to David meditating on God's word. To meditate means to "engage in contemplation or reflection" (Webster's 9th Collegiate) "to focus our thoughts on" something. Verse 15, "I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways." (ESV)
David meditated on God's word. Seven times in this psalm reference is made to David meditating on God's word. To meditate means to "engage in contemplation or reflection" (Webster's 9th Collegiate) "to focus our thoughts on" something. Verse 15, "I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways." (ESV)
David took the time necessary to focus, to reflect or ponder God's word. Paul VanGorder tells of how he would sit in his study early in the morning. Two woodpeckers would visit his yard each morning. One would drill a hole in the tree with an extended peck, peck, peck feeding slowly on what he found there. In contrast, the other woodpecker got his breakfast with a rapid machine gun like pecking. In a flash, getting the food he was gone. We often do the same. Sometimes we "fly" through our devotions, grab a verse for the day and we're gone. Or we set aside the time to dig into the word, to study it, ponder it, understand it, apply it, and to respond to it.
Meditation takes time, but bears much fruit. David meditated on the word of God through out the day. Verse 97, "O how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day." (ESV) And he meditated in the night. Verse 148, "My eyes are awake before the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promise." (ESV) May I suggest that the more familiar we are with God's word the easier it is to meditate on God's word. In that regard, memorizing God's word is a great asset in meditating on God's word especially when your Bible isn't in front of you.
As some of you know, as you get older you don't sleep as well. In those early moments of the morning I have often meditated on Scriptures I have memorized sometimes pondering one word at a time with great blessing. Charles Spurgeon, "Familiarity with the word of God breeds affection, and affection seeks yet greater familiarity."
Lastly, notice the effect of God's word on David. How God's word affected David was predicated at least in part on what we have already noted. His attitude: He delighted, loved, valued and longed for God's word. His response: He chose it, obeyed it, in dependence on God and meditated on it.
Notice how David benefitted from this relationship with God's word. He avoided evil. Derek Kidner writes, "Attraction to the true and revulsion against the false are, acquired tastes. Verse 104 describes the process..." (Psalms 73-150, pg. 128) Verse 104, "Through your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way." (ESV)
M.R. Dehann II tells of the challenges of getting through a nearby intersection that had no traffic light. Perhaps you like I have one in your neighborhood that you frequently navigate through going to and from your home. DeHann writes, "After a year of dodging cars at a nearby corner, I was happily surprised when a traffic signal was finally installed. In turned a daily ordeal into an orderly and predictable way of getting onto a busy street. Waiting occasionally at a red light now is almost a pleasure--at least at that intersection of bad memories. iI means I can count on a regulated and protected start."
The Bible contains "red" lights, prohibitions against any number of behaviors, attitudes, actions, practices, and so forth touching virtually every aspect of daily living. As with traffic signals they are there for our protection and the safety of others as well as boundaries that allow us to live free of the ravages of sin.
So David did not resist the commands of God rather as he testifies in verse 101, "I hold back my feet from every evil way in order to keep your word."
Secondly, God's word gave David direction and insight, verse 106, "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path." perhaps one of the most well known verses in this Psalm. Verse 99, "I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your testimonies are my meditation. (ESV)
I read of an emperor who wanted to have his palace decorated with murals that depicted the beautiful countryside where he had grown up. He chose a talented artist and sent him to his birthplace to observe the landscape. As the story is told, "Some months later the emperor asked to see the preliminary sketches. But when the artist was called into the king's presence, he had nothing to show him. 'What is your explanation?' said the emperor. The reply was simple and direct, 'Your Majesty, I can do the work without sketches. It's all vividly impressed on my mind. I have lived there!'"
Friends, when we have lived there, in the Word of God, our lives saturated with God's thoughts; understanding the boundaries He has set; as we immerse ourselves in the Scriptures reading them, meditating on them, memorizing them, absorbing them, into our hearts and minds; they will bring direction, insight and understanding that will literally shape the course of our lives.
This is of such importance in the perilous days in which we live; days of moral chaos. As the prophet Isaiah wrote men call "evil good and good evil," and "put darkness for light and light for darkness, bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter" (Isaiah 5:20) We will see the path clearly because we allowed the truth of God's word to be etched into our hearts and minds giving light to our path.
Closely related to this, thirdly, the word of God brought moral purity to David's life. Verse 9, "How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word." If there ever was a day when we need moral direction it is today. David found it in God's word. God's call to moral purity is very straight forward if we turn to His word.
Two things by way of application. In this day when secular humanism and it's offspring moral relativism both permeate and dominate our culture, let's teach God's standard of moral purity to our children and our grandchildren and let's live it out in front the them. "Give it and live it!" should be our slogan.
Four clergy men were discussing Bible translations. One liked the KJV for its literary style; another the Revised Version of 1881 referring the literal rendering of the Hebrew and Greek. A third liked Moffat's translation because it was the most readable. The fourth pastor was silent. So the others asked him about his preference. "I like my mother's translation best." The other three were surprised and asked, "Did you mother translate the Bible?" "Oh, yes," he replied, "she translated it into life, and it was the most convincing translation."
We should never underestimate the power of God's word in our lives or that of our children whom we have been given the responsibility to disciple.
Fourthly, God's word brought David renewal verse 93, "I will never forget your precepts for by them you have given me life." (ESV) or NASB "by them you have revived me." Verse 107, "I am exceedingly afflicted, Revive me, O Lord, according to your word." (NASB) Thomas Watson, "Let it not only inform you, but inflame you."
Remember when after his resurrection Jesus walked with the two men on the road to Emmaus? After Jesus revealed himself to them, they said, "Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scripture?" Friends, that is what Jesus wants to do for you and I through His Holy Spirit as we give ourselves to His word.
Lastly, that renewal leads to freedom verse 45, "and I shall walk in a wide place, for I have sought your precepts." What does it mean to "walk in a wide place"? Both the New King James Version and New American Standard Bible translate it "And I will walk in liberty." The New International Version, "I will walk around in freedom."
Matthew Henry, "...freed from that which is evil, not hampered with the fetters of my own corruptions, and free to that which is good."
In closing, Isaiah 55:11, "so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, [void] but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it."
Perhaps you have read the article, "The Pawned Book." It tells the story of W. P. McKay who at the age of 17 left his home to get an education. Before he left his godly mother gave him a Bible in which she had written his name, her name and a Scripture verse. Away from home he disregarded the moral influence of his upbringing, one day even pawning the Bible to get money for some whiskey.
Eventually young McKay completed his studies and began his career as a medical doctor. Listen to what happened. "One day he was attending a dying man who whispered, 'Bring me my Book!' The physician wondered what volume could be so important, so after the patient died, he searched the man's hospital room. He was amazed to find the same Bible he had pawned years before. Taking it with him, he read again his mother's familiar writing and noted many verses she had underlined. Coming under deep conviction, the doctor prayed to God for mercy and became a new creature in Christ."
Friends, as you make room for God's word in you life God says, it "shall not return to me empty, [void] but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it." That was David's testimony I trust that is your testimony. If it isn't, it can be your testimony today.
Remember James' words, "...don't just listen to God's word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. For if you listen to the word and don't obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like. But if you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don't forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it."
© James P McGarvey All Rights Reserved