Teach Me | Psalm 119:33-40

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  • Teach Me | Psalm 119:33-40
  • In Psalm 51:5, David confesses, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” David’s testimony is our testimony. We are sinners – by nature, birth, inclination, choice, and conduct. Romans 3:10-12 says: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” We do not need anyone to teach us to sin. Having children proves this truth. You do not have to train a child to lie, cheat, or steal. At birth, babies are hardwired to do wrong. So is every one of us. William Beveridge wrote:

    I cannot pray, except I sin; I cannot preach, but I sin; 
    I cannot administer, nor receive the holy sacrament, but I sin.
    My very repentance needs to be repented of;
    And the tears I shed need washing in the blook of Christ.

    We do not need to be taught to do wrong. We need to be taught to do right.

    • The freedom of the will permits us to do as we wish. 
    • The bondage of the will prevents us from doing as we ought.

    Jeremiah 13:23 asks: “Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? Then also you can do good who are accustomed to do evil.” We need someone to teach us to do right. Who? Only God can teach you to live right. That is the message of this section of Psalm 119.

    The psalmist is convinced that only God can teach him to live right. He passionately prays that God would be his teacher. This text is unique among the twenty-two sections of Psalm 119. It is the only stanza that contains a petition in every verse – nine in all. Over and over again, the writer pours out fervent prayers for participation, progress, and perseverance in God’s school for right living. Join the psalmist in praying God would teach you to live right. 

    Personal Admission Into God’s School 

      Verses 33-34 record the writer’s application for admission into God’s school for right living and give two reasons to pray for admission. 

      You Need Spiritual Instruction. Verse 33 says, “Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes, and I will keep it to the end.” This verse tells four things about God’s seminary for right living. 

        The Enrollment Process: “Teach me.” The author of Psalm 119 was devoted to the word of God. He read, studied, meditated on, memorized, believed, delighted in, obeyed, proclaimed, and suffered for God’s word. Verse 99 says: “I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your testimonies are my meditation.” The clearest evidence of his devotion to God’s word was his confession of what he did not know. This is an essential qualification for admission into God’s school: You must recognize you have much to learn. 

        God never accepts foolish people who do not know that they do not know. God accepts those who acknowledge their need for instruction. Education is the process of going from unconscious to conscious ignorance. The enrollment process into God’s school requires you to recognize your spiritual ignorance and cry out, “Teach me.”

        The Master Instructor: “O Lord.” Saint Bernard was right: “He who is his own pupil has a fool for his master.”

        • You cannot teach yourself to live right. 
        • Other people cannot teach you to live right. 
        • The world cannot teach you to live right. 

         God is the master teacher, tenured professor, and resident scholar. You must submit to God’s instruction to be a righteous person. To live right, trust, and obey the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. 

         The Subject Matter: “The way of your statutes.” The psalmist did not want to know a body of truth. He wanted to know a way of life. Matthew 7:13-14 exhorts: “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” The psalmist found the straight and narrow way that leads to life in the word of God. He prayed the Lord would teach him the way of his statutes. 

        The Teaching Aim: “I will keep it to the end.” The psalmist added a pledge to his plea: if God taught him the way of his statutes, he would keep it to the end. D.L. Moody said: “God did not give us the Scriptures to increase our knowledge, but to change our lives.” The goal of spiritual instruction is an obedient life. James 1:22 says: “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” The proof of faith is obedience. There must be active obedience and persistent obedience. A life of obedience is not occasional, period, or sporadic. It is “to the end.”

        You need spiritual insight. Verse 34 parallels verse 33. Verse 33 is a prayer for instruction: “Teach me.” Verse 34 is a prayer for insight: “Give me understanding.” Both are necessary to love God and follow Jesus. You need teaching and understanding. 

        Acts 8:26-40 records Philip’s providential meeting with an Ethiopian eunuch. They met in the Gaza Strip, where this African dignitary sat in his chariot reading Isaiah. Phillip asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” The eunuch answered, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” That is the crisis point each of us must face. Our finite, sinful minds cannot comprehend biblical truth without the perfect teaching ministry of the Holy Spirit. We must pray, “Give me understanding.”

         Why is it important that God give us understanding? Verse 34 answers: “That I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart.” James Montgomery Boice comments: “The writer is asking for two things that he lacks: understanding and the ability to do what he understands.” Revelation needs illumination that leads to application and results in transformation. If you want God to give you understanding, you must be willing to keep his law. God does not give understanding for entertainment purposes. He gives understanding to those who are willing to obey. 

        John 7:16-17 says: “My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me. If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority.” If God is to give understanding, you must keep his law and observe it wholeheartedly. “My whole heart.” means to be committed to God without reservation. Your mind, will, and emotions must submit to God. Proverbs 3:5-6 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”

        Continual Progress in God’s School

          Many who enroll in God’s school do not make spiritual progress. They are deceived into thinking that enrollment automatically produces a passing grade. John 8:31-32 says, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Pray for continual progress as God helps you to discipline three areas of your life. 

          Your Feet. Psalm 23:3 says, “He leads me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.” In similar language, verse 35 says, “Lead me in the path of your commandments.” This request acknowledges the psalmist was prone to wander from the path of God’s commandments. All of us are. Isaiah 53:6 says, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way.” Ask God to lead you in the path of his commandments.

