If you were stranded on a desert island, and could choose only one book to take with you, which book would you choose? And you can't choose, "The Time Life Do-It-Yourself Guide to Basic Ship Building." I'm sure that most of you would say you would choose the Bible -- after all, we are in church.
The Bible is undeniably the most important book in my library. I have read from it nearly every day for the last 23 years. I have read it from cover to cover many times and still it continues to challenge, comfort, motivate and inspire me.
From a literary point of view, the Bible is an amazing book. Written by more than 40 authors over a period of 1600 years, it is remarkably consistent from beginning to end. Most of the authors didn't know each other. Some were educated, some were illiterate; some were young, some were older; some were Jewish, some were Gentile. It was quite a mixed bag of individuals who combined efforts to produce this "great work of literature."
Of course, as far as Christians are concerned, the Bible is more than just great literature. It is a book with the power to change your life--for better and forever. It is a book whose message is to be not just read, but lived. It contains the wisdom of the ages, and when you begin to apply the teachings of the Bible to your life, you will never be the same. The best advice anyone can take is to start reading the Bible regularly. It will benefit you in many ways.
We looked last week at the subject of "General Revelation" - God speaking through nature in Psalm 19:1-6. Today we're going to look at the second half of this Psalm, which shows four ways you benefit from reading the Bible.
Psalms 19:7-14 (NKJV) The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul; The testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple; 8 The statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; The commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes; 9 The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; The judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether. 10 More to be desired are they than gold, Yea, than much fine gold; Sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb. 11 Moreover by them Your servant is warned, And in keeping them there is great reward. 12 Who can understand his errors? Cleanse me from secret faults. 13 Keep back Your servant also from presumptuous sins; Let them not have dominion over me. Then I shall be blameless, And I shall be innocent of great transgression. 14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart Be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, my strength and my Redeemer.
First of all, the Bible is a source of:
1. SPIRITUAL RENEWAL
"The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul." The "law of the Lord" is the broadest term for all the written revelation God has given us. "The law of the Lord is perfect." It is complete, there is nothing left out. It is comprehensive, it does everything that we need it to do. There is no part of your life, no problem that you will ever face in your life, no question with which you will ever be troubled, that the Word of God does not speak to and illuminate and meet. So it is perfect, "converting the soul."
There's a story in the Old Testament where we see an example of this. The wall surrounding the city of Jerusalem had fallen into disrepair, bringing shame to the city and making it vulnerable to enemy attack. A Babylonian slave named Nehemiah organized the people of the city into work parties, and together they rebuilt the wall in record time. As they completed their work, they realized something else; not only had the wall of their city fallen into disrepair, so had their lives. They had wandered from the truth, and left behind the God of their ancestors. People from all over the nation gathered together and asked Ezra to read from the law. He spent the entire morning reading from the Bible. When the Israelites heard the word of God, they turned their hearts toward him and committed themselves to live according to his law. This happens when the Bible is read--it is a source of spiritual renewal.
This is true in my own life. I became a Christian by reading the Bible. As I read it, I began to understand that I was a sinner in need of salvation. I also came to understand that Jesus Christ has provided what I needed, he paid my sin debt. I put my trust in the Lord and became a child of God.
The Bible is a source of spiritual renewal. This is one way it will benefit your life. Another way, is to recognize that the Bible is a source of....
2. PRACTICAL WISDOM
"The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple" (v. 7b). "Sure" means: "dependable, reliable." You can count upon this word to be true. Even if you do not have a lot of knowledge, even if you are "simple" in terms of education, you can still be made wise by trusting Scripture because it is sure, it is reliable. That is why we are exhorted:
Proverbs 3:5-6 (NKJV) Trust in the LORD with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; 6 In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths.
Proverbs 14:12 & 16:25(NKJV) There is a way that seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death.
It is God's Word that makes us wise. Wisdom has nothing to do with intelligence. Wisdom is the ability to respond correctly to life's situations. Wisdom gives you the ability to solve problems and get results. Herbert Hoover defined wisdom as, "knowing what to do next." A wise person sees through the haze of the problem to the solution on the other side.
