How to Clean Up Your Life | Psalm 119:9-16

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  • How to Clean Up Your Life | Psalm 119:9-16
  • The second stanza of Psalm 119 begins with an important question: “How can a young man keep his way pure?” This question has led some to speculate the author of Psalm 119 was a young man. But the tone, content, and structure of this psalm point to one who has length of days, depth of maturity, and breadth of experience with God. Most likely, the author was an older man who wrote this psalm to teach young men to trust and obey God’s word. Verse 9 asks a relevant question for the young and old.

    This question assumes the depravity of man. It assumes young men are not naturally good, pure, or clean. It assumes the absence of internal discipline and the presence of external pressures that corrupt young people’s lives. The world is a slippery place. Our enemy schemes to trip us up. Sin is messy. Every one of us is prone to trip, stumble, and fall. 

    This question assumes the power of scripture. In asking how a young man can keep his way pure, the psalmist assumes it can be done. Sin is natural. Sin is not necessary. You do not have to sin! This is our hope in Christ. You do not have to be corrupted by sin, led astray into unrighteousness, or bound with guilt. You can keep your way pure. How? Verse 9 asks and answers: “How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word.”

    This answer is a line, not a list. The psalmist could have said a young man can keep his way pure by watching the company he keeps. 1 Corinthians 15:33 says, “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company ruins good morals.’” Or he could have said a young man can keep his way pure by avoiding sinful places. Proverbs 4:26-27 says, “Ponder the path of your feet; then all your ways will be sure. Do not swerve to the right or to the left; turn your foot away from evil.” But the psalmist deemed it sufficient to say, “How can a young man keep his way pure?” By guarding it according to your word.” 

    James Montgomery Boice wrote: “Remember that the Bible is God’s cleansing agent for sin and that without it you will never live a holy life.” Verse 9 asks the question and gives the answer. The remaining seven verses of the stanza are an exposition of verse 9 that celebrates the purifying power of God’s word. 

    God’s Word Purifies the Sincere. 

      Proverbs 4:23 says, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” The heart of the matter is the matter of the heart. The heart is the focus of verses 10-11.

      Seek the Lord with all your heart. Verse 2 says, “Blessed are those who keep his testimonies, who seek him with their whole heart.” Verse 10 says, “With my whole heart I seek you.” Even though this psalm is about devotion to the word, the psalmist does not speak of seeking scripture. He talks about seeking God. Learning the word of God is not an end in itself. It is the prescribed means to a greater end. We study the word of God because we seek the God of the word. If you are not seeking God, your time in the word will not just be unproductive but counterproductive. 

      John 5:39-40 says, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” You only find life in the word when you meet the Life-Giver in the word. 

        One day, a child played hide-and-seek with another child. The boy hid and waited for his friend to search for him. He finally left his hiding place. His playmate was nowhere to be found, and his friend had not bothered to look for him. With tears, he ran to his grandfather, who said, “I wonder if that is how God feels. God hides, but nobody wants to look for him.” 

        Verse 10 expresses a holy desire for God: “With my whole heart I seek you.” Then it expresses humble dependence upon God: “Let me not wander from your commandments.” Holiness is not self-manufactured, no matter how sincere you may be. Even though our hearts may sincerely seek God, we are still prone to wander from his commandments.

        In Matthew 26:41, Jesus says, “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Sincerity is not enough to keep you on the right track. Left to your own devices, you will stray away from God, truth, and virtue. Pray that God will keep you from following the devil’s schemes, the world’s temptations, and your sinful desires. 

        Store up the word in your heart. Verse 11 is the Golden Verse of Psalm 119: “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” The KJV reads: “Thy word have I hid in mine heart.” “Hid” is not about concealing the word. That is something we do not need and have too much of in the church. 

        • We do not need secret-agent disciples. 
        • We do not need closet Christians. 
        • We do not need Dr. Jeckel-Mr. Hyde believers. 

        Matthew 5:16 says, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” The psalmist did not hide the word from others. He stored up the word in his heart. It is to place a valuable treasure in a safe, special, or secure place. Then you watch it carefully to ensure nothing happens to it. You should treat the word of God like a treasure you cannot afford to lose. Verse 11 says, “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.”

        • The best book in the world is the Bible. 
        • The best place to put it is in the heart. 
        • The best reason is that it keeps us from sin. 

        If you store up the word in your life, it will give you victory over sin. It will not produce sinless perfection. You will not be sinless. But you will sin less. The word will empower you to say no to sin. John 15:3 says, “Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you.” John 17:17 says, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” 2 Corinthians 7:1 says, “Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.”Ephesians 5:26 says the Lord cleanses the church “by the washing of the water of the word.”

        God’s word Purifies the Submissive. 

          James 4:7 is a crash course in spiritual warfare: “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” Submission to God is the prerequisite for victory over the flesh, the word, and the devil. Verses 14-16 three ways to submit to God. 

          Praise. In verse 12, the psalmist says, “Blessed are you, O Lord.” To bless the Lord is to offer grateful praise, reverent worship, and overflowing thanksgiving to God. In the Psalms, a statement of praise is often followed by the reason the psalmist is moved to praise. Here the statement of praise is followed by a request, not a reason: “Blessed are you, O Lord; teach me your statutes.” 

          This is the second time this psalm connects worship and the word. Verse 7 says, “I will praise you with an upright heart, when I learn your righteous rules.” Verse 12 says, “Blessed are you, O Lord; teach me your statutes!” To worship is to ascribe worth. You cannot ascribe worth to what you do not know, understand, or appreciate. 