          To share the psalmist’s request for God’s leadership, you must share his rejoicing in it. He says, “Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it.” Psalm 1:2 describes the blessed man:“his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.” God’s commandants are not burdensome. 1 Corinthians 15:19 says the only way God’s way of life is miserable is if Jesus did not rise from the dead. Jesus lives! It is a delight to walk in the path of God’s commandments that lead to eternal life by faith in Jesus Christ. 

            Your Heart. Verse 36 says, “Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain.” “Incline” means “to bend toward.” Our hearts are bent toward one of two things. Either our hearts are inclined toward the word of God or greed, covetousness, and selfish gain. The psalmist asked God to incline his heart toward the word. The Living Bible paraphrases it: “Help me to prefer obedience to making money.” 

            1 Timothy 6:10 warns: “For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.” The love of money is a root sin that produces destructive fruit in your life. The only way to keep your heart from it is to pray to God to incline your heart. William MacDonald commented: “It is a miracle of grace that takes the love of money from a man and replaces it with a love for the Bible.”

            Your Eyes. Verse 18 prays: “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.” Verse 37 prays, “Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things.” There is an organic connection between the eyes and the soul, what we see and who we are, what we look at, and how we live. Knowing this, the writer prays that God would keep his eyes from beholding “worthless things.”

            • It is a commentary on the television and movies we watch. 
            • It is a commentary on articles, magazines, and books we read. 
            • It is a commentary on people we celebrate, possessions we crave, and places we imagine. 

            The problem is not seeing worthless things. It is gazing, focusing, or concentrating on them. The psalmist does not pray, “Close my eyes,” adopting a naïve ostrich approach to life that foolishly puts his head in the sand. He prays God would turn his eyes, so he does not give undue attention to worthless things. John Phillips comments, “One law of spiritual victory we need to learn is to look the other way.”

            Steadfast Perseverance in God’s School  

              Some enroll in God’s school and make progress but fail to persevere to graduation. The psalmist did not want that to be a spiritual dropout. He did not want trials, hardships, or challenges to prevent him from finishing what he started. He prays God would grant three things that would enable him to persevere. 

              Assurance. Verse 38 says, “Confirm to your servant your promise, that you may be feared.” “Promise” is another synonym for scripture. 

                • The promise of God is the word of God. 
                • The word of God is the promise of God. 

                The psalmist prayed God would confirm, establish, or affirm his promise. This is not an indictment against God’s wisdom, faithfulness, or sovereignty. It is a statement about the psalmist. He was in distress. Yet he did not ask God to fulfill the promises of his word. He asked God to confirm his word is true, promises are sure, and wisdom is unfailing.

                The psalmist asked God to confirm his promise “that you may be feared.” Many who emphasize claiming the promises of God think more of themselves than God. We make our desires sovereign and order God around to do our bidding. This is a false assurance. When God confirms his word, it produces fear. The fear of God is the fear of God. If you know God, there are things you are afraid to do, words you are afraid to say, and places you are afraid to go. 

                Vindication. Verses 23-24 pray: “Take away from me scorn and contempt, for I have kept your testimonies. Even though princes sit plotting against me, your servant will meditate on your statutes.” Verse 42 says: “Then shall I have an answer for him who taunts me, for I trust in your word.” The psalmist had enemies who scorned, hated, and taunted him. He prays about this reproach in verse 39: “Turn away the reproach that I dread.” 

                The psalmist did not take matters into his own hands. He fought on his knees. He was no wild-eyed cowboy looking for a fight. He dreaded the reproach he experienced. Devotion to God’s word may invoke the reproach of hard-hearted unbelievers and worldly-minded believers. Do not adopt a martyr’s complex that looks for hills to die on. Romans 12:18 says, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” Do not look for a fight. But if a fight finds you, don’t run from your convictions. Pray verse 39: “Turn away the reproach that I dread, for your rules are good.”

                • The source of scripture is good: God. 
                • The content of scripture is good: truth. 
                • The standard of scripture is good: righteousness.
                • The message of scripture is good: salvation. 
                • The theme of scripture is good: Jesus Christ.
                • The destination of scripture is good: heaven.  
                • The purpose of scripture is good: the glory of God. 

                Charles Spurgeon wrote: “When men rail at God’s government of the world it is our duty and privilege to stand up for him, and openly to declare before him, ‘thy judgments are good;’ and we should do the same when they assail the Bible, the gospel, the law, or the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

                Revival. Verse 40 is the only verse in this stanza that does not begin with a petition. It starts with a testimony: “Behold, I long for your precepts.” Warren Wiersbe wrote: “To have a deep longing for God’s truth is the mark of a maturing believer.” 1 Peter 2:1-3 says: “So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up to salvation – if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.” What do you do when longing for God’s word fades? Verse 40 says, “Behold, I long for your precepts; in your righteousness give me life.” God’s righteousness gives life.

                 1 John 2:1 says, “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” This verse tells us the two things every believer needs to know about sin: Don’t do it. But if you do it, you have an advocate with the Father. An Advocate is a defense attorney. You have a lawyer who stands in your defense. Jesus is a lawyer who has never lost a case! The Lord will not lose your case because he has the same power, authority, and jurisdiction as the Judge. The Lord will not lose your case because the Judge is his Father. The Lord will not lose your case because he is Jesus Christ, the righteous one.

                • He was born of a virgin. 
                • He lived a righteous life. 
                • He died on the cross as our substitute. 
                • He rose from the dead for our justification. 
                • He sits at the right hand of the Father in glory. 
                • He lives to make intercession as our righteous High Priest. 
                • He will return to reward the righteous.  

                H.B. Charles Jr.

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