There are times in life when the choice between right and wrong may not always be clear. There are times when the choice between good and best aren't clear, either. You need wisdom. You get it from reading the Bible.
For example, if a person is single, the Bible offers a great deal of wisdom about the kind of person you should marry. If you are self-employed, the Bible tells the kind of person you should do business with, and the kind of person you should avoid like the plague. The Bible instructs parents in the way to raise their children, and shows friends how to treat friends. The Bible is full of wisdom on the subjects of parenting, finances, friendships, health, business, sex, marriage, spirituality, success--it covers all areas of life. That's why David said, "The commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes" (v. 8b).
The charge is sometimes made that the Bible is a dirty book because it speaks of incest and adultery and fornication and perversions like homosexuality and other ugly things. It also speaks of malice and bitterness and is filled with slaughter and bloodshed. It is often described as an immoral book, and there have been attempts to classify it with some of the immoral and obscene literature which is so widely abroad today.
But there is one great difference. It is true that the Bible contains these things, because it is a realistic book which deals with life as it is. But the one great difference is that it never shows evil as though it were good. It never makes adultery look attractive. It always looks like what it really ends up to be - sordid and shameful. And it never makes homosexuality appear to be inconsequential. It reveals it to be a terrible distortion of human nature, and reveals that those engaged in it are pathetic beings who need to be prayed for and helped and delivered from the clutch of its awful hold over them, which is destroying their manhood or their womanhood. The Word of God is pure, enlightening the eyes, showing you the truth. That is what David has found.
The Bible is a source of practical wisdom. It helps you know what to do next. Third, the Bible is a source of...
3. CONFIDENT LIVING
David said, "the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart." The glorious thing about this Book is that when the story is all told, when everything is said and done, it will all end up just as it is written here. This Book is right, it is the way things really are. David also said in verse 9, "The judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether."
The Christian life is a life, in many ways, of certainty. Uncertainties that many accept as a fact of life, believers simply do not worry about.
If you could ask God anything in the world, what would it be? Maybe, "How am I doing? Am I on the right track? Are you satisfied with me? Am I going to heaven?" These are good questions to ask--more people should be asking them! The good news is that we don't have to wonder where we stand with God. We can be sure. John wrote:
1 John 5:13 (NKJV) These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God.
How can we know that we have eternal life? Because the Bible is full of promises offering this assurance.
Titus 1:2 (NKJV) in hope of eternal life which God, who cannot lie, promised before time began,
He promised eternal life to all who will trust Him for it.
John 3:36 (NKJV) "He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him."
The Bible promises forgiveness to all who will confess their sins.
1 John 1:9 (NKJV) If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
I could go on and on about it, because the Bible goes on and on about it. We can be confident about our relationship with God. We can also be confident about the future. The Bible paints a picture of our eternal future, and it's good.
There are many people who approach every aspect of life with exaggerated caution--what if this job doesn't work, what if this relationship doesn't work, what if my children don't turn out ok, what if the economy goes bad? These aren't people who wisely hedge their investments--these are people who do not invest at all because they are afraid of what might happen.
We don't have to live that way. We don't have to approach the future with our tail tucked between our legs. We can face tomorrow with confidence because we have God's assurance that he is in control of every aspect of our lives, and he is working all things together for our good. We can face life with optimism and joy. David said...
"The statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart." (v. 8)
When you read the Bible, you find yourself overcome with a recurring sense of optimism that just won't go away. When you fill your mind each day with scripture, you are reminded that God loves you, God is in charge of your life, God takes care of you, God protects you - and you will not be able to suppress the joy that works its way into your life.
Now, some of you may be thinking, "Wait a minute! I know people who read the Bible all day long and they are anything but optimistic and joyful! And what about all of those who use the Bible to preach gloom and doom?" Well, that's a good point.
The Bible is the Word of God--inspired, inerrant, infallible. It is God's complete message for humankind. The whole Bible is to be our guide--not just a few targeted passages. You can pull verses out of context that seem to support any crazy notion. This has been done for slavery, racism, socialism, war, and on and on. Some have even said that Jesus' statement, "The poor you will have with you always." means that we don't have to try to end poverty! When you pull one verse out of context, you can make it fit anything--but when you examine the sum total of the Bible's message, these crazy notions fall apart.