            • To worship God, you must know his nature, character, will, purpose, and authority.
            • To worship God, you must know the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the eternally begotten Son of God. 
            • To worship God, you must know the self-revelation of God given to us in the word of God. 

            Genuine praise requires a teachable spirit. It is one thing to be self-taught. It is another thing to be man-taught. It is best to be God-taught. That does not mean gifted teachers are not necessary. God wants you to take advantage of the gracious privilege of learning from his revealed truth. 

            2 Timothy 3:16-17 says, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” The Bible is the only book in the world where every time you open it up to read it, the author is there with you. J.I. Packer wrote: “God the Father is the giver of the Holy Scripture; God the Son is the theme of Holy Scripture; and God the Spirit is the author, authenticator, and interpreter of Scripture.”  

            Proclamation. We do not know whether the psalmist had any official duties in the worship life of Israel. But he was clearly one who faithfully proclaimed the word of God. In verse 12, the psalmist praised the name of God to God. In verse 13, The psalmist proclaimed the name of God to others: “With my lips I declare all the rules of your mouth.” This declaration to man was still an act of devotion to God. We see this in the substance of his proclamation.

            Notice the two possessive pronouns in verse 13: “my lips” and “your mouth.” The psalmist would not allow anything from his lips that did not align with what had come out of God’s mouth. Likewise, his devotion is also seen in the scope of his proclamation: “With my lips I declare all the rules of your mouth.” The psalmist did not proclaim God’s rules selectively. He proclaimed what Acts 20:27 calls “the whole counsel of God.” The psalmist’s example is a practical way to submit yourself to God’s word. 

            One of the sanctifying graces in my life is the call to proclaim the word of God. I am no paradigm of virtue. I am a bundle of paradoxes. I am a trophy of amazing grace. But I would be a lot worse if it were not for the holy burden I carry that compels me to proclaim God’s word to others. The burden of proclamation makes me stay in the word as much as I do. The burden of proclamation makes me pray as hard as I do. The burden of proclamation makes me pursue holiness as diligently as I do.

            The word of God can have that same sanctifying effect on your life. You do not need to get in a pulpit to tell it. Use the opportunities God opens in your life to tell it. When was the last time you shared God’s word? What keeps you from a faithful witness?   Proclamation to others will result in transformation within you. 

            Passion.  A preacher called on a poor family in the mountains many years ago. Upon entering, he saw $1,000 in a frame hanging on the wall. He asked about the framed money. They replied, “A sick man stopped at our cabin years ago. We nursed him back to health, and when he left, he gave us that pretty picture. It seemed such a nice souvenir; we had it framed.” They were astonished when he told them how much it was worth and what it could do for them.” 

            Many believers live in spiritual poverty, foolishly neglecting the fact that God has promised to meet our needs through the riches of his word. In verse 14, the psalmist shows us a better way: “In the way of your testimonies I delight, as much as in all riches.” You do not have to read that verse again. It means what you think it means. Having God’s word is better than having a lot of money. Verse 72 says, “The law of your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces.” Verse 127 says, “Therefore I love your commandments above gold, above fine gold.” 

            Knowing, understanding, believing, obeying, and rejoicing in God’s word makes you rich. Oswald Chambers said, “God’s book is packed full of overwhelming riches; they are unsearchable – the more we have, the more there is to have.” 

            God’s word Purifies the Steadfast. 

              Verses 5-16 read: “I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways. I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word.” 

              The psalmist says, “I will meditate on your precepts.” Scripture meditation is a vital spiritual discipline. Psalm 1:2 says of the blessed man: “But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.” To meditate on the word is to think seriously about it for application. It is thought digestion. It can be compared to rumination. A cow chews its cud. It eats some grass and sends its first stomach. Then it regurgitates, chews on it some more, and swallows it again. This digestion process is repeated several times to get its maximum nutrients. Meditation is like that. 

              Verse 15a is a vow of meditation. Verse 15b is a vow of concentration: “Fix my eyes on your ways.”Fixing your eyes requires intense concentration, undivided attention, and steadfast devotion. It is to determine not to allow anything to distract you from God’s word. Job 23:11-12 says, “My foot has held fast to his steps; I have kept his ways and have not turned aside. I have not departed from the commandments of his lips; I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my portion of food.”

              In verse 14, the psalmist says, “In the ways of your testimonies I delight as much as in all riches.” In verse 16, he vows, “I will delight in your statutes.” This vow teaches us that steadfast devotion to the word of God requires more than warm feelings. It requires stubborn faith. 1 John 5:3 says, “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.” What does it mean to love God? It is to keep his commandments. It is to delight in keeping his statutes, even when obedience brings hardship. 

              In verses 15-16a, the psalmist makes three positive vows. In the final clause of verse 16, he makes a negative vow: “I will not forget your word.” There are things you must forget to experience life change. Philippians 3:13-14 says, “But one thing I do; forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” To experience life change, there are also things you must not forget. James 1:25 says, “But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.”

              • If you remember God’s word, God will remember you. 
              • If you honor the scriptures, God will honor you. 
              • If you keep the word of God, God will keep you. 
              • If you put the kingdom of God first, God will supply your needs. 
              • If you take care of God’s business, God will take care of your business. 

              H.B. Charles Jr.

              Pastor-Teacher at the Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church of Jacksonville and Orange Park, Florida.