The real purpose of scripture is not to give us ammunition for arguing against certain ideologies. The purpose of scripture is to teach us about God and to transform lives. This happens only when we approach scripture with a teachable attitude of prayerful humility.
David also says, "The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring for ever." The word "fear" is sometimes read as though it meant cowering in terror before some awful being who is about to strike you dead. But that is not what this means at all. It means respect, honest respect for God. "That", says the Psalmist, "is clean", and it will keep you clean, too. It is "enduring for ever." Once you enter into the fear of the Lord in its rightful sense, you find that this produces a quality of life which keeps you from defiling yourself.
Then he sums them all up: "The ordinances of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether." They are also wealth-producing, enriching.
"More to be desired are they than gold, Yea, than much fine gold; Sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb." In verse 10, we see that the Scriptures are very valuable to David. The natural revelation is designed to bring you to the recognition of the need for special revelation. Special revelation is more important. It is where our focus should be. We should look at the rest of the world through the lens of Scripture.
David recognizes that God's word is good for him. It is more desirable than gold because gold does not satisfy. You always think you need a little more. But through Scripture we can know God and have a relationship with Him, and that does satisfy.
The Bible is also to be a source of:
4. DAILY GUIDANCE
David said about the laws and statues and precepts and commands and ordinances of God...
"Moreover by them Your servant is warned, And in keeping them there is great reward. (v. 11)
Again and again the Bible tells us the risks and rewards of our behavior. For example, Proverbs says:
Proverbs 15:22 (NKJV) Without counsel, plans go awry, But in the multitude of counselors they are established.
This means if you consider a major decision without seeking good advice, you are likely to fail. That's the risk of making decisions without getting input from people who know what they're talking about. On the other hand, if you do get advice before making a decision, the Bible says your plans are more likely to succeed.
As you read scripture day after day, you will be amazed at how often you receive plain and unmistakably clear direction for problems and opportunities you face. It's not magic, it's miraculous. God speaks to you through the Bible. The Bible has the power to change your life. It will help you establish and maintain a life-long, life-changing connection with Jesus Christ.
"And in keeping them there is great reward." (11b) There are many rewards to obedience.
There is peace and pleasure in obedience. When your conscience is bothering you, there is no place to hide, and you are miserable. But if you have done right, then you can be at peace no matter what the circumstances.
I read in one of Spurgeon's sermons of a martyr who was about to be burned at the stake. The sheriff who was to execute him expressed sorrow that he should persevere in his opinions, and compel him to set fire to the pile. The martyr answered, "Do not trouble yourself, for I am not troubling myself. Come and lay your hand upon my heart, and see if it does not beat quietly." His request was complied with, and he was found to be quite calm. "Now," said he, "lay your hand on your own heart and see if you are not more troubled than I am; and instead of pitying me, pity yourself."
I am also reminded of Stephen when he was being stoned. He knew he was right. He knew he was obeying God, and he was able to face death quietly.
There is also reward in heaven. Jesus mentions rewards nine times in the sermon on the mount. The parables of the talents and minas show that there will be rewards in heaven for faithful service. Paul talks about eternal rewards in 1 Corinthians 3 and Colossians 3.
You might say, "I don't see these things in the Bible. I read my Bible and it's supposed to do that for you, but when I read it I don't find these things." Do you know why'? The Psalmist will help us with this, too. We need to notice as we go through this list that when David talks about various aspects of revelation he always uses the phrase, "of the Lord." The law "of the Lord," the testimony " of the Lord," the precepts "of the Lord," the commandment "of the Lord" - all the way through.
This, of course, means that these aspects in themselves are not what we need; they are channels by which we find the Lord. It is he who does all these wonderful things for us. It is the Lord who forgives and revives and cleanses and enlightens and makes us to rejoice. It is God, it is the Lord Jesus. And as we find him in the pages of Scripture, these wonderful things happen to us.
The only things which can interfere are given in the next few verses.
Psalms 19:12 (NKJV) Who can understand his errors? Cleanse me from secret faults.
I think David is asking God to reveal those things about him that he does not recognize as sinful. I think that because his next request is for cleansing from presumptuous sins.
It indicates that we are all victims of hidden failure in our lives. If we examine ourselves, we usually look fine. The book of Judges says that at times in that period of Israel's history "...every man did what was right in his own eyes." That permitted just about anything, and the resulting chaos was terrible.
Everybody thinks that what he does is right. We cannot see our own errors. Yet, these errors, these twists, these distortions of attitude and thought, are constantly affecting us so that we cannot see truth the way it is. We do not understand it in nature and we do not understand it in the Word. Therefore, we desperately need to be delivered from hidden errors. In the New Testament, the Apostle Peter says:
1 Peter 2:1-2 (NKJV) Therefore, laying aside all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking, 2 [Then you will be] as newborn babes, [who] desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby,
That is what is wrong, that is what hinders our desire for the Word - these hidden errors. The Psalmist faces the fact that something is wrong with the reader. So he concludes this Psalm with a wonderful prayer:
Psalms 19:13 (NKJV) Keep back Your servant also from presumptuous sins; Let them not have dominion over me. Then I shall be blameless, And I shall be innocent of great transgression.
"Cleanse thou me from hidden faults." Is that your prayer? Do you know what will happen when you pray that way? You might think that God will simply cleanse you so you will not even know what those hidden faults were. But God does not do that. His way of dealing with hidden faults is either to send somebody to point them out to you or to bring them out through some circumstance in which you are suddenly confronted with what you have done or said, and you find that it is ugly, and you do not like it. That is the way God cleanses us from hidden faults. He opens up the secret places.
Usually he does it through other people because, as God well knows, we cannot see ourselves but other people can see us. These faults are hidden to us but not to others. They see them very plainly. And we can see their hidden faults better than they can. You know that you can see the faults of somebody you are thinking about right now, better than they can. You say, "I don't see how they can be so blind." Well, someone is thinking that very same way about you. We do not see ourselves. That is why it is always proper to say, "Lord, cleanse thou me from hidden faults. Help me to see myself through the eyes of a friend who loves me enough to tell me the truth."
And then "Keep me back from presumptuous sins." Presumptuous sins are those in which you are confident that you have what it takes to do what God wants. Self-confidence is presumption. God never asks us to do anything on that basis. If we depend upon ourselves, we are acting presumptuously, and any activity which stems from self-confidence is a presumptuous sin. "Whatsoever is not of faith is sin." For me to act as though there is anything that I can contribute is to be guilty of this kind of sin. The cure for this is dependence upon the activity of God in you as a believer. So David is praying, "Lord, keep me back from this kind of activity. Let me realize that without you I can do nothing. Help me to depend upon you to work through me. Then I will be blameless and innocent of great transgression."
Then he closes with these often-quoted words which are so wonderfully, marvelously penetrating.
Psalms 19:14 (NKJV) Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart Be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, my strength and my Redeemer.
"Let the words of my mouth" - what I say, and the "meditation of my heart" - what I think, be the kind of words and thoughts that have sat under the judgment of your word, Father. When you pray that kind of prayer before you read either the book of the Word or the book of nature, then you will find that God will speak to you in a marvelous way.
So, how do you begin? The best way to read the Bible is daily. The best place to start is in the New Testament--the book of John, or Romans.
Read a chapter - and meditate on what it has to say. That simply means think about what you've read. Read the same passage two or three times, and ask God to open your eyes like David did.
Psalms 119:18 (NKJV) Open my eyes, that I may see Wondrous things from Your law.
Search your heart. Is the passage you read challenging you to do something you've been putting off? Is it reminding you of a promise you need to keep? A sin you need to confess? Is it giving you an example you need to follow? As you meditate on scripture, and direct your thoughts to God, he will teach you, and you will experience the benefits of reading the Bible: You grow spiritually, you develop wisdom, you experience joy, you receive daily guidance. And the end result is that the word of God does the work God intends for it to do: it changes your life--forever and for